Pentagon Shooter: Political Criminal or Just Plain Crazy?

It’s hard to say, based on the early reports coming out today, just what motivated the man who tried to murder several Pentagon police officers yesterday but was killed himself instead. Police in California had picked up John Patrick Bedell and treated him as mentally ill in years past. But at the same time, Bedell had bitterly described an evil cabal inside the government, “a tiny elite” that seeks “to control and dominate the world.”

That last statement could have come straight from the mouths of activists in the conspiracy-minded “Patriot” movement, which, as documented in a Southern Poverty Law Center report released this week, has come roaring back to life in the last year. Most Patriots believe the federal government is part of a conspiracy to impose martial law, herd Americans into concentration camps, and force liberty-loving Americans into a socialistic “New World Order.”

But Bedell also attacks the government for what he depicts as fiascos in Vietnam and Iraq — a position more closely associated with the left — and endorses the idea, also originating largely on the left, that the government was behind the 9/11 attacks in New York. He criticizes the military and the nation’s intelligence services as well, and says they and the government engage in “bribery, theft and murder.”

Based on the scant evidence available so far, Bedell may be best described as a kind of radical libertarian, a man who believed that government should be as small as possible, and that even public schools are not legitimate — education should be handled entirely privately, he wrote at one point. He was also a man with a strong bent toward conspiracy theories about events ranging from 9/11 to the disputed 1991 death of a U.S. Marine colonel.

It may be that Bedell was not primarily a would-be political killer; he may well have been a man with mental health issues who simply absorbed the overheated rhetoric that is so abundant in American political life today. What there can be little question of is that there is an enormous amount of angry rhetoric awash in our society, to the point where it’s not surprising that certain individuals feel they must act.