Over the last two months, a continuous stream of public violence against the federal government its employees has added a troubling chapter to the nation’s long and tragic history of mass violence. A troubling escalation was shown Friday at Los Angeles International Airport, in the fatal shooting of shooting of Gerald Hernandez, an officer of the Transportation Security Administration.
Eyewitnesses at the scene reported that 23-year-old Paul Ciancia approached individuals, asking, “Hey, are you TSA?”. As they told him “no,” he moved on. One of the travellers questioned told Anderson Cooper that Ciancia approached him calmly, asked “TSA?” and walked away when he received a “no.” “I just shook my head,” Saryan said. “And he kept going.”
At a TSA search point, Ciancia pulled out an assault rifle from his bag and opened fire, making Hernandez the first TSA officer in history to be killed in the line of duty. Two other officers were also shot.
Cianci was shot in the chest by law enforcement multiple times. He is currently in critical care at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center after being received at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. On Saturday, FBI officials said he was unresponsive.
Ciancia, who had no previous history of mental illness or violence on record, demonstrated many of the warning signs that Americans have grown to expect from mass killers. Classmates from his alma mater, Wilmington, Del.’s Salesianum School, remembered Ciancia as awkward and quiet. “In four years, I never heard a word out of his mouth,” David Hamilton, who graduated with Ciancia in 2008, told the Los Angeles Times. “He kept to himself and ate lunch alone a lot. I really don’t remember any one person who was close to him.”
In texts received by his family, Ciancia expressed his displeasure and discouragement with living in Los Angeles. The family, concerned with the rambling and angry tone of the texts, contacted their local police chief, who contacted the Los Angeles Police Department to conduct a courtesy check. When the LAPD responded to Ciancia’s home, it was already too late.
On Ciancia’s person was an explanatory note ranting against the New World Order — a conspiracy theory that holds a shadow group is building a worldwide government to control the planet — as well as anti-government and anti-TSA claims. According to multiple reports, the note indicated that Ciancia wanted to “kill TSA” and “pigs.”
Pain and paranoia
Cianci’s attitude toward the government is not unique. In early October, Miriam Carey, a 34-year-old Connecticut woman, rammed the White House’s entrance barricades and police cruisers with her car, injuring two law enforcement officers, before she gave chase down Pennsylvania Avenue. Capitol Police ultimately shot her dead. Carey was unarmed and travelling in the car with her one-year-old daughter, who was physically unharmed.
In December, Carey’s boyfriend told the police that she seemed delusional and alleged the president placed her hometown of Stamford, Conn. under lockdown and had her home under electronic surveillance. Carey was under medication to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression.
The Capitol Police is currently reviewing the situation, as shooting at a moving vehicle violates law enforcement’s best practices and may have endangered innocent lives.
In September, Aaron Alexis — under “the delusional belief that he was being controlled or influenced by extremely low frequency electromagnetic waves” — killed 12 people and injured four others with a shotgun at Building #197 of Washington’s Navy Yard, the U.S. Navy’s most prestigious facility and administrative hub.
Alexis, a Navy contractor and former Navy reservist, sought out no specific targets and legitimately gained access to the facility with a valid contractor’s ID card. Despite this, the question of how Alexis passed his background checks is a point of contention. Alexis was arrested repeatedly — once, in 2004, for shooting out the tires of a truck in an anger-fueled “blackout,” and again, in 2008, for disorderly conduct. Alexis’ 2010 discharge detailed unauthorized leaves from work, and drunkenness and documentation for issues with mental and sleep disorders.
“Ultra low frequency attack is what I’ve been subject to for the last 3 months,” read a message obtained by federal authorities from Alexis’s thumb drives, phones and computers. “And to be perfectly honest, that is what has driven me to this.” Alexis was killed in a shootout with law enforcement.
Where do mass killings start?
On cursory examination, these three cases seem to reflect recent Pew Research data that show only 19 percent of the public trusts the government — a near all-time low. Particularly in light of the recent government shutdown and near-default on the federal debt, animosity toward the government is understandably at an all-time low.
“The share of the public saying they are angry at the federal government, which equaled an all-time high in late September (26%), has ticked up to 30%,” according to the Pew Research report. “Another 55% say they are frustrated with the government. Just 12% say they are basically content with the federal government.”
But, in considering the government’s role in all of this, one should also consider this: Last week, for the first time in seven years, four incidents of mass killings happened in four days, and none of them involved the government. On October 26th, Mindong Chen, 25, allegedly stabbed his cousin’s wife and her four children to death in New York City. On the same day, Michael Dante Guzzo allegedly killed his neighbors, a family of four, with shotgun blasts in Arizona. On Monday, Charles Everett Brownlow, Jr. was charged with killing his mother, aunt and three others in Texas. And on Tuesday, Bryan Sweatt allegedly shot his ex-girlfriend and four others in South Carolina.
Frequency of Mass Shootings in the United States from 1982 – Nov. 2013
(Data courtesy of Mother Jones)
“It makes me very angry and very sad,” said Hollie Ayers, whose ex-husband shot her four times and killed their two-year old son Michael before committing suicide in March. “In a developed country, this is probably one of the scariest things that you can hear and read about.”
It’s too easy to slap an excuse on this continuing streak of violence. The reality is that the nation’s mass killings are a reflection of a multitude of issues, including improper vetting for mental illness, lack of adequate firearms background checks, poor access to mental health screening and treatment and crisis counseling, and frustration from a lack of access to economic and societal attainment.
As the number of killings increases, society must take a step back and look at where these problems originate and not where they end. Only then can society find a way to end this crisis.