Current Events and the Psychology of Politics

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Jan 13th, 2011

On Jan. 10, I reported that initial media reports painted a confusing picture of Jared Lee Loughner, would-be assassin of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, but that Loughner’s writings provided no evidence of a cognitively consistent set of political beliefs or even a coherent ideological orientation. I noted, however, that Loughner’s writings do reveal signs of thought disorder, pointing to the possibility of an undiagnosed mental illness of a psychotic nature.

Suspect Jared Loughner

Based on publicly available information, I made the initial determination that prior to his assassination attempt and shooting spree, Loughner exhibited signs and symptoms of an underlying schizotypal personality disorder (DSM-IV, Axis II), compounded by a delusional disorder (DSM-IV, Axis I) of more recent onset.

I had insufficient information to determine whether Loughner met the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia, but concluded that there was no direct evidence that his thoughts or actions were influenced by vitriolic political rhetoric such as Sarah Palin’s “target list” or Michele Bachmann’s inflammatory “armed and dangerous” comments or politically paranoid AmeriCorps brainwashing and “one-world currency” conspiracy theories.

This page supplements my original assessment with information that has come to light after my initial assessment in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.


Loughner’s Dad Feared He Was ‘Out of Control,’ Neighbor Says

January 13, 2011


The father of Arizona massacre suspect Jared Lee Loughner had a front-yard argument with his son the morning of the killings and had told a neighbor the 22-year-old was “out of control,” according to neighbors and investigators.

The shaven-headed youth had quit a community college in October after being suspended and had been warned not to come back without a mental health evaluation. Postings attributed to Loughner on websites including MySpace and YouTube show “classic signs of psychosis,” one expert told CNN.

Loughner had complained for years about U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — the apparent target of Saturday’s bloodbath, according to a law enforcement official. …

The morning of the shooting, he had argued with his father, Randy Loughner, in the front yard of their Tucson home, Richard Kastigar, the head of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department’s investigations bureau, told CNN’s “John King USA.” The younger Loughner was in the front yard with a bag, possibly a backpack, when his father asked him what he was doing with it, Kastigar said. …

Searches of their home after the killings turned up a 2007 letter from Giffords, thanking Jared Loughner for attending a 2007 event similar to Saturday’s. An envelope in the same strongbox was scrawled with phrases like “die bitch” and “assassination plans have been made,” Kastigar said. …

Online, Loughner ranted about poor grammar, illiteracy and “mind control” and argued that space shuttle missions were faked and that people could make their own currency.

“In conclusion, reading the second United States constitution I can’t trust the current government because of the ratifications: the government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar,” he wrote in one piece posted to YouTube. “No! I won’t pay debt with a currency that’s not backed by gold and silver! No! I won’t trust in God!”

Alan Lipman, director of the Center of the Study of Violence at Georgetown University, said the postings show “classic signs of psychosis.”

“People were looking for whether he was on the left or the right. He was neither,” Lipman told CNN. “He was incoherent. Those were signs, classic signs you’d see in a psychiatric unit of formal thought disorder.”

And forensic psychologist Kathy Seifert called the postings “absolutely psychotic.” Loughner should have been evaluated for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism or other mental illnesses, she said.

“I understand the thing about the grammar,” Seifert said. “There is a group, or a person, that talks about how the grammar is used to control the population [link added], and so I hear that he’s picking up that from someone else, too. So he’s been influenced by other people.”

Loughner dropped out of high school in 2006, after being taken to a hospital for alcohol poisoning near the end of his junior year, according to Sheriff’s Department records released Wednesday. In 2007, he was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia, but the charge was dismissed after he completed a pretrial diversion program, according to court records. …

In October of that year, he approached sheriff’s deputies with a complaint about identity theft.

“I noted that Jared was slow to respond to my questions.” The deputy who took his complaint noted. “He often hesitated as if he was trying to think of an explanation.”

Police were unable to contact him at the number he left for them, and the matter went no further, according to a sheriff’s report.

After dropping out of school, Loughner enrolled at Aztec Middle College, a partnership between Tucson schools and Pima Community College that helps high school dropouts transition to community colleges, PCC President Sylvia Lee told CNN. He took classes at the college until October 2010, when withdrew after five contacts with police and a suspension. …

Another classmate, Steven Cates, told CNN that Loughner “didn’t interact socially like other people.”

“He would sit at his desk with that grin that you see in the mug shot that I’ve seen on the news,” Cates said. “He would sit at his desk with that grin, clenching his fists sitting at the desk.” …

Kastigar said the investigation into Saturday’s killings focuses less on who was responsible than why. But he cautioned, “You can’t really make reason out of something that is unreasonable.”

“Perhaps some psychologist or psychiatrist may opine at some point why they think this happened,” he said. “We can present the evidence, give it to experts, and somebody else might come up with why. But law enforcement at this point doesn’t have it.”

CNN’s Drew Griffin, Randi Kaye and Brian Todd contributed to this report.

College Officials Reported Loughner’s ‘Creepy,’ Hostile’ Behavior

By Josh Levs

January 13, 2011


Jared Lee Loughner was frightening fellow students and acting “creepy” and “very hostile” in incidents throughout 2010, according to newly released records from the community college that ultimately suspended him. …

In February 2010, a report from the Department of Public Safety said Loughner had reacted strangely to a poem read in one of his classes. He “said things that were a huge leap from the context of the poem and said things about abortion, wars, killing people, and ‘why don’t we just strap bombs to babies,'” according to the report.

The school’s Division Dean Patricia Houston “said that Loughner has a ‘dark personality’ and is kind of ‘creepy’ and they had resolved to just keep an eye on him,” according to the report. It added that one student thought Loughner might have a knife in a protective cover but wasn’t sure. …

[In May,] there was a report of “suspicious activity” involving Loughner in a Pilates class. When he was told his grade would be a B, he became “very hostile.” The teacher “felt like it might become physical” and felt “intimidated,” according to the report.

In June, Loughner was reported to be disruptive in math class. A report suggested he could be under the influence of a controlled substance. Among his strange behaviors: He insisted on calling the number six “eighteen.” …

In September, police were dispatched after Loughner created “a disturbance” in a class when he was told he would only get half-credit on an assignment because it was late. “Loughner could not verbalize what the problem was and kept referring back to the freedom of speech,” the report said. As Loughner spoke to an officer, he tilted his head and his eyes were “jittery and looking up and to the left.”

Loughner also kept speaking of his “freedom of thought,” the report said. An officer put him through “a channel of basic reasoning questions.” One was whether it’s OK to yell “fire” in a crowded theater. “Loughner’s thought process through the freedom of speech thinking is yes, that is acceptable because he has the freedom of speech and there is no consequence.”

The report noted “that there might be a mental health concern involved with Loughner.”

Days later, on September 29, 2010, a police officer was dispatched to deliver a suspension letter to Loughner. When the officer found the young man, he was with his father. “While inside the garage I spoke with Jared who held a constant trance of staring as I narrated the events that had transpired,” the officer wrote in his report.

It took an hour. Jared Loughner then responded, “I realize now that this is all a scam,” according to the report.

Later that day, police were asked to look into a suspicious YouTube video called Called “Pima Community College School-Genocide/Scam-Free Education — broken United States Constitution.”

The narrator, who identified himself as “Jared,” said, “We are examining the torture of students,” and added, “This is my genocide school.”

He also said, “I haven’t forgotten the teacher that gave me a B for freedom of speech.” …

CNN’s Jim Barnett contributed to this story


Report: Loughner Lost It After Teen Break-Up


Childhood friends recall a less troubled Loughner (NBC Nightly News, Jan. 12, 2011) — Friends of accused Tucson gunman Jared Loughner speak out about a younger, more sociable version of a young man who became increasingly troubled after high school. NBC’s Mike Taibbi reports. (03:26)

The Associated Press via
January 13, 2011

A woman who says she dated Tucson shooting suspect Jared Loughner for a year told a British newspaper that he started to go “off the rails” after she broke up with him.

Kelsey Hawkes, 21, told the Daily Mail newspaper that Loughner, who is accused of killing six people and wounding 13, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was a normal person during their relationship in 2005.

She claimed that Loughner appeared as if he had “nothing to live for,” the newspaper said, when she broke up with him.

Hawkes said he then began cutting himself off from mutual friends and taking drugs and alcohol.

“My breaking up with him was not the cause of him going off the rails but it was definitely the start of it,” she told the Mail.

“Something changed in him, he was not the same person when I told him it was over,” she added. “I remember his face clearly — he just looked like he had nothing to live for. It was my first relationship and it was his first relationship.”

Suspect was ‘normal person’

Hawkes told the paper he was “definitely” in love with her, but added “I’m not sure I could say I was in love with him.”

“Jared used to care about everything, his grades, school, his friends. That was when Jared was a normal person. It all stopped when we broke up,” she told the paper.

Hawkes added she saw no signs of what was to come later, saying “I would not have dated a weirdo.”

Their relationship began, she told the Mail, when they met at a college football game while studying at Mountain View High School in Tucson. She was 15 and he was 16.

“We clicked and we hung out, we did our homework together, we went to the movies. Typical teenage romance stuff,” she said. …


Friends recall Loughner’s descent (NBC “Today,” Jan. 12, 2011) — Friends of Jared Lee Loughner, the alleged gunman in the Tucson, Ariz., shootings, talk about his drug use, including pot and the controversial over-the-counter hallucinogen salvia. NBC’s Mike Taibbi reports. (03:05)



The above information does not appreciably alter my initial diagnostic impression — that Jared Loughner has a schizotypal personality disorder underlying a more acute delusional disorder – with the caveat that there is equivocal information that Loughner’s premorbid personality may have been more outgoing and sociable than one would expected in detached personality patterns such as the schizoid, avoidant, and schizotypal types. It is still not clear that Loughner is diagnosably schizophrenic.


1/17/11 Update

In an online game forum, Tucson suspect lashed out
(Sarah Wheaton, New York Times, Jan. 14, 2011)

In an online gaming world, Tucson suspect gave hints of problems
(Jenna Wortham, New York Times, Jan. 16, 2011)

Logs of Jared L. Loughner’s conversations with fellow players in the online game Earth Empires

Looking behind the mug-shot grin
(Dan Barry, New York Times, Jan. 15, 2011)

Video captured ‘calculated’ gunman in Tucson
(Richard A. Oppel Jr., New York Times, Jan. 18, 2011)


Related reports on this site

From left: Marana Unified School District, via Associated Press; Robert Blanco; Pima County Sheriff’s Office via the Arizona Republic, via Associated Press (Photo composite: The New York Times)

Jared Loughner Ruled Incompetent to Stand Trial (May 25, 2011)

Jared Loughner Mental Exam (March 23, 2011)

The Psychological Profile of Giffords Shooter Jared Loughner
(Jan. 10, 2011)

Gabrielle Giffords Assassination Attempt (Jan. 9, 2011)

10 Years: Remembering Columbine (April 20, 2009)

Columbine: The Real Story (March 14, 2009)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — January 13, 2010

Iraq-Afghanistan Casualties

One year ago today, I provided my weekly report of U.S. military deaths in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Army Sgt. Ryan J. Hopkins, 21, Livermore, Calif., died Jan. 8, 2010 at Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, Texas, of injuries sustained in a motor pool accident in Baghdad on Oct. 4, 2008. At the time of the incident, he was assigned to the 64th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo. At the time of his death, he was assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit, Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas. Sgt. Hopkins died after a routine surgery at Brooke Army Medical Center, his family said. His wife, Kitty Hopkins, whom he met in the military, said his injuries included second- and third-degree burns from the waist up. He had been expected to survive, she said.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — January 13, 2009

Bush Rewriting History on Iraq?

On Dec. 7, 2002, prior to the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein delivered a 11,800-page weapons disclosure to U.N. inspectors in Baghdad, which he said proved that Iraq had no illegal weapons programs.

Two years ago today, on Jan. 13, 2009, I responded to the final press conference of the Bush presidency, in which George W. Bush reflected on the run-up to the Iraq war, noting that in response to President Bush’s ultimatum to Iraq to disclose illegal weapons and disarm — or face serious consequences — Saddam Hussein on December 7, 2002 apologized for invading Kuwait in 1990 and delivered a 11,800-page weapons disclosure to U. N. inspectors in Baghdad, which he said proved that Iraq had no illegal weapons programs.

5 Responses to “Jared Loughner’s Mental State”
  1. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Giffords Assassination Attempt Says:

    […] Jared Loughner’s Mental State (Jan. 13, 2011) […]

  2. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » The Psychological Profile of Giffords Shooter Jared Loughner Says:

    […] Jared Loughner’s Mental State (Jan. 13, 2011) […]

  3. Aubrey Immelman Says:

    Cross-posted from

    Experts speculating on Loughner’s prospective DSM-IV diagnosis should not overlook Axis II.

    Based on publicly available information, Loughner exhibits signs and symptoms of schizotypal personality disorder (Axis II) underlying a more acute delusional disorder (Axis I) of relatively recent onset.

    In my opinion, there is insufficient publicly available information to determine unequivocally whether Loughner meets the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia.

    Loughner’s level of planning and organization is contraindicative of a full-blown schizophrenic episode.

    Aubrey Immelman

  4. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Jared Loughner Mental Exam Says:

    […] Jared Loughner’s Mental State (Jan. 13, 2011) […]

  5. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Jared Lee Loughner Ruled Incompetent to Stand Trial Says:

    […] Jared Loughner’s Mental State (Jan. 13, 2011) […]

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