Jared Lee Loughner

He claims to be a rigorous academic. He's not.

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Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, likes to say that “no organization anywhere in the world is a more devoted advocate of free speech.” His response to the tragic shooting in Tucson came, therefore, as something of a surprise. In early January, Assange issued a press release arguing, despite the lack of any evidence, that right-wing vitriol had provoked the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, to go on a murderous rampage.

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Is Help On the Way?

There’s still a lot we don’t know about the massacre in Arizona, but by now it’s quite clear that the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was mentally disturbed. In college, he was prone to surreal rants that unnerved classmates and teachers. While working at an animal shelter, he didn’t see why sick dogs needed to be kept away from healthy ones. Loughner’s friends were even aware of his weird obsession with Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

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When disaster strikes, journalists have to write something about it—and write it fast. That means they have to take mental shortcuts, calling up established narratives and laying them out like old wrapping paper for new and more ambiguous facts. (Wife poisons husband. Revenge killing? Money killing? Self-defense killing? We stand at the ready with a lot of templates.) While the resulting gift isn’t always pretty, it’s generally good enough for deadline work. But sometimes the shortcuts produce a journalistic stampede at the worst possible time.

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Warning label: This article will make civil libertarians unhappy. Read at your own risk. We are embroiled, alas, in a politicized argument about the slaughter in Tucson.

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A Gnawing Worry

The papers have mentioned it mainly in passing. Had this happened a decade ago, I would not have fixed on this detail. But Gabrielle Giffords is Jewish. And her alleged assassin, Jared Lee Loughner, is reported to have admired Mein Kampf and claimed ties to the anti-Semitic hate group called American Renaissance. Was this an anti-Semitic attack? There is no significant evidence to conclude as much, since we know hardly anything about the suspected killer.

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Perhaps the stupidest and least surprising comment about the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson came from New York Times columnist Matt Bai. Bai, the author of an interesting book about Democratic politics, analyzed the political environment—the universe of discourse that framed the alleged attempt at assassination by Arizonan Jared Lee Loughner. Here is what he wrote: Within minutes of the first reports Saturday that Representative Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, and a score of people with her had been shot in Tucson, pages began disappearing from the Web.

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