THE WASHINGTON-AREA SNIPER(S):
WHAT MOTIVATED HIM/THEM
Police have arrested a two males, John Allen Muhammad, 41, and John Lee
Malvo, a 17 year old minor, on suspicion of mass murder. As of 2002-NOV-7,
the Associated Press reported that "Muhammad and Malvo have been accused
of shooting 17 people, killing 12 and wounding five, in Alabama, Louisiana,
Maryland, Virginia, Washington state and Washington, D.C."
A new case has surfaced: a 2002-SEP-5 shooting in Clinton,
MD of Paul LaRuffa, a restaurant owner. LaRuffa's laptop computer was
allegedly found in Muhammad's car. 3
"Muhammad and Malvo were charged under two Virginia
statutes: a new post-Sept. 11 terrorism law and a state law allowing capital
punishment for the killing of more than one person within three years. Both
charges carry the death penalty. Only the triggerman could get the death penalty
under the multiple murder statute; both could receive it under the terrorism
law. ...While federal prosecutors have yet to say which jurisdiction will try
the pair first, a decision may hinge on where a death sentence can be obtained
with the most ease." 1
If Muhammad and/or Malvo actually committed mass murder, then a lot of people
will want to know what motivated them to kill so many strangers at random. Unfortunately, if both are
executed, they they may not have been in custody long enough for mental health
professionals to fully understand their motivation.
There is no end to the speculation about their motivation.
||Family conflict: Muhammad's ex-wife, Mildred, suggests that the
killing spree was a ruse to draw attention away from Muhammad's main goal.
That was to kill her and gain custody of their children. She has pointed out
||He had allegedly promised to kill her.
||Several of the shootings happened at branches of stores where she had
frequently shopped in Tacoma, WA.
||She believes that a warning letter left by the sniper which said: "Your
children are not safe anywhere at any time," was a message to her.
Her suggestion is that that he planned to kill her as one of many victims.
She would then simply
appear to be a person who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. This way,
police might not investigate her former husband as a suspect. 4
||Race: The Associated Press reported that, according to his wife, "He
wanted to be a career soldier, but he returned from his tour of duty in the
Gulf War a changed man, saying black soldiers like himself had been
discriminated against." She said "When he got back, he was a very angry
man." 4 He might have shot white strangers at random,
only killing a few black victims to make it seem as if race was not an issue.|
||Sexual orientation: The National Enquirer deviated from
their usual fare of cancer cures, UFO sightings and end of the world
prophecies by featuring an article titled: "Snipers: Their secret gay
life - & why it made them kill." They suggest that Muhammad and Malvo
were homosexual lovers, and that "their gay
secret fueled the terrifying rage that left 10 victims dead." They
quoted Dr. Andrew Hodges, allegedly a forensic psychiatrist, as saying
that "When Muhammad's wife regained custody of their three children,
Muhammad's latent homosexuality was triggered." They also quoted Dr.
Carole Lieberman, allegedly a Beverly Hills psychiatrist, who suggested
that "Muhammad has an obsession with control...he solved a problem
[with women] by getting a partner -- Malvo -- who was much younger and
completely dependent on him." The National Enquirer concluded
-- without any stated evidence -- that "His ultimate act of control,
triggered by his new gay relationship, was to snuff out the lives of other
people." They don't explain how having a partner to control would
somehow drive him to seek more control by killing others. 9|
||Extortion: In one of his notes, the shooter promised to stop
killing people if he was given $10 million. The entire shooting spree might
have been a mechanism to make a lot of money.|
||Mental illness: Muhammad and/or Malvo might have been psychopaths,
and had little or no regard for the value of human life. One or both might
have been excited by the publicity given the case, and simply killed people
for the thrill. Brian Levin, California State University professor of criminal
justice and a former NYC police officer commented on CNBC: "This fellow is
a sociopath. He was probably a sociopath for some time. That's someone who
knows right from wrong but gets a sense of power. And unfortunately, when you
put into that the hatefulness of the Nation of Islam, which is a bigoted,
extreme theology. It is not the same thing as Islam. Louis Farrakhan has
called white people devils and has criticized the United States. This kind of
rhetoric can label regular Americans as legitimate targets for violence when
you have someone who is a festering ball of anger."
||Military training: "Spooky" posted an article on the
CyberSheherazade web site, referring to Muhammad as a "
'penniless' Gulf War Army vet., trained at Fort Lewis, aka 'sniper school'."
She/he suggests that violence might be a natural outcome of armed forces
training. Spooky wonders whether: "...those dead of the sniper's bullets
[can] be considered victims of 'friendly fire'? And the women murdered in Fort
Bragg by their husbands, recently returned from serving in Afghanistan, are
they 'collateral damage'? Past wars are already haunting us, and this future
war will come home in many ways. In any war the enemy combatant, the shadow,
looks a hell of a lot like us." 6|
||Multiple causes: "Max" at MaxSpeak.org suggested that it is
simplistic to look for a single motivation for the sniper attacks: "If I
had to profile this sort of thing, I'd look for the intersection of such
factors as: a prior history of violence or problems with the law; adherence to
a relatively uncommon religious or political view; association with an
isolated, extremist organization requiring total commitment of one's time and
resources; and a background of failure in the military." 7|
||Religion: We will deal with this possibility in more detail because
this web site has a religious theme. Muhammad very definitely considers
himself to be a Muslim. But that fact alone would not make him an Islamic
terrorist. Otherwise, Timothy McVeigh should be considered a Christian
terrorist, and David Berkowitz -- the Son of Sam killer -- could be
labeled a Jewish
terrorist. Muhammad was active in Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam,
apparently helping with security. However "traditional
Islam and the Nation of Islam have very little in common; Islam and Judaism
are, in fact, more closely related than Islam and the Nation of Islam."
8 In spite of this rather vague connection between a sniper
suspect and Islam, several politically conservative commentators have suggested a link
between the killings and Muslim terrorism. According to an editorial in the
||"New York Times columnist William Safire, [has]...tried to depict
Muhammad as part of the great Islamic dagger aimed at the heart and soul of
||Daniel Pipes "has accused the
news media of having 'shut their eyes' to Muhammad's jihadic spree. 'When
Muslims engage in terrorism against Americans,' Pipes wrote, 'the guiding
presumption must be that they see themselves as warriors in a jihad against
the Great Satan.' "
||Mark Steyn wrote "When two Muslim males embark on a clinical,
unprovoked campaign of infidel-killing, 'possible terrorism' also seems a
reasonable conclusion. It doesn't matter whether they were acting on orders
or simply improvising."
||The Atlanta Journal editorial concluded: "Such rhetoric is
nonsense. It smacks of fear-mongering, of an effort to frighten an already
anxious populace into accepting anti-Islamic policies that it would
otherwise never tolerate. It is terrorism by another means."
On the other hand "Max" at MaxSpeak.org commented on the lack of a
connection to Islam: "The murderers are neither Middle Eastern, 'olive
skinned,' nor Islamic fundamentalist. There is no indication that the killers
had ever set foot in one of those notorious Saudi-subsidized Islamic schools
in the U.S. The NOI [Nation of Islam] brand of Islam is distinct from the
[Fundamentalist] Wahhabi variety tied to the 9-11 terrorists." 7
While it may be interesting challenge to speculate what motivation was behind
the mass killing, it is quite impossible at this stage to reach any solid
conclusion. There is simply not enough information currently available to the
"Sniper Deserves 'Ultimate Sanction,' Ashcroft Says,"
"Raw Data: The Muhammad Files," Fox News, 2002-NOV-1, at:
"Sniper suspects may be tied to Maryland, Arizona cases," The
Seattle Times, 2002=-NOV-6, at:
"Sniper Suspect's Ex-Wife Links Killings to Custody Fight,"
Associated Press, 2002-NOV-8, at:
"Snipers an 'Army Veteran' & 'Jamaican Teenager'," CyberAlert,
"Spooky," "Cyber-Scheherazade," 2002-OCT-25, at:
"10/25/2002 Archived Entry: 'The drumbeat of religious bigotry'."
MaxSpeak.com, 2002-OCT-25, at:
"Sniper wasn't shooting for Islam," Editorial, The Atlanta
Journal-Constitution, 2002-NOV-8. at:
"Gay secret that made snipers kill," The National Enquirer,
2002-NOV-12, Pages 34, 35 & 37. Online at
Copyright © 2002 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2002-NOV-9
Latest update: 2002-NOV-9
Author: B.A. Robinson