Since Saturday's massacre in Tucson, both the left and the right have parsed alleged killer Jared Lee Loughner's YouTube videos, the statements of his supposed school chums, his favorite books (everything from To Kill a Mockingbird to Mein Kampf), and any other scraps of info out there on the guy.
The left has surmised he's your classic anti-government, wingnut Teabagger. The right's labeled him an atheistic, "anarcho-leftist," in the words of former Maricopa County Deputy County Attorney Rachel Alexander, now accused of ethical violations by the Arizona State Bar.
But researchers at the Anti-Defamation League have published an analysis of Jared Lee Loughner's "Internet footprint," and they conclude what Village Voice Media Executive Editor Michael Lacey observed earlier today: Loughner's actions were more the result of mental illness than ideology.
The ADL report, which you can read, here, states, in part:
Loughner's identified on-line writings and videos on sites such as Myspace and YouTube--his "Internet footprint"--are few in number, but do provide some evidence of his state of mind. In addition, it appears that Loughner, using the screen name Erad3, posted writings on the conspiracy-oriented Web site "Above Top Secret." These writings provide more illumination about Loughner's probable mindset in recent months.
Taken together, these writings suggest someone who probably is not associated with any particular extremist groups or movements, but who has a generic distrust of government and a vague interest in conspiracy theories. Additionally, the style and nature of the writings--which are often disjointed, rambling, and semi-coherent--appear consistent with someone suffering from some form of mental illness, such as schizophrenia.
Loughner's writings are typically not coherent enough to make arguments that are possible to follow in the normal sense, but they can serve at least to indicate his areas of interest or fascination.They do not, however, provide any solid body of evidence or any patterns that would seem clearly to point to a particular ideology or belief system as a significant motivating factor.
As the Southern Poverty Law Center's Mark Potok has already observed, some of the language in Loughner's posts echoes a far-right obsession with the gold standard. Potok also found traces of the odd grammar-based conspiracy theories of Wisconsin wackjob David Wynn Miller.
The ADL agrees that Loughner expressed anti-government views. And the ADL notes Loughner's anti-religious views. But I think it correctly observes that what we know of Loughner fails to indicate that he was one of the bugbears of the left or the right.
Interestingly, it was law enforcement that approached the ADL's investigators on this issue, seeking clarification. Also, it's worth noting that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was critically injured in the Loughner attack, is reportedly Jewish and has served on the Arizona ADL's regional board.
To me, this makes the ADL's analysis that much more credible. Giffords is a friend of the ADL, and yet the ADL is not looking to make hay out of her injury.
Instead, the ADL has dispassionately assessed what's available at this point. Kudos to them for doing so.