Opinion: Turning Off the Kill Switch
Christopher Jordan Dorner
By Alex Escué Limkin
— When I first heard reports of a vengeful ex-LAPD officer out on a killing spree, I assumed it was a simple narrative. A cold-blooded sociopath passing himself off as a regular cop had finally revealed his true colors. End of story.
Then, details emerged that shook this characterization. According to reports, Christopher Jordan Dorner had filed a complaint against a fellow Los Angeles Police Department officer for using excessive force against a mentally ill man during an arrest. He had served in the Navy Reserves and deployed overseas. He had been a running back in college. He was for stricter gun laws. He hoped the presidency would go to Hillary Clinton in 2016. He was in favor of marriage equality for gays. He was grateful for and still remembered the name of the surgeon who worked on his knee in 1998. He quoted D.H. Lawrence. And he had a very selective target list, which is usually not the case with crazed shooters. (See: Columbine, Aurora, Newtown, etc.)
Given that he’s accused of killing three people and threatens to kill many more, I want to believe Dorner is insane. It’s easier to imagine his situation if this were so, easier to read his goodbye letter, easier to picture him dealing with the snowbound wilderness around Big Bear eluding the hundreds of vehicles and thermal-imaging aircraft arrayed against him. But based on his writing, Christopher is not insane. Which makes the deep trouble he has gotten into, and the deaths he is accused of causing, that much harder to bear—and that much harder to understand.
The part I do understand, that is frightening, is the clear sense that Dorner is at war, and no longer capable of turning off his kill switch. He says as much in his letter, something referred to in the news as a “venomous and rage-filled manifesto.” This makes it sound imposing and scary, but it’s about the length of a short story and clearly written.
What I get from his letter is a portrait of an articulate and intelligent man who has unraveled from the lifetime effects of various crippling traumas, both emotional and physical. As a football player, he sustained repeated blows to his head, including two concussions for which he received CT scans.
Following his termination from LAPD in 2008, which he says was retaliatory, he fell into a deep depression. In his letter, he asks that his “brain be preserved for science/research to study the effects of depression on an individual’s brain.”
His letter also recounts incidents of racism that enraged him and led to acts of uncontrollable violence as a child and an adult. That overt as well as subtle racism can have pernicious effects should come as no surprise. And he experienced repetitive and intensive training through the military and law enforcement on lethal force, the act of shooting and killing people. In his letter he thanks his Marine drill instructor for making sure “the vicious and intense personality I possess was discovered.” Discovered? Or instilled, created, and shaped?
The vast majority of us experience a real and profound resistance to killing. This is the greatest impediment that armies have faced throughout history: getting their soldiers to kill. However, through repetitive, realistic and reflexive training, we are overcoming this resistance better than ever. Our recruits now are capable of killing through video game consoles with just a few months training, by firing missiles at targets by merely pressing buttons.
But this ability comes at a price. Once an individual overcomes his initial resistance to killing, even if just through training, the switch to turn it off goes a little soft. In fact, in his own words, that switch in Dorner no longer exists. So just how well do we want our recruits trained? And how well do we want them re-integrated when it’s finally time to come home?
These are the tough questions a society that chooses perpetual war—and habituates its young people to violence—has to be prepared to contemplate. Dorner is just one of many veterans simmering with intense and explosive trauma.
At the end of his farewell statement, as though he can sense the utter destruction and futility of his path, Dorner makes an eloquent plea for gun control, writing:
“If you had a well regulated AWB (assault weapons ban), this would not happen. The time is now to reinstitute a ban that will save lives. Why does any sportsman need a 30 round magazine for hunting? Why does anyone need a suppressor? Why does anyone need a AR15 rifle? This is the same small arms weapons system utilized in eradicating Al Qaeda, Taliban, and every enemy combatant since the Vietnam war. … These do not need to be purchased as easily as walking to your local Walmart or striking the enter key on your keyboard to “add to cart.” … No more Virginia Tech, Columbine HS, Wisconsin temple, Aurora theatre, Portland malls, Tucson rally, Newtown Sandy Hook. Whether by executive order or thru a bi-partisan Congress. an assault weapons ban needs to be re-instituted. Period!!!”
The LAPD, joined by numerous other agencies, is doing its best to kill Dorner, and will likely succeed. Officers have already shot two women, mistaking them for Dorner. But first the police will have to find him, which may be difficult. As L.A. Police Chief Beck noted at a press conference: ”Of course he knows what he’s doing; we trained him.”
Yes, we did.
“I never saw a wild thing feel sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever once feeling sorry for itself.”
—D.H. Lawrence (from the manifesto of Christopher Jordan Dorner)
Author Alex Escué Limkin is forming an action and advocacy team, DVR-6, specializing in the recovery and aid of homicidal and suicidal veterans in the backcountry. He blogs about his experience as an Iraq veteran at warriorswithwesthusing.org.