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Nihilism or Sarah Palin: What motivated Arizona shooting suspect?

Early reports suggest that the philosophies of shooting suspect Jared Loughner are tangled and largely incoherent – ranging from nihilism to 'lucid dreaming.' So far, there does not appear to be clear link to talk radio or hyperpartisanship, though that could change.

By Staff writer / January 10, 2011

In this artist rendering, Jared Loughner makes his first court appearance at the Sandra Day O'Connor United States Courthouse in Phoenix Monday. Loughner appeared in federal court on charges he tried to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in a shooting rampage that left six people dead.

Bill Robles/AP

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Initial reports about Jared Loughner, the 22-year-old college dropout charged with killing six and gravely wounding Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., Saturday, so far present a picture of a person inspired by a tangled and in some ways nonsensical web of philosophies more than any one person, political movement, or line of thought.

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Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik suggested Saturday that the shootings might have been influenced by "vitriolic rhetoric" in the political discourse. He went on to single out talk radio and Sarah Palin, who, on her website last fall, targeted 20 House districts for Republican takeovers with cross hairs – including Congresswoman Giffords's.

Rep. Robert Brady (D) of Pennsylvania is reportedly preparing a bill that would outlaw the use of threatening rhetoric against lawmakers.

The investigation of the incident has clearly not finished, and new revelations are sure to come. But at this early stage, no clear links have emerged between Loughner and the current political climate. Rather, acquaintences and criminologists point to a convoluted worldview that appears largely incoherent – ranging from a fascination with dreams to an apparent penchant for nihilism.

His writings merge everything from the Communist Manifesto to discussions of the gold standard to the government's oppression by use of grammar.

"That is in a nutshell what schizophrenics tend to do, they pick up a concept, but it doesn't stay a coherent concept the way it would with someone else's mind," says Mark Pitcavage, the director of investigative research at the Anti-Defamation League. "They just throw it into the big pile of things that ends up being their own delusional structures."

Loughner's childhood friend, Bryce Tierney, told Mother Jones magazine that Loughner kept a dream journal and believed in "lucid dreaming" – existing in a separate plane between dreams and reality.

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