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Vocapedia > Beliefs, Emotions, Feelings, Mindset, Mood


stress, worry, anxiety, phobia,

shock, terror, horror, awe





Nate Beeler

editorial cartoon

Horror in Connecticut


14 December 2012


Nate Beeler

is the award-winning editorial cartoonist

for The Columbus Dispatch.

















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a real sense

of sadness, devastation and shock








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Illustration: Justin Gabbard


The Stresses That Put Doctors at Risk


SEPT. 8, 2014

















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stress        USA

















ease their stress        USA










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Official Trailer    22 March 2021






Video    Official Trailer    Prime Video    22 March 2021


A new series coming to Prime Video on April 9.

The Emorys move to Compton,

but Palmer Drive isn’t what it seems.


From Executive Producers Lena Waithe and Little Marvin – THEM.


About THEM:

THEM is a limited anthology series

that explores terror in America.


The first season, 1950s-set COVENANT

centers around a Black family who move from North Carolina

to an all-white Los Angeles neighborhood

during the period known as The Great Migration.


The family’s idyllic home becomes ground zero where malevolent forces,

next door and otherworldly, threaten to taunt, ravage and destroy them.











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2005 > USA > movies > ‘The Amityville Horror’        USA










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Illustration: Christophe Vorlet


Anxiety and Interest Rates: How Uncertainty Is Weighing on Us


FEB. 7, 2015
















anxiety        UK


























a country gripped by anxiety        UK










cope with Covid anxiety        UK









































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nuclear anxiety        USA










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Corpus of news articles


Feelings, Emotions


stress, worry, anxiety, phobia,


shock, terror, horror, awe



The Horror in San Bernardino


DEC. 2, 2015

the New York Times

The Opinion Pages | Editorial



America’s gun violence shifted Wednesday to San Bernardino, Calif., where at least 14 people were killed and at least 17 wounded.

Amid the chaos were the horrifying and familiar aspects of a mass assault by the latest “active shooter”: bodies on gurneys, innocents weeping under desks at the rattle of gunfire, desperate emails for survival, SWAT teams massed at a war zone of civilian casualties. All the familiar terror was back, as a father received a text from his daughter: “People shot. In the office waiting for cops. Pray for us.”

There will be post-mortems and an official search for a “motive” for this latest gun atrocity, as if something explicable had happened. The ultimate question grows with each new scene of carnage: Are these atrocities truly beyond the power of government and its politicians to stop? That tragically has been the case as political leaders offer little more than platitudes after each shootout, while the nation is left to numbly anticipate the next killing spree.

The carnage in San Bernardino happened even as the nation was trying to come to grips with last week’s massacre in Colorado Springs, where three lives were taken and nine people wounded.

Yet, even as grief fills communities randomly victimized by mass shootings, the sales of weapons grow ever higher. Holiday shoppers set a record for Black Friday gun sales last week. They left the Federal Bureau of Investigation processing 185,345 firearm background checks, the most ever in a single day, topping the Black Friday gun buying binge after the shooting massacre of 26 people at a school in Newtown, Conn., three years ago.

Those who reject sensible gun controls will say anything to avoid implicating the growth in the civilian arsenal. The House speaker, Paul Ryan, for one, responded to the killings at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs with a call for better mental health care, and is supporting a new bill that sponsors said would expand services to provide earlier treatment so violent people might theoretically be intercepted. “For those with mental illness, what we ought to be doing is treating the mental illness instead of responding to the crime,” Representative Tim Murphy, a Pennsylvania Republican and a chief sponsor of the bill, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview on Tuesday.

This is the familiar line trotted out by Republican politicians after every massacre, as if unfettered access to high-powered weaponry — which they and the gun lobby have made possible — is not a factor in this national catastrophe. Congress’s Republican leaders are betting they can brazenly go through another election cycle without enacting gun safety laws.

Congress has allowed the domestic gun industry to use assorted loopholes to sell arsenals that are used against innocent Americans who cannot hide. Without firm action, violent criminals will keep terrorizing communities and the nation, inflicting mass death and damage across the land.


A version of this editorial appears in print

on December 3, 2015, on page A34

of the New York edition with the headline:

The Horror in California.

The Horror in San Bernardino,
DEC. 2, 2015,






The Horror! The Horror!

The Trauma of ISIS


NOV. 17, 2014

The New York Times

The Opinion Pages

Op-Ed Columnist

Roger Cohen


What exactly does the nightmare of the beheading of another American, Peter Kassig, by Islamic State consist of?

There is, of course, the image itself. In Kassig’s case a severed blood-smeared head appears between the feet of a hooded killer. We have seen, in other executions, the knife applied to the throat, the broken pliant victims, the left-handed sawing motion; and we have heard the dead, flat voice of the swaggering executioner. So we scarcely need to imagine how the life of this young and idealistic American, an aid worker, a recent convert to Islam, ended.

Yet imagination will not be stilled. It is tugged into the vortex of the prisoners’ suffering, feeding on details of how they were waterboarded and otherwise tortured, troubled by the mirror-image orange jump suits and the way these Facebook-savvy medieval killers riff off (and recruit through) the dark-side deviations of America’s great post-9/11 disorientation. The evil of Islamic State is evident not least in its cleverness.

Just as we condensed the slaughter of September, 2001, into three digits, the better to inure ourselves, so now we succumb to Monty-Pythonesque banality in dubbing the Islamic State executioner “Jihadi John:” a little alliteration to alleviate anguish.

Again, we must imagine — that one minute this “Jihadi John” was struggling to get by, and get accepted, in drizzly England, unemployed with a mortgage to pay and a chip on his shoulder, and the next he stands in brilliant Levantine sunlight, where everything is clear and etched, at the vanguard of some Sunni Risorgimento intent on subjecting the world to its murderous brand of Wahhabi Islam. He has become part of something bigger. He has a mission. He has license to kill infidels (and even converts to Islam like Kassig) in the name of his faith. He is a revolutionary full of the certainties of that calling.

How many more like him are out there, waiting to be lured from a Bradford pub, or the ghettoized suburbs of some French town, or a fractured Libya?

Perhaps this question begins to get at the true nature of the nightmare. Horrific as the images of five executions have been, they cannot in themselves explain the extent of the reaction in the West. Our societies are, after all, inured through movies and video games to brutal violence. It is unremarkable.

What is unbearable, in fact, is the feeling, 13 years after 9/11, that America has been chasing its tail; that, in some whack-a-mole horror show, the quashing of a jihadi enclave here only spurs the sprouting of another there; that the ideology of Al Qaeda is still reverberating through a blocked Arab world whose Sunni-Shia balance (insofar as that went) was upended by the American invasion of Iraq.

And more: that the loss of 4,500 American combat troops in Iraq and more than 100,000 Iraqi lives produced no victory or clarity, but only a broken society and country; that the Arab Spring, which promised a way out of the mutually reinforcing confrontation of quasi-military dictatorship and political Islam, ended (outside Tunisia) in frustration and a revenge of the extremists; that “Jihadi John,” for now, has the upper hand on “moderate Mohammed.”

The nightmare, in short, has less to do with the barbaric image itself than with the feeling of humiliation and powerlessness and déjà vu and exhaustion that it triggers.

President Obama has vowed to “destroy” Islamic State. But even if that were achieved, and for now the means deployed do not seem commensurate with the objective, in what metastasized configuration would Islamic State’s ideas resurface?

There is no reason, in the light of the aborted attempts to define a new sort of post-sectarian citizenship in societies across the region, to think that the Arab incubator of violent Islamist extremism will diminish in fertility. Youth allied to frustration allied to a decade of conflict do a powerful death wish make.

Daniel Bolger, an American general in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, has written a book called “Why We Lost.” In it he says, without equivocation, “I am a United States Army general, and I lost the Global War on Terrorism.” And so all that American blood and treasure end not with a whimper but with a declarative sentence.

But what was the aim of this war? If it was to keep America safe, it cannot be deemed a failure. If it was to remake the societies of Iraq and Afghanistan, and remove the terrorist threat to the United States, it fell far short. Islamic State’s executions summon from the American subconscious a desperate sense of having been lured into the trap of overreach.

The nightmare is many-layered. Kurtz’s dying words — “The Horror! The Horror!” — in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” may be interpreted in several ways, but none of them can deny his 11th-hour perception of the immense forces beyond his control and, in the end, his comprehension.


A version of this op-ed appears in print

on November 18, 2014,

in The International New York Times.

The Horror! The Horror!,






Back From War,

Fear and Danger Fill Driver’s Seat


January 10, 2012

The New York Times



PALO ALTO, Calif. — Before going to war, Susan Max loved tooling around Northern California in her maroon Mustang. A combat tour in Iraq changed all that.

Back in the States, Ms. Max, an Army reservist, found herself avoiding cramped parking lots without obvious escape routes. She straddled the middle line, as if bombs might be buried in the curbs. Gray sport-utility vehicles came to remind her of the unarmored vehicles she rode nervously through Baghdad in 2007, a record year for American fatalities in Iraq.

“I used to like driving,” Ms. Max, 63, said. “Now my family doesn’t feel safe driving with me.”

For thousands of combat veterans, driving has become an ordeal. Once their problems were viewed mainly as a form of road rage or thrill seeking. But increasingly, erratic driving by returning troops is being identified as a symptom of traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder, or P.T.S.D. — and coming under greater scrutiny amid concerns about higher accident rates among veterans.

The insurance industry has taken notice. In a review of driving records for tens of thousands of troops before and after deployments, USAA, a leading insurer of active-duty troops, discovered that auto accidents in which the service members were at fault went up by 13 percent after deployments. Accidents were particularly common in the six months after an overseas tour, according to the review, which covered the years 2007-2010.

The company is now working with researchers, the armed services and insurance industry groups to expand research and education on the issue. The Army says that fatal accidents — which rose early in the wars — have declined in recent years, in part from improved education. Still, 48 soldiers died in vehicle accidents while off duty last year, the highest total in three years, Army statistics show.

The Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs are also supporting several new studies into potential links between deployment and dangerously aggressive or overly defensive driving. The Veterans Affairs health center in Albany last year started a seven-session program to help veterans identify how war experiences might trigger negative reactions during driving. And researchers in Palo Alto are developing therapies — which they hope to translate into iPhone apps — for people with P.T.S.D. who are frequently angry or anxious behind the wheel.

“I can’t talk with somebody who is a returned service member without them telling me about driving issues,” said Erica Stern , an associate professor of occupational therapy at the University of Minnesota, who is conducting a national study of driving problems in people with brain injuries or P.T.S.D. for the Pentagon.

Though bad driving among combat veterans is not new — research has found that Vietnam and Persian Gulf war veterans were more likely to die in motor vehicle accidents than nondeployed veterans — experts say Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are unique, for one major reason: their combat experiences were frequently defined by dangers on the road, particularly from roadside bombs.

“There is no accepted treatment for this,” said Dr. Steven H. Woodward , a clinical psychologist with the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System who is leading a study of potential therapies for veterans with P.T.S.D.-related driving problems. “It’s a new phenomenon.”

Though there has been some research into road rage among veterans, therapists and psychologists have only recently begun to view traumatic brain injuries and P.T.S.D. as factors in prolonging driving problems, probably by causing people to perceive threats where none exist — such as in tunnels, overpasses, construction crews or roadside debris.

“In an ambiguous situation, they are more likely to see hostile intent,” said Eric Kuhn , a psychologist with the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Health Care System, who has studied driving problems. He said his research found that veterans who report more severe P.T.S.D. symptoms also tend to report being more aggressive drivers.

Experts note that driving problems are not always the result of the disorder. In some cases, returning troops may be reflexively applying driving techniques taught in Iraq during the height of the insurgency — for example, speeding up at intersections to avoid gunfire or scanning the roadside for danger instead of watching the road ahead.

In a study of Minnesota National Guard soldiers who returned from Iraq in 2007, Dr. Stern and fellow researchers found that a quarter reported driving through a stop sign and nearly a third said they had been told they drove dangerously in the months immediately after their tours. Both results were higher than the answers reported by National Guard cadets who had not been deployed.

Though driving problems seemed to decrease the longer the troops were home, they did not always vanish. Dr. Stern found that many Guard members remained anxious about certain roadway situations, including night driving or passing unexpected things.

“Those are things they associated with threats they saw in combat,” she said.

Ms. Max, a grandmother of four, was deployed at the age of 60 to Iraq, where one of her jobs was to carry large sums of cash to Iraqi reconstruction projects outside fortified American bases. She said she learned to be hypervigilant on those trips.

Upon returning to California, she struggled with P.T.S.D. and took time off from her nursing job. She also noticed feeling nervous for the first time in her life about driving — a major problem because she had to drive to visit patients.

“My whole driving behavior changed,” she said. “I live in a state of anxiety when I’m driving.”

Ms. Max recently participated in a clinical trial to develop and test therapies, such as deep breathing, that might overcome such anxieties. In a Pontiac Bonneville sedan outfitted with equipment to track the driver’s visual focus, heart rate and breathing, as well as to measure changes in the speed and direction of the car, the researchers take patients onto highways and observe their reactions to traffic hazards, real and imagined.

On a recent spin through the hills of Palo Alto, Ms. Max drove while Dr. Woodward monitored her heart rate and breathing on a laptop in the back seat. In front, Marc Samuels, a driving rehabilitation specialist who offers one of the only programs for P.T.S.D.-related driving problems in the nation, directed her along a preplanned route, prepared to grab the wheel if anything went awry.

Ms. Max mostly drove fine, but was startled slightly when passing a construction site and then again when two cars momentarily boxed her in. Finally, when her stress level spiked in a small parking lot, Mr. Samuels told her to stop the car and regain her composure.

Ms. Max said that the clinics had made her more aware of the things that made her nervous, a first step to conquering them. But she says she does not expect to ever feel truly comfortable driving again and has no plans to replace her beloved Mustang, which she sold just before her deployment.

“Why get a hot car?” she said. “I’m not going to enjoy it.”

Back From War, Fear and Danger Fill Driver’s Seat,






First Comes Fear


January 11, 2011
9:09 pm
The New York Times


People on the left and right have been wrestling over the legacy of Jared Loughner, arguing about whether his shooting spree proves that the Sarah Palins and Glenn Becks of the world are fomenting violence. But it’s not as if this is the only data point we have. Here’s another one:

Six months ago, police in California pulled over a truck that turned out to contain a rifle, a handgun, a shotgun and body armor. Police learned from the driver — sometime after he opened fire on them — that he was heading for San Francisco, where he planned to kill people at the Tides Foundation. You’ve probably never heard of the Tides Foundation — unless you watch Glenn Beck, who had mentioned it more than two dozen times in the preceding six months, depicting it as part of a communist plot to “infiltrate” our society and seize control of big business.

Note the parallel with Loughner’s case. Loughner was convinced that a conspiracy was afoot — a conspiracy by the government to control our thoughts (via grammar, in his bizarre worldview). So he decided to kill one of the conspirators.

It’s not clear where Loughner got his conspiracy theory. The leading contender is a self-styled “king of Hawaii” who harbors, along with his beliefs about government mind control, a conviction that the world will end next year. But it doesn’t matter who Loughner got the idea from or whether you consider it left wing or right wing. The point is that Americans who wildly depict other Americans as dark conspirators, as the enemy, are in fact increasing the chances, however marginally, that those Americans will be attacked.

In that sense, the emphasis the left is placing on violent rhetoric and imagery is probably misplaced. Sure, calls to violence, explicit or implicit, can have effect. But the more incendiary theme in current discourse is the consignment of Americans to the category of alien, of insidious other. Once Glenn Beck had sufficiently demonized people at the Tides Foundation, actually advocating the violence wasn’t necessary.

By the same token, Palin’s much-discussed cross-hairs map probably isn’t as dangerous as her claim that “socialists” are trying to create “death panels.” If you convince enough people that an enemy of the American way is setting up a system that could kill them, the violent hatred will take care of itself.

When left and right contend over the meaning of incidents like this, the sanity of the perpetrator becomes a big issue. Back when Major Nidal Hasan killed 13 people at Fort Hood, the right emphasized how sane he was and the left how crazy he was. The idea was that if Hasan was sane, then he could be viewed as a coherent expression of the Jihadist ideology that some on the right say is rampant in America. In the case of Loughner, the right was quick to emphasize that he was not sane and therefore couldn’t be a coherent expression of right-wing ideology. Then, as his ideology started looking more like a left-right jumble, and his weirdness got better documented, a left-right consensus on his craziness emerged.

My own view is that if you decide to go kill a bunch of innocent people, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re not a picture of mental health. But that doesn’t sever the link between you and the people who inspired you, or insulate them from responsibility. Glenn Beck knows that there are lots of unbalanced people out there, and that his message reaches some of them.

This doesn’t make him morally culpable for the way these people react to things he says that are true. It doesn’t even make him responsible for the things he says that are false but that he sincerely believes are true. But it does make him responsible for things he says that are false and concocted to mislead gullible people.

I guess it’s possible that Beck actually believes his hyper-theatrically delivered nonsense. (And I guess it’s possible that professional wrestling isn’t fake.) But in that case the responsibility just moves to Roger Ailes, head of Fox News, and Rupert Murdoch, its owner. Why are they giving a megaphone to someone who believes crazy stuff?

The magic formula of Palin and Beck — fear sells — knows no ideology. When Jon Stewart closed his Washington “rally to restore sanity” with a video montage of fear mongers, he commendably included some on the left — notably the sometimes over-the-top Keith Olbermann. The heads of MSNBC have just as much of an obligation to help keep America sane as the heads of Fox News have.

To be sure, at this political moment there is — by my left-wing lights, at least — more crazy fear-mongering and demonization on the right than on the left. But that asymmetry is transient.

What’s not transient, unfortunately, is the technological trend that drives much of this. It isn’t just that people can now build a cocoon of cable channels and Web sites that insulates them from inconvenient facts. It’s also that this cocoon insulates them from other Americans — including the groups of Americans who, inside the cocoon, are being depicted as evil aliens. It’s easy to buy into the demonization of people you never communicate with, and whose views you never see depicted by anyone other than their adversaries.

In this environment, any entrepreneurial fear monger can use technology to build a following. You don’t have to be the king of Hawaii to start calling yourself the king of Hawaii and convince a Jared Loughner that there’s a conspiracy afoot.

So I’m not sure how much good it would do if you could get a Glenn Beck to clean up his act. With such a vast ecosystem of fear mongers, his vacated niche might be filled before long. But I think Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch owe it to America to at least do the experiment.



Postscript: Encouragingly, Roger Ailes said in the wake of the Tucson shooting that “I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually.” So stay tuned. Also encouragingly, two journalists from liberal and conservative magazines — the American Prospect and National Review — had an extremely civil discussion about the Tucson shooting, about 24 hours after it happened, on my Web site Bloggingheads.tv.

    First Comes Fear, NYT, 1.11.2011,






At Victim’s School,

Shock, Sorrow and Nightmares


January 10, 2011
The New York Times


TUCSON — For the children at Mesa Verde Elementary School, the questions are endless. First, they asked, again and again, why would a stranger kill Christina Green, who had attended school here since kindergarten? Then, some asked quietly, would that man come back to try to shoot them, too? And is it still safe to go to the supermarket?

As classes at Mesa Verde resumed for the first time since the shooting on Saturday that killed six people, including 9-year-old Christina, the school grappled with how to talk about the tragedy with the young students here. Many of them have never known anyone who has died. Now, one of their own had been killed — a loss that was difficult for many adults to deal with.

In the two nights since the shooting, nightmares had already interrupted sleep for many of the children — images of puppies suddenly dying, mothers crossing invisible lines and abruptly disappearing, or somebody coming to kidnap their friends in the middle of the day. The impact was raw and deep. Some children screamed and sobbed inconsolably, while others were stoic, promising their mothers that, yes, they understood, and, no, they did not need to talk.

They brought their stuffed owls and friendship bracelets and flowerpots as offerings for the growing memorial to Christina that lined the fence at the school. And her third-grade classmates hugged one another tightly in the yard before classes began.

“Are you sure you’re O.K.?” one asked a group of friends. “My mom said it’s O.K. to be sad.”

Kayley Clark, a classmate who had been friends with Christina for years, said, “I just feel shocked and very, very sad. She was very, very smart and very, very nice. She was such a fun person, and I really wish she could come back.”

Many students were already chattering about ways they could honor Christina. Could they name a local park in her memory? Or perhaps a baseball field, a tribute to the game she loved? Could they try to be more helpful to other students, as they had seen her do?

As parents escorted their children to class just after dawn, a few said they were worried about what their children would hear about the attacks, but many more said they felt a sense of relief that somebody else could help their children grieve.

And parents were mourning not only the death of a bright and popular young student, but also a sense of innocence for their children.

Tamara Clark, Kayley’s mother, said that when she told her daughter that Christina was the young girl killed on Saturday, she immediately burst into tears. Then, there was silence. Hours later came the anger “in a way I have never seen,” Ms. Clark said.

“She would say over and over that she hated the guy who did it,” Ms. Clark said. “ ‘Hate’ is a word I never really heard her use before.”

With fewer than 400 students at the school, nearly every child had at least seen Christina on the playground or at student council or with a tutoring program where she volunteered.

A team of psychologists arrived at the school early Monday, preparing to stay all week. Teachers began the day by telling students that the school was “like one big family, and we are all here to support each other in this time.” With that, students were encouraged to share memories of Christina in class.

“They told them it’s fine to be happy when you think about Christina and it’s fine to feel sad,” said Christine Parrish, whose 8- and 9-year-old daughters had known Christina for most of their lives.

School officials were trying to make the day stick to a normal schedule, although the circumstances were anything but.

“This is a multifaceted tragedy for this community,” said Vicki Balentine, the superintendent of the Amphitheater Public Schools district. “We want to give them space to do whatever we need to be supportive. And at the same time, we have to move forward.”

One class gathered in the schoolyard and held hands in a circle for the national moment of silence, as a car stereo blasted the sound of a single bell. The scheduled Family Library Night on Monday was replaced with a support gathering for families.

For many parents and more than a few students, there are the persistent thoughts of “what if?”

“There’s no reason we couldn’t have been there at that time, too,” said Betty Ordonez, whose granddaughter, Jordan Zepeda, is also in third grade at Mesa Verde. “That was the first thing I thought when I heard about it — where are my babies?”

Jordan said, “Now, I feel scared, just very scared.”

Ms. Balentine said the students seemed to be doing as well as could be expected, adding, “Children are remarkably resilient.”

Indeed, one of the most cogent messages (complete with misspellings) on the growing memorial came in a letter from Rachel Cooper-Blackmore, a fifth grader.

“Christina you will be missed by everyone,” it began, each “i” dotted with a heart. “I am so sorry for your family and I hope in their hearts you can guide them on the right pathway of live because yours was taken short.”

At Victim’s School, Shock, Sorrow and Nightmares,
NYT, 10.1.2011,






United in Horror


January 9, 2011

The New York Times



When John F. Kennedy visited Dallas in November of 1963, Texas was awash in right-wing anger — over perceived cold-war betrayals, over desegregation, over the perfidies of liberalism in general. Adlai Stevenson, then ambassador to the U.N., had been spit on during his visit to the city earlier that fall. The week of Kennedy’s arrival, leaflets circulated in Dallas bearing the president’s photograph and the words “Wanted For Treason.”

But Lee Harvey Oswald was not a right-winger, not a John Bircher, not a segregationist. Instead, he was a Marxist of sorts (albeit one disillusioned by his experiences in Soviet Russia), an activist on behalf of Castro’s Cuba, and a man whose previous plot had been aimed at a far-right ex-general named Edwin Walker. The anti-Kennedy excesses of Texas conservatives were real enough, but the president’s assassin acted on a far more obscure set of motivations.

Nine years after Kennedy was killed, George Wallace embarked on his second campaign for the presidency. This was the early 1970s, the high tide of far-left violence — the era of the Black Panthers, the Weathermen, the Symbionese Liberation Army — and Wallace’s race-baiting politics made him an obvious target for protests. On his final, fateful day of campaigning, he faced a barrage of coins, oranges, rocks and tomatoes, amid shouts of “remember Selma!” and “Hitler for vice president!”

But Arthur Bremer, who shot Wallace that afternoon, paralyzing him from the waist down, had only a tenuous connection to left-wing politics. He didn’t care much about Wallace’s views on race: he just wanted to assassinate somebody (Richard Nixon had been his original target), as “a statement of my manhood for the world to see.”

It’s possible that Jared Lee Loughner, the young man behind Saturday’s rampage in Tucson, will have a more direct connection to partisan politics than an earlier generation’s gunmen did. Indeed, many observers seem to be taking a kind of comfort from that possibility: there’s been a rush to declare this tragedy a teachable moment — an opportunity for people to cool their rhetoric, abandon their anger, and renounce the kind of martial imagery that inspired Sarah Palin’s PAC to place a target over Gabrielle Giffords’s district just months before Loughner gunned down the Arizona congresswoman.

But chances are that Loughner’s motives will prove as irreducibly complex as those of most of his predecessors in assassination. Violence in American politics tends to bubble up from a world that’s far stranger than any Glenn Beck monologue — a murky landscape where worldviews get cobbled together from a host of baroque conspiracy theories, and where the line between ideological extremism and mental illness gets blurry fast.

This is the world that gave us Oswald and Bremer. More recently, it’s given us figures like James W. von Brunn, the neo-Nazi who opened fire at the Holocaust Museum in 2009, and James Lee, who took hostages at the Discovery Channel last summer to express his displeasure over population growth. These are figures better analyzed by novelists than pundits: as Walter Kirn put it Saturday, they’re “self-anointed knights templar of the collective shadow realm, not secular political actors in extremis.”

This won’t stop partisans from making hay out of Saturday’s tragedy, of course. The Democratic operative who was quoted in Politico saying that his party needs “to deftly pin this on the Tea Partiers” was just stating the obvious: after a political season rife with overheated rhetoric from conservative “revolutionaries,” the attempted murder of a Democratic congresswoman is a potential gift to liberalism.

But if overheated rhetoric and martial imagery really led inexorably to murder, then both parties would belong in the dock. (It took conservative bloggers about five minutes to come up with Democratic campaign materials that employed targets and crosshairs against Republican politicians.) When our politicians and media loudmouths act like fools and zealots, they should be held responsible for being fools and zealots. They shouldn’t be held responsible for the darkness that always waits to swallow up the unstable and the lost.

We should remember, too, that there are places where mainstream political movements really are responsible for violence against their rivals. (Last week’s assassination of a Pakistani politician who dared to defend a Christian is a stark reminder of what that sort of world can look like.) Not so in America: From the Republican leadership to the Tea Party grass roots, all of Gabrielle Giffords’s political opponents were united in horror at the weekend’s events. There is no faction in American politics that actually wants its opponents dead.

That may seem like a small blessing, amid so much tragedy and loss. But it is a blessing worth remembering nonetheless.

United in Horror,






‘Horror and Disbelief’ at Virginia Tech


April 17, 2007
The New York Times


BLACKSBURG, Va., April 16 — Thirty-two people were killed, along with a gunman, and at least 15 injured in two shooting attacks at Virginia Polytechnic Institute on Monday during three hours of horror and chaos on this sprawling campus.

The police and witnesses said some victims were executed with handguns while other students were hurt jumping from upper-story windows of the classroom building where most of the killings occurred. After the second round of killings, the gunman killed himself, the police said.

It was the deadliest shooting rampage in American history and came nearly eight years to the day after 13 people died at Columbine High School in Colorado at the hands of two disaffected students who then killed themselves.

As of Monday evening, only one of the Virginia Tech victims had been officially identified. Police officials said they were not yet ready to identify the gunman or even say whether one person was behind both attacks, which wreaked devastation on this campus of 36,000 students, faculty members and staff.

Federal law enforcement officials in Washington said the gunman might have been a young Asian man who recently arrived in the United States. A university spokeswoman, Jenn Lazenby, could not confirm that report but said the university was looking into whether two bomb threats at the campus, — one last Friday, the other earlier this month — might be related to the shootings.

The university’s president, Charles W. Steger, expressed his “horror and disbelief and sorrow” at what he described as a tragedy of monumental proportions. But questions were immediately raised about whether university officials had responded adequately to the shootings.

There was a two-hour gap between the first shootings, when two people were killed, and the second, when a gunman stalked through the halls of an engineering building across campus, shooting at professors and students in classrooms and hallways, firing dozens of rounds and killing 30. Officials said he then shot himself so badly in the face that he could not be identified.

The university did not send a campuswide alert until the second attack had begun, even though the gunman in the first had not been apprehended.

Mr. Steger defended the decision not to shut down or evacuate the campus after the first shootings, saying officials had believed the first attack was a self-contained event, which the campus police believed was a “domestic” dispute.

“We had no reason to suspect any other incident was going to occur,” he said.

President Bush sent his condolences to the families of the victims and the university community. “Schools should be places of sanctuary and safety and learning,” Mr. Bush said. “When that sanctuary is violated, the impact is felt in every American classroom and every American community.”

The Virginia Tech attacks started early in the morning, with a call to the police at 7:15 from West Ambler Johnston Hall, a 900-student freshman dormitory, as students were getting ready for classes or were on their way there.

Students said a gunman had gone room to room looking for his ex-girlfriend. He killed two people, a senior identified as Ryan Clark, from Augusta, Ga., and a freshman identified by other students on her floor as Emily Hilscher.

The shootings at the engineering building, Norris Hall, began about 9:45.

[Prof. Liviu Librescu and Prof. Kevin Granata were among the victims there, Ishwar K. Puri, the head of the engineering science and mechanics department, wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.]

One student described barricading himself in a classroom there with other students and hearing dozens of gunshots nearby. Someone tried to force his way into the classroom and fired two shots through the door that did not hit anyone, the student said.

Scott L. Hendricks, an associate professor of engineering, was in his office on the third floor when he heard 40 to 50 shots from what sounded like the second floor. Mr. Hendricks said he had called 911, but the police were already on the way.

The police surrounded the building and he barricaded the door to his office. After about an hour, the police broke down his door and ordered him to flee.

“When I left, I was one of the last to leave,” Mr. Hendricks said. “I had no idea of the magnitude of the event.”

According to the college newspaper, The Collegiate Times, many of the deaths took place in a German class in Norris Hall.

“He was just a normal looking kid, Asian, but he had on a Boy Scout type outfit,” one student in the class, Erin Sheehan, told the newspaper. “He wore a tan button-up vest and this black vest — maybe it was for ammo or something.”

Ms. Sheehan added: “I saw bullets hit people’s bodies. There was blood everywhere. People in the class were passed out, I don’t know maybe from shock from the pain. But I was one of only four that made it out of that classroom. The rest were dead or injured.”

Heavily armed local and state police officers swarmed onto campus. Video clips shown on local stations showed them with rifles at the ready as students ran or sought cover and a freakish snow swirled in heavy winds. The police evacuated students and faculty members, taking many of them to local hotels. A Montgomery County school official said all schools throughout the county were being shut down.

Many parents and students questioned the university’s response to the two fatal shootings in Ambler Johnston Hall, suggesting that more aggressive action could have prevented the later and deadlier attack.

“As a parent, I am totally outraged,” said Fran Bernhards of Sterling, Va., whose daughter Kirsten attends Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, as it is formally known. “I would like to know why the university did not immediately shut down.”

Kirsten Bernhards, 18, said she and countless other students had no idea that a shooting had occurred when she left her dorm room in O’Shaughnessy Hall shortly before 10 a.m., more than two hours after the first shootings.

“I was leaving for my 10:10 film class,” she said. “I had just locked the door and my neighbor said, ‘Did you check your e-mail?’ ”

The university had, a few minutes earlier, sent out a bulletin warning students about an apparent gunman. But few students seemed to have any sense of urgency.

The university’s first bulletin warned students to be “cautious.” Then, 20 minutes later, at 9:50, a second e-mail warning was sent, saying a gunman was “loose on campus” and telling students to stay in buildings and away from windows. At 10:16, a final message said classes were canceled and advised everyone on campus to stay where they were and lock their doors.

Ms. Bernhards recalled walking toward her class, preoccupied with an upcoming exam and listening to music on her iPod. On the way, she said, she heard loud cracks, and only later concluded that they had been gunshots from the second round of shootings. But even at that point, many students were walking around the campus with little sense of alarm.

It was only when Ms. Bernhards got close to Norris Hall, the second of two buildings where the shootings took place, that she realized something was wrong.

“I looked up and I saw at least 10 guards with assault rifles aiming at the main entrance of Norris,” she recalled.

The Virginia Tech police chief, Wendell Flinchum, defended the university’s decision to keep the campus open after the first shootings, saying the information at the time indicated that it was an isolated event and that the attacker had left campus.

At an evening news conference, Chief Flinchum would not say that the same gunman was responsible for the shootings in the dormitory and the classrooms. He said he was awaiting ballistics tests and other laboratory results until declaring that the same person carried out both attacks.

He said accounts from students at the dorm had led the police to a “person of interest” who knew one or both of the victims there. The police were interviewing him off campus at the time of the shootings at Norris Hall. Chief Flinchum said officers had not arrested the man.

“You can second-guess all day,” he said. “We acted on the best information we had. We can’t have an armed guard in front of every classroom every day of the year.”

Classroom buildings are not locked and dormitories are open throughout the day but require a key card for entry at night, university officials said.

Chief Flinchum confirmed that police found some of the Norris Hall classroom doors chained shut from the inside, which is not a normal practice. Some of the people hurt there were injured leaping from windows to escape.

Virginia imposes few restrictions on the purchase of handguns and no requirement for any kind of licensing or training. The state does limit handgun purchases to one per month to discourage bulk buying and resale, state officials said.

Once a person had passed the required background check, state law requires that law enforcement officers issue a concealed carry permit to anyone who applies. However, no regulations and no background checks are required for purchase of weapons at a Virginia gun show.

“Virginia’s gun laws are some of the weakest state laws in the country,” said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “And where there have been attempts to make some changes, a backdoor always opens to get around the changes, like the easy access at gun shows.”

Students are not allowed to have guns on the campus.

At Ambler Johnston Hall, where the first shootings took place, many if not most students had left and those who remained stayed close to their rooms by late afternoon.

Mr. Clark, the senior who was shot in the dorm, was a resident adviser who went by the nickname Stack on Facebook.com, was well liked and was a member of the university’s marching band, the Marching Virginians, students said. “He was a cool guy,” said one fourth-floor resident.

The shootings unfolded in an age of instant messaging, cellphone cameras, blogs and social networking sites like Facebook. As the hours passed, students who were locked in their classrooms and dormitories passed on news and rumors.

In one cellphone video shown repeatedly on television networks, the sound of dozens of shots can be heard and students can be seen running from Norris Hall.

The student who made the video, Jamal Albarghouti, a graduate student, said he was already on edge because of two bomb threats on campus last week. “I knew this was something way more serious,” he told CNN.

The shooting was the second in the past year that forced officials to issue an alert to the campus.

In August of 2006, an escaped jail inmate shot and killed a deputy sheriff and an unarmed security guard at a nearby hospital before the police caught him in the woods near the university. The capture ended a manhunt that led to the cancellation of the first day of classes at Virginia Tech and shut down most businesses and municipal buildings in Blacksburg. The defendant, William Morva, is facing capital murder charges.

The atmosphere on campus was desolate and preternaturally quiet by Monday afternoon. Students gathered in small groups, some crying, some talking quietly and others consoling each other.

Up until today, the deadliest campus shooting in United States history was in 1966 at the University of Texas, where Charles Whitman climbed to the 28th-floor observation deck of a clock tower and opened fire, killing 16 people before he was shot and killed by the police. In the Columbine High attack in 1999, two teenagers killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before killing themselves.

The single deadliest shooting in the United States came in October 1991, when George Jo Hennard crashed his pickup truck through the window of a Luby’s cafeteria in Killeen, Tex., then shot 22 people dead and wounded at least 20 others. He shot himself in the head.


Reporting was contributed by Sarah Abruzzese,

Edmund L. Andrews, Neela Banerjee, Micah Cohen,

Shaila Dewan, Cate Doty, Manny Fernandez,

Brenda Goodman, David Johnston, Michael Mather,

Marc Santora, Amy Schoenfeld, Archie Tse

and Matthew L. Wald.

‘Horror and Disbelief’ at Virginia Tech,










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