Jared Loughner is suspected of killing six innocent civilians, and seriously injuring US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, in a shooting spree in Arizona over the weekend.
Most of the media reporting has emphasised the right-wing, anti-government rhetoric which may have created the sort of environment in which someone like Jared Loughner would act. Though this is impossible to prove. But there is another side too: the growth of conspiracy thinking.
Few details have emerged about Mr Loughner, but a cursory scan at his on-line rants reveals that he held vehemently anti-government views, including that the US Government was using mind control on the US population. This sort of conspiratorial mindset is typical among individuals and groups that commit political acts of violence, as we argued in our pamphlet 'The Power of Unreason'. We await further details about Mr Loughner, which are sure to emerge shortly as a trial is likely to take place swiftly. I suspect we will find him to him an anti-federalist conspiracist in a similar vein to Tim McVeigh, architect of the Oklahoma bombing.
The last serving Congressman to be murdered by a US citizen was Leo Ryan, who was shot and killed by members of the Reverend Jim Jones' Peoples Temple, in 1978. The Peoples Temple was a murderous cult, fed on virulent anti-governmental conspiracy theories. The growth in conspiratorial thinking in the US is a serious cause of concern.