The man identified by authorities as the gunman in Saturday’s shooting rampage, which killed six and critically injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., appears to have left a trail of bizarre and anti-government messages on the Internet.
Law enforcement sources identified the gunman as Jared Lee Loughner, 22, of Tucson. Loughner, or someone using his name, left a series of postings and homemade videos that laid out a fervent, though largely incoherent, set of political views.
On YouTube, Loughner’s profile listed Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s “The Communist Manifesto” and Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” among his favorite books. He also included high school English class classics such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Old Man and the Sea,” plus children’s works such as Aesop’s fables and “The Phantom Tollbooth.”
In one video, titled “America: Your last memory in a terrorist country!,” a figure in dark clothing and a smiley-face mask burns an American flag in the desert. The soundtrack is a 2001 song by the band Drowning Pool, in which the singer repeatedly shrieks “Let the bodies hit the floor!”
Another, posted Dec. 15, begins with a line of text reading “My Final Thoughts: Jared Lee Loughner!” What follows on the screen are seemingly unconnected thoughts about currency and dreams, and the words “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.”
The videos also say that Loughner applied to join the U.S. Army. The Army issued a statement Saturday saying that he attempted to enlist but was rejected for reasons that officials would not disclose.
Another video attacks the police at Tucson’s Pima Community College, where he had been a student.
School officials said in a statement late Saturday that Loughner attended the community college from 2005 until last fall, when he withdrew after disciplinary problems.
The statement said that between February and September last year, campus police were called five times to deal with disruptions Loughner caused in classrooms and libraries. On Sept. 29, the college said, it discovered that Loughner had posted a YouTube video he had made on the campus.
“In the video, he claims that the college is illegal according to the U.S. Constitution, and makes other claims,” the college’s statement said.
That day, two police officers delivered a letter of suspension to Loughner at his parents’ house in a Tucson suburb.
On Oct. 4, during a meeting between Loughner, his parents and college administrators, he agreed to withdraw, the college said. School officials told him he could return only if he obtained a clearance certifying that “in the opinion of a mental health professional, his presence at the college does not present a danger to himself or others.”
Loughner’s troubled past also includes a drug arrest.
The videos do not mention Giffords by name. They do not describe any specific actions Loughner planned. And they do not seem to link Loughner explicitly to any mainstream political group or figures.
Federal law enforcement sources said Loughner used a Glock 19 semiautomatic pistol that was found with a fully loaded magazine that held about 30 bullets. He had another magazine that held about 30 bullets and two others that each held about 15 bullets. He also was carrying a knife.
The sources said he was standing about 15 feet from Giffords and started running, screaming something. Then he began firing rapidly, “pulling the trigger really fast.”
Loughner’s address is in a neighborhood of ranch houses and ramblers in a Tucson suburb lined with palm trees and cactus, just a few miles from the shopping center where Giffords was shot. By midafternoon, police had cordoned off an area of several blocks, as streams of reporters and other interested people rushed to the neighborhood.
In high school, Loughner played saxophone in the jazz band, and his clothes alternated between typical Arizona high school fashions – shorts and a T-shirt – and “Goth” clothes. Some days, said friend Timothy Cheves, Loughner would wear long, dark pants with chains on them, and T-shirts with the names of heavy-metal bands.
“He wasn’t very outgoing, but he was personable. If you sat down to talk to him, he would talk to you back,” Cheves, 22, said. “But he’d get frustrated with people easily. . . . He’d think that a lot of people were just idiots.”
That included people in politics, Cheves said: “He was like a radical against both parties. . . . From what I got, it seemed like he didn’t like anybody that was in power.”
Cheves recalled one moment when they worked together at a restaurant, the Mandarin Grill, where Loughner was a dishwasher.
“I was trying to tell him, you know, you need to get your life on the right track,” Cheves said. He believed Loughner was using marijuana. “I was telling him about God and all that. And he broke down crying, and he gave me a big ol’ hug, and said, ‘Thank you, you’re one of the only ones that ever listened to me.’ ”
Loughner never talked of using violence, Cheves said, but “there was something there that wasn’t quite right.”
According to a report in the Chicago Tribune, Giffords had expressed concern about being the object of a violent act. After being targeted for political defeat by Sarah Palin last year in a campaign that included a map with crosshairs on the targeted districts, Giffords told MSNBC, “We need to realize that the rhetoric, and the firing people up and … for example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s ‘targeted’ list, but the thing is, the way she has it depicted, we’re in the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve gotta realize that there are consequences to that action.”
In the hours after the shooting, Palin issued a statement: “My sincere condolences are offered to the family of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of today’s tragic shooting in Arizona.”