A right-wing extremist named Elwyn Nels Fossedal was arrested yesterday after he publicly announced his compulsion to assassinate President Obama. While standing in line at the post office last month, Fossedal reportedly declared, “If President Obama was here I would shoot him right there and kill him right now.”
You know, because Fossedal’s a patriot (note the flag shirt above).
And he refused to renounce his threat. According to the criminal complaint, when he was confronted by the Secret Service, Fossedal “repeated the threat using different words. He also made a number of additional threats towards the President.”
You might not be surprised to learn several things about this would-be assassin. He’s an 81-year-old former employee with Pfizer, and, yep, he’s a Birther who believes the president wasn’t born in the United States and is therefore illegally occupying the White House. He once wrote online, “We need to throw the Muslim in the White House, OUT,” and he’s remarked that the Affordable Care Act is grounds for impeachment.
Fossedal is also “proficient in the use of various firearms,” according to investigators. On his Facebook page, Fossedal shared a link to a post by the National Association for Gun Rights accusing Hillary Clinton and others of being “gun grabbers.”
Oh, and he’s evidently a Rush Limbaugh fan.
My visceral disdain for Limbaugh is well documented, but there’s no evidence suggesting that Rush Limbaugh is to blame for Fossedal wanting to kill the president. Nor would it be fair to blame Limbaugh if this mentally unbalanced old man ever acted upon his threat. There are millions of Americans who listen to Limbaugh and aren’t consequently motivated to assassinate the president. Fossedal is clearly a very angry, disturbed gun-fetishist with, perhaps, some archaic views about race, religion and ideology.
A wackaloon’s assassination fantasy, and especially the re-stating of that fantasy in the faces of agents tasked with protecting the life the of the president, has little if anything to do with the Rush Limbaugh program. Plotting an assassination requires a special kind of psychopathy. I’m not a mental health expert, but it’s eminently reasonable to suggest that while, yes, pop culture and the news media can influence opinions, those influences can’t and shouldn’t be held accountable when or if a man threatens to pursue the extreme measure of shooting the president.
That said, unfettered access to murder weapons, and, to a lesser degree, a gun culture that romanticizes the ownership and use of those weapons, ought to be held accountable. Always. It seems obvious, but without his gun(s), Fossedal would have very limited means with which to act upon his threat.
So it goes with Adam Lanza.
The official report on the Sandy Hook massacre was issued yesterday by Connecticut’s attorney general Stephen Sedensky. Obviously the process of reviewing the official analysis of the horrifying event wasn’t nearly as awful as watching it unfold nearly a year ago, but it was still a harrowing read.
On top of a detailed description of what happened in Newtown on that terrible day, the report also went into exhaustive detail about Lanza’s personal life, hobbies and interests. He suffered from a variety of mental health issues, including Asperger’s syndrome. He was obsessed with war, but never showed any tendency to act out violently.
Specifically, investigators discovered copies of Left 4 Dead, Metal Gear Solid, Half-Life, Battlefield, Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto and Doom in Lanza’s bedroom. Well then, case closed. Any second now, the NRA will issue the statement: it was the influence of violent video games that killed 20 children and six school teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary. In 5… 4… 3…
But what you won’t see in the news or on various right-wing websites is the fact that Lanza’s favorite video games were Dance Dance Revolution and Super Mario. I realize there’s some overlap between modern conservatives and the puritanical town elders from Footloose, but I refuse to believe anyone could reasonably blame dancing for the Sandy Hook massacre.
Investigators also determined that Lanza was obsessed with other mass shootings, especially the Columbine massacre and the terrible Amish school shooting in Pennsylvania. Are we not supposed to cover massacres in the news for fear of people engaging in copy-cat murders?
Ultimately, the state was unable to determine a specific motive in the shooting.
But, like Fossedal, the most direct link between a disturbed brain and a mass shooting is the availability of weapons that are designed to conveniently end lives. Without the weapons, Sandy Hook and similar acts of violence wouldn’t have occurred. Full stop.