No, NBC, Serving in the Military Doesn’t Make Us Want to Murder Everyone
NBC New York published an article on January 8th, two days after the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting. The article is headlined “Mental Health Effects of Serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.” The authors of the article point out that Esteban Santiago, the Fort Lauderdale shooter, is the eighth veteran to carry out a mass shooting since 2009. The authors wrote, “The shooting highlights the need to ensure veterans are receiving adequate help for service-related trauma and the plight service members face when they return to civilian life,” and provided a timeline with brief summaries of all eight veteran mass shooters from the last eight years. The clear inference is that simply serving in war causes mental problems, and some veterans are so distraught by the transition to civilian life that they carry out acts of unimaginable violence.
The only problem I have with NBC’s article is that it’s a load of absolute nonsense.
Of the eight active duty or veteran active shooters listed in the article, three never went to war. One of those shooters was Nidal Hasan, the 2009 Fort Hood active shooter. He was an avowed jihadist who communicated before the attack with Anwar al-Awlaki, a notorious Islamist orator tied to several terrorist attacks and attempts. Nidal’s mass attack had nothing to do with any trauma, he killed American soldiers as part of his radical Islamic jihad.
The second shooter was Wade Page, a white supremacist who killed six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012. He was a missile repairman and PSYOP soldier who was discharged before the War on Terror for going AWOL, being drunk on duty and other unspecified misconduct.
The third was Navy veteran Aaron Alexis, the Washington Navy Yard shooter. He had a history of minor misconduct and one incident where he shot out the tires of a car, before he joined the military. He was never in combat, or near it.
So three of the eight mass shooters listed in the article never deployed. And remember, the article’s headline is “Mental Health Effects of Serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Now let’s look at the five who did deploy:
1) Ivan Antonio Lopez-Lopez was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, when he carried out the second Fort Hood mass shooting in 2014. Lopez served four months in Iraq, during which time one convoy he was on was hit by a roadside bomb. Lopez claimed to have been directly involved in the attack. Those unfamiliar with convoys might not know that convoys can be miles long, and it’s possible for one vehicle in a convoy to be hit with an IED while other soldiers in the convoy aren’t even aware of it. The army’s investigation determined Lopez wasn’t in the bomb’s blast radius, and “noted instances in which Specialist Lopez, who had served in Iraq in 2011, had been ‘misleading or deceptive’” about his wartime service. He seems to have been an outright liar; the Army determined that despite Lopez’s claims he had never been in direct combat, and “A Facebook page created by Lopez claimed that he was a sniper who had been to the Central African Republic.”
Lopez also had numerous stressors prior to the shooting: “Lopez was allegedly distraught over financial issues and the deaths of his grandfather and then his mother during a two-month period five months prior to the shooting. He was also undergoing regular psychiatric treatment for depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder.” As noted earlier, the PTSD diagnosis is suspect (and PTSD doesn’t cause uncontrollable mass violence anyway). The incident that actually sparked the shooting was a dispute over leave.
So Lopez was a liar who exaggerated his wartime experiences, was never in direct combat, had personal, financial and family issues, and got into an argument just before he murdered three innocent people. Nothing suggests his four-month Iraq deployment caused the mass shooting.
2) Dionisio Garza III killed one man and shot several others in Houston in May, 2016. He was an honest-to-god actual infantry combat veteran of Afghanistan. He also appears to have been severely mentally ill and delusional when he carried out the attack. He had left California for Texas just before the shooting because he believed the dollar was about to collapse , and left numerous irrational notes on the walls of a small building he had turned into a fighting position. “Police say after the shooting, they found random piece[s] of paper and writing on the walls inside the tire shop. While they didn’t appear to be terror related, they seemed to be the writing of a person in a ‘mental health crisis.’” Not surprisingly, his family and a friend blame it all on PTSD; however, the symptoms of PTSD do not include “mass violence directed at random people.” Military service in Afghanistan may have in fact caused Garza to have PTSD, but it didn’t create psychosis.
3) Micah Johnson, the Dallas police mass murderer, had deployed to Afghanistan. Johnson was a carpenter on Bagram Air Force Base, which is basically a small city with a big PX, 24-hour restaurants, internet service, weekly salsa and country dancing nights, concerts, visits by celebrities, and pizza delivery service (my battalion was headquartered there in 2009, although I was lucky to be at a small firebase a couple of hours away). According to the Army, “[Johnson] also served general guard duty, but there is no evidence that he participated in any combat.” Bagram has ten thousand ridiculous rules and occasional incoming rockets that sometimes kill people. Stressful, sure. But did non-combat carpentry service make Micah Johnson steal panties, hate white people and especially white cops, get him kicked out of the Houston New Black Panther Party for bucking the chain of command, and murder five police officers including one I trained with?
No. Johnson’s actions were racially motivated, not a result of cutting 2x4s on a huge base in Afghanistan.
4) Gavin Long, the Baton Rouge police mass murderer, had served in Iraq as a Marine data network specialist. He deployed from mid-2008 to January 2009, when Iraq was relatively calm, and never received a Combat Action Ribbon (which Marines and sailors are awarded for engaging in direct combat). Long was also a radical separatist, involved with a black “sovereign citizens” group, told his mother he was being followed by the CIA, went to Africa to help people avoid “remote brain control experiments,” claimed to be a member of the Nation of Islam, and was generally a weirdo.
Did Long’s seven months working on data networks in Iraq well after the height of the war “trigger” uncontrollable violence? No. His delusions and radical views weren’t created by the Marine Corps or Iraq.
5) Esteban Santiago killed five people at the Fort Lauderdale airport less than a week ago. He served tens months in Iraq. He also appears to be psychotic, having reported to the FBI last year that he was hearing voices telling him to watch ISIS videos. He also may have been a radical jihadist sympathizer, although we’re still waiting for confirmation on that.
We do know that two soldiers in Santiago’s unit were killed by a bomb blast during his deployment. We don’t know that Santiago was ever in combat himself. And even if he was in combat, even if he did have PTSD, PTSD doesn’t make you hear voices in your head. It doesn’t make you murder innocent people in an airport. And it doesn’t make you sympathetic to radical jihad.
After examining each veteran mass shooter, I don’t see any reason to believe that their military service caused the shootings. In Dionisio Garza’s case his experience sure made him more deadly, but nothing suggests military service was a the proximate cause or even a contributing factor. The truth is, some veterans have mental problems unrelated to their service. Some are criminals. Some are just evil people. The fact that a veteran committed a crime doesn’t mean they committed it because of their military service, just like if a former professional athlete commits murder that doesn’t mean he committed murder because he was a professional athlete.
Besides that, the stats show that veterans are actually underrepresented among mass shooters. A 2014 FBI report on mass shootings counted 160 mass shooting incidents between 2000 and 2013. 93 of those shootings occurred between 2009 and 2013, the time frame included in NBC New York’s article. Only three of those 93 active shooters were military (assuming NBC’s reporting is accurate), and those three shooters never even deployed to a war zone. I found reports of one more veteran active shooter during the 2009-2013 time frame, which means vets comprised 4 of 93 shooters, just over 4%.
But America’s roughly 22 million veterans comprise just over 6% of our population. Which means vets are statistically less likely than civilians to carry out a mass shooting. Is NBC going to publish an article showing that civilians are the more dangerous threat?
To be fair to NBC, plenty of vets push the stupid “poor, pitiful, damaged, hair-trigger veteran” narrative. Plenty of vets wear stupid “dysfunctional veteran” shirts and hats, and way too many proudly pose beside “I’m a hardened combat vet but can’t handle fireworks” signs in their front yards. NBC New York seems to have bought the damaged veteran myth, and the journalists who wrote the article may even think they’re helping us wretched loser veterans by telling the world that it’s not our fault we were ruined by the military.
But NBC should dig a little deeper. If they did any actual investigation they’d find that many veterans are exaggerating or, like active shooter Lopez likely was, outright lying to get a PTSD diagnosis and the free money for life that comes with it. NBC might even learn that some of the voices screaming loudest in support of ridiculous “no fireworks” yard signs were never in combat. They might find former VA psychologists and psychiatrists who estimated at least half their patients were lying. They might learn the veteran community itself is split on the issue, with many combat veterans dead set against the “damaged vet” narrative and many others eagerly embracing it because it gets them money, sympathy and free stuff.
But one thing NBC wouldn’t find is anything about military service that causes people to go on mass shooting sprees. Military service doesn’t make people insanely violent; if it did, 22 million veterans in America would be murdering a hell of a lot of people every day. People commit mass murder because they’re mentally ill or just plain evil. They don’t do it because they served in the military, went to war, or don’t like civilian life.
So do some damn research, NBC. And next time you want to publish an article as stupid as this last one, talk to a veteran first. I’m fairly certain there’s not a single vet in your offices, or they would have set you straight. Contact me, and I’ll do the basic fact checking you didn’t bother to do.
Chris Hernandez is a 22 year police officer, former Marine and recently retired National Guard soldier with over 25 years of military service. He is a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and also served 18 months as a United Nations police officer in Kosovo. He writes for BreachBangClear.com and Iron Mike magazine and has published three military fiction novels, Proof of Our Resolve, Line in the Valley and Safe From the War through Tactical16 Publishing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on his Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ProofofOurResolve).
Filed under: Afghanistan, Iraq | 7 Comments
Tags: esteban santiago, fort lauderdale airport, mass shootings, NBC, veterans