Skip to comments.Mark Steyn: The psychological profilers haven't hit the sniper yet
Posted on 10/19/2002 5:45:46 PM PDT by Pokey78
The sniper? "It's possible he's alienated, hateful and acting against society," said Dr Michael Welner on CNN on Friday. Well, it's possible, but let's not go out on a limb there, Doc.
Dr Welner is a forensic psychologist and the inventor of the "Depravity Index", which measures whether a crime is "vile" or merely "heinous" or maybe "heinously vile". Unlike all the other criminologists on CNN that day, Dr Welner's analysis does at least have the merit of being probably correct: it seems likely that in killing nine people the sniper is acting against society.
But let's try to put together a more detailed psychological profile: it's clear we're dealing with someone who craves publicity, who derives some kind of sick thrill out of what he's doing, whose sense of superiority is fed by the kick he gets being one step ahead of the cops, whose need to express his fantasies leads him to repeat the act again and again, until eventually his arrogance causes him to slip up, he gets careless and sloppy. But enough about the psychological profilers, what about the killer?
Well, he could be a "troubled loner". Except they're now saying there might be two of them. Maybe they're two troubled loners, and they're troubled because they're loners and aren't used to working as a pair.
That's the trouble with this approach. Everything that seems to point in one direction could also point in the opposite. The tarot card left at one murder scene appears to suggest the sniper isn't an Islamic terrorist. On the other hand, "Dear policeman, I am God" doesn't sound like someone whose first language is English. "Policeman" is not a word in common currency in suburban Maryland. Perhaps the killer's British. Perhaps he's a Gilbert and Sullivan fan. Perhaps he's a troubled loner trying to sound like an Islamic terrorist. Or perhaps he's an Islamic terrorist trying to sound like a troubled loner.
Likewise, the fact that he hasn't killed since Monday may be due to those aerial surveillance "drones" the Pentagon's loaned the local cops. Or because having killed nine people in 11 days - 9/11, geddit? - his mission is complete. Or maybe he's visiting his aunt in Buffalo. As one expert analyst apparently said on BBC's Newsnight the other night in response to his fellow experts' analysis, "It's all sheeyut."
Very true. In times like these, I prefer talk radio to talk TV. On the TV talkshows, it's non-stop psychological speculation. On the radio phone-in shows, the talk is all of bullets and angles and which semi-automatic is chambered for which calibre. Being blessedly free of professional full-time performing experts, the radio shows have only thousands of gun-nut listeners to rely on, and, in their area of expertise, they at least know what they're talking about.
America's diversity-conscious pantywaist newsrooms must have some of the lowest rates of gun ownership in the country, and when something like this comes along it shows. The vague references to "assault-type weapons" are just plain lazy: given that just about the only thing we know is that it's a .223-calibre bullet, the guy could be using a l'il ol' varmint gun for taking out pesky squirrels in the backyard. Nor does he have to be a "trained marksman" with a military background: I'm not a particularly good shot, but I reckon I could kill a guy at 75-200 yards.
According to police, the trickiest hit was the one from 150 yards that sailed down a narrow corridor between two petrol-pump islands and killed Dean Myers. But the murderer wasn't trying to murder Mr Myers. In essence, he just lined up the shot and waited for someone - anyone - to walk into it and, given that a guy pumping petrol is standing still for several minutes, he's basically a stationary target. It requires a lot less finesse than, say, turkey hunting.
When the expert commentators get so much of the easily verifiable stuff wrong, it's hard to see why their airier fancies should command respect. Is the sniper linked to al-Qaeda? "Most unlikely," says professor of anthropology Elliott Leyton. "Such groups, religious or political, generally find their murderous pleasures in bombs, aeroplanes and gas, not rifles."
In fairness to the Islamofascists, when it comes to their "murderous pleasures" variety is the spice of death. They disdain a consistent modus operandi. Much of what they do is unprecedented: September 11, the shoe bomber, the Afghan resistance leader they assassinated by posing as interviewers and killing him with a disguised camera. Before I rule out the Islamists, I'd want a better reason than Prof Leyton's.
But, if we're getting into what the Prof regards as pretty wacky territory, it may be because this story isn't proceeding as your run-of-the-mill killing spree does. A few days ago, I caught the tail end of a news bulletin on how the police had at last put together a "composite". I was impressed.
But it turned out to be a composite not of the suspect but of his vehicle, a Chevy Astro van. Why do you need a composite of a van? Any old Chevrolet dealer can give you a full-colour picture. Did the van have a prominent mole on its passenger-side door? A cleft windscreen? Did do they do a computer projection of what the Astro would be like if it grew a beard? As it turned out, when the "composite" was eventually released, it was a perfectly ordinary Astro.
But the bigger a deal the cops made of the suspect's vehicle the more you noticed how little they had to say about the suspect. The only detail - the description of him by certain witnesses as "olive-skinned" - was leaked, and Charles Moose, Chief of Police of Montgomery County, was none too happy about it.
We do know one thing, though: whether or not it's Islamic terrorism, it's terrorism. As The New York Times reported: "He seems to be killing to create public fear rather than to settle a grudge or inflict pain on his victims.
'I've just never seen a serial killer whose motivation seems to be to create terror in the community rather than to see his individual victims suffer,' said James Alan Fox, a professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University in Boston who has written books on serial killers." The reason Prof Fox has never seen a serial killer do that is because that's not what serial killers do; it's what terrorists do.
If TV's round-the-clock psychological profiling by the experts on troubled loners seems weirdly irrelevant, it's because it's like bringing in the tennis commentators to do Test Match Special.
Oh, well. Perhaps it'll just be another one of those odd things that seems to happen for a bit and then fade away, like the anthrax attacks a year ago, which remain, officially, unrelated to September 11. Meanwhile, the police have advised area residents that they can make themselves safer by walking briskly in a zig-zag pattern.
Anyone wanting a good demonstration of how to do this should rent the video of Brigadoon (1954) and study the scene where Gene Kelly runs diagonally through the heather to Cyd Charisse while singing the verse of Almost Like Being in Love. What works for a couple of lovebirds in Hollywood's Scottish Highlands may be a little more chaotic when practised by thousands of people on a crowded pavement, but I'm sure Chief Moose knows what he's doing.
And in its own way it's the perfect visual representation of the in-depth media analysis - zigging here, zagging there, all over the map.
Don't rule out a bear with a grudge.
My conclusion is that the WTC attack was done by a lost civilian pilot or the U.S. Air Force.
What do you mean "don't give up the day job, Bill?"
Sounds like some threads on FR. ;o)
With all due respect to my fellow Freepers who really, truly, know their stuff.