Details are still emerging about Jared Lee Loughner, the 22-year-old suspect in Saturday’s shooting rampage in Arizona that killed six and seriously wounded 14 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. What’s clear is that Loughner showed signs of serious mental illness and reportedly had a remarkably easy time getting his hands on a semiautomatic weapon to carry out the shooting. But what role did hate groups play in last week’s tragedy?
Here’s what we know so far, and what we’re still figuring out:
In the months before the shooting, Loughner left a bizarre Internet trail of YouTube videos in which he ranted about mind control, a "second Constitution", and his hometown’s literacy rates. In one post, Loughner writes in a video on YouTube:
In conclusion, reading the second United States constitution I can’t trust the current government because of the ratifications: the government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar.
No! I won’t pay debt with a currency that’s not backed by gold and silver!
Chip Berlet writes that the concept of a second Constitution is has been popularly misconstrued by conspiracy theorists and white nationalist groups who believe that the inclusion of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments during Reconstruction don’t deserve to be recognized as parts of the original Constitution, and should thus be known as a "second" one.
Talking Points Memo’s rough portrait of Loughner is particularly instructive in unraveling what, if any, ties the suspected shooter had to right-wing hate groups.
Fox News reported on a law enforcement memo which states that "strong suspicion is being directed at AmRem/American Renaissance. Suspect is possibly linked to this group. (Through videos posted on his Myspace and YouTube account). The group’s ideology is anti-government, anti-immigration, anti-ZOG (Zionist Occupational Government), anti-Semitic."
Politico ties Loughner’s statements to David Wyn Miller, a conspiracy theorist who believes, as Loughner wrote on one of his videos, that "the government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar."
But Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center writes that it’s probably illness, not ideology, that led Loughner to snap.
"When you look at the Internet material he purportedly produced, the first impression you get is that the 22-year-old now in custody for the shooting of 19 people in Tuscon was completely out of his mind, or at least mildly deranged," Potok writes. "His writings will be virtually impossible for most people to understand, what with his references to unexplained numbers, his fondness for weird syllogisms, his unexplained references and his apparent semi-literacy."
"At this early stage, I think Loughner is probably best described as a mentally ill or unstable person who was influenced by the rhetoric and demonizing propaganda around him," Potok writes. "Ideology may not explain why he allegedly killed, but it could help explain how he selected his target."
And of course there’s Sarah Palin’s target map, which listed Rep. Giffords’ district among 20 others in the crosshairs of a gun, noting that Republicans needed to take them back from Democrats in 2010. Rep. Giffords spoke out about the map last spring, telling MSNBC that "when people do that, they’ve gotta realize there are consequences to that action." Yet so far, there’s no evidence that the map actually played a role in the shootings.
Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik’s now infamous comments shortly after the shooting probably best show how a myriad of factors converged to produce Saturday’s tragic shooting.
"When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government," said Dupnik at a press conference Saturday. "The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."