I thought I had posted this, but it doesn't look like it went through. Unfortunately, I don't have the source of this article, but I had it in my research folder.
In his book The Anatomy of Motive, FBI profiler John Douglas dissects a variety of crimes and criminals to determine what makes them tick. He pays special attention to what he calls “assassin type” personalities. Isolated, suspicious and armed to the teeth, assassin types have been responsible for some of America’s most iconic and heinous crimes. They are our mass shooters, our anonymous poisoners and our political murderers, but in their imaginations they are acting defensively. They are the victims.
Douglas noticed that assassins were not grandiose, like the Charles Mansons of the world, but instead avoided eye contact. They were suspicious. They often had a deep sense of inadequacy. They were followers, not leaders. They were, routinely, domestic abusers to the extent they could maintain domesticity at all.
The assassin has a “highly organized system” of paranoia, Douglas wrote. It is a system with causes, effects, enemies, traitors, actions, reactions ― and artillery. Lots of artillery. A peculiar feature of the assassin is that they often want to understand and be understood, so they write.
They write journals, like Arthur Bremer. They write manifestos, like Chris Dorner. They write letters, like John Hinckley. They sometimes create detailed plans and schematics for their shootings, like Lee Harvey Oswald. And in some cases, like Charles Whitman, they combine these characteristics. Their writings ultimately reveal lives collapsing into themselves like black holes, absorbing relationships, jobs and opportunities while simultaneously growing more armed and lethal each day.
Several days before fatally shooting 14 people and injuring more than 30 others at the University of Texas at Austin, Whitman wrote of his mental state, “I talked with a Doctor for about two hours and tried to convey to him my fears that I felt come [sic] overwhelming violent impulses. After one session I never saw that Doctor again, and since then I have been fighting my mental turmoil alone, and seemingly to no avail.”
Charles J. Whitman was a 24-year-old student at the University of Texas. Until the carnage at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., on Monday, April 16, 2007, the Aug. 1, 1966, sniping rampage by Whitman from the Austin school’s landmark 307-foot tower had remained the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history.
Assassins often document their political views, but they are usually conspiratorial and contradictory, if not incoherent. Because they’re all over the map, that gives partisans on both sides the opportunity to pull out a single quote or two in order to shoehorn the shooter into whatever ideological box is preferable. John Hinckley, Jr., the man who shot Ronald Reagan and three others in March 1981, wrote of a deep love and appreciation for John Lennon’s music. He was devastated by the musician’s death; he called it the “death of the dream.” However, Hinckley saw no contradiction between Lennon’s dreams of love and brotherhood and his own flirtations with white nationalism and later murder.
Arthur Bremer’s politics were equally murky. He mocked his fellow Americans and their political disengagement. “A 50% voter turnout. Now THAT’S confidence in America!”, he wrote in his diary. Yet he did not himself vote. He made up for his personal avoidance of the ballot with a commitment to the bullet. In that, he was bipartisan and open-minded. He wrote of his admiration for George McGovern, while planning to assassinate him. He expressed a dislike for Richard Nixon, while preparing to shoot him also. He wrote mostly of indifference to George Wallace. Then he shot Wallace five times.
The American assassin’s scope is ever-expanding, like the event horizon of the black hole. His “likes” are as unlikely to be targeted as his “dislikes.” The world is a target. It just needs justification and the justifications are endless. Quite often, assassins have been booted from the military or the police force, yet they remain drawn to it. They love the power of those institutions but the responsibilities intimidate and enrage them.
Chris Dorner declared war on the Los Angeles Police Department in the winter of 2013. In his manifesto, Dorner is the victim of a vast, intersecting conspiracy that begins in his childhood and culminates with a frame-up job by crooked, craven LAPD cops. Yet even in his bitterest passages, one cannot help but notice Dorner’s love for all things military. His prose is an alphabet soup of military and police abbreviations and jargon. He was unjustly terminated in a BOR panel. His anticipated victims are “high value targets.” He knows the LAPD’s TTP’s (techniques, tactics and procedures) because, like John Rambo, they trained him. Yet Dorner’s victims were mostly civilians, not his hated enemies.
Whitman, before his rampage, felt himself the victim of a similar betrayal. He was enrolled at the University of Texas and enlisted in the Marines on a special scholarship designed to increase the number of scientists in the military. He was to become an engineer and an officer to help the U.S. recover from the humiliation of the Soviet Union’s victories in the space race. However, Whitman’s habits of gambling, drinking, fighting and brandishing firearms made him a bad student and a worse soldier, so he lost his scholarship and left the military. He remained bitter and hostile toward the Marines until his death, but, like Dorner, spoke of his “mission” in military terms.
Charles Whitman and Chris Dorner, despite all of their rage against the machines, knew something was wrong with them personally. Both men requested that their brains be studied after their deaths. Dorner thought his problem might be severe depression. Whitman did not know, but it turned out that he had a lesion on his amygdala that some associate with violence.
John Hinckley Jr. certainly knew something was wrong. He marveled at how easily he could acquire handguns. He spent most of his adult life shuttling between the homes of relatives, schools, psychiatrists and gun stores. He once had a cache of weapons seized at an airport in Tennessee. He was detained briefly, hopped on a plane back to Texas, visited his favorite pawn shop and rearmed. No questions asked.
Hinckley wrote in his diary “Guns are neat things aren’t they? They can kill extraordinary people with very little effort. But don’t tell the NRA.”
His attempted assassination did lead to reforms, though ― but not of gun laws. Hinckley pled not guilty by reason of insanity and won, infuriating many in Congress who then fast-tracked insanity plea reforms. The next Hinckley would have a tougher time proving that he was insane, but no problem arming himself and doing something nuts.