The New Age Assassin


ABC has interviewed Zach Osler, a friend of the Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner. If you're trying to decipher Loughner's worldview, Osler's comments offer two important clues.

First: Osler flatly rejects the theory that the killer was driven by the political rhetoric found on cable news and AM radio. Loughner, he says,

did not watch TV. He disliked the news. He didn't listen to political radio. He didn't take sides. He wasn't on the left. He wasn't on the right.

Second: Loughner turns out to be a fan of Zeitgeist, a feature-length online documentary that is one-third arguments that Jesus never existed and religion is an evil fraud, one-third 9/11 trutherism, and one-third conspiracy theories about bankers. There's been a lot of speculation out there about one of Loughner's comments on YouTube, "I won't pay debt with a currency that's not backed by gold and silver!"—a sentence that may sound like something a gold bug would say, except that Loughner was also prone to describing strange schemes for an "infinite source of currency," which is precisely the sort of suggestion gold standard advocates would reject. His interest in Zeitgeist clears things up a bit. The movie belongs to the old money-crank tradition, which stretches from the Greenback Party to the Social Credit movement and from Ezra Pound to Alan Watts. The film's chief argument against the Fed is that it is a private institution that profits by lending money at interest; the filmmaker prefers an "interest-free independent currency" that isn't created by private banks.

Is this left-wing or right-wing? Money cranks come in both flavors, but in the case of Zeitgeist the labels "left" and "right" are pretty useless descriptors. The best label would probably be "New Age paranoia." If you've ever gone browsing in an occult bookstore (and you really should; it's like browsing in a science fiction bookstore, only the authors really believe the stories they're writing, or pretend to), you may have seen a shelf labeled "conspiracies" right alongside the sections marked "astrology" or "Tarot." People who write about fringe politics often miss the extent to which New Agers serve as a transmission belt, allowing ideas from the left, the right, and the counterculture—not to mention more outré folks like the UFO buffs—to slide from one subculture to another.

Zeitgeist obviously isn't the end of this story. Loughner may have been influenced by the picture, but he incorporated its ideas into his own crazycakes combination (which also seems to include an obsession with lucid dreaming and an interest in Philip K. Dick-style reality-bending movies such as Donnie Darko and A Scanner Darkly). The most important point here is that it's a mug's game to try to fit this guy into a neat little category like "right" or "left." Like many killers and would-be killers before him, Loughner belongs to the very far end of the political long tail.