He’s reminded us of our terrible political discourse and gun control policies, but the insane 22-year-old who shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed six bystanders on Saturday isn’t a representative of Tea Party vitriol. A believer in government slavery and hologram worlds, a lover of Alice in Wonderland and Mein Kampf who claimed to know how to fly, Jared Lee Loughner is a testament to the darker, more deranged corners of the country that flourish on the Internet. Before bullets, his main weapon against the system wasn’t just a cache of weird YouTube videos -- it was weird grammar.
At a campaign event in 2007, Loughner had a chance to ask Giffords a question: ‘What is government if words have no meaning?’" However she answered, it didn’t satisfy him. He subsequently told a friend that Giffords was ‘a fake’ — a term perhaps resonant with other conspiracy theorists’ views of the world as a series of “fictions.”
His interest in “conscience dreaming” could point to the influence of David Icke, the British conspiracy theorist who says the world is controlled by a race of reptilian aliens, and urges “conscious dreaming” as a way of stepping out of our Matrix-like existence.
But Loughner’s grammar instructor, via the web of course, may have been an anti-government activist named David Wynn Miller, a self-professed genius with an IQ of 200 who travels the country preaching to people in the Sovereign Citizen anti-tax movement. His claim to fame, and insanity, is a linguistic remix he created in 1988, the year he discovered “the mathematical interface in the truth that certifies all 5,000 languages, frontwards and backwards.”
Use strange punctuation and you can alter your legal status as a person, making you impervious to legal prosecution and capable of tax evasion, argues Miller. For instance, David Wynn Miller can be taxed, but :David-Wynn: Miller cannot be. (Meanwhile, the U.S. government contends, in everyday English, that Mieller owes income taxes back to 1993.)
More specifically, as he explained at the Homeland Security Expo in Georgia in 2003:
The reason I use a full colon and a hyphen in my name, the first full colon, which is full colon David, it means for the David hyphen Wynn. That’s my given name, and it’s also a noun, because it uses a prepositional phrase. … Because I use prepositional phrases, through punctuation, which is classified as hieroglyphics, which makes me a life, l-i-f-e. Now, when you don’t punctuate your name … David is an adjective, Wynn is an adjective, Miller is a pronoun. Two adjectives are a condition of modification, opinion, presumption, which modifies the pronoun, pro means no on noun. So therefore, I’m not a fact. I’m a fiction.
This is far from mainstream, and even on the far right, reports the Anti-Defamation League, few people have any idea what he’s talking about. It’s also not clear that Loughner was influenced by Miller – although Miller’s theories are typical of the bizarre internet where the loner shooter apparently spent much of his time. And their deranged philosophies of language echo each other.
“The government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar,” Loughner writes in one video, adding that “words don’t have meaning.” His hypnotic, tautological claims seem to prove that point:
If I teach a mentally capable 8 year old for 20 consecutive minutes to replace an alphabet letter with a new letter and pronunciation then the mentally capable 8 year old writes and pronounces the new letter and pronunciation that’s replacing an alphabet letter in 20 consecutive minutes.
Don’t spend too much time trying to dissect that with your Warriner’s.
For his part, Miller, contacted by the Daily Beast, suspects that Loughner is a victim of an Air Force program on mind control – or at least a victim television crime shows. "Murder is taught every day, one hundred times a week on crime shows," he says. "They've been brainwashing this child for twenty years. It's a wonder everyone isn't walking around insane." It sounds like a rare moment of sanity for a man with a long list of beliefs that could make the Unabomber sound like a tenured professor.
Like Loughner, he makes no push for violence in his rants. But in imaginary worlds, the line between deranged action and deranged language can wear thin. That’s what this was about – not divisive politics but sound and fury, signifying nothing. Meanwhile, Congresswoman Giffords, who was shot in the head and remains in critical condition, still has yet to speak.
A version of this article originally appeared at Motherboard.