The suspect, 22-year-old Jerod Lee Loughner, has videos on YouTube that strongly suggest he is suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, according to one of Sullivan's commentators, who adds that politics would therefore be irrelevant. Sullivan's own tangential reference to the tea parties prompted another correspondent to say he or she wished Sullivan would be murdered. According to tweets by a friend of Loughner, as recently as 2007 he was a left-winger who was obsessed with prophecies about the end of the world in 2012. Loughner himself writes:
If I may briefly atone, one of the first things I did when I heard the story was download a copy of Sarah Palin's infamous map labeling the districts of vulnerable members of Congress, including Rep. Giffords', with rifle cross hairs. The irony was overwhelming, and besides, I'm not a Palin fan.
I had favorite books: Animal Farm, Brave New World, The Wizard Of OZ, Aesop Fables, The Odyssey, Alice Adventures Into Wonderland, Fahrenheit 451, Peter Pan, To Kill A Mockingbird, We The Living, Phantom Toll Booth, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Pulp,Through The Looking Glass, The Communist Manifesto, Siddhartha, The Old Man And The Sea, Gulliver's Travels, Mein Kampf, The Republic, and Meno.
Then I caught myself. What did I really know about the suspect? Was I really on the verge of trying to score a political point while Rep. Giffords was still in surgery? As the moments and hours passed and the picture became muddier, I resolved to withhold judgment until we had more facts. Meanwhile, tweets and on-line comments blamed Palin and Fox News in ways that struck me as being crudely opportunistic. I'm sorry to say that at LA's usually diligent CBS radio outlet, KNX, senior political correspondent Dick Helton persistently made the same facile and undocumented connections. There but for the grace of God.
Yes, it's ironic that Palin's PAC targeted (as they say in politics all the time) Giffords, even more ironic that U.S. District Court judge John Roll (shown at right), who was murdered today, received death threats after a ruling in a case involving a claim against an Arizona rancher by illegal immigrants.
But irony and truth don't always coincide. Some suggest, including Sullivan, that extreme political rhetoric can trigger psychotic violence by a troubled person such as the suspect. Perhaps so. Still, before we turn this tragedy into an object lesson about the incivility of our politics culture and especially before we name names, don't we need to see some evidence that Loughner was actually paying attention to whatever rhetoric we most passionately want to anathematize? It's not that he hasn't left plenty of documentation for experts to study. For instance, we know (again, from Sullivan's live-blogging) that Loughner was a Jimi Hendrix fan. What do we do if we find out that the last thing he listened to before heading out to Rep. Giffords' meeting was "Hey Joe" from "Are You Experienced?"