The most basic evaluation is: a mentally disturbed man. Internet sleuths have uncovered his facebook page which simultaneously lists Mein Kampf and The Communist Manifesto as favorite books without apparent irony. Mr. Loughner, while attending his local community college last year was often a disruption in class and in the library, coming to police attention as a nuisance in the school. His rambling youtube manifestos do not suggest coherence or an ability to present a cogent worldview.
At the same time, his writings certainly seem to be informed by a particular anti-government conspiracy theory revolving around a secret currency. A little internet digging reveals that this 'secret currency' stuff is stock and trade for anti-semitic fringe 'experts' who suggest investing in gold coins. You know, that old goldline scam that Glenn Beck has been milking via sponsorship money. It seems that Jared Lee Loughner, while mentally unstable, was dipping his intellectual quill near Glenn Beck waters, which may be purely coincidental. In any event, his time spent on the internet (and possibly in front of the tv) seems to have been spent absorbing conspiracy theories relating to the big bad federal government.
Jared Lee Loughner also seems to be quite the student of philosophy. His belief that the government practices "mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar," seems odd, certainly, but not outside the (loosely defined) bounds of critical postmodernism. His videos are obsessed with control over language, economy, and social interaction. He expreses a desire to splinter away from the English speaking community, the dollar, and reality. This certainly fits into the "mentally disturbed" storyline, though as was the lesson from the Terry Shiavo case, it's probably a bad idea to diagnose patients via youtube videos.
The videos' tropes of superiority compared to the rest of the American population (e.g. "The majority of the American population has never read the American population... You're literate, listener?") certainly hit the same scale as Glenn Beck's rants (e.g. "You can live the E4 system... or you can live in ignorance and anger" Glenn Beck Program 1/07/2011 3:09:00), and the repetition of rhetorical questions ending in "... listener," implies a familiarity with talk radio, though I don't know of any particular radio host who insists on being quite that annoying. We're left with the impression of a socially isolated man who received most of his information from talk radio and the internet. One thing we do know about Loughner's frame of mind: he was focused particularly on his Congressional district, mentioning the "illiteracy" of citizens of the 8th District in one of his videos. This certainly suggests that he processed the world around him through a political lens, lining up with the circumstantial links between his videos and right-wing rhetoric. His unstable mind acted like a prism, refracting and focusing conspiracy theories into an assassination plot on his Congresswoman.
Except that turns out not be entirely right. Police are searching for a second suspect, a middle age male who transported Jared Lee Loughner to the Safeway parking lot to assassinate the Honorable Gabrielle Giffords. The nature of the man's relationship to the shooter is still murky, as is whether the driver knew of Loughner's plot beforehand.
What we do know is that Loughner has been keeping silent while in custody, steadfastly claiming Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. This is not the trademark of the mentally disturbed post-rampage suspect, who often is either prepared to face the consequences or is not inhibited from forfeiting testimony. Perhaps the silence is designed to protect his accomplice and is part and parcel of a larger conspiracy. The New York Times briefly reported that a suspicious package was found in Gifford's Tucson office today, though the scene was eventually cleared after the bomb squad detonated the package in a controlled blast. Either Loughner was connected to the bomb and possibly a larger conspiracy, used as a pawn by an ideologically driven cell, or he was simply one part of a continuing violent milieu supported and egged-on by internet groups, radio talk show hosts, and Fox News. I hope the answer is the conspiracy explanation because honestly, that's a lot less troubling.
Just as a note, as I was tagging this blog post, I was shocked by how many tags are applicable from previous blog posts. This incident has been long in the making with years of inciting, enabling speech coming from a multitude of sources. This attack is certainly an outcome of the violence-tinged political culture that Fox News, talk radio, and the far right have fostered. Sheriff Dupnik said it best:
"When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government," he said. "The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on this country is getting to be outrageous and unfortunately Arizona has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry."
Mr. Dupnik said it is time for the country to "do a little soul searching."
He added: "The vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business ... This has not become the nice United States that most of us grew up in."
Later, he said: "It's not unusual for all public officials to get threats constantly, myself included. That's the sad thing about what's going on in America: pretty soon we're not going to be able to find reasonable decent people willing to subject themselves to serve in public office."