Patterico's Pontifications


Comment of the Day: The Triggering Event

Filed under: General — Aaron Worthing @ 1:03 pm

[Guest post by Aaron Worthing; if you have tips, please send them here.]

George Gooding, aka “Seixon” had a comment to my last post worth paying attention to, although it will take a little set up.  Toward the end of the post I pointed out how Rep. Clyburn said that supposedly reading the constitution aloud was part of the unacceptable behavior that contributed to the hate that allegedly led Jared Loughner to shoot Rep. Giffords and all of those innocents.  So then I showed video of Giffords herself reading the First Amendment out loud and ridiculed Clyburn by saying, “So, OMG, that means that this wasn’t attempted murder on Giffords. This was attempted suicide by Constitution reading!”

But Seixon actually made the surprisingly plausible argument that maybe it really was related.  Now I don’t buy this as a defense to Clyburn—I think he is ascribing a level of depth and sincerity that is absent from Clyburn’s analysis.  But don’t get distracted by that.  Instead pay attention to the logic on its own:

Well, back up a minute on that last part. I think that it might be the only reasonable thing Clyburn said, that Giffords reading of the Constitution might have caused the shooting.


1. Loughner was paranoid about the government and particularly about the Constitution, which he considers treasonous and false

2. Giffords, his congresswoman, whom he already dislikes from their previous encounter, and thinks is stupid – is televised reading from… the Constitution. That he hates.

Two days later, he goes and shoots her at the next available opportunity.

If I were the police investigating this, that would be my first theory to the motive/cause of his psychotic outburst of violence. Perhaps it’s not why it happened, but using the scientific method, you go with what you’ve got, posit a theory, test it, and find out if it holds water.

So I wouldn’t dismiss this notion outright, just because Clyburn eased in on it.

Well, in fact that particular constitutional provision relates to a certain incident in his life:

A community college instructor who taught Tucson shooting suspect Jared Loughner was so disturbed by the student’s outbursts in class that he requested Loughner’s removal from the course, he told the Washington Post in an interview Sunday.

Ben McGahee, a third-year instructor at Pima Community College, taught Loughner in an elementary algebra class last summer. McGahee said that while Loughner never threatened him directly, he was concerned by his behavior…

Finally, several weeks into the class, McGahee said Loughner arrived and pointed to a copy of the U.S. Constitution on the wall.

“‘You’re violating my First Amendment right of free speech,'” McGahee recalled him saying. “That’s when I went to go get the dean.”

At that point, he said, a college official came to talk with Loughner, then assured McGahee that he would not return to class. “You don’t have to worry about Jared anymore. We asked him to not come back to class,” the official said, according to McGahee.

That incident appears to be alluded to in this YouTube video by Loughner (you can see more of his nutty videos, here):

And I will remind you that Giffords had specifically read the First Amendment, one of the constitutional provisions that Loughner had claimed were violated that day when he was thrown out of the community college.

Of course Giffords had nothing to do with those events, so the connection is random.  But in “crazy man logic,” it might have seemed to make perfect sense.

And the elegance of this theory is that it provides the answer to one nagging question.  This guy had disliked Giffords for years, so why now?  Why not sooner, or later?  This provides the triggering event.

But of course the problem with that theory is, well, look at that video.  This man’s mind worked in ways that I don’t believe I could ever understand (which on balance is probably a good thing).  It is perfectly normal for people to try to “make things make sense.”  When that leads you to investigate, to dig deeper that is a good thing.  But sometimes it leads you to hammer a square peg into a round hole, imposing a false order on things.  Maybe that is what I have done, here.  I honestly don’t know.

What do you think?

Update: Let me make this as clear as I can.  This post is not about assigning blame.  I supported reading the constitution on the floor of the house.  I called Democrats idiots to oppose it.  I am glad we did it, even if it triggered the rampage.  Why?  Because no reasonable person could anticipate that this could have happened, if this is what happened.  And even if we knew ahead of time, we should not allow ourselves to be intimidated out of this benign ritual because of the fear that some idiot might get set off.

Besides if that is all it takes, then something would have set him off eventually…  a low flying plane, the movie Inception, something.  It is impossible to predict this sort of thing.

Anyone who cites this post as proof that we should not repeat the reading of the constitution is an idiot.

[Posted and authored by Aaron Worthing.]

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29 Responses to “Comment of the Day: The Triggering Event”

  1. With all due respect, trying to make this connection is as tenuous and as irresponsible as many of the other theories of causation that are being floated and rightly criticized. Loughner was a loner nut case who was living in his own world. The idea of him even being aware that the Constitution was read on the House floor or that he knew congresswoman Giffords participated seems like a stretch. Let’s not contribute more “nuance” or complication to this tragedy than it deserves.

    elissa (92ce39)

  2. The irrational motivations resulting in this awful tragedy may, in part, be deduced if not mostly revealed in the writings of Loughner -(much of which remains unknown and in the hands of authorities.) The actions, interactions and history of this very ill ‘person’- a term used advisably- will eventually, in time, be pieced together.

    DCSCA (9d1bb3)

  3. elissa, as long as we’re clearly not trying to assign blame, I don’t see a problem trying to tease out motives, even irrational ones. That said, I agree that it is unlikely that he would not have seen her participation in the exercise—though it is more likely he was aware of it than he was of Sarah Palin’s map, that’s for sure.

    mcg (5cf983)

  4. Elissa is right. I greatly doubt this theory is correct. This guy wasn’t watching C Span. His triggering event was probably his family situation, where his dad screamed at him and chased him ‘into the desert’. i don’t know what precipitated that in his home, but that plus the Army rejection may have left him feeling alone and without a future.

    I sorely wish he hadn’t had that gun, and I think his family should have been on top of that matter. He probably skipped his meds and I think it would have been really helpful had Dupnik’s department had the threats put on his record instead of striving to keep them off.

    When the Park Ranger pulled him over, driving erratically, if that had come up on the computer, he would have had cause to search the car, or at least scrutinize Jared.

    The triggering event is hard to pin, but this seems much more tragic to me because a lot of people did not take responsibility for the situation as it emerged.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  5. The one thing that counts against my theory is of course that Jared bought his gun in November, although that might have just been a random action itself, after being exposed to guns through his friends.

    But I think one can deduce a certain spiral in his life that led to this.

    October: thrown out of college, big let-down

    November: buy a gun to sooner get revenge

    December: plan? Xmas?

    January: hated Constitution + “fake, stupid” Giffords + First Amendment + perceived constitutional violations of First Amendment by the college/elites/government = ?

    Yes, it’s a theory, but there’s always some sanity to insanity. After all, he managed to buy a gun, made a bunch of creepy videos foreshadowing his crime, and left notes to be found on MySpace and at home. Let’s not help his lawyer too much by going whole hog on the Insanity Defense.


    You don’t think Jared, a homebody at this point in his life, caught the local evening news where, if I remember anything about local news, they would obviously have shown their congresswoman reading from the Constitution when she did?

    Or, as some of his friends have said, he was obsessed with Giffords, wouldn’t have have followed up on news about her on the Internet? I guess we’ll find out soon enough when the FBI is done analyzing his PC.


    I think him running away from his dad has more to do with the fact that he was caught in the middle of unloading this mysterious black bag of his, that may have contained something important for his plot to kill Giffords.

    Obviously his dad, who knows about his mental problems, would have inquired as to what was in this bag that he was taking out of the family car. Would Jared want to jeopardize the entire operation at that point? Not a chance. Run, Forrest, run.

    And yes, I’m fitting facts around my theory, but I don’t think I’ve made any illogical leaps or unreasonable short cuts in doing so. If I have, please shout out.

    Seixon (ee9f62)

  6. elissa

    let me be clear. this not blame. only an idiot (clyburn) would think it was somehow wrong to read the constitution. if that sets him off than literally anything could have. there is no way to anticipate what would do it.

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  7. I think him running away from his dad has more to do with the fact that he was caught in the middle of unloading this mysterious black bag of his, that may have contained something important for his plot to kill Giffords.

    Somehow I forgot that detail. This story is disturbing and I’m not closely reading up on it.

    That’s a good point.

    It’s not that your theory is unreasonable. I haven’t heard a better one. I just note his violent tendencies go back a ways, his fixation on Giffords, too, and of course, that’s what got him kicked out of school.

    I just don’t think he was paying attention to the news enough, or concerned with this kind of constitution reading, to let that move him much. I think he was more and more upset, perhaps really upset over his life failure during Christmas, and then saw a public appearance for Giffords was planned.

    There’s no doubt in my mind that he got that gun specifically in order to shoot Giffords. He displays it on his internet manifestos.

    Anyhow, maybe you’re right. I just think the trigger was probably in his family situation, and so he fulfilled what was probably a long held fantasy of shooting Giffords.

    I do appreciate the interesting discussion. There’s nothing wrong with it.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  8. Seixon – I think that diary over at DailyKos was the triggering event, the one saying Giffords is dead to me for voting against Pelosi as Minority Leader. Those Kos people have blood on their hands. Make those moonbats prove me wrong.

    daleyrocks (e7bc4f)

  9. Dustin,

    Well, this guy was obviously sitting on the Internet uploading stuff to YouTube and writing stuff on MySpace and apparently other conspiracy theory web sites.

    The latest news about Gabby Giffords would be just one click away… In fact, Giffords’ reading the Constitution was on YouTube…

    Seixon (ee9f62)

  10. I will not watch some insane and violent scumbag’s videos – however, reports from his prior friends and college instructors and administrators have indicated the following:

    – he did not watch any news on TV
    – he did not watch any political shows on TV
    – he did not listen to any talk radio
    – he did not read the newspapers
    – he did not read any news reporting and/or political commentary on the internet
    – he was not affiliated with any political party

    Why? Because this person was severely mentally disturbed.

    This meme is epically dead and buried.

    Dmac (498ece)

  11. “Well, this guy was obviously sitting on the Internet uploading stuff to YouTube and writing stuff on MySpace and apparently other conspiracy theory web sites.”

    Seixon – See, that’s why the Kos trigger theory works, the internet. BLOOD ONH THEIR HANDS!!!!11ty!!!! Prove that is not what happened.

    daleyrocks (e7bc4f)

  12. Dmac,

    It’s odd that you believe his friends would know proof-positive what he did on his own time, alone in his room. I’d also ask you to check whether they said never ever, or if it was more like seldom. Big difference.

    Sorry, I cannot entertain the idea that a young man who frequented YouTube, MySpace, and other web sites did not, under any circumstance, read any news what so ever.

    Besides, he was hanging out at YouTube – where he would have easily seen the video of Giffords reading the Constitution. That’s where all of us saw it, is it not?


    I’m not in the habit of proving that things did not happen, as that usually means an impossible work load, if it’s even possible at all.

    Maybe if we had any evidence at all that he frequented DailyKos, it would move up the scale past the completely ludicrous allegations against Palin.

    Seixon (ee9f62)

  13. How many of you know a schizophrenic person?

    those who do, don’t you think this was more likely triggered by something close to home, and his views on his target had no relationship with the day to day affairs of that person?

    If this had happened a year ago, there would be something Giffords had recently done. And sure, anything she does is likely to really tick him off.

    But I think the trigger is probably something that affected Jared, not Giffords. this was about him. This was his world he was inventing, and if he decided to give up on his future and become a monster, it probably reflecting something in his life.

    Even if Seixon is correct that he saw this reading on youtube (which I doubt, honestly), something else drove him over the line. giffords rebuked him to his face in 2007. That’s the real reason he hates her, of course.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  14. The reason that triggered any mentally disturbed person may never be known. If fact, the reason why people not so mentally disturbed explode is often unknowable. It could be something of world-wide significance or something so trivial that, except for the mentally disturbed individual, it passes unnoticed. I have read speculation about Oswald and his relationship with his wife, Maria. The marriage was in trouble and, on that last night, Maria would not sleep with him. Some have speculated that, if Maria had been friendlier, Kennedy would not have been killed. We will never really know why Oswald or Loughner did what they did.

    Longwalker (4e0dda)

  15. It’s odd that you believe his friends would know proof-positive what he did on his own time

    I don’t believe anyone at this point – but the few who knew anything about him are making comments that appear to be affirming each other for the most part. I feel that’s significant – but you apparently do not. Why would that be?

    Also, I said his friends mentioned that they didn’t believe he frequented any political sites per se of that nature, I’m not aware of anything else he was looking at or posting about.

    BTW, my brother is manic – depressive and schizophrenic as well (the two are often diagnosed in conjunction with each other), and just as our family had no idea what was going on with him at any given moment (he was kicked out of our home back when I was 14, he was impossible to control anymore), neither does anyone else regarding this individual. But I have a hard time believing that watching some kind of hate site on YouTube caused this kind of action.

    Dmac (498ece)

  16. This is certainly a possibility, but it seems to have at least one hurdle to jump before it can cross the finish line for being the triggering event: Why did he buy the gun more than a month before the triggering event?

    In a similar vein, when did he buy the extended magazine, or when was the last time he bought ammo? If either were after the day the Constitution was read you might have something there. Otherwise, I think the trigger was some short time just before November 30th, when he bought the Glock and it only seems as though it might be something closer to last Saturday because it happens to be day Loughner determined he would be able to do stage the attack.

    An additional thing to check: Would last Saturday have been the first real opportunity since November 30 for Loughner to to make the attack, or were there many others? If there were other opportunties and Loughner didn’t avail himself of them, then maybe the Constitution reading was a trigger, or maybe better called a relighting of the fuse. If there was no way he could have gotten close to her before last Saturday, then I’d think something else lit the fuse and we have to look back further.

    It’s an interesting hypotheses, though.

    Dusty (43a9f3)

  17. “I’m not in the habit of proving that things did not happen”

    Seixon – I did not mean to suggest that you should try to prove that. I think it is incumbent on the progtards over DailyKos with blood on their hands from that violent triggering eliminationist rhetoric to prove they are not at fault for the shootings IYKWIMAITTYD.

    daleyrocks (e7bc4f)

  18. Dusty,

    As I pointed out, it seems logical that he purchased the gun in November after descending into depression after being kicked out of school at some point in October. This made him very distraught and angry, which seems to have set off all his YouTube rantings as well.

    I don’t think he had any specific plans for the gun at that point, just that he was pissed off and perhaps felt more empowered by having it.

    As far as opportunity to do the deed, Giffords was in Congress on the Thursday reading the Constitution, and I assume she went back to Arizona for the weekend. Someone can probably find out exactly when she returned to Tucson, but I’d make a bet it was Friday night.

    The “Congress on the Corner” event would therefore be the first opportunity for him to go after her directly following her reading of the Constitution. Which would be quite an unfortunate coincidence if that turns out to be the case.

    Just like the whole story around how JFK got shot, there were many unfortunate coincidences that gave Oswald the golden opportunity to make a big splash.

    And I reiterate again that this is all just a theory based on the facts as we know them; I expect the theory can soon be denied or confirmed based on any number of facts becoming known about the chain of events.

    As of now, I still don’t see any obstacles to the theory being true, and it would explain quite a few things about the why and when.

    Seixon (ee9f62)

  19. The fact that Jared was anti-semitic need to be part of the discussion.

    rab (7a9e13)

  20. FYI, an event in December did happen to him: He tried to enlist in the Army and didn’t get past the drug test.

    I think everybody’s focusing on “caused”. What caused him to be a killer? Voices in his head, insanity, mental illness.

    What caused him to re-focus on Giffords and take action on that particular Saturday? Maybe seeing her on the news just a few days before, followed by seeing that she would be having an event just a few miles from his home was enough of a trigger.

    AmishDude (6c348c)

  21. Where are we getting the idea that he hated the Constitution?
    From what I’ve read, he thought Pima College was unconstitutional because it had taken his money and kicked him out.

    MayBee (081489)

  22. I heart MayBee

    JD (d4bbf1)

  23. “From what I’ve read, he thought Pima College was unconstitutional because it had taken his money and kicked him out.”

    MayBee – I could be wrong, but I thought he kept sitting in class saying this is unconstitutional, not once, but like many classes, before his prof got fed up, and then they kicked him out.

    daleyrocks (e7bc4f)

  24. Where are we getting the idea that he hated the Constitution?

    One of his videos mentions that he has a problem with the Constitution due to the ratifications. And by ratifications I am not sure what he’s referring to (except probably not the ratification process).

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  25. It may be that specific events contributed to how things played out, and they might even seem “pretty obvious” in hind-sight,
    things “made sense” to an irrational person, so how would one ever proactively know how an irrational person will act? Irrational is not a pattern, it’s the lack of a pattern, that might even look rational by accident.

    Years ago I had a young man come into my office with his aunt whom he had been staying with. The fellow had a long history of getting into trouble, fights, etc. and had come to stay with his aunt “to get a fresh start”. He had been seen earlier (don’t remember how mush earlier) in a community mental health center for intake, and the counselor suggested he “see his family doctor to get something to help him sleep” until he could see the psychiatrist (in a couple of weeks). As I talked with this fellow in the presence of his aunt, he admitted to a long history of hearing voices, usually telling him to act violently towards someone or in specific situations. In fact, he went on, the voices were telling him to kill his aunt, but he had refused to listen to them (you should have seen her face when she heard that). Who could know how that much confusion came about, or why he had succeeded in ignoring the voices, or what could have pushed him over the edge.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  26. There was no triggering event and if you think there is, then you must also believe that the devil actually possesed David Berkowitz neighbor’s dog and it “triggered” him by telling him to kill.

    Crazy people don’t have or need a reason because ….they are insane. Although it is quite telling how many on the left and elected Democrats claim to know what supposedly was going through the mind of a homicidal maniac that clearly is crazy

    Indy (ad5c1e)

  27. Who could know how that much confusion came about, or why he had succeeded in ignoring the voices, or what could have pushed him over the edge.

    Comment by MD in Philly

    That’s heartbreaking. That’s the worst disease I can think of. It’s hard to apply that to Jared Loughner. Impossible for me, actually. But as long as he is never free again, I guess I’m satisfied.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  28. MayBee,

    December 15, 2010: “You don’t have to accept the federalist laws. Nonetheless, read the United States of America’s Constitution to apprehend all of the current treasonous laws… 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.”

    It’s hard to know exactly what he was thinking of the Constitution, it seems he sometimes used it to point out his rights, yet then he also called it treasonous and implicated that it was false due to “the ratifications”.

    Check this out though:

    Finally, several weeks into the class, McGahee said Loughner arrived and pointed to a copy of the U.S. Constitution on the wall.

    “‘You’re violating my First Amendment right of free speech,'” McGahee recalled him saying. “That’s when I went to go get the dean.”

    At that point, he said, a college official came to talk with Loughner, then assured McGahee that he would not return to class.

    I don’t know, maybe he cherished the First Amendment, and got incensed at seeing Giffords reading it.

    Maybe he snapped when he saw Giffords reading the First Amendment – because he felt that they had taken it away from him.

    The main point I’m trying to make is that a nexus of Loughners obsessions came together when Giffords read the First Amendment of the Constitution that Thursday, and he shot her as soon as she was publicly available to him.

    As we often joke: I question the timing!

    Seixon (f66dff)

  29. Laughner was also a UFO enthusiast and bought into the idea that the NASA moon missions were faked. I have also seen some indications that his delusions extended to the idea that the Shuttle program was fraudulent also, posting on some websites that the shuttle ‘could not sustain life while in orbit’. Could Gifford’s being married to a NASA astronaut and Shuttle Commander have helped force him over the edge?

    Have Blue (854a6e)

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