LAX shooting: Why would someone target the TSA?

The LAX shooting spree killed a TSA officer, and a letter taken from the bag of alleged shooter Paul Ciancia suggests he believed right-wing antigovernment ideologies.

Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP
A Transportation Security Administration employee wears a black ribbon over his badge on Saturday in Los Angeles International Airport. A gunman killed a TSA employee at LAX Friday.

The only fatality in the shooting rampage at Los Angeles International Airport Friday was a Transportation Security Administration officer, and some survivors say the gunman asked them if they "were TSA," then moved on when they said no. 

Media reports also suggest that the man in custody for the shootings, Paul Ciancia, wanted to target TSA agents. Mr. Ciancia had in his duffel bag a handwritten and signed letter saying he'd "made the conscious decision to try to kill" TSA employees, and that he wanted to "instill fear in their traitorous minds," FBI Agent in Charge David Bowdich said, according to the Associated Press.

While it is unclear exactly why Ciancia disliked the TSA, various clues that have emerged since Friday point to the possibility of an antigovernment agenda connected – at least philosophically – with the Patriot movement.

In his letter, according to NBC News, Ciancia made reference to "NWO" and "fiat currency" – two ideas ubiquitous in right-wing Patriot circles. NWO presumably refers to "New World Order," the conspiracy theory that global elites are attempting to establish a single global government that would abolish all nations. Meanwhile, "fiat currency" is the theory that, by leaving the gold standard to back its currency, the United States government has essentially enslaved the American people as the collateral for all its debts.

Jared Loughner, the Tucscon, Ariz., attacker who in 2011 shot former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others, killing six, was also fascinated by these ideas.

Other commentators have drawn further clues. J.J. McNabb of Forbes notes that Cianica refers to himself as an angry "Patriot" in his letter, and he showed up to LAX Friday in fatigues. Members of Patriot groups "dress and act like soldiers" who are at war with the American government, she writes.

And the idea of leaving a manifesto is straight from the Patriot playbook, Ms. McNabb adds. "When Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, he carefully filled an envelope with pamphlets, articles, papers, and Founding Father quotes to explain his rationale for mass murder. When Joseph Stack flew his airplane into the Austin, Texas IRS building in 2010, he left a manifesto on his website.

Law-enforcement officials at LAX paint a portrait of a man with a clear mission. Despite having a semiautomatic rifle and, in the words of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, enough ammunition to "have literally killed everyone in that terminal," Ciancia killed only one person – and that at point-blank range, too, authorities say: TSA officer Gerardo Hernandez.

Other parts of Ciancia's letter raged that "the TSA treats Americans like terrorists even though all people aren't equally dangerous," according to CNN, which spoke to a US law enforcement official. The letter also mentioned Janet Napolitano, the former head of the Department of Homeland Security, which includes TSA, the official told CNN.

TSA was created to manage airport security after 9/11 and has at times come under criticism for its aggressive screening policies, with some airline passengers saying its pat-downs were so invasive as to be traumatizing. Others took issue with full-body scanners that they likened to a virtual strip search.

Ciancia has been "unresponsive" since being taken into custody after being shot four times by LAX police, the FBI's Agent Bowdich said Saturday.

But Rep. Michael McCaul (R) of Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday that he had seen the letter and that what Ciancia "wanted to talk about was how easy it is to bring a gun into an airport and do something just like he did."

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