Published September 02, 2010
In perilous times, it is wise to know the demons we face.
Some have claimed that James Lee, the gunman and hostage killed by police yesterday at the Discovery Channel building, was a terrorist. They point to his writings about the need to save the planet from global warming and his rage that the Discovery Channel has been airing what he considered frivolous programming, while multiple species on the planet face extinction and others—like ants and squirrels—suffer needlessly.
We would be lucky if the terrorists we really face were as chaotic and easily identifiable as James Lee.
James Lee was a mentally ill, homeless, violent man who made his own brother-in-law fear for his life. Last year, he was arrested outside the Discovery Channel after throwing thousands of dollars up in the air to protest corporate greed. He objected to shows like “Dirty Jobs” and said at trial that he was inspired to save the planet not only by Al Gore, but by the novel “Ishmael,” about a talking gorilla.
Lee also wrote that he objected to all “immigration pollution and the anchor baby filth that follows that.”
That doesn’t sound like a very cogent political ideology fueling well-planned acts of terror meant to destabilize the United States government, does it?
Terrorists are evil warriors willing to risk their lives in acts of war designed to topple a government or achieve their well-thought-out and usually intellectually consistent, if horribly misguided, vision of cultural or religious or economic change.
Mentally ill, violent people (and most mentally ill people obviously are not) often express bizarre, delusional beliefs, not infrequently of a religious nature. These delusions can be fueled by schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder and other conditions, and complicated by substance abuse.
Fighting terrorism requires resources to ferret out those with rational plans afoot to achieve their ends. With American values on the line at home and abroad, we face a more aggressive and competent adversary than ever.
Fighting mental illness that leads to violence requires resources to ferret out those who have lost the ability to reason and are incompetent. In these tough times, we will face increasing numbers of such people.
We had better deploy each in proper measure at the right times or we will suffer, needlessly.
My guess is that James Lee had become hostage to a psychiatric disorder long before he took hostages. He should have been under enforced psychiatric care—perhaps as an outpatient taking required anti-psychotic medications—right from the moment he stood trial in a court of law last year. His brother-in-law should have been (but I’m not so sure he was) in touch with a psychiatrist at a local E.R. and the local police to report his concerns that Lee could kill someone.
Let’s not trivialize what we are up against in fighting terrorism by using the same label for an ill person trying to save ants and squirrels, prevent immigrants from having babies and stop the Discovery Channel from airing "Dirty Jobs."
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for Fox News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His book, “Living the Truth: Transform Your Life Through the Power of Insight and Honesty” has launched a new self-help movement including www.livingthetruth.com. Dr. Ablow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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