Saturday, August 16, 2008

Looking For Hate In The Wrong Place

[Updated below, with a link to a response by David Neiwert.]

Yesterday, David Neiwert, a reporter with a well-deserved reputation for exposing hate groups and racists, wrote this at FireDogLake:

Two days ago, a gunman walked into the offices of the Democratic Party in Little Rock, Arkansas, and shot the state's chairman to death. The motives are still unclear, but it is starting increasingly to look like yet another case in which an unhinged wingnut decided to "take out" more liberals.

Looking For Hate In All The Wrong Places

As I commented there yesterday, I find that article's title ironic. In fact, the picture I see emerging is that of a man who was barely stable and isolated from his community. Local TV station KARK wrote:

KARK has also learned that [assailant Timothy Dale] Johnson was fired from his job in Conway before the shooting Wednesday.

Conway police were called to the Target just before 8 a.m. Wednesday, because of some anti-target graffiti he had written on the wall. Employees there say he was irate, but he left the scene before officers arrived.

More Information on Gwatney Shooting Suspect

The Searcy, Arkansas Daily Citizen offers some troubling details:

A property receipt from the Little Rock Police Department, filed in White County District Court, Searcy Division said police had confiscated a personal computer, a bottle of Effexor XR medication in the name of Tim Johnson, a sticky note with “Gwatney” and a phone number, various paperwork, two sets of keys with the Gwatney dealership emblem on them, the last will and testament of Timothy Johnson, a Smith and Wesson gun box and 14 guns. Two guns were found in Johnson's pick-up after he died.

Evidence Suggests Planned Shooting

Effexor XR is an anti-depressant. Both depression and the the effects of anti-depressant drugs can be dangerous, as the website on Effexor XR points out:

Patients and their families should know that both adults and children taking an antidepressant medicine should be watched closely for signs that their condition is getting worse or that they are becoming suicidal. Pay close attention to any changes (especially sudden changes) in mood, thoughts, or feelings. This is very important when an antidepressant medicine is started or when the dose is changed. All patients should be watched for becoming agitated, irritable, hostile, aggressive, impulsive, restless, or anxious. Such symptoms or any new or sudden changes in mood, thoughts, or feelings should be reported to the patient's health care professional right away.

Taking EFFEXOR XR: 10 Things to Know

Johnson lived alone and had little interaction with his neighbors. If he'd had some of these reactions it's quite possible no one, including his doctors, would have noticed.

What evidence is there that Johnson was a right wing nutjob? Very little, it would appear:

Several people said they had not heard him make any overtly political comments or criticize Democrats. According to the Arkansas Times, Johnson was a former member of the Cleburne County Shooting Club, where he participated in rifle competitions.

Johnson did not indicate his party preference on his voter registration, but he voted in the Republican presidential primary earlier this year, according to records at the White County registrar. He voted in Republican primaries in 2002 and 2004 and in a Democratic primary and runoff in 2006.

Evidence links killer to Arkansas Dem chief

Johnson sounds like what passes for "independent" these days. The NYT article also indicates that the police found no literature in Johnson's residence that would indicate a political motive.

There seems to be no reason to believe that Johnson's actions were any more than a result of the unfortunate combination of a depressive personality and firearms. He could have felt as though he, or an acquaintance, was cheated by one of the used car dealerships Gwatney owned. In any event, there is no evidence linking Johnson to any of the sorts of right wing hate-mongers Neiwert mentions.

I can understand Neiwert's apprehension. As he wrote in that article:

Two weeks ago, another gunman walked into a liberal Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, Tennessee, and began shooting, killing one man and wounding several others before he was tackled. He had written a manifesto before the rampage indicating his belief that "all liberals should be killed." At his home, investigators found books attacking liberals by the likes of Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, and ... Bill O'Reilly.

Looking For Hate In All The Wrong Places

There is no doubt that liberals and progressives are the target of hateful rhetoric these days. There is no doubt that, at least on occasion, there are unstable people who take that rhetoric too seriously. Our case isn't helped, though, by unsubstantiated charges. If anything, the reverse is true. This article is the sort of thing that those same hateful people will use later as evidence that we don't know what we're talking about.

When people aren't inclined to believe you anyway, crying wolf never makes them any more interested in what you have to say.

UPDATE: Corrected spelling of David Neiwert's name.

UPDATE 2 (Aug. 17): David Neiwert has written a response to this article. He points to an interview done by another local TV station with one of Johnson's classmates:

[Arkansas State University at Beebe classmate Reggie] Tucker graduated from ASU Beebe in White County, but during the 2007 spring semester Tucker had two or three computer technology classes with 50-year-old Timothy Dale Johnson, the man who murdered Bill Gwatney.

Tucker explains, "He was socially awkward and made weird comments that kind of gave you pause but didn't make you think he is going to come after us you know."
Tucker says he and other classmates do recall Johnson being vocal about his views.

"I would always remember going to class and I would see that he had a Bill Clinton anti-campaign sticker [on his car] that says I don't miss Bill. "He would surf the internet and he would see that a Democrat had died and he would laugh about it."

Update: Shooter's Classmate Speaks To Today's THV

This article was posted "one day ago", according to the information at the top of the page. The blog article that pointed to it was written yesterday afternoon. It wasn't available when Neiwert wrote the article I was referring to. I might have found it had I looked hard enough. The publication time for the blog article was Aug. 15, 4:37 PM (Central Time?). Neiwert's was at 8:21 AM (PDT) on that same day.

While I'm not surprised at the sentiments Johnson expressed here, it only suggests that this was his motive. His ownership of a large cache of guns, and presumed sympathy with National Rifle Association positions, doesn't strike my as prima facie evidence that his motives were political, just more suggestion. There are progressives who have similar views. They're just a rarer than conservatives who feel that way.

It looks as though we'll never know for sure what Johnson's motives were, but will only be able to list, and maybe rank, his possible motives. Based on this new (to me) interview, I'd say that political hatred has a higher ranking than it did two days ago.

UPDATE 3: Interesting eyewitness account from the Associated Press:

When the elevator door opened, Johnson was standing there. Instead of lunging at the man, [Arkansas Baptist Convention building manager Kirby] Martin held the door open and Johnson stepped in. Martin pushed the button for the first floor. And on the ride down, he never looked at the gunman's hands, only his face.

"In his face, I saw just a pale, lost-looking, desperate man," Martin told the newspaper. "He was wearing khakis and a nice shirt. He was well-groomed. What came to my mind was that he was a pastor or staff member of a church that was in serious trouble."

Before the elevator door opened again, Martin asked Johnson: "What is it?"

Johnson got out of the elevator, walked toward the front door, and as he was walking out of the building, he answered: "I've lost my job."

Building Manager Recounts Horror of Arkansas Gunman

While it might have been the event that started this, there's no explanation there of why Johnson chose Gwatney as his target after losing his job.


One Fly said...

Thanks for putting this up Cujo as I had not seen any of this.

The church shooting is another matter though and is an example of the hate and mind set these people instill enough so some end up killing.

The fact that there has been an ongoing effort to portray progressives or liberals as something less or that position is flawed in a number of ways is the reason for this. Of course our side does not fight back hard enough to negate this.

Cujo359 said...

Hi One Fly,

Yes, there are days when I feel like I have a target on my back, thanks to both my political and religious views. Nevertheless, we need to be careful when making accusations. Part of the reason for that is answering the question "how concerned should I really be?" I'm far less likely to be murdered for my political views, I think, than to be killed in a traffic accident, or access to adequate health care.

That's not to say that political hate is acceptable. It's just to say that I probably have bigger things to worry about personally. Others may have reason to re-order those concerns.

David provided an interesting link yesterday that suggests Johnson did have political motivations (it's in the second update).

One point I should emphasize, though, is that this was a guy who clearly was having mental health issues, and yet he still had unsupervised access to firearms. I think this is something we need to reflect on, regardless of Johnson's political views.

The GTL™ said...

Appreciate the link-in as well as the link to Taylor Marsh's Heller reax, too. I guess I didn't realize she, too was a gun-totin' lib. Blog ON... :-)

Cujo359 said...

You're welcome, GTL. You were one of the folks I naturally thought of when I needed a counter-example. ;)

One Fly said...

It appears to me it's more mental with this guy than anything else.

Cujo359 said...

That's my thinking, One Fly. Just about anything could have set him off. Depression, and anti-depressants, have the effect of magnifying problems and making the patient more excitable.

I'm not saying it was just a trifling issue that set him off, but it could have been so many things that most of us would have shrugged off or dealt with constructively.

One Fly said...

I'm glad I was able to withhold judgement on this but the first thought was something other. As conditions worsen we may see more of this.

tps12 said...

His ownership of a large cache of guns, and presumed sympathy with National Rifle Association positions, doesn't strike my as prima facie evidence that his motives were political, just more suggestion. There are progressives who have similar views.

Do either of the people you link as counterexamples own anything like fourteen firearms? Surely liberal and progressive gun owners and enthusiasts are fairly commonplace, but my impression is that stockpiling behavior is almost entirely specific to a right-wing worldview held by those anticipating global race war or the New World Order. But I could be wrong.

Cujo359 said...

There are certainly gun collectors who aren't conservatives. When does "collecting" behavior become "stockpiling" behavior?

It's pretty clear that, for whatever reasons, Johnson liked the things. The reason I bring up those two terms is that you can easily twist them to make your point about stockpiling behavior true. As in, "only nutcases with agressive tendencies" stockpile.

To answer your question, though, I don't think Taylor Marsh has that many guns (at least, none of her articles on the subject have spoken of a collection). GTL will have to speak for himself.

The GTL™ said...

Yep -- got lots of guns -- handguns mostly and a couple of rifles :-) I'm pretty good with an M-16 too but that weapon remains locked up (rightfully) where it belongs in the armory ;-)

I have so many guns for a couple of reasons -- first and foremost, self-protection and for the same reasons our Founders created the 2nd Amendment (in my opinion of course). Last but not least, because they're fun to collect and fire and no, I don't enjoy hunting although I do not begrudge anybody who does as long as it is for FOOD purposes and not to hang a trophy on the wall :-)

Effexor Side Effects said...

My name is Dennis Norman and i would like to show you my personal experience with Effexor.

I am 42 years old. Have been on Effexor for at least 4 years now. Many medline sources, (NE J Med, etc.), cite doses of at least 225mg or over are required In summary, the citations clearly indicate that at 225mg, the medication finally BEGINS to elevate dopamine levels (as well as elevations in SE and NE). However, it is only when dopamine if finally stimulated that the ultimate therapeutic effect begins Thus, patients require dosing of 225mg or above for ultimate therapeutic effect. At 450mg, I have no side effects; nor do I experience side effects if I miss a couple days; no side effects if I only take only 1 or 2 pills a day rather than 3 for a period of a week or so..

I have experienced some of these side effects-
sweating, gained weight, headache

I hope this information will be useful to others,
Dennis Norman

Cujo359 said...

We don't dispense medical advice around here, since I have no particular expertise. I will mention, though that this comment about Effexor came from a Romanian IP address and was referred by a page that doesn't actually show any information for the public.

Even though it has many hallmarks of spam, I'll leave the comment up as an example of how dosing decisions might be made. I'll also advise anyone else reading this to consult some place like WebMD or medical journals for any specific advice about prescription drugs.