The Convenient Politicization of Mental Illness

Though there remains no rational explanation for evil, that doesn’t stop the mainstream media and politicians from pouncing on stories that might or might not fit their preferred narrative while completely avoiding others.  Two mass murders, two very different explanations, guess which one gets the non-stop white supremacy did it coverage?

By all fair-minded accounts, the young man who killed 8 people on a shooting spree at three massage parlors in Georgia was seriously disturbed.  The person responsible, 21 year old Robert Aaron Long, of Woodstock, GA is believed to have suffered from “sex addiction,” having previously gone to rehab for the condition.  He also considered himself a deeply religious person, though he’d apparently frequented some of the massage parlors in question for sex and was recently thrown out of his church.

A former roommate at a rehab facility, Tyler Bayless, told CNN that Long was “tortured” by his condition, “It was something that absolutely would torture him.”  In between the torture, “he would often go on tangents about his interpretation of the Bible,” and yet he would still frequented the massage parlors.  As CNN reported, “Long told him that he had ‘relapsed’ and ‘gone to massage parlors explicitly to engage in sex acts.’”

In addition to his church, he was recently kicked out of his family home and apparently spiraled further from there.  The spokesman for the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, Captain Jay Baker claimed Long was “pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope. Yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did.”  Long himself claims the attack wasn’t racially motivated, but police are cautioning it is too early to conclude anything definitively.  As Baker described it, Long “apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction, and sees these locations … [as] a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.”

I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist.  Therefore, I’ll forgo a discussion on whether or not sex addition is a serious mental illness, but at the same time it’s pretty clear Long wasn’t exactly a well adjusted member of society.  At least at this point, no one has turned up any evidence of racial bias or a political motivation for the attack.  Instead, it seems this was a man at the end of his rope, in and out of rehab, confused by his own religiosity and inability to cope with temptation, ultimately on the street and finally snapping in one of the most horrible ways imaginable.

As a reasonably “normal” person, I’ll admit this motivation doesn’t make much sense to me, at least rationally.  The bible Long espouses also includes the commandment, thou shout not kill, and yet that didn’t stop him.  He claims to have wanted to remove the temptation, but killing 8 women in a world as drenched in sex as Earth in the year 2021 isn’t likely to do so.  He claims to have been “tortured” and yet visited death on others, apparently with no qualms about being tortured by their blood on their hands.

In short, it doesn’t add up, but the truth is these sorts of shootings almost never do.  You don’t excuse the jealous lover who kills their ex or the criminal that kills for money, but at least you can understand it in some sense, passion and power being common motivations for human actions both good and evil.  Mass shootings tend to be another matter, one where we try to attribute some kind of rational reason for the massacre, but are rarely successful. The explanation can never quite capture the nature of the atrocity.

Why did James T. Hodgkinson shoot up a Congressional baseball game in 2017?  He claimed that “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.,” on Facebook, but how many similar posts have you seen from your liberal friends and how many of them armed up and started firing at a baseball field?  How many killers do you know do so because they are Democrats or Republicans?

Why did Omar Mateen shoot up the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL in 2016?  Ostensibly, Mateen pledged allegiance to the Islamic state, telling the 911 operator, “My name is I pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State.”  At the same time, he was born in New York in 1986.  He had some peripheral ties to extremist organizations but underwent no training and was part of no larger plot.  His father said “I apologize for what my son did. I don’t know why he did it.  He is dead, so I can’t ask him. I wish I knew.”  His father also noted that he had become angered at the sight of two men kissing, but reports indicated he had frequented the nightclub as a patron.  Meaning, he might have been gay himself.  We will likely never know why he did it.

Of course, the mother of all we-will-never-knows is the Las Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, a 64 year old man from Mesquite, NV who killed 60 people at a country music festival seemingly without any motivation at all.  The attack was well planned, including securing a precisely located room at Mandalay Bay and secretly transporting weapons and ammunition.  There remains no known motive for the massacre, meaning the worst mass shooting in United States history has no rational explanation.

This should not be surprising:  There is no rational explanation for evil.  There are patterns, yes, many shooters are male, late teens and early 20s, many seem to suffer from some kind of paranoid delusions that people are out to get them, some even latch onto an extremist ideology.  Regardless, ascribing purely rational motives to their behavior remains fruitless because “normal” people simply don’t go on shooting rampages.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop the media and the politicians from trying to do exactly what whenever it is convenient for them, ascribing rational motives to the shooter and then going a step further and tying it all to some narrative they want to push.  Even worse, they only do this sometimes, in certain circumstances.  One of the reasons I selected the three examples above from the dozens of mass shootings over the past two decades is because the media and the politicians generally refrained from over generalizing those acts.  In fact, they did the same with another mass murder in Colorado just this week, more on that in a moment.

There were no calls for Bernie Sanders or Democrats in general to check their rhetoric for fear of inspiring another killer.  There was little talk about how Mateen flirted with Islamacists, instead the preference was to focus on the anti-gay angle.  Paddock was and remains a mystery, but not Robert Aaron Long.  In his case, they know precisely why he did:  White supremacy, of course!

The day after the attack, the LA Times pondered, “If the mass killing of six Asian women isn’t a hate crime, what is?” conveniently neglecting the other two victims who were not of Asian decent.  Mary McNamara writes, “If anyone was still “uneducated” about the insidious and brutal nature of racism in this country, the recent contemptible slaughter of eight people, including six Asian women, in the Atlanta area, along with the early police statements and media coverage of the crime, should clear everything right up.”

Not content to limit her condemnation to the murderer himself, Ms. McNamara also took on the cops.  “The ‘bad day’ comment may go down as the official worst public statement ever made by a law enforcement officer, but honestly, the entire early narrative offered by Cherokee County was horrifying. And not in a ‘let’s add insult to injury’ way.”  Ms. McNamara views the incident as displaying “all the social forces of sexism and racism that make this mass killing possible,” then she proceeds to lambaste the media for daring to run articles featuring the police’s point of view on their own investigation.

“It would be laughable, if it weren’t so catastrophic. And tragic. And infuriating. And proof of exactly what the problem is.”  Yes, it’s proof of what the problem is when the police, acquaintances of Long, his family members, and a complete lack of evidence of racial animus lead reasonable people to conclude that racism wasn’t the driving factor.  Amazingly, Ms. McNamara admits that she has no evidence herself, “Long may or may not have been motivated by the recent rise in anti-Asian rhetoric,” but then she concludes, without evidence as it were, “Long was most certainly acting on a broader and more historic variety of racism.”

How does she know?

Of course, she doesn’t, but she is not alone.  Arwa Mahdawi, writing for The Guardian, takes a similar tact, “When police tell us the man who confessed to killing eight people around Atlanta was having ‘a bad day’ it goes way beyond one cop making an idiotic comment.”  She claims that “like clockwork, as soon as the news broke, the excuses started. Sure, what he did was terrible, but let’s not rush to describe Angry White Guy #72524 as a racist or a misogynist or a domestic terrorist!”  She believes that Captain Baker’s “sympathy towards a guy who admitted to killing eight people is just the latest example of how quickly white male violence is rationalized and excused.”

Who, precisely, is making excuses for anyone or rationalizing anything?  I know of no one doing either; it appears Long is a monster and he will be held accountable for these crimes.  No one to my knowledge disputes this, nor does Ms. Mahdawi say herself, but she refuses to be confined to facts either.  Can she tell us what evidence she has that the police “sympathized” with a mass murderer?  For a poor turn of phrase at a press conference?

There is also an irony here that is, apparently, lost on both her and Ms. McNamara:  They and others pushing the narrative are in fact the ones rationalizing and making excuses.  Think this through with me here:  If you believe Long was steeped in white supremacy and misogyny since birth, if you believe both are embedded intrinsically in Western Culture, and you believe he committed these crimes because of that awful heritage, aren’t you rationalizing and excusing evil?  If white supremacy is such a powerful force, how can a poor boy resist it?

Damon Young, writing for The Root, claims that “Whiteness is a pandemic.  Whiteness is a public health crisis.”  If that is the case, however, how is Long responsible for his actions?  Isn’t he just a victim of the virus?

I should also point out that it ’ s more than a little rich for these writers to claim that there’s any hesitancy to attribute anything to white supremacy.  The charge is made daily, about everything, from TV shows to the Royal Family in England to the former President.  There’s no shortage of asking people to check their privilege.

There is, however, a shortage of objectivity and perspective.  There was another mass murder this week in Colorado.  Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa shot and killed ten people at a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder.  The CNN article covering the story doesn’t even mention potential ties to terrorism, noting that no motive was disclosed and quoting family members who claim he was suffering from mental illness.  To date, there are no articles from the usual suspects linking this murder to Islamic extremism.

I wonder why that could be:  One fits their narrative, another doesn’t, and the convenient politicization continues apace.

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