I know who Jared Lee Loughner is.
He is the psychological brother of Son of Sam. He is unhinged kin of the Unabomber. He is the cousin in insanity to Mark David Chapman.
I think this is the historic company that this guy keeps.
Loughner's shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz., two weeks ago killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. In the two weeks since, people have looked to attach a larger meaning to his rampage. Yet searching for a rational provocation for the actions of Loughner, as with those of his fellow madmen, is an assault on logic.
It is tempting to look for reason in a random act of madness, to give it a philosophical or -- in Loughner's case -- a political meaning or motivation. There isn't any.
Like a lot of Americans, I am bothered by the extremism, the routine demonization and the verbal combat that passes for political discourse these days. But I do not think that overheated rhetoric is the finger that pushed Loughner's violence button. Millions of Americans are at either end of the political divide. If rhetoric provoked rational people to violence, we would have a political killing in this country every day.
Similarly, millions of Americans think abortion ought to be illegal. Tens of thousands of them have rallied in Washington. Yet, despite years of "heat speech," only an infinitesimally few extremists -- grains of sand on a beach -- ever picked up a gun against a doctor who performs abortions.
Words stir emotions. They do not, for any rational person, trigger violence. I think there is no connect-the-dots logic that leads from political rhetoric to the Glock in Loughner's hand.
The more we learn about Loughner, the clearer the disconnect becomes. Delusions of mind control and a "new U.S. currency" filled the cracks in his damaged psyche. His behavior frightened classmates and forced him to society's fringe.
File him with Son of Sam, Chapman and other unglued killers. There was no political philosophy behind his shooting of Giffords. She was a moderate, not an extremist. If Loughner's aim was political, there was no reason to riddle 18 other people with bullets.
There is no proof to the premise that he pulled the trigger in response to provocation from the political right. Loughner seems so unhinged, he could have looked into the nighttime sky and believed that the connected dots of a constellation spelled out the word "Kill." This is the level of insanity we are dealing with. Stare into his faraway eyes in the infamously bizarre mug shot, taken hours after the carnage. See the self-amused grin beneath the shaved eyebrows and the newly bald head. What more do we need to know about this man's mental state?
He is like Chapman, who believed the message to kill John Lennon came from the pages of J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye." He is like Son of Sam, the serial killer David Berkowitz, who said he got his marching orders from a neighbor's demonic dog. He is the Unabomber, who thought that his random explosions could turn back the tide of the industrial revolution. This is the psychological and philosophical company that Loughner keeps.
There is no message in his madness, other than for Americans to consider -- again -- how and why someone this deranged could walk into a store and walk out with a deadly, concealable weapon. There is no haunting question, other than to ponder how someone this unbalanced did not get psychological help.
I think it is a mistake to look for a larger message, an explicable motive, or a rational reason for his actions. Look no further than the look in his eyes.