Two weeks ago, another senseless mass shooting occurred in the U.S. The perpetrator, Aaron Alexis, stole twelve American lives (in addition to his own), injured another eight, and decimated most of what remained of the fragile hope I carried in my heart. The hope that this attack would be the one that removes semi-automatic and automatic weapons out of the hands of anyone but the police, security personnel, and the military. The hope that this attack would be the one to convince anyone suffering from a mental illness to seek help – without the threat of societal judgement. The hope that this attack would be the last. For a long time, anyway.
Perhaps I was naive.
The worst part is that when I write about this attack, I don’t mean the shooting committed by Aaron Alexis. No, I’m still reeling from Aurora. James Holmes’ hang dog face was burned into my eyelids the moment I glimpsed his cartoonish red hair and sly, but vacant – maybe too vacant – expression. Most serial killers don’t stand out because they’re too busy blending in. They live lives that don’t draw attention. Or suspicion. (Yes, I’ve been watching a lot of Dexter recently, so I’ve got mad criminal profiling skills.)
Similarly, many who’ve known mass murderers – defined as a person who kills four or more people in a single incident – will confirm that they were shocked to discover that their friend, family member, neighbor or colleague was arrested for the first-degree murder of, not one, or even two people, but a dozen. All at once. When interviewed by the press, they nearly always say: “He seemed like a nice guy.” “He was always friendly to me.” “He kept to himself, but was really pleasant.” No one ever says, “I saw this coming from a mile away. That dude was a burnt sienna short of a box of Crayolas.”
Mass murderers are almost never biker-types with tat sleeves, shaved heads and a long, deep facial scars. They don’t typically look like Walter White; they more closely resemble your next door neighbor with the expensive landscaping and the Lexus…or his shy, college-educated son. Aaron Alexis could have passed for my friend’s husband. But James Holmes remains an enigma. On the surface, he makes Charles Manson look like your favorite babysitter, albeit one with a swastika carved into his forehead. James Holmes looks utterly cray cray, but he’s almost textbook – and that’s where the problem lies. After all, he was enrolled in a prestigious, neuroscience doctoral program. He had access to thousands of scholarly tomes about mental disorders, and made a classroom presentation entitled,”Biological Basis of Psychiatric and Neurological Disorders.” Certainly, we’re all hoping that he is mentally ill, because if he’s not, it’s terrifying to conceive that a sane person could mow down a dozen innocent moviegoers, and injure another 58, with such cold precision.
So when I read that Aaron Alexis had been hearing voices in the weeks prior to the shooting, I felt a sense of relief. The monster who terrorized the employees of the Washington Navy Yard was mentally ill. He wasn’t a bad person; he was a sick person who did a bad, bad thing. One whom believed his insomnia was caused by people “using some kind of microwave machine” that made his body vibrate and prevented him from sleeping – a fact that only cemented my resolve that Alexis was as much of a victim as the innocent people whom he killed. A victim who had notified authorities about his paranoid hallucinations, and, yet, nothing was done to prevent the heinous crime Alexis was to commit mere weeks later.
Last night, I was reading an article about the politicians responsible for the federal government shutdown. When I came across the following statement, my heart lodged in my throat:
And I am concerned. They are shipping all the, I’m concerned about the microchips. That they are in many, many of the things that we own. And some of those are embedded, I believe, with, with detection and, uh, capabilities or tracking capabilities.
That’s no mass murderer; it’s Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler of Missouri (R), who apparently believes that her Chinese-manufactured blender is listening in as she makes her morning smoothie. What’s her solution to this dilemma? “We need to have a new 007 James Bond movie with China as the bad guys.” Erm, didn’t we do that already in Tomorrow Never Dies? I would think if China actually feared Hollywood, they wouldn’t illegally manufacture and sell bootleg copies of every major motion picture released, without paying a yuan in royalties.
Not surprisingly, she’s also a birther who has publicly said, “I have doubts that it is really his [President Obama’s] birth certificate…” Funny, she hasn’t questioned Sen. Ted Cruz’s citizenship – and he admits that he was hatched in Canada. (Yes, Canada, you owe us big time for that one. I don’t care if you gave us Ryan Gosling and William Shatner; you’re also responsible for Justin Bieber, so this is strike deux.)
More alarming is the fact that she also appears to be hearing voices. Just yesterday, she was quoted as saying, “The American people have spoken already on this. They do not want Obamacare.” Really? According to RealClearPolitics.com, five times as many people have already visited the Obamacare website than have ever visited Medicare.gov. In fact, it’s been reported that 4.7 million people dropped by Healthcare.gov within the first twenty-four hours of the site being launched, despite the fact that the federal government had just been shutdown by a handful of Tea Party zealots attempting to hold it hostage. So, who are the faces behind these “American people” Hartzler speaks of? Maybe this one:
Rep. Hartzler credits God with inspiring her decision to become a politician. At the age of nine. Did it occur to her that God may have only been encouraging her to run for Playground Committee Chairwoman, not Congress? What does God’s inspiration sound like, anyway? My vote would go to Morgan Freeman, but I suspect Hartzler’s God sounds more like Charleston Heston: “Run for Congress, Vicky, or I’ll pry this gun out of my cold, dead hands and show you how I parted the Red Sea.” The poster child for the anti-choice movement, she supports charging women who have abortions with first degree murder, and the physicians who perform said abortions with second degree murder. Climate change? She’s not buying it. She’s not even certain it exists…but if it does, she doubts “that man has a very significant role in that.”
I’d bet that Rep. Hartzler believes unicorns shit rainbows, but considering that she is a rabid, anti-LGBT activist, I doubt she recognizes the existence of rainbows at all. Kinda like gay marriage. Evolution. Gravity. On the upside, Hartzler supports increasing the size of the Navy in her land-locked Missouri. Erm, okay. You never know when North Korea is going to invade Mark Twain Lake.
While I’m relieved that it appears that Rep. Hartzler is suffering from a mental illness – much like Aaron Alexis – I’m concerned that she, along with a small Tea Party minority, seems to possess the power to shut down the federal government. When did we decide to hand the keys to the asylum over to the inmates? Why is John Boehner listening to a vapid, former home economics teacher whose greatest, single accomplishment so far is her contribution to passing a Missouri constitutional amendment banning gay marriage…in a state in which gay marriage was already illegal. Nothing like killing a fly with a jackhammer, huh, Hartzler?
If we continue to allow politicians who hear voices and hold conference calls with God, yet speak in whispers when within sight of a household appliance, to make decisions about the future of the United States, we could end up with much worse than 800,000 federal government staffers being furloughed indefinitely and Panda Cam going dark. In some ways, political terrorism is no different than a mass shooting, and the perpetrators no different than Aaron Alexis. Both wield power through fear. Both directly and indirectly impact the lives of thousands of people through intimidation, through terror. Both control the majority through the acts of the minority. Both hurt people.
For her sake, I hope Rep. Vicky Hartzler is mentally ill. Because if she’s not, that would make her a monster.
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Note: This post was not written, in any way, to trivialize or capitalize upon the victims of both the Aurora movie theater or Washington Navy Yard shootings. Please know that I offer my deepest condolences to both the victims and their families. Nor is this post intended to poke fun at those who bravely suffer from mental illness. Except for Vicky Hartzler. I was totally making fun of her.
Update: As per The Huffington Post, a Government Accountability Office analysis of Drug Enforcement Administration data has named Missouri the “methiest” state with 1,825 meth lab busts and seizures in 2012. One of only three states with over 1,000 incidents, Missouri beat out West Virginia, which ranks second with 1,585 arrests and seizures. Mother Jones reports that the most common victim of meth burn, often caused by the “shake and bake” manufacturing method, is under 4 years of age. Way to go, Rep. Hartzler! Maybe you should focus less on your anti-LGBT, anti-choice, anti-Chinese appliances, and anti-Affordable Healthcare Act platform, and focus on something that’s a genuine problem in your state.