Friday, May 31, 2013

How To Make a Terrorist

Tamerlan and Dzkohar Tsarnaev, the Boston Bombers
It seems that when someone plans or executes a multiple murder, I have mentioned schizophrenia. Some say I see it in my sleep, but there is reason to the madness.
James J. Lee Discovery Channel

James J. Lee didn't like the Discovery Channel's programming. He thought Planet Green should encourage mandatory sterilization of the human race. His website is replete with paranoid ideation.
He didn't kill anyone, but was prepared, carried weapons. James J. Lee went down when police raided the building where he held his hostages.

James Egan Holmes, the Joker who pumped 33 bullets into twelve people in a Colorado movie theater, had been treated for mental illness. Unable to communicate verbally, he drew the doctors pictures of what went on in his head. He didn't just go postal.
James Egan Holmes-Batman Joker

Cho Seung-Hoi, a student at Virginia Tech, murdered 32 and wounded 17 others before killing himself. With a diagnosis of either Schizoid Personality Disorder, prodromal to Schizophrenia, or both, he likely had the angst of a psychotic.

What are we to think about the Boston Bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his brother, Dzhokhar?  Is there something sick about them? Is being pro-terror a sickness?

Most think that the older brother influenced the younger, that Dzhokhar looked up to Tamerlan, did what many younger brothers do, tagged along. Families are powerful.

Tamerlan, taken down by the police, has been implicated in other murders, back in 2011.  A drug deal gone bad, three dead. Tamerlan's alter-profile, a religious Muslim who used or sold drugs, doesn't sync. The religious tend to be aesthetics, not drug users. They have conscience. This is clearly a complicated person. He had friends, too, people who were with him at the time of the murders, partners in crime.

Ibragim Todashev, who died during the interview with authorities, not only confessed to his direct role in slashing the throats of three people in Waltham, Massachusetts, but also fingered Tsarnaev.

Seems the victims were Jewish, at least one, Brendan Mess, who boxed with Tamerlan. The gloves came off, apparently, over something more than drugs and money. Perhaps hatred.

Investigators of the crime reported at the time that the heads of the three victims were pulled back and their throats slit ear to ear with great force. Marijuana was spread over the bodies in a "symbolic gesture," and several thousand dollars in cash was found at the scene.

When parents talk about their kids smoking pot, stealing, acting out, they want to believe that other kids have brainwashed theirs. It would be nice if youthful criminal behavior was a stage, a coming of age thing, having to prove independence. A way to be cool, garner the respect of their peers.

But acting out, scoffing laws, sociopathy, isn't a stage. Family dysfunction and genetics conspire to interact with social influences, shape personality. Tamerlan's mother, for example,  surely a social influence, doesn't respect the law. She's been arrested for stealing expensive designer dresses from high end retail stores. She allegedly ripped off the sensors, stole the dresses, then attempted to return them, cash out.

Tamerlan's uncle, Ruslan Tsarni  speaks of his nephew finding a new friend at Cambridge, a convert to Islam. Misha, from Armenia, a neighboring region of North Caucasus, lured Tamerlan away from the family. He told him that boxing, the youth's passion, isn't the way to God. This friendship, according to Mr. Tsarni, changed the Boston Bomber.

The US government is calling Tamerlan and Dzokhar self-radicalized terrorists, but they apparently had help radicalizing. Others are complicit.

No evidence of Schizophrenia. The 2011 murders point to Antisocial Personality Disorder, however. The features? A callous disregard for exacting pain and suffering, no guilt or remorse. Begins in childhood. No auditory hallucinations. We call it a personality disorder because there is something seriously wrong with hurting others. It is antisocial. The current research buzz is to have compassion for those who have the disorder-- abnormalities in their brains.There is a movement for leniency in the courts.

Except that 
Antisocial Personality Disorder is usually picked up in early childhood. These are the kids who throw cats in the river, who trip little old ladies, who cut up insects. 

The lite version, when a child or an adult knows enough not to get caught, when the behavior is sneaky, the crimes less overt, when cheating matures to rising up the corporate ladder at the expense of the reputations of colleagues, we think-- almost a sociopath

It could be that Tamerlan was an almost turned definite. We're sure to find out over time.  

One more story of disaffected youth. William Plotnikov's son Vitaly, shot down by police in Russia last week. Plotnikov had turned on his son, called authorities. He was concerned that Vitaly left his Canadian home to join an Islamic terrorist cell  He did not want his boy responsible for flying arms and legs, mayhem, destruction. Russian authorities found the young man in the woods with known and wanted gang members. Weapons  abound, Kalashnikovs everywhere, ammunition, improvised explosive devices. They took no prisoners. 

Ironically, Vitaly Plotnikov is thought to have known Tamerlan Tsarnaev. 

Vitaly, like Tamerlan, turned to radical Islam as a young adult, bored. His father says he always looked for excitement. Strangely enough, he had boxed, too.

So what is the recipe here, what does it take to become a terrorist, or a jihadist? We're aware that self-proclaimed jihadists believe in personal agency, their own justice. Are terrorists modern day Robin Hoods? Is the creed to rob from the rich, give to the poor? They identify as idealists, for sure, which might be cute, were the goods not human lives.

This is so complicated, it begs a new DSM diagnosis. We'll call it Terrorist Disorder, just to be clear: 

Terrorist Disorder

I. To make a diagnosis, must meet eight of the eleven criterion below.
A. Age 16-29
B. Tends to split beliefs, events, people, into good/bad, black or white, idealization or devaluation.
Splitting between one extreme or another is considered the defense of an immature personality-- reduces stress. In adults It is associated with Borderline Personality Disorder. Splitting is normal in early childhood.
C. Perceives those who do not agree with extreme beliefs as weak, ineffectual, cowardly and inferior. Minimization mirrors the rationalizations of persons affected with Antisocial Personality Disorder. It is not limited to Antisocial Personality Disorder, however.
D.  Describes spiritual attachment to God, having a mission inspired by God to better all of humanity. May feel appointed by a Superior Being to perform mass destruction of human life (in the absence of Schizophrenia).
E. Takes on self-denial, aestheticism associated with mystics, chooses a subsistence lifestyle believing the afterlife will be more rewarding.
F.  Embraces a creed, belief system, or manifesto that is either religious or political that the majority of citizens in peaceful nations would deem dangerous and antisocial. 
G.  Either volunteers for or is recruited by a group or an individual that recognizes psychological vulnerability, a need for approval, and/or inclusion in a group.
H.  Before associating with a jihad group, was disaffected, depressed, and underprivileged, suffered financially. The depressed mood and emotional detachment are relieved upon identification with the creed, sense of community, and purpose. 
I.  Manifests features of a manic episode: inflated self-esteem, grandiosity, a decreased need for sleep, flight of ideas, and goal-directed activity.
J. Identifies with a group that serves as an alternative family, brothers and sisters who advocate criminal acts, destruction and violence, mass homicide and suicide.
K. Cuts off entirely from former family and friends who do not advocate violence.
 II. The patient is not suffering from a Schizophrenia and does not meet the criterion for Antisocial Personality Disorder, but may suffer Bi-polar Disorder or other Axis I and Axis II disorders.

What did I forget? 

Oh, why not see it all in action. 
Michael Lavigne's The Wanting

Read Michael Lavigne's new novel, The Wanting, an engaging, fanciful (in its way) treatment of the development of a Palestinian suicide bomber in Israel. 

Amir, one of the many Jerusalem Bombers that we are all too complacent about today, a fictional anti-hero, wears an expensive suit, carries an expensive brief case. He blows himself up, takes others along.  

Wanting is the essence of a terrorist. Wanting. Dissatisfied. Told in three voices, Lavigne is master of first person. We hear from: (a) a survivor of the bombing, a middle-aged Russian architect, a man who doesn't even identify with religion; (b) his adolescent daughter who changes in its wake, becomes vulnerable to "religious educators" with a political agenda; and (c) Amir, the regretful terrorist, the haunting third voice.

Mr. Lavigne researched the book for three or four years. He granted permission to the following excerpts.  The terrorist, narrates. 

(1) In the days leading to my shahadah, I was immersed in prayer. I bathed my feet and hands in the waters of el-Kas, the well of al-Aqsa, which they told us rises up from the rivers of Eden, and I entered the great mosque and stayed there for hours on end, meditating. Then I would take the bus back to Jabal, to Walid's place, where we would talk and study late into the night. Only then would I sleep a few hours, lying between Walid and Fayez on the hard floor. In the morning we would wash, pray, and prepare a little hummus and tea. He always had dates and figs, sliced apples, and sweets of various kinds, and at night there was usually maqluba. We were never hungry, even though we fasted on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

(2) The slave may rebel from his master, the son from his father. Your father does not have the power to stop you, for your power comes from Allah, praise be to the All Merciful.

(3) And Yusuf al-Faruk trained me day and night and I, like a falcon on the path of All-Knowing Allah, swooped up his leavings. These were my happiest days. These were my days of light. "For the call!" I repeated after him. "For the Muslim Brotherhood!"

He writes poetry. But what have we here?  Religious asceticism, a call to a mission, the cut-off from family, the mentor. Religion, many of us are aware, feels good. We are called, follow a creed because we believe it is right, and that others are probably wrong, not as right. Some of us believe that nonbelievers will ultimately learn the error of their ways. One day. Rarely do believers take matters into their own hands.

When it is a matter of personal agency, when the methods are violent, when even parents and friends are disavowed, cut off, when human lives are dispensable, clearly something is wrong, something is sick about the creed. It is a cult, not a religion.

Deprogramming is the answer, if there is an answer at all. 



Anonymous said...

I don't think this is a disorder. I think it is a religious belief, and like others that foment religious wars, it has roots in the idea that might makes right.

Anonymous said...

But that is sick, might makes right, killing innocent people. It is either antisocial or it is a mental illness, or a combination of family problems, poverty, vulnerability, or a need to fit in. I think that what TherapyDoc is saying is that many things combine to make this happen, and when you have so many of them (her bullet points) then you have to watch out.

Social Worker MB said...

After James Egan Holmes and Cho Seung-Hoi committed these horrifying acts of violence, the national discussion turned, as always, to gun control. Time and time again, people miss the central issue: mental health and mental health funding. I worked in a mental health clinic last year, and there are *so many people* who need help, and the agency was only able to hire a few people to serve the needs of the community. I really hope, someday, that we can turn the discussion to one of the main causes of the problem---mental health and mental health funding.

Interest post---thank you for writing.


Mound Builder said...

One thing I've wondered is why we call some people terrorists and others we call murderers. Eric Rudolph bombed abortion clinics, apparently an expression of some cause he believed in that grew out of his Christian faith. He set off a bomb at the Olympics in Atlanta, in a park, too. I don't think anyone calls him a terrorist, though. Some people probably think what he did, the bombings at abortion clinics, was a just cause. Others think it was murder.

As I read bits of information about the Tsarnaev brothers, to me, it sounded as if there was a strange and terrible intersection of some less than ideal things they were raised with and some nominal connection to Islam, though to me it also sounded likely that the older brother was more sociopathic than anything else and his faith beliefs were possibly the thing that gave him a good excuse to do what he already had in mind. So I read, his mother told the younger one, the one that has managed to live, to do whatever his brother told him to do. So to me, it sounded like the younger brother's compliance grew out of misguided family loyalties and not enough maturity yet, not a solid enough core of his own to be able to make a distinction between blindly following his brother because his mother said he should, and learning to think for himself and distinguish between right and wrong.

I also thought it weird and sad, the way some people wanted to consider the two brothers to be foreigners, not real US citizens, because then it brought up the matter of what does it mean to be an American? Are you only American if you're born here? Is there something about becoming a US Citizen that doesn't really count if you were born elsewhere? And how does that figure in to who you become and how you behave here. To me, it sounds like their hierarchy of allegiance was in the following order: 1. Do what your mother says 2. Do what your brother says 3. Do what you feel like doing to express some misplaced anger and sociopathy 4. Do something violent just because you want to 5. express that anger via an ideology cobbled together as a convenience in order to give you a sense of outrage you already have, a free floating rage/outrage.

If it's true that the older brother had something to do with the three murders a couple of years before, to me it sounds as if this is violence looking for a place to express itself.

The trouble is, to me, that there are a lot of people like this, it would seem.

I'm saddened by the deaths and the injuries that occurred because of the bombs so casually dropped off in a crowd at what should have been a good and joyful/triumphant occasion--the Boston Marathon. It's hard for me to understand how someone could wander among people knowing that some of them would be killed and others would be severely injured, their lives forever changed because of the things they apparently did so casually. I don't know how people get that disconnected from other human beings. I think most people have enough of a conscience by the time they are 19 to choose not to kill others, not to do things that would harm others. Something sure failed somewhere along the line. Multiple somethings, I think. I sure wonder about their mom, her shoplifting things while in this country. What in the world made her think that was okay? What other things went on at home that her children saw.

therapydoc said...

Incredible, great treatment of this confusing subject. Thanks MB and SocialWorker MB.

Syd said...

Here is an interesting article:

And particularly this part seems to make sense. Doctors have been able to interview first hand terrorists and militants, as tens of thousands have been systematically detained and released over the past decade.

“The popular image of the terrorist as an individual motivated exclusively by deep and intransigent political commitment obscures a more complex reality,” explains Dr. Martha Crenshaw of Stanford University in a report, Psychology of Terrorism, produced by the University of South Florida. Though some biographical trends have been observed — child abuse, neglect, and incarceration are all common in their childhood narratives — these are loose, and quite far from establishing causality. Attempts to determine a “terrorist personality” have failed.

Dr. John Horgan of Pennsylvania State University, in interviews with over 60 former terrorists, has identified a number of traits that can and have led to radicalization: feelings of anger, alienation or disenfranchisement; identifying with other perceived victims of social injustice; belief that their current political power doesn’t allow them to induce change; belief that joining a movement offers social and political rewards; feeling the need to take action; having friends or family who are either sympathetic, or are terror actors themselves; and believing that engaging in violence with the perceived enemy is not immoral.

therapydoc said...

Thanks Syd, Of course this is how it is, a terrorist is a perfectly rational person, not suffering from mental illness, merely responding to the social angst around him, wanting to put an end to evil.

And that's what is so crazy about it, that they can see what we see as senseless slaughter, purposeful.

That's why I couldn't help but glom onto the Tamerlan's marijuana smoking, and his participation in a the slashing of three throats in a drug bust gone wrong. Sure, perfectly rational behavior.

The reason I suggest a new diagnosis is that I see it as sickness, being so overcome with anger and hate that blowing up dozens of people feels good. It diverges from Antisocial Personality Disorder only because the antisocial behavior isn't present during childhood.

They can say what they will-- that most terrorists are following their leaders, that these are political statements. Why then, are there so few? Because is this is truly the way the group wages war, then we should be seeing bodies flying in much greater numbers.

Maybe it isn't easy to recruit people who will really go through with this particular form of violence. Although thousands may agree-- might think it just-- it isn't happening. These events are relatively spotty.

So is any one particular mental illness in the general population.

Thanks for the link!