The Colorado shootings: There were danger signs

Colorado shooter’s stockpiling an arsenal was a danger sign

As word got out about the high-tech arsenal and combat gear amassed by Aurora, Colo., shooter James Holmes, some elements on the right immediately seized on the factual news as basis for supposititious theories. Predictably the theories are being circulated by email.


‘NaturalNews’ guy

The main narrative runs as follows:

Holmes’ equipment is too good for ordinary people to acquire, and therefore he must have had help/been coached by someone behind the scenes.

“In other words, this guy was equipped with exotic gear by someone with connections to military equipment.
SWAT clothing, explosives, complex booby-traps… c’mon, this isn’t a “lone gunman.” This is somebody who was selected for a mission, given equipment to carry it out, then somehow brainwashed into getting it done.”

The shooter’s actions seem out of character for Holmes.

“The New York Times is now reporting:
Billy Kromka, a pre-med student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, worked with Mr. Holmes for three months last summer as a research assistant in a lab of at the Anschutz Medical Campus. Mr. Kromka said he was surprised to learn Mr. Holmes was the shooting suspect. “It was just shocking, because there was no way I thought he could have the capacity to do commit an atrocity like this,” he said. (…)

“He spent much of his time immersed in the computer, often participating in role-playing online games…”

There is already conjecture that James Holmes may have been involved in mind-altering neuroscience research and ended up becoming involved at a depth he never anticipated. His actions clearly show a strange detachment from reality, indicating he was not in his right mind. That can only typically be accomplished through drugs, hypnosis or trauma (and sometimes all three).”

His behavior is inconsistent–“his behavior doesn’t add up”:

“His behavior already reveals stark inconsistencies that question the mainstream explanation of events. For example, he opened fire on innocent people but then calmly surrendered to police without resistance. This is not consistent with the idea of “killing everyone.”

Furthermore, he then admitted to police that his apartment was booby-trapped with explosives. If you were really an evil-minded Joker trying to kill people (including cops), why would you warn them about the booby trap in advance? It doesn’t add up.”

What does it all add up to? –An operation, a “deliberate plot” by government, its purpose to make guns look bad or, as they put it, go after the Second Amendment:

“More and more, this shooting is looking like a *deliberate plot* staged by the government itself much like /Operation Fast and Furious/ pulled off by the ATF
( which helped smuggle tens of thousands of guns into Mexico for the purpose of causing “gun violence” in the USA, then blaming the Second Amendment for it.”

The kicker? — Another purpose for this black op was to distract attention away from Rep. Michele Bachmann’s nut-stuff, McCarthyite accusations about a ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ in government. This one also has been transmitted by email:

” Please change: “has been successfully distracted”

To:  “has in effect been distracted from the Michele Bachmann, et al./Muslim Brotherhood issue, ” (plus additional edit):”


The foregoing is not the only misapplied rightwing conjecture about the Colorado shooter. Another web site, with singular nastiness, posits that he may be Jewish (spelled coyly). An early attempt via Facebook that ferreted out the wrong guy was widely reported–as was ABC News’ linking him briefly to the Tea Party.

These last two errors, however, are to some extent atypical. One thing the goofiest arguments tend to have in common is insisting falsely that the shooter was part of a group (wittingly or un-). As I wrote in my previous post on this sad topic, that is the key distortion. Incident after mass shooting incident involves a disturbed, loner-type guy–Littleton, Colo., Virginia Tech, Aurora, Colo.; the shootings at schools in Scotland and in China; the massacre of young people at a youth camp in Norway. Yet always the rightwing noise machine, the gun stockpilers, the NRA and the weapons-and-gear industry who market to them, and the political figures who pander to them continue to focus on and characterize, not him, but Them.

This is a classic example of what Freud called projection and denial.

Sometimes ordinary language hardly seems enough. We need a people’s mic here.

This shooting wasn’t an army against one individual.



It was the other way around.



It wasn’t a whole troop against one innocent guy.





It was one guy, armed to the teeth, shooting randomly at a crowd of innocent people,


Still might not work, of course–nothing seems to penetrate with these people. Also, they tend to have an entrepreneurial angle that could influence independent judgment, assuming independent judgment is still a desideratum. The ‘naturalnews’ web site quoted above, if you notice, is a big pusher of survivalist equipment–stock up now–including dietary/nutritional supplements. This is the dietary/etc equivalent of Glenn Beck’s pushing gold, urging listeners (if any) to hoard it up before the coming economic conflagration, yet unnamed. These are the spokespersons, if you notice, who tend not to be fans of government agencies like the FDA, the Federal Reserve and the FDIC. Again there might be a touch of the entrepreneurial in their outlook.

This entrepreneurial dimension is one thing the wing-nut sites have in common with corporate media outlets. They also have one story element in common with the largest media outlets, the insistence on Holmes as a ‘mystery man’ with ‘no background’. As posted previously, this one became an instant myth, conveyed here and here for example.

The right-wingers hype the supposed mystery angle to different effect than the larger outlets, of course. For the former, Holmes’ supposed lack of footprint makes him a shadow figure, a private-life version of the Manchurian candidate some of them–including some wealthy GOP donors–perceive President Obama to be. In this view, he is a deteriorated version of the Cary Grant character in Hitchcock’s brilliant North by Northwest, someone who can be grabbed and used by government agencies, sucked into some larger plot.


Cary Grant, heading for cornfield

‘Mainstream’ outlets touted Holmes’ supposed lack of footprint to more subtle and insidious effect.  The message embedded in that no-social-media-footprint meme? Simple:

  • We Can’t Tell what kind of person will just go off the rails next
  • So We Can’t Tell who will go out and shoot up a bunch of people
  • So There Is Nothing We Can Do About It
  • Therefore, There’s No Use trying for gun control.

This is not exaggeration, or not by much. This is nearly verbatim the line of thought voiced by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on a Sunday morning talk show after the Colorado shootings. It is also a line suspiciously easy for media outlets, under fear of pressure from NRA-influenced advertisers, to fall into.

Holmes will almost undoubtedly turn out to have had more cyber presence than has yet been fully reported. Before recently, he often went by the nickname Jimmy, and social media sites turn up countless Jimmy Holmeses; he did much of his combat-gear purchasing online, something that generally leaves a trail; and he played complex and obscure games online, like many of his peers. As written previously, one of Holmes’ new usernames turns up on Twitter–with the line, “When life gives you lemons, shoot people.”


News reports have already indicated some of the purchase trail. From the transcript:

“BOB ORR (CBS News Justice Correspondent): Bob, first of all, the Chief was modest. I don’t think he really gave us all the details of what the great work that’s been done on the ground has produced. The police there along with the federal partners have amassed a substantial case of evidence already. That this was a premeditated act of murder and the planning goes back about four months. They’ve recovered things like shipping labels from a dumpster in front of Holmes’s apartment. They’ve got credit card records. They know he shopped at internet sites like, They have a surveillance tape of Holmes allegedly picking up a hundred and sixty pounds of ammunition at a FedEx counter in Colorado. And they also have talked to a UPS driver that says, “Oh, I remember this guy. He had ninety packages delivered to him in his work address.”

More importantly, the unconscious obfuscation in this representation of Holmes as no-footprint is a sign of the deeper problem we have in discerning signs of mental illness or extreme distress even in people we know.

Mentally ill people are still people, and up to a point their behavior is that of other people. This is especially complicated in young people, who even in the best lives are often trying out new versions of themselves, deciding which version of themselves they want to be. The transition from Jimmy to ClassicJimbo could have been one of those harmless personality reinventions that young people engage in–like changing hair color or hairstyle, getting body piercings or tattoos, going on dating sites, choosing to go by first name rather than by middle name or vice versa, or by full name rather than nickname. (Some of the Obama-haters have made a big deal about that, re Obama; they tend not to mention that the young Mitt Romney–who started out Billy Romney–did the same.) Relocating to a different town, starting at a new school, changing relationships–all of these are stressful events; they also often accompany other experimentation, again often harmless.

But given what Holmes was engaged in, we don’t actually have to dig too deep to see the danger signs. The no-danger-signs meme is as false as the no-footprint meme. Holmes’ stockpiling deadly weapons and combat gear was itself a danger sign and should have raised a flag. ‘Jimmy Holmes’ may or may not turn up in social media. Maybe–can’t tell. His secretiveness or privativeness in playing online games may or may not turn out to exceed that of other adolescents; we can’t tell yet. But as with Cho at Virginia Tech and the pair of shooters at Columbine, one fact indubitably clear is that he was stockpiling implements of war, weapons and gear for the use of deadly force. A partial inventory of his deadly arsenal is provided by Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates; video here. Holmes also got online enough to display a mind running more and more on violence–shooting people. To the list of weapons and other gear and the explosive or incendiary devices in his apartment another item may be added. It sounds as if Holmes also purchased some kind of voice-distortion device for his answering machine, on which he left a recording that spooked a local gun-range owner.

It has now been reported that Holmes also sent a letter, before the shootings, to a professor at the University of Colorado. The letter did not receive its intended recipient, because campus mail did its usual thing.*

Extreme acts often generate extreme responses. Fortunately the shootings at a movie theater in Colorado have not brought a concomitant reaction of deadly force. But they did, initially at least, generate an extreme throwing up of hands in a collective media act of learned helplessness.

Hint, for those in the news media who–in between asking helplessly, What can we do?–are wondering What were the signs? Here are the signs: A young guy, educated, a good student, with his life ahead of him, started stocking up on assault guns, a high-powered rifle, body armor including throat protector and groin protector, tear gas/irritant containers, components for home-made explosives.


Et cetera.



* I am well aware that I have offended pro-gun lobbyists before. Some day, in a lighter moment, I hope to start on campus mail.


Dr. Lynne Fenton, the assistant professor to whom James Holmes wrote and sent a package, was also director of student mental health services at the University of Colorado medical school. Holmes was also one of her psychiatric patients.

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