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Experts see echoes of extremism in Loughner's ramblings

Experts say the suspect in the Arizona shooting rampage is fixated on issues cited by other extremists. But he also appears to have been influenced by the far left.

January 12, 2011|By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times

The ramblings of accused Arizona killer Jared Lee Loughner are difficult to tie to a coherent political philosophy, yet in them can be discerned a number of themes drawn from the right-wing patriot and militia movements, experts said.

Analysts on the left and the right have debated Loughner's disjointed Internet and YouTube postings, each finding fodder to blame the other for inspiring the 22-year-old.

Most wind up concluding that Loughner suffered from mental problems. But experts said that several oft-repeated phrases and concepts — his fixation on grammar conspiracies, currency and the "second United States Constitution" — seem derived from concepts explored with regularity among elements of the far right.

"What you can see across the board in his writings is the idea that you can't trust the government — that the government engages in mind control against its citizens," said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has long monitored the radical right.

Loughner's assertion that he would not "pay debt with a currency that's not backed by gold and silver" is a running theme among right-wing opponents of the Federal Reserve system.

"The people who talk about the manipulation of currency follow it backward from the IRS to the Federal Reserve … that it's run by either secret, powerful elites or secret, powerful Jewish elites," said Chip Berlet, senior analyst at Political Research Associates, a nonprofit group that also monitors right-wing extremism.

Berlet wrote an article this week noting that similarly disjointed talk of government currency and money manipulation plots was found in the case of antiabortionist John C. Salvi III, convicted in the 1994 clinic shootings in Massachusetts that left two women dead and several people injured.

Potok said it appeared that Loughner's frequent references to government control of the public through grammar ("The government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar," Loughner said in one video) were drawn from David Wynn Miller, a far-right activist in Milwaukee.

Miller has argued to a small but avid following that the government launched a control program by writing citizens' names in capital letters on their birth certificates, and that if colons and hyphens are added to people's names in a certain way, they become a "prepositional phrase" no longer subject to taxation.

Miller said in an interview that he didn't know Loughner, and, in reference to the large number of people who have visited his website, added, "There's never been anybody in 31 years to act like this."

Berlet noted Loughner's declaration about a "second Constitution" — an issue debated by mainstream scholars and white supremacists alike over the markedly different character of the amendments that came after the Civil War.

The 13th, 14th and 15th amendments deal with citizenship and voting rights for freed slaves, immigrants and all those born in the U.S., the latter being a key point of controversy in the modern immigration debate. They also establish the "validity of the public debt of the United States" — echoing, Berlet suggested, the issue of U.S. currency.

"Reading the second United States Constitution, I can't trust the government because of the ratifications," Loughner wrote.

On the other hand, some analysts say Loughner had an equal number of leftist inspirations.

"The Communist Manifesto" is one of the books he favored, and a former high school friend reported on Twitter that Loughner was a "pot head" whose tastes ran to Jimi Hendrix, the Doors and Anti-Flag a radical leftist punk band whose music focuses on themes of corporate greed, U.S. foreign policy and opposition to war.

Most analysts said Loughner displayed no anti-Semitic or anti-immigrant leanings. Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research at the Anti-Defamation League said his writings were so formless that tying them to any coherent philosophy was impossible.

"Most of it is entirely unrelated to any ideology at all," he said.

Potok agreed on his website that Loughner was most likely influenced by ideas around him, rather than perpetrating a philosophy of his own.

"But at the same time, I think you can find clues to some of the ideas that have influenced him, and I think many of them are clearly coming from the extreme right."

kim.murphy@latimes.com

Times staff writer Molly Hennessy-Fiske contributed to this report.

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