John Patrick Bedell: RIGHT Wing Extremist?!


A psychiatrist says John Patrick Bedell tried to self-medicate his bipolar illness with marijuana, inadvertently making his symptoms more pronounced. (Washoe County Jail via AP)

It appears that a counterintuitive meme is spreading:  John Patrick Bedell, who was killed while he opened fire at the Pentagon Metro stop, was a right-wing extemist.

So says Christian Science Monitor‘s Peter Grier, in a piece subtlety headlined “John Patrick Bedell: Did right-wing extremism lead to shooting?

John Patrick Bedell, whom authorities identified as the gunman in the Pentagon shooting on Thursday, appears to have been a right-wing extremist with virulent antigovernment feelings.

If so, that would make the Pentagon shooting the second violent extremist attack on a federal building within the past month. On Feb. 18, Joseph Stack flew a small aircraft into an IRS building in Austin, Texas. Mr. Stack left behind a disjointed screed in which, among other things, he expressed his hatred of the government.

Details of Mr. Bedell’s case are still emerging. But writings by someone with his same name and birth date, posted on the Internet, express ill will toward the government and the armed forces and question whether Washington itself might have been behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Think ProgressAlex Seitz-Wald (“Pentagon Shooter Was Right-Wing, Anti-Government Terrorist“), TPM’s Zachary Roth (“Pentagon Shooter Worshipped Private Property Rights, Denounced Government ‘Schemes’ Like Public Education“), and C&L’s David Neiwert (“‘Lone wolf’ anti-government extremist opens fire at the Pentagon. But let’s not call it terrorism.”) dutifully pass the meme along.

The evidence is starting to look pretty persuasive, given other details that are emerging, that the Internet postings in question are indeed from the same J. Patrick Bedell.  It’s true that Bedell harbored a bizarre array of political beliefs, some of which are from the extreme right, some from the extreme left, and some from an extreme libertarian/anarchist view.  But, to the extent that his attack on the Pentagon was political — much less an act of terrorism — it was motivated by 9/11 Trutherism.  That ain’t right-wing.

Naturally, this argument has roiled the blogosphere, largely along predictable lines.

  • Michelle Malkin points out Bedell was a registered Democrat, hated Bush, etc.
  • Whiskey Fire‘s Ther argues that Bedell’s anti-Vietnam and anti-Iraq War rants make him right-wing.  No, really.
  • Bruce McQuain says Bedell’s rants remind him of 1960s radicals like Weather Underground and the Black Liberation Army.
  • Jim Hoft contends “The Pentagon shooter is linked to several gay rights groups along with PETA, NPR, various drug legalization orgs, Greenpeace and Al Franken.”
  • Melissa Clouthier charges, “It’s the Democrats that embrace that conspiracy theory…them and the Ron Paul folks..”
  • Stacy McCain takes it all in stride in what one presumes is an ironic essay pinning the blame on Bedell’s use of marijuana and attendance at grad school.
  • AllahPundit observes, “If there’s any silver lining in the very dark clouds created by Bedell and Joe Stack (and even the Kentucky census worker fiasco), it may be that partisans on both sides have necessarily become more cautious about trying to divine coherent motives from incoherent minds.”
  • After venting against the Left and Right in a way unquotable on a family blog, Dennis the Peasant observes, “What seems clear is that Bedell was more disturbed than anything else. But since one of the newest games in town is to force the actions of obviously disturbed individuals into a useful political context, everyone ignores the obvious fact that sometimes it’s as simple as crazy people doing something crazy.”
  • Writing from the left, Steve M. correctly notes the complicated nature of Bedell’s beliefs can’t reasonably characterized along any pole.   Indeed, “It seems to me that a lot of the political violence we’re seeing lately is from people who are enraged, and have been for a long time, but who don’t quite feel represented by any of the groups who dominate our political debate.”

Also, I’d add, they were clinically insane.  Ironically, left-leaning MSNBC (“Pentagon shooter had history of mental illness“) gets it right:

The California man who was killed in a shootout with Pentagon police had a history of mental illness and had become so erratic that his parents reached out to local authorities weeks ago with a warning that he was unstable and might have a gun, authorities said Friday.

It’s still unclear why John Patrick Bedell opened fire Thursday at the Pentagon entrance, wounding two police officers before he was fatally shot. The two officers were hospitalized briefly with minor injuries.

Bedell was diagnosed as bipolar, or manic depressive, and had been in and out of treatment programs for years. His psychiatrist, J. Michael Nelson, said Bedell tried to self-medicate with marijuana, inadvertently making his symptoms more pronounced.

Can we please stop with the political name-calling whenever one of these nuts goes off?

Look, we’re a big country.  There are over 300 million of us.  Almost everyone holds a position or two that’s way off the charts and a whole lot of people believe in 9/11 Trutherism, black helicopters, and all the rest.  Less than a handful of those people are out trying to kill people.    However stupid or loathesome a political view may be, the fact that some nut also holds it adds nothing to the counter-argument.

FILED UNDER: Terrorism, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Put me down with D the P (minus the invective, of course). Crazy is crazy.

  2. tom p says:

    Can we please stop with the political name-calling whenever one of these nuts goes off?

    What you said.

  3. steve says:

    Agreed, but with the following caveat. The most rational and least partisan of my co-bloggers made the observation that the anti-government rhetoric from both the left and right has been very heated over the last year, more so than usual. The combination of anti-government rhetoric, a poor economy and insanity might be expected to lead to these events. Even absent insanity it may be a problem. I will quote my co-writer.

    ” incidents like this are the “cost of doing business” for those employing heated political rhetoric. If a writer deems a government to be murderous, totalitarian, criminal, oppressive, etc., it’s only natural that sooner or later, people will start taking said writer at his word, and acting accordingly. Of course, “acting accordingly” has, in the past, often encompassed violent & rebellious actions, committed by persons not generally viewed as insane.”

    IOW, if you really believe some of our current pundits, that we a re becoming a fascist or socialist country, that the goal of the current administration is just to increase government power and create a totalitarian state, at some point armed rebellion becomes rational.


  4. James Joyner says:

    IOW, if you really believe some of our current pundits, that we a re becoming a fascist or socialist country, that the goal of the current administration is just to increase government power and create a totalitarian state, at some point armed rebellion becomes rational.

    Agreed. One of the neverending if Quixotic quests of this blog is for ratcheting down the rhetoric. As Dave says, “Crazy is crazy.”

  5. john personna says:

    Sorry, Repubs can’t run entire election cycles trying to bind Dems to terrorists without having some chickens come home to roost.

  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    1) It’s telling that we have a hard time differentiating mental illness from political extremism. Political extremists might want to think about why that is.

    2) We should probably show a bit more compassion for people who are actually mentally ill. Just because it’s a sick brain rather than a sick pancreas doesn’t make one contemptible and the other pitiable.

    3) People in the online commentariat often prefer to treat as entirely separate questions of policy and psychology. But motivation matters as we see here in the extreme. The fact that this man was evidently mentally ill alters the import of his actions. We have to see his actions through the prism of his mental state.

    Even when not dealing with diagnosable mental illness it is appropriate to look at agendas and positions that have their genesis in psychology. Policy cannot stand in one room and motivation in another as though there was no connection between the two. Nothing in politics is simple math, it’s always a complex mix of idea, history, character and motive.

  7. Gustopher says:

    He’s bipolar.

    Obviously he registered as a Democrat during his rational state, and was a gun-toting, private-property-rights-loving, government-hating Republican in his delusional state.

  8. Herb says:

    While I agree that “crazy is crazy,” and that these murderous whack jobs are indeed crazy, there is a very good reason why they’ve become political footballs.

    There’s been a pretty significant movement out there that has spent considerable effort, money, and airtime over the last year or so convincing like-minded people that the government is out to steal your money, take your freedom, and kill your grandma bad.

    Sure, sane people know it’s just heated rhetoric and hyperbole. But we’re not talking about sane people, are we?

  9. BJ says:

    It’s horrible to watch this happen, it feels soul crushing, but I do have a nitpick:

    motivated by 9/11 Trutherism. That ain’t right-wing.

    What do you base that on? 9/11 Trutherism is the cause celebre of Patriot movement, NWO, black helicopter folks. Hell, Alex Jones has literally become a millionaire off of this shit. Is there a left wing version of these people I’m not aware of?

  10. James Joyner says:

    What do you base that on? 9/11 Trutherism is the cause celebre of Patriot movement, NWO, black helicopter folks. Hell, Alex Jones has literally become a millionaire off of this shit. Is there a left wing version of these people I’m not aware of?

    There may be radical anti-government types on the right who also subscribe. But Trutherism is primarily an anti-Bush movement on the radical left.

  11. BJ says:

    But Trutherism is primarily an anti-Bush movement on the radical left.

    James, this is simply a Twilight zone moment for me. Your statement is unequivocally untrue. The vast, vast majority of Trutherism was born out of the anti-government, patriot movement, where it continues to thrive today. There may be any number of Democratic Underground types who consider themselves Truthes, but the heart and soul of the movement resides on the fringe right.

    These are the FEMA camps, Bohemian Grove, chemtrails, fluoride-as-mind control right-wingers, who as it happens, were passionately anti-Bush, which is what might have confused folks such as yourself regrading where they stood on the political spectrum.

    Ground zero for these folks is Spend five minutes on that website, James, these folks are most certainly not of the left.

    Sorry for taking you to task on this, but for some reason it’s been really bugging me lately. Recently, Charles Johnson described Alex Jones, the father of trutherism, as “left-wing”, which induced a spit-take.

    I think the fact that many of these people were anti-Bush (skull and bones, new world order, illuminati, ect), has really confused people regarding where this movement began and where it currently lives.

    Anyway, thanks for reading.

  12. Jay says:

    I don’t think there is a single Left group not based around 911 Trutherism which subscribes to it. That includes both Liberal and Radical groups. The Marxist groups run away from it like the plague.

    I imagine the same is true for the Right.

    911 Trutherism does have some currency within the paleo-libertarian movement.

    There should be some no-goes in politics. Violent actions is one of these. Birtherism, Trutherism, and racism are others.

  13. IanY77 says:

    Generally, James, I agree with you. But a couple quick points:

    Bush left office with a 65-70% disapproval rating. Some conservative bloggers like to point out a poll where roughly 40% of Americans identify themselves as “conservative”. Given that, there is overlap between people who dislike Bush and call themselves conservative. Disliking Bush (in and of itself) does not make oneself liberal (whatever the motivation for disliking him). If those polls are right, roughly 25% of the self identified conservatives in the US are anti-Bush (to one degree or another).

    Secondly, that last paragraph should be tattooed backwards on the forehead of every blogger outside of the centre. Good for you. I keep coming back here for that lone voice of sanity in the wilderness. I get it that blogs are more passionate than straight news, but the wailing and finger pointing are going to drive me to taking up stamp collecting as a hobby.

  14. Eli says:

    I would agree but for the unarguably prominent members of the conservative movement trafficking in rhetoric that is over the line, and if not blatantly but suggestively inciting armed violence.

    We can let the psychologists sort out what ideologies tend to turn out more crazy, but in the meantime I do agree everyone needs to take a big chill pill and return to reasonable debate.

  15. thanos316 says:

    Some of these nuts might transcend pigeonholing into either the far-left/far-right camp. Bedell was clearly insane. Stack’s pathetic “Manifesto” came across as more like the ranting of someone who was desperately trying to blame someone or something else (i.e. the government) for all the failures in his personal life rather than the mission statement of an actual radical. So it has to be admitted by all that the lone kook with no particular affiliation acting out is always a possibility.

    Two things come to mind though. One, the current atmosphere of fanatical polarization is being stoked up almost entirely by the Right, especially when viewed objectively, considering that President Obama has done nothing so far in his term that even remotely justifies the literal explosion of anti-government rage that arose only AFTER his inauguration. And, two, genuine domestic political violence that results in large casualties is proven by American history to belong almost exclusively to the Right. Ranging from the century-long terrorism of the KKK, to union busting by industry captains, and onto Tim McViegh, the Right has piled up a stack of murder victims that the American Left cannot even come close to rivalling. The Weathermen, the Black Panthers, the Unabomber, or the modern eco-radicals in ELF/ALF/etc are total pikers in comparison to what the Right is capable of doing when it unleashes the lynch mobs or inspires some genuinely dangerous lone wolf like McVeigh.

    I understand what James Joyner is trying to do with this particular column. But it is kind of pointless. If Barack Obama gets through his first term without an incident like the Oklahoma City bombing occurring under his tenure, or evades an assassination attempt against him, then I’ll be genuinely surprised. Lee Atwater’s pet monster is loose in the countryside again, and it won’t be satisfied until it’s tasted some of it’s neighbours’ blood.

  16. Greg says:

    James, while I respect your thinking here, I have to politely disagree–David Neiwert is actually on very strong ground here, since it’s something he’s been studying for the past decade at least, and has written two very good books on the subject–“Death on the Fourth of July” and “The Eliminationists.” The fact is, conservatives are simply more comfortable using violent, inflammatory language than liberals–even to the point of calling for their fellow Americans to die. And conservatives who engage in such behavior tend to be rewarded, not punished. Whether it’s Ann Coulter saying she wished Tim McVeigh had gone to the NY Times building, Bill O’Reilly saying if San Francisco gets blown up, we shouldn’t rebuild it, talkshow host Michael Reagan calling for Howard Dean to be hanged from the neck until he’s dead, Bill O’Reilly (again) calling Dr. George Tiller a babykiller in 26 separate segments over four years… it’s not that hard to draw a link between O’Reilly’s obsession and Tiller’s eventual assassination. One thinks of Jim David Akisson, who flat out said “This is a political act… I want to kill all the liberals” when he killed two Tennessee Unitarians. Or the murderer of Bill Gwatney. Or the Glenn Beck fan who murdered three cops in Pittsburgh. You don’t have prominent, powerful, high-paid people in the Democratic party saying this kind of stuff, and if any of them did, they’d be shunned for life. Look at how many people pro-life activists have killed over the past 17 years–or assaulted–or firebombed, compared with the 0 murders and 0 firebombs from the pro-choice side.

    Drawing a false equivalence is dishonest, and it speaks very,very badly of the Republicans that they not only do not clamp down on this sort of thing but appear to be actively encouraging it.