Is the Tucson Shooter Just Like You?

Why the Internet is a lunatic’s best friend

Chances are none of us is ever going to really know what made Jared Lee Loughner shoot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and his other victims. Was it mental illness? Radio jock Jon Justice? The possibility that in a prior meeting, Giffords made fun of him? Impossible to say. Chances also are that if he tries to explain his motives, what he has to say won’t make sense to the rest of the world.

Except. It will to somebody. Or somebodies, rather, huddled in bedrooms and basements and library carrels, pulling up stories about Loughner on computer screens and scanning them eagerly, looking for points of connection, a kindred spirit, proof that the Tucson shooter is just like me. While the rest of us are seeking separation, distancing ourselves from the horror one human can do to other humans, somebody out there is hoping desperately to establish a … link.

We talk a lot about how the Internet connects us, makes the world smaller, enables us to find old friends and stay in touch with our kids and kindle new romance. We assume that the world’s 90 million daily Google users are more or less like us, interested in the same things we are: buying vintage guitars, say, or learning to knit, or seeing what Lindsay Lohan’s up to. Oh, we know there are mechanical-watch hobbyists out there, and the Pennsylvania Furries Website, and Rex Ryan’s wife’s feet, but we don’t dwell on that. We think, in passing: How nice. There’s something for everybody.

Loughner’s YouTube postings, like the one called “Hello,” don’t make sense to me. He says, “My favorite thing is conscience dreaming”; he talks about mind control and brainwashing and his hope to “inform literate dreamers in a new currency.” They’re making sense to somebody out there, though, just as David Wynn Miller’s insistence that the government is trying to control us through grammar seems to have made sense to Loughner somehow.

As I was writing this, I went to heat up my cup of coffee in the microwave. As I watched the seconds tick off, I decided to google the phrase “voices from my microwave” when I got back to my desk. It was like diving through a rabbit hole:

“Covering my chest with aluminum foil does protect me from the attacks.”

“This is not a joke or a troll. In 2005 I was able to record my voices. Listen to them at;”

“If you hear microwave ‘voices’ in the head, it is caused by invisible operatives of surveillance station/system and don’t listen to it to kill.”

I find these writings disturbing and pathetic. But if I were hearing voices from my microwave, finding a million and a half other people who are hearing them, too, would be hitting the jackpot. It would prove those voices exist, and that my therapist and my ex-girlfriend and the appliance repairman and my mom are wrong.

Dead wrong, maybe.

How many genies fit in the magic bottle of the Internet?