The news networks aired a nationwide Rorschach test on Wednesday evening.
CNNFoxMSNBC showed scenes of the aftermath of a mass-shooting at a Christmas party at a social-welfare center for the developmentally disabled in San Bernardino, California. Some viewers glimpsed Timothy McVeigh-types behind the mayhem at the government office. Others saw Muhammadans crashing the Christmas party.
On CNN, Harry Houck imagined “some right-wing group” possibly guilty of the attack and Tom Fuentes speculated on the work of “an anti-government domestic militia group.” Perhaps both talking heads found themselves in that uncomfortable spot when speculation fills the void in the absence of facts. But both men spoke dismissively of Islamic terrorism playing a role. Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas tweeted, “Yo GOP, kinda hard to talk about ‘keeping people safe’ when your peeps are shooting up America.”
It turns out the man shooting up San Bernardino often wore a long beard, ankle-length thawb, and skull cap, searched for an Islamic wife online (BestMuslim, a kind of FarmersOnly for people who hate pigs), allegedly traveled to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, regularly left work to pray, kept a cache of pipe bombs and ammunition at his home, boasted of “memorizing the quran” in his spare time, communicated with persons investigated by the FBI for international terrorism, and recently entertained a group of suspicious Middle Eastern men at his home that went unreported by a neighbor reluctant to commit the cardinal sin of racial profiling. In other words, Syed Farook would look out of place at a Donald Trump rally.
Still, the president maintained that “we don’t yet know what the motives of the shooters are.” He conceded, “It is possible that this was terrorist-related.” Then again, “It’s also possible this was workplace-related.”
Like the Fort Hood shooting, it happened at the perpetrator’s workplace, after all. But the masks, accomplice, tactical gear, thousands of rounds of ammunition, contacts with international terrorists, and bomb factory within his home all tend to undermine the “he went postal” theory.
The facts also clash with an open-borders ideology and a related delusion that contact with our culture acts as an antidote to Islamic extremism. The attack proves terribly inconvenient to advocates of allowing more Muslims into the United States. The impulse to blame the NRA, too, seems misplaced given that Farook and bride took a scofflaw’s approach to societal proscriptions against murder. The gun-control fanatics, like all fanatics, miss the point. Why not obsess over the terrorists not returning their SUV to the car-rental agency on time in good condition?
Ideology provides answers without the need for evidence. The pull of the narrative over established facts afflicts not just this ideologue or that ideologue but all ideologues. Nutters, as the recent Planned Parenthood shooter demonstrates, sympathize with all sorts of outlooks. To project one’s wish on perpetrators—that they adhere to the beliefs of political enemies—shows that the madness of the situation can infect mere bystanders.
A loyalty to ideology results in a treason to reality. The bizarre reaction to a terrorist murdering 14 people in California serves as merely the most recent instance. Projecting fantasies upon nightmarish characters predates San Bernardino.
After a Communist killed the president in 1963, the political Left weaved elaborate conspiracy theories that indicted the CIA, the John Birch Society, Texas oil millionaires, or some dark combination of the three. Fifteen months later, Nation of Islam gunmen murdered Malcolm X. A stubborn dogma blames the FBI. The September 11 terrorist attacks birthed numerous theories that massaged ideology. George W. Bush “definitely knew in advance,” a Staten Islander told me 16 months after 9/11 at a rally on the National Mall. “It was like when Hitler burned down the Reichstag.” A bearded but otherwise baby-faced Vermonter made the same comparison. “I saw 9/11 as the Reichstag,” he energetically explained. “I’ll compare it to what Cassius did to Spartacus back in Rome. I’ll compare it to the Lusitania, to the Maine. I’ll do it, every single time.”
The madness of murderers proves contagious, even if in small, less dangerous degrees.
Saint Bernardino of Siena serves as the patron saint of communication. Surely those unable to accept inconvenient truths need Bernardino’s intercession in helping them to communicate to the world. To tell the truth to others means first telling the truth to oneself.
As long as tests exist, the old adage holds, so will prayer in school. The aphorism holds for Rorschach tests as well. Americans mocking the prayerful responses to the attacks offered their own prayers, hopes, and wishes—which they internalized as reality—that the culprits belonged to the same political party of the people they ridiculed. That’s delusional. And like other delusions, it stems from a sickness.