As more details are revealed about the background of purported 22-year-old shooter Jared Loughner, who is in custody currently for the shooting in Tucson today of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Federal Judge John Rell and a number of others, at least five of whom have died, a number of people are speculating about his possible mental illness. One diagnosis that keeps arising is schizophrenia. It’s worth looking into what that might mean.
Over the course of my psychology career, I have worked with schizophrenic individuals, and most are quite afraid of the world, and are far more likely to be victims than victimizers. However, there are a small minority whose delusions have led them to commit crimes.
I am a licensed psychologist and from afar, and am not in the position to diagnose Mr. Loughner. However, one can make some initial impressionistic comments based upon the video content he posted on YouTube. The autistic, in the sense of highly encapsulated and personal, nature of his thought processes, his emphasis on coercion from without (see his discussion about being taught letters of the alphabet), the strange nature of his logic and language, the paranoid attitude toward the world in general, are consistent with known cases of schizophrenia, paranoid type.
I cannot know if he is the shooter, but his videos do display a garbled mixture of political concerns, and there is a great deal about conscience (“conscience dreams”), about not doing wrong, about the definition of “terrorist”, about “grammar” and “currency”, about “brainwashing” and “mind control”. At times, appears as if he’s grappling with something struggling inside himself.
There are also indications of a sense of multiple internal selves, or a dissociated kind of experience (“conscience dreaming”) that may also mean he had dissociated personality as well. In fact, this combination of dissociated identity and schizophrenia is much more highly associated with violence than schizophrenia alone. Then again, his comments may only appear to indicate such dissociative processes, and be better accounted for by a thought disorder.
If one researches the words “conscience dreaming” online, you will find a YouTube video with that title, not by Mr. Loughner, and no connection with the latter is inferred, except that he may have watched the video. The video concerns three characters, The Agent, The Assassin, and The Dream Maker. There is also one imprisoned anonymous character. I find it quite coincidental to say the least that a phrase the supposed shooter used a number of times links to such a video which has such characters in it.
I would caution against implying any politics to someone who appears so disturbed, as his interpretation of political symbols and phrases are interpreted in a highly idiosyncratic and irrational way. However, if he were susceptible to violence, then the targets available by the given society, i.e., the rhetoric out there in the society, would have pointed him towards liberals, leftists, Muslims, or other minorities, and that kind of rhetoric has mainly been from the right-wing, as has been copiously commented upon.
As for whether such a person could be manipulated, it’s possible, but if he is as insane as he appears, he would have been a very unstable person upon which to base any such conspiracy. I tend to think, despite his talk about mind control and brainwashing, that he was not the subject of any such conspiracy. More likely, these concerns are more about such an individuals anxieties and paranoia about being controlled from without, about things outside himself threatening to invade his personal world. Concern with brainwashing is a common thread in narratives from schizophrenic individuals.
However, this doesn’t mean that mind control conspiracies by the government don’t exist. I’ve documented government documents, including of contemporary vintage, that prove such activity by the government still occurs. If one reads the history of this kind of research, attempts to really use mind control are not applied to schizophrenic individuals, though one does look for highly suggestible individuals, and then apply drugs and hypnosis and other programming techniques. The success or failure of such enterprises is highly classified.