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Suspect in Giffords Shooting Fits Profile of Assassins

Ronald Kessler By Sunday, 09 January 2011 01:58 PM EST Current | Bio | Archive

Politicians and pundits from the right and left are trying to tie the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., to incendiary rhetoric in the media.

While such rhetoric should be condemned, it clearly had nothing to do with the tragic shooting of the moderate Arizona Democrat. The suspect, Jared Loughner, 22, fits a profile of most assassins: a disturbed individual whose act cannot be explained by relating it to politics or any rational motive.

If anything, Loughner was left-leaning, according to media reports, including in The New York Times. But that is beside the point. Like most assassins, he was unbalanced and looking for attention.

In developing the art of criminal profiling, FBI agents under the direction of Roger Depue interviewed assassins and would-be assassins in prison. They included Sirhan B. Sirhan, who killed Bobby Kennedy, and Sara Jane Moore and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, both of whom tried to kill President Gerald Ford.

The FBI profilers found that in recent years, assassins generally have been unstable individuals looking for attention and notoriety. In many cases, assassins keep diaries as a way of enhancing the importance of their acts. Like most celebrity stalkers, assassins tend to be paranoid and lack trust in other people.

“Usually loners, they are not relaxed in the presence of others and not practiced or skilled in social interaction,” according to John Douglas, one of the profilers who did the interviews. Often detailing their thoughts and fantasies in a diary, assassins “keep a running dialogue with themselves,” Douglas said.

Before an assassination attempt, the perpetrator fantasizes that “this one big event will prove once and for all that he has worth, that he can do and be something. It provides an identity and purpose,” Douglas said.

As a result, assassins rarely have an escape plan. Often, they want to be arrested. Because assassinating a president would gain the most attention, he is usually their No. 1 target.

“We want to know about those individuals,” a former Secret Service agent who worked intelligence told me for my book “In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect.” “Sooner or later, they will direct attention to the president if they can’t get satisfaction with a senator or governor.”

As human beings who admire great leaders, we tend to ascribe profound motives to assassins. Thus, in the case of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, conspiracy theorists have long attributed it to a plot by Fidel Castro, the Mafia or the KGB. In fact, Lee Harvey Oswald, Kennedy’s assassin, was a nut.

When interviewed in prison, Sirhan told FBI profiler Robert Ressler that he had heard voices telling him to assassinate Sen. Kennedy. Once, when looking in a mirror, he said he felt his face cracking and falling in pieces to the floor.

As predicted by the profilers, John Hinckley, who shot President Ronald Reagan, had a fantasy about being an important assassin and kept photographs of himself for the history books. He compiled records of his activities in a journal.

The Capitol Police are charged with protecting members of Congress. They provide protection within Capitol buildings but not outside the Capitol, except to leaders of Congress and individual members who may have received recent serious threats.

In assessing visitors and crowds, Capitol Police look for the same warnings signs as Secret Service agents. Agents look for signs of danger — people who don’t seem to fit in, have their hands in their pockets, are sweating or look nervous, or appear as if they have mental problems. Agents lock in on movements, objects or situations that are out of place.

“We look for a guy wearing an overcoat on a warm day,” said former agent William Albracht, who was a senior instructor at the Secret Service’s James J. Rowley Training Center. “A guy not wearing an overcoat on a cold day. A guy with hands in his pockets. A guy carrying a bag. Anybody that is over-enthusiastic, or not enthusiastic. Anybody that stands out, or is constantly looking around. You’re looking at the eyes and most importantly the hands. Because where those hands go is the key.”

If an agent sees a bystander at a rope line with his hands in his pockets, he will say, “Sir, take your hands out of your pockets, take your hands out of your pockets NOW.”

“If he doesn’t, you literally reach out and grab the individual’s hands and hold them there,” Albracht says. “You have agents in the crowd who will then see you’re having problems. They’ll come up to the crowd, and they’ll grab the guy and toss him. They will take him out of there, frisk him, pat him down and see what his problem is. You are allowed to do that in exigent circumstances in protection because it’s so immediate. You don’t have time to say, ‘Hey, would you mind removing your hands?’ I mean, if this guy’s got a weapon, you need to know right then.”

An agent who sees a weapon screams to fellow agents: “Gun! Gun!”
Despite warnings from his detail, President George H.W. Bush had a habit of leaving the Oval Office through the door to the Rose Garden and greeting tourists lined up along the fence on Pennsylvania Avenue. The detail assigned agents to rush to the fence as soon as an alarm notified them that Bush had opened the door to the outside.
Soon, the Washington Post ran a story reporting that onlookers were delighted at their unexpected greetings from the president. Right after that, when Bush again greeted fans at the fence, agents spotted what agent Glenn Smith calls a “textbook” possible assassin.

“The man had on a coat in the summer, he looked disheveled, and his eyes were darting in all directions,” Smith said. “We patted him down, and it turned out he had a 9mm pistol on him and probably intended to use it on the president.”

In his press conference, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik tried to tie Loughner’s actions to inflammatory rhetoric in the media. That was both unprofessional and unfounded. Assassins will latch on to any stimulus to justify their actions.

“The best way to avoid politicizing it [the shooting] is to not make a political issue out of it,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. King, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. “It’s a horrible tragedy. From what we know it’s a deranged person, and I think any other discussion at this time does politicize it.”

Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.

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Politicians and pundits from the right and left are trying to tie the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., to incendiary rhetoric in the media. While such rhetoric should be condemned, it clearly had nothing to do with the tragic shooting of the moderate...
Sunday, 09 January 2011 01:58 PM
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