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.