Published September 01, 2010
James Jay Lee wasn't a stranger to the Discovery Channel employees he terrorized Wednesday with a gun and with what appeared to be makeshift bombs strapped to his chest and back.
Lee, a 43-year-old California man with a seemingly religious fervor for his environmental causes, had a history of targeting the channel for its programming, most notably in a 2008 protest in front of the channel's Silver Spring, Md., headquarters, where 1,900 employees work. On that day, the protest included tossing wads of cash in the air, and it ended in his arrest.
But web postings show Lee was increasingly obsessed with civilization's "filth" and the problem of over-population, which he blamed on "parasitic human infants." That obsession ended Wednesday afternoon when police shot and killed him to end a nearly four-hour hostage standoff inside the Discovery headquarters. Lee's three hostages escaped safely.
Those who knew him say they weren't surprised.
"A desperate act to validate his own ego and opinion," is how Lee's brother-in-law, Thomas Leonard, described the attack in an interview with Fox News' Neil Cavuto as the hostage standoff was unfolding.
Lee had "a lack of respect for any type of authority" and was prone to "emotional outbursts" and "erratic behavior," Leonard said.
Lee had issued a list of demands in an online manifesto that criticized Discovery for what he saw as the channel's promotion of human birth and war coverage, and he called on the channel to devote programming to exposing evil deeds of man.
"Civilization must be exposed for the filth it is," the manifesto reads. "That, and all its disgusting religious-cultural roots and greed. Broadcast this message until the pollution in the planet is reversed and the human population goes down! This is your obligation. If you think it isn't, then get hell off the planet! Breathe Oil! It is the moral obligation of everyone living otherwise what good are they??"
In another section, he wrote: "All programs on Discovery Health-TLC must stop encouraging the birth of any more parasitic human infants and the false heroics behind those actions. In those programs' places, programs encouraging human sterilization and infertility must be pushed. All former pro-birth programs must now push in the direction of stopping human birth, not encouraging it."
Discovery Communications Inc. operates U.S. cable and satellite networks including The Discovery Channel, TLC and Animal Planet. Discovery shows include "Cash Cab" and "Man vs. Wild," and TLC airs "American Chopper" and "Kate Plus 8."
David Leavy, Discovery's executive vice president for corporate affairs, said all employees had been accounted for. "We're relieved that it ended without any harm to our employees," he said.
Leonard said Lee had been estranged from his family for about two years -- since his February 2008 protest in front of the same building.
"The Discovery Channel produces many so-called 'Environmental Programs' supposedly there to save the planet," Lee said in an ad he took out in a Washington newspaper to promote the protest. "But the truth is things are getting WORSE! Their programs are causing more harm than good."
Photos of the protest show Lee walking in front of the building while holding a sign that read, "SAVE THE PLANET DISCOVERY CHANNEL!!" He reportedly hired homeless people to carry signs as well. At one point, he threw wads of cash into the air, sparking a scuffle among onlookers.
He was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct and sentenced a month later to a six-month probation, fined $500 and told to stay at least 500 feet away from the building.
The judge in the case had nothing but scorn for Lee's actions.
"I can't tell you how foolish this is," Judge Stephen Johnson said, according to a story in the local Gazette. The judge also said that after throwing money around, Lee could "give some to the state."
Lee said at the time that his point was to show "money means nothing. Money is trash."
The Gazette also reported that Lee had spent two weeks in jail following his arrest, including several days being evaluated by psychiatrists.
"I told them my idea of saving the planet," he said. "They couldn't find anything wrong with me."
Lee said he started his crusade after being laid off from a job in San Diego. He also appears to have been inspired by books by the environmental novelist Daniel Quinn, notably Quinn's "Ishmael." He singled out pages of that novel in his manifesto, saying that Discovery should create programming based on its message. He said he also was inspired by Al Gore's documentary "An Inconvenient Truth."
On Lee's MySpace profile, he gave himself the label "World Guardian," and in a December 2008 blog post, Lee wrote of "having strange dreams."
"I can't seem to stop myself from this venture. I can't think about anything else except this and this alone. Thanks for ruining my life Shannon," the blog reads. "I am ready to go all the way with this one. All the way guys!"
In another posted that same month, he wrote:
"I refuse to read anything that is not directly related to the overpopulation problem and global warming. I am searching history for clues that could save the planet. I still am baffled why this is happening. It seems impossible. I am awaiting some nature videos that I ordered."
Under the "Who I'd like to meet" category of his MySpace page, he listed, "Environmentalists, scientists, readers of Daniel Quinn, and people who want to work toward a real change."
Among his TV interests: the Discovery Channel.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.