Current Trends

 Such is one theory being floated largely by conservative media about the brutal slaying leaving 12 dead in addition to the gunman at the Washington D.C. Navy Yard, not say the questionable security, the troubled background of an ex- military person demonstrating every sign of a solider in trouble, poorly adjusting to civilian life. Not the virtually ignored run in’s with the law, shooting out a construction workers tires after a dispute, firing a bullet into the ceiling of his former apartment building, how he got his top level security clearance allowing him into the building to begin with, having an extensive and recent criminal record. Signs signaling trouble going far beyond that even, write ups for insubordination and going AWOL, being booted of barracks for noise, or, here’s the big one, a documented police report from Rhode Island police mere weeks, possibly only days before the shooting in which Aaron Alexis told them 3 people had been sent to follow him, keep him awake by talking to him, were sending microwaves through his body, his changing hotels 3 times that very night, no it couldn’t be any of that. It couldn’t remotely be clear indications he was hearing voices, a hallmark of paranoia, delusions, schizophrenia, all known mental health disorders; how about his appearance at VA hospitals seeking treatment for insomnia, if nothing else the case of Jared Loughner should have educated us slightly on the toll sleep deprivation has on the human psyche. It couldn’t be training meets undiagnosed mental instability resulting in disastrous consequences, because we’ve never seen that before; maybe the folks at Fox weren’t paying attention to one Christopher Jordan Dorner. No, it’s the violent video games he played hours on end.  In the words of John Stossel: give me a break and give the American people one too.  

Adding insult to injury for all the victims of mass shootings is just days before the Navy Yard incident Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist and consultant for Fox News, went on air discussing at length new evidence connecting violent video games and real life violence for people who play them obsessively, people who are addicted, comparing them to illicit drugs and alcohol describing negative impacts to empathy, effects , alterations to behavior, creating more aggression, in response to the release of Grand Theft Auto V; news anchor trying to make sense of why these graphic games depicting rape, theft, guns, beatings are still on the market and to our kids. Completely sidestepping that the video game examples given were rated M and only for adults 18+; apparently forgetting that her top examples paraded on the screen moments before were also over 18 and therefore should be less effected based on their age and the rest of the conversation centering around kids, parents who need to act against the toxicity called virtual entertainment, mentioning club penguin, virtual animals that get sick, die if you don’t feed them and no they don’t because they aren’t real, how hard it is to live in a fantasy world for hours a day, the game, then function in reality. Worse is the misinformation campaign regarding mass shooters, both anchor and doctor tied supposed repeated play of violent video games to every single mass shooter over the past 2 years including James Holmes, Jared Loughner, Adam Lanza. However, contrary to the news personality’s assertion after these tragedies it was discovered they played violent video games in their basements for hours, the big thing about Mr. Loughner had zero to do with video games; instead red flagged was his obviously deteriorating mental state rendering him incapable of answering simple questions, giving nonsense equations on a math test, that made him frighten teachers and classmates, soon after deemed too dangerous to go to school, too dangerous to attend Pilates class, but never taken in for a standard psych hold under Arizona law giving that extended authority to  anyone who can dial a hotline number. Further validating mental illness as a root cause of mass shooting was his lucidity and remorse once he was treated with basic antipsychotic medication. The most shocking things relating Mr. Holmes consisted of him purchasing much of his weaponry and gear online, explosives rigged throughout is home, his seeing a psychologist specializing in schizophrenia during his college attendance, his sending her a detailed notebook containing explicit plans for what he eventually carried out found in the college mail system ex post facto and the fact he was on the radar of the schools threat assessment team, incomprehensibly no alert was sent to local police, the community when he suddenly dropped out of school, becoming no longer their problem. Mr. Lanza is one of few shooters who had a mental health history tracing back to childhood, babysitters told not to take their eyes of him, classmates told never to touch him; still, singled out as the prevailing issue was his exposure to high velocity machine guns by his mother despite his challenges, possibly one or both of them had undiagnosed, untreatedAsperger’s syndrome contributing to what happened.  Going farther back into public’s recollection of this kind of horrific massacres, Seung Cho who killed 32 at Virginia Tech is most known; here it remained his violent writings for class, scaring students and staff coupled with his discovered idolization of the Columbine shooters that stood out alongside college officials’ gross misapplication of privacy laws allowing him to stay in class sans mental health evaluation. Video games rarely, if ever, mentioned.

Focusing specifically on Aaron Alexis in an opinion piece accompanying the video above, while acknowledging the broken, failing mental health system, particularly the VA, military mindset of toughness vs. getting such people treatment, it takes Dr. Ablow less than 3 paragraphs to once more cite video game addiction as at least part of why he did this in addition to scoffing at those who want to talk about the gun, how gun law might have made a difference, saved lives, going so far as to call them dangerous for detracting from the real issue. Never mind the good doctor is doing the same thing yammering about videogames as a missed component to this particular type of gun violence; not to mention getting his facts completely wrong. Truth that unfortunately endures despite the theory regarding Alexis and said games’ source; namely subsequent video, also from Fox News, speaking to a friend of the family he was staying with. A friend who looks, at minimum 40 years old, every bit redneck USA, meaning his hardly professional, questionably routine, frequent, based on observation claims about Aaron and videogames are simply parroted, because we have trained people to blame the game, from pop psychology into a news camera. The family themselves’ descriptions of potential alcoholism delivered in broken English adds another element to it when delving into his troubled past, somewhat overriding the other dubious source in two distinct ways 1- he actually lived with them while helping in their restaurant allowing them to get a clearer picture of his habits, behavior; 2- many times we have seen the documented connection between substance abuse and violent behavior, a combination of both in ex-military unable to properly reenter civilian life. Next, unlike the original Fox News anchor and the misinformed doctor, the Navy Yard shooter was not being treated for mental illness, severe or otherwise; the reason we know about his hearing voices is because of a Rode Island police report generated when he called them saying people were following him, keeping him awake, sending microwaves though is body and informing them of his repeated change of hotel; typical tin foil hat, crazy talk that indicates a mental illness or substance induced form of psychosis is at work. He reportedly sought treatment from his local VA for insomnia and obtained a prescription for sleep medication which was apparently ineffective. So to recap he was not only dinking heavily, mixing alcohol and prescription medication, a combination known to have disastrous results, but he was also not sleeping well, at all, eventually causing delusions, caused him to snap, think he had to kill people for the voices to stop, the “hunting” of him to stop, but the topic most on the mind of Fox News’ forensic psychiatrist is video games, the only possible addiction mentioned is video games not the alcohol, the sleeping pills. Not that perhaps addiction isn’t even a factor, rather a psychotic break, years of battling untreated mental disturbance.  Outside the horrendous mental health issue left unaddressed there were many, many other things that should have stopped this before it started; considering his arrest record, he should not have been able to qualify nor keep security clearance in a military instillation, a building characterized as very safe. Considering that same arrest record included not one but two instances of unsafe gun handling, he should have no longer been allowed to own/purchase a firearm; a key step taking into account what he told police after shooting out a construction workers tires in 2004, relating it back to anger and rage management problems after trying to aid victims in the buildings on 9/11 saying he suffered from PTSD.  Facts confirmed by his father to police as they essentially let him off with a warning.

His security clearance might have been revoked had the Rode Island police report, given to the Newport Naval Station authorities, made it up the chain of command as per standard operating procedure where it could have done some good; conversely, like all his seemingly minor brushes with the law, it never made it up the chain of command, never made it in front of a judge, slipping through the cracks aided by all his altercations being in different states and America possessing no central database, network to inform law enforcement nationwide of a person’s complete criminal history until those crimes reach federal felony grade and there’s someone, usually and FBI profiler, to compile a comprehensive view of their interaction with police. Forging for a moment the merits of a national police database or network and independent of that employee impromptu evaluation touting the safety of navy yard structures, it couldn’t have been very safe as surveillance video released to every major news affiliate shows Mr. Alexis showing his I.D. as he entered the navy yard, parking his car, swiping his pass to walk casually in a single door carrying a gray backpack presumed location of the sawed off shotgun; through the duration of these actions, before finding a perch in an upper atrium from which to shoot random persons congregated in a food court below, he encountered no metal detector, no security guard, no ordinary bag check. Here you have of all places a navy yard not using basic security measures in a post-9/11 world lacking guards,  sans metal detectors; one thing we can be gloomily thankful for is that it was only a crazy person and not a terrorist bent on doing 10 times the damage. Yet video games take precedence in the prevention debate over a national arrest record database to quickly and easily see arrests, how many, what for on the city, county alongside state and federal levels, across all 50 states; knowledge in the hands of would be prosecutors, a judge that would have no doubt meant jail time. Would have meant getting Alexis off the street via incarceration or a diversionary program for former soldiers where he eventually would have been diagnosed and treated or sent to the proper mental health professionals for evaluation. Yet video games worm their way to the forefront of the gun violence narrative over asking common sense questions about why we make kids in middle, junior high and high school go through metal detectors even though they are “supposed to be there,” in the name of keeping their school safe, we subject everyone from grannies to young children to either groping and fondling via a TSA pat down or a full body scan containing unknown amounts of radiation, to keep planes safe from known threats, forget passengers bought their tickets and were presumably check against a no fly list, but we can’t put a metal detector and guard on a door, institute bag checks in a place that requires top level security clearance to get in?  And because supposed experts choose to point to irrelevant, minor details obscuring real solutions, we aren’t even able to call them on their nonsense. Who’s dangerous now Dr. Ablow?

No matter how tempting it is to believe, no matter how much it causes us to sigh with relief thinking it will never happen to us, personally, we’ll never go down that dark path because we don’t play or know anyone who plays violent video games,  Aaron Alexis didn’t get the phrase my ELF weapon, rumored to stand for extremely low frequency, from a video game, nor “better off this way” likewise carved into his shotgun from too much Call of Duty, Modern Warfare; he got it from either his military training or, even more likely, from the delusions running rampant in his head. In the interest of being fair to competent mental health workers who behave as professionals and do not have standing segments on news programs, when Mr. Alexis made what appears to be a lone visit to his local VA for insomnia, he mentioned nothing about hearing voices, and according to a timeline of his descent into madness, it seems to have come later in his devolving mental capacity. Further, when asked the standard psych question about did he have thoughts of hurting himself or others, he replied in the negative. Therefore leading to the conclusion he either lied, or that came later too; presenting a scenario where mental health professionals no idea he was having the problems he was, gave him the sleeping pills for the problem he described, giving subsequent instructions on what to do if they didn’t work, if he continued to experience sleep disturbance. Never answered before news stopped talking about him is if those instructions were followed, if he made any recommended follow up appointments, never mind kept them. What is known from a message found days later on his workplace computer was he’d been suffering this, hearing voices, believing he was being followed, assaulted by microwaves, for 3 months prior to the rampage killing 12 and leading to his death by cops. Needless suffering and so much carnage because someone deemed a professional, considered an expert would rather use the TV program, his allotted segment to expound on his pet peeve, the unsuspecting “evil” of virtual entertainment, especially video games than have a real conversation about mental illness other than saying said system is broken, he was improperly treated and too quickly proceeding to your “larger” point.  Because, Mr. Alexis was afflicted all the way back into his military days booted out of the barracks for making too much noise, noise likely associated with his mental illness present if not evident even then.                               

Mental illness is always at the core of a mass shooter; missed opportunities are always at the core of these public bloodbaths that don’t have to happen. Dr. Ablow and anyone else’s claims otherwise are simply not supported by fact, by experience or by evidence. His particular fixation on videogames as a part of this is exceedingly counterproductive and dangerous because it takes the focus off much bigger markers much easier to spot in your family member, friend, coworker, acquaintance should you be worried about their state of being.  As a concerned person in another’s life you should be far more worried about someone who is not sleeping, someone who is mixing alcohol and medication, someone who may be abusing sleep or pain pills prescription or over the counter, someone who is suddenly unpredictable, paranoid, getting into altercations with others, the police. All of the above which were demonstrated by Aaron Alexis and went unnoticed because of his somewhat transient existence. Reality is there is a very small, inconclusive correlation between video game play and mass shootings, less so between video games and creating psychosis; such speculations were always theory almost exclusively effecting children and teens when present at all. Abundantly clear is there must be a psychological vulnerability already in existence for the video game to have any effect, something a room full of 4th graders pointed out the ABC News after Newtown. Oh from the mouths of babes… if only we would listen.