As people fall over themselves to assign blame for the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and murder of six others by Jared Lee Loughner, the only thing we can say for sure is that we do not yet know why he did what he did. It is time for people to comfort the grieving, aid the survivors and allow the authorities to do their jobs and investigate the motives behind this abhorrent act. While it is only right and dignified for people to call for greater civility in the public square, we must stop short, for now, of assigning blame to anyone but Loughner himself.
As soon as the news of the shootings in Tucson, Arizona had hit the airwaves we saw political pundits and self described safety, security and behavioral experts engaging in blame or making a clinical diagnosis, ostensibly, no doubt, so that their faces would be the first in the media. The simple truth, however, is that no-one yet knows the genesis of the rampage.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing to occur was the immediate rush to blame politicians and pundits of different political leanings for the shooting. It became a political game of football and the losers were the victims of the violence whose interests and well being were lost in the fog of point scoring. We have even seen people make political hay by accusing others of making political hay out of the tragedy. This must stop.
Right-wingers pointed to reports that Loughner owned a copy of the Communist Manifesto as evidence of the fact that he was “clearly” a liberal leaning monster. Left-wingers pointed to reports that Loughner owned a copy of Mein Kampf as evidence that he was "clearly" a right-wing assassin. Trent Humphries, a founder of the “Tea Party” in Tucson, said that the killings were evolving into a conspiracy to destroy his organization and silence criticism of government. How dare any of these people engage in this cheap point scoring at a time when beautiful nine year old Christina Green’s parents had not yet buried her.
There were those who pointed to Sarah Palin and her “cross hairs” map as having incited the violence. Others pointed to the words of Sharron Angle and her “second amendment remedies”, others to the lunatic ramblings and gun toting pictures of the conspiratorial mountebank, Glenn Beck. While there is, I agree, phenomenal irony in hearing some who have at times blamed rap music for causing violence to now state that firebrand words could not have caused an attack. The simple truth is that we do not know whether any or all of these had any impact on Loughner.
I personally believe that divisive, hate filled comments made by people seeking to profit from stirring up the masses are wrong and have no place in a society that calls itself civilized. I am also not saying that rhetoric from right or left did not cause anything, I am saying we just don't know and "whereof one cannot speak, one must pass over in silence".
I should also briefly make it very clear, for risk of appearing solely to chastise and discriminate against political pundits, that I apply my injunction to wait for all the facts to those appearing in the media who are making a clinical diagnosis of Loughner.
We have fallen victim to the insatiable need of the 24 hour news cycle to fill air time with theories and thoughts that have, as yet, no evidence to support them. This in turn fuels more distrust and hateful speech at a time when we should be providing love and support to victims.
Those who work in the field of threat management and protective intelligence will wait and look at the evidence, when it has been gathered, before concluding what motivations lay behind the attack.
The only thing anyone can tell you is that, based on prior acts of targeted violence, there were likely some signs and indicators that Loughner was on the path towards violence. The problem is that, while several people likely saw these indicators, it is unlikely that they were reported or collected in any one place. This is the perennial problem in the protective intelligence field, that we must have a way to collect information on a person of concern. We know, unlike the political pundits in the media, that a framework is needed to receive and analyze information. As my friend Jeff Pollard says “before we can connect the dots first we must collect the dots”. Jeff is Director of the Counseling Center at George Mason University and an expert in threat management.
I will add, however, one comment on the vitriol in political and social rhetoric, not to cast blame but as words of caution. As we engage in “collecting the dots” it is much harder to do so when there are so many vituperations filling the airwaves. It makes it difficult to discern what is behavior of concern and what is political or commercial self-promotional hyperbole and, further, it may make some people less likely to report behavior that would otherwise concern them because the person is “only saying things”, or “only acting like”….and then fill in the name of the public figure of your choice.
The task now before the experts is to, post facto, collect and analyze the information. It is then that we can look for constructive steps to take to help prevent future attacks. I say help prevent because unfortunately it will never be possible to prevent all such attacks, much as though we wish we could. You will not hear true experts assigning random blame.
We owe it to the victims of this outrage to dial down the rhetoric and instead provide solace to those who grieve and support to those who are healing!