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The DC Sniper Trial, Part IV

After a lunch break, John Allen Muhammad’s trial moved immediately into the penalty phase. Judge Millette began the proceedings by issuing yet another unusual ruling; according to the Baltimore Sun, “Millette, Jr. ruled that prosecutors would be allowed to introduce so-called ‘victim impact testimony’ only from the family of Dean H. Meyers.”

In other words, after allowing everything under the sun into the guilt phase of the trial, the judge was now going to limit prejudicial testimony in the penalty phase to the actual crime that Muhammad was charged with. Can you say “Bizarro World”?

Millette’s decision was touted by the media as a huge victory for the defense team — indeed, the first significant ruling to go its way. Prosecutors were said to be crestfallen — but only until they remembered that they had already introduced ‘victim impact testimony’ concerning at least a dozen uncharged murders during the guilt phase of the trial.

In truth, Millette’s ruling was no gift to the defense; it was an acknowledgment that prosecutors had already presented the penalty phase of their case. Conway acknowledged that as well when he responded to the judge’s ruling by explicitly instructing jurors that everything they had already heard was now “fair game.”

In addition to everything they had already heard, the state had prepared a bombshell to drop on the unsuspecting jury: if the sniper team had not been stopped, prosecutors solemnly informed them, the jurors would have been the pair’s next victims. According to returning witness John Hair of the FBI, the stolen notebook computer (that vast reservoir of incriminating evidence) revealed that three specific locations in the Hampton Roads area had been identified as future targets. The trial, it will be recalled, had been moved to Hampton Roads – 200 miles from the nearest shooting scene, but just a stone’s throw from the Naval Air Station Oceana – specifically because it was in an area of the state that was not directly affected by the shootings.

Although it was Hair’s testimony that most visibly affected the jury, the most provocative witness called by the state was Navy gunner Earl Lee Dancy of Tacoma, Washington. Dancy, it turns out, is the previously unidentified witness who implicated Muhammad in both a murder and an attack on a Jewish temple.

On the stand, Dancy contradicted himself frequently and was caught in several lies. He testified that he had allowed Muhammad and Malvo to stay at his home, with ready access to his guns, for several weeks in early 2002, but he offered no credible reason for doing so. He admitted that he had given widely varying accounts of his relationship with Muhammad to various law enforcement officers. He admitted lying to authorities on a number of occasions about a rifle that he claimed that he had bought for Muhammad. He denied that he had ever pawned a gun, until he was confronted with the evidence, at which time he admitted to having pawned at least nine guns. He acknowledged, when asked directly, that he was a liar.

What makes all of this rather odd is that it was Dancy’s guns that were purportedly used in at least two crimes, one of them the murder of a young Tacoma woman. And yet it is not Earl Dancy who stands publicly accused of the crimes, it is John Muhammad, even though the only evidence against Muhammad appears to be the testimony of an admitted liar who can’t keep his story straight and who has a vested interest in pinning the crimes on someone other than himself. Go figure.

On Thursday, November 20, after defense attorneys had presented another abbreviated case on behalf of their client, the state’s and the defense’s closing statements were delivered. Prosecutor Paul Ebert then handled the state’s final rebuttal argument, which consisted largely of once again displaying photos of the victims both in life and in death.

The jury, after being improperly instructed, began deliberating the next day. Since it was a Friday, court was adjourned at around 1:00 PM, right after Judge Millette fielded two remarkably revealing queries from jurors. Neither received much more than a passing mention in press reports.

Shortly after 12:30 PM, Millette received a note from a juror that read: “If the jury cannot reach a unanimous decision, what happens then?” As a few reporters noted, the judge did not answer the question directly. Instead, he spoke of the time that had been invested in the trial, and he emphasized that “we really want to try to get a unanimous decision. You have all weekend to think about it.”

If the judge had bothered to answer the question directly, he would have instructed the jury that a unanimous decision was only required to hand down a death sentence; anything short of a unanimous decision would result in the imposition of the default sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Amazingly enough, the jury had not been given that most basic of jury instructions. And even more amazingly, when asked directly for the instructions that should have already been provided, Judge Millette gave a response that strongly implied that a failure to reach a unanimous decision would result in a hung jury, when the truth was that if the jury was in fact ‘hung,’ then the jurors had already reached a verdict.

Millette instructed the jury to continue deliberating as long as was necessary to reach a unanimous decision — in other words, to continue deliberating until they could return with a recommendation of death. He told jurors they had all day Monday, and even Tuesday (which had previously been announced as the beginning of the Thanksgiving holiday), to continue deliberating.

After that curious exchange, jury foreman Jerry Haggerty was quick to assure the judge – and more importantly, the media – that the question was based merely on curiosity and did not reflect a division within the jury. That wasn’t quite true; it was later revealed by the L.A. Times that “during a straw poll Friday … several [jurors] had leaned toward sparing Muhammad’s life.” Did I mention, by the way, that Haggerty is a retired Navy captain and judge advocate?

After Judge Millette had fielded the first question, he received another, possibly even more revealing, question from an unidentified female juror, who inquired, incredibly enough, whether she could do some research on her own over the weekend. Told that she could not – that her decision was to be based solely on evidence presented in court – she nevertheless persisted in asking for permission to pursue outside sources, explaining that she intended to research other death penalty cases.

Despite the fact that the juror had clearly signaled that she intended to base her decision at least in part on materials obtained outside the courtroom, there was no request by either team of attorneys to have the juror removed and replaced with one of the three alternate jurors, nor was there any request to have the jury sequestered for the duration of the deliberations.

That in itself was rather odd. Perhaps even odder was that the woman had been seated on the jury despite the fact that she had openly expressed reservations about capital punishment during the juror selection process, and despite the fact that prosecutor Ebert’s primary litmus test for prospective jurors had been that they be willing, even eager, to impose a death sentence.

Did I mention, by the way, that the juror who posed the question was identified in one press report as a “former Naval intelligence officer”? And did I mention that, given her current employment at the Center for Naval Analysis, the ‘former’ part of that identification is debatable?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that, perhaps, the juror was a ‘plant’ (as was, most likely, the jury foreman). The unnamed female juror’s job was to feign initial opposition to capital punishment so that when she later voted in favor of imposing it, she could hopefully sway other jurors to do likewise. Her question to the judge, coming just after the other juror’s question, seemed to be a pretty clear signal that there were problems in the jury room — specifically, the state had failed to sway several jurors and fresh arguments were needed to bring them into line.

The jury, incidentally, was seated in record time given both the magnitude of the charges and the wholesale contamination of the jury pool. The fifteen panel members (twelve jurors and three alternates) were selected from a pool of only 123 prospective jurors in just three-and-a-half days. By way of comparison, it took seven weeks to seat the jury that heard the evidence against the ‘Unabomber,’ who was similarly accused of committing a series of impersonal murders across several states.

With no more questions forthcoming, Muhammad’s jury was dismissed for the day. Judge Millette then stepped down from the bench to congratulate the opposing attorneys, offering the following words to Ebert (who headed what the judge referred to as the “dream team,” and who had been Millette’s boss from 1986 to 1990): “Best job you’ve ever done, Paul.” Greenspun then received the following accolade: “You exceeded even my expectations.”

It is unclear exactly what “expectations” Millette was referring to, but it certainly couldn’t have been his “expectations” that Greenspun would aggressively defend his client.

It is difficult to say exactly what transpired during the weekend break from deliberations, but after assembling for just ninety minutes on the following Monday morning, the previously divided jury returned with a unanimous request that the state of Virginia execute John Allen Muhammad. Formal sentencing was set for February 12, 2004, when Judge Millette will formally impose the sentence recommended by the jury.

According to the L.A. Times, one juror who changed his mind over the weekend, Dennis Bowman, could “cit[e] no clear cut reason” for doing so. Juror Heather Best-Teague offered this seemingly contradictory explanation: “I can’t say we’re all good with the decision, but we knew we made the right one.”

Paul Ebert hailed the decision, reached after just five-and-a-half hours, as a “victory for society.” Muhammad, he said, is “the kind of man that doesn’t deserve to be in society.” In the world that Ebert inhabits, there are apparently a lot of people who don’t deserve to be in society: Muhammad is the thirteenth man that he has personally sent to Death Row, making him the state’s most prolific serial killer/prosecutor.

As jurors return to their lives and jobs, John Muhammad will find himself on a fast track to the execution chamber. Virginia trails only Texas in the pace of executions. The average time from sentencing to execution – four years – is half the national average. And the state doesn’t shy away from executing juvenile defendants. Those are some of the very reasons that John Ashcroft hand-picked Virginia as the state where Muhammad and Malvo would answer for their alleged crimes, even though ten of the thirteen sniper victims were shot in Maryland. Ashcroft also hand-picked the prosecutors, whom he described as “seasoned and highly respected.”

Behind the scenes, the change of venue for the trial was likely hand-picked as well. In addition to guaranteeing a jury pool teeming with Naval intelligence types, the move insured that there would be no public viewing of the trial. The courtroom reportedly had only 53 seats, including the ten seats occupied by the prosecution and defense teams. Most of the rest were filled by victim’s family members and media representatives (who were likely also hand-picked). Only five seats were set aside for the public. All cameras were banned from the courtroom, save for a closed-circuit feed to a press room.

Judge Millette was probably hand-picked as well, which would explain why he continued to helm the trial after it was moved 200 miles away from the original venue. Judge Millette, incidentally, was the jurist who once presided over the trial of John “how many of those patches will I need to get it to grow back?” Bobbitt. In separate proceedings, Paul Ebert was the prosecutor who failed to convict his spouse, Lorena Bobbitt. Defense attorney Greenspun had his own brush with notoriety when he defended Marv Albert on sodomy charges in 1997. More tellingly, his partner Shapiro is currently representing Brian Regan, a retired Air Force sergeant accused of being a spy. And Robert Horan, who was hand-picked by Ashcroft to handle the prosecution of Malvo, spearheaded the prosecution of the man who was recently executed for allegedly opening fire outside CIA headquarters in 1993. Needless to say, it takes a very special kind of attorney to handle cases of that nature.

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There has been almost no critical media analysis of the Muhammad trial. At only one point during the proceedings was any outrage expressed by legal commentators, and that outrage wasn’t over Judge Millette’s questionable rulings, or his wholesale admission of prejudicial evidence, or his inappropriate jury instructions; it was over the fact that Muhammad insisted on exercising his constitutional right to represent himself.

Leading the charge in insisting that Muhammad be denied that most basic of rights was Alan Dershowitz. There was too much at stake, wrote Dershowitz, to allow such “foolishness.” Allowing Muhammad to defend himself, the pundit argued, was tantamount to “bestowing on defendants a constitutional right to commit suicide.”

But was it really the defendant’s potential failure to mount an adequate defense that Dershowitz was concerned with? Could Muhammad have possibly done a worse job defending himself than his appointed attorneys? That hardly seems likely. In fact, despite a number of press reports to the contrary, Muhammad performed quite capably during his very brief career as an attorney. The Baltimore Sun reported that, despite having “no formal legal training, Muhammad vigorously questioned witnesses and argued legal technicalities.” He also “proved able during several sharp cross-examinations.” Judge Millette acknowledged that Muhammad “appears to be competently representing himself, he appears to be asking the appropriate questions, and he appears to understand everything that’s going on.”

Perhaps, then, what really concerned Dershowitz and his fellow opinion-shapers was the possibility that even an untrained attorney could perform capably enough to expose the fraud being perpetrated by the state. Dershowitz, by the way, penned a book on the theft of the 2000 presidential election, thereby reaffirming his ‘liberal’ credentials, and then just months later used his bully pulpit to loudly and cravenly promote the liberal cause of allowing the illegitimate new administration to institutionalize the use of torture on ‘terrorist’ suspects.

One question that remains unanswered is why Muhammad – who had been quite insistent that he be allowed to defend himself, and who was quite animated during his brief stint as an attorney – suddenly reversed his decision and thereafter sat silent and expressionless throughout the remainder of the trial, offering no protest over his defense team’s failure to mount an actual defense.

Perhaps the answer can be found in the fact that Muhammad was held in isolation throughout the trial, denied contact with both visitors and other inmates. His only contact was with his captors and with members of his ‘defense’ team. His current mental status is, therefore, unknown. All mental health testimony was barred from trial, denying jurors any plausible explanation of how a 42-year-old man with no history of violence (except for the officially sanctioned violence performed at the behest of Uncle Sam) suddenly transformed himself into a ‘serial killer.’ The judge’s barring of all such testimony was purportedly prompted by Muhammad’s refusal to be examined by the state’s experts — a refusal that was, perhaps, quite understandable. But there is little reason to believe that the defense’s ‘experts’ weren’t cut from the same cloth.

Muhammad’s ex-wife testified that his behavior changed dramatically after his participation in ‘Operation Desert Storm.’ He was never, she said, quite the same after that. So if we are to accept that Muhammad was in fact the DC Sniper, then should we not be asking a question that no one at trial, and no one in the media, bothered to ask: how many John Allen Muhammads will be coming home from Iraq this time?

Vietnam gave us such notorious ‘serial killers’ as Leonard Lake (whose Wilseyville, California property yielded the butchered and buried remains of as many as 25 victims), Arthur Shawcross (who claimed to have had 39 confirmed kills in Vietnam, and 12 more in the States), and, indirectly, Richard “The Night Stalker” Ramirez (who was mentored by a cousin who returned from Vietnam with eight shrunken human heads and an extensive collection of grisly Polaroids depicting the brutal rape, torture, murder and mutilation of his Vietnamese victims).

How many men conditioned to kill, and to enjoy killing, will be coming home from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?

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Parallels to the Muhammad prosecution abound in the ‘serial killer’ literature. Ebert’s strategy, for example, borrowed heavily from Vincent Bugliosi’s prosecution of California’s most famous inmate, Charles Milles Manson (Bugliosi, by the way, also penned a book on the theft of the 2000 election) .

As some readers will recall, Charlie Manson did not actually kill any of the victims whose murders he was charged with. In fact, prosecutors acknowledged that Manson was not even at the scenes of the crimes when the murders were committed. And yet he was convicted of the murders and sentenced to death (later commuted by a Supreme Court decision) based on the state’s contention that those who did commit the murders were completely under Charlie’s control.

Just as the state of Virginia has done with Lee Boyd Malvo, the state of California prosecuted, and sought death sentences for, Charlie’s followers, even though, by the state’s own arguments, the actual killers could not control (and therefore should not be held legally responsible for) their actions. And in both Virginia and California, although brainwashing/mind-control was an explicit aspect of the state’s case, no one ever publicly questioned whether the alleged puppeteer could himself be a puppet.

Ebert’s strategy also borrowed liberally from the prosecutions of ‘serial killers’ Albert DeSalvo, Wayne Williams, and Bobby Joe Long, each of whom were convicted based primarily on the wholesale admission of prejudicial evidence of uncharged crimes.

Popular mythology holds that Wayne Williams was convicted of the “Atlanta Child Murders.” In reality, however, Williams was never charged with, let alone convicted of, the murder of a single child — for the simple reason that the state of Georgia had no case. Williams was brought to trial for the murder of two adults, but the state did not have much of a case to support those charges either. To compensate for the lack of an actual case, prosecutors successfully muddied the waters and inflamed the jury by introducing evidence of no fewer than ten uncharged child homicides. Georgia Supreme Court Justice George Smith later commented that Williams assumed an “unenviable position as a defendant who, charged with two murders, was forced to defend himself as to 12 separate killings.”

Consider also the case of the lesser known Bobby Joe Long. Charged with committing a string of brutal serial murders of women, and also with committing a prolific string of concurrent, but unrelated, serial rapes, Long faced a lengthy series of trials in the state of Florida, all of which were deeply flawed. One of his many convictions was later overturned by the Florida Supreme Court. In overturning the verdict, the high court specifically noted that only four hours of testimony had been presented on the murder for which Long was charged, while three entire days had been spent admitting highly prejudicial evidence of other murders that Long was not charged with.

By the time the state of Florida was done with Bobby Joe Long, he had received two death sentences and thirty-four life sentences, plus an additional 693 years. Incidentally, Bobby Joe, the son of Joe Long and Louella Lucas, was a cousin of prolific serial killer/assassin/patsy (depending on who is telling the story) Henry Lee Lucas, who, for the record, and despite what you may have heard, was the only Death Row inmate to have his sentence commuted by Texas Governor George W. Bush.

Consider also the case of Albert DeSalvo, who popular mythology holds was convicted as the “Boston Strangler,” although the truth is that DeSalvo was never convicted of killing anyone. He was never even charged with killing anyone. And beyond an obviously fraudulent series of inaccurate ‘confessions,’ obtained by his ‘defense’ attorney, there was never any evidence that supported the state’s contention that Albert DeSalvo killed anyone.

What DeSalvo was charged with was a series of sexual assaults/robberies (Albert, like Bobby Joe, was said to operate simultaneously as both a serial killer and an absurdly prolific serial rapist), but there was a serious shortage of evidence to support the charges — which meant, naturally, that it was necessary to introduce evidence of a dozen or so uncharged murders, both to guarantee a conviction and to obscure the fact that the actual charges were entirely unsupported.

This time, however, there was a unique twist to the strategy: the evidence of the uncharged crimes was introduced by the defense! After the state had presented its paper-thin case in support of the assault/robbery charges, which the defense made no effort to challenge, the defense responded by presenting evidence purportedly tying the defendant to thirteen uncharged murders!

The attorney who presented that novel defense, without even a hint of shame, described his strategy thusly: “I wanted the right to defend a man for robbery and assault by proving that he had committed thirteen murders.” Prosecutors, needless to say, didn’t have many objections to such a strategy.

The defense claimed that the intent was to prove De Salvo insane by portraying him as a maniacal killer, and thereby win him an acquittal on the far less serious charges that he was actually facing. The real intent, however, appears to have been to use the cover of the legal proceedings to ‘convict’ DeSalvo of the uncharged murders in the court of public opinion — which was the only way that he could be convicted given that there was no evidence to support an actual prosecution.

The attorney who ‘defended’ DeSalvo – by first fingering him as the prime suspect, then coaxing a ‘confession’ from him (with help from CIA hypnotist William Jennings Bryan), and then presenting the state’s case and calling it a defense – should have been permanently disbarred. Instead, he went on to completely unwarranted fame and fortune. In fact, you may have heard of him. His name is F. Lee Bailey.

In addition to the curiously parallel prosecutions, Albert De Salvo, Wayne Williams, Bobby Joe Long, and John Allen Muhammad had another thing in common: all took the fall for crimes that they almost certainly did not commit.

In recent years, relatives of the alleged killer and of some of the victims have pushed for a reexamination of the Boston killings. Evidence obtained through the recent exhumation of bodies has effectively cleared DeSalvo of some of the crimes he was ‘convicted’ of committing. But don’t expect the official mythology to change any time soon; the recent involvement in the case of notorious disinformation-peddler Gerald Posner sends a clear signal that the true facts of the so-called “Boston Strangler” case will continue to be covered up.

Many of the relatives of the children slaughtered in Atlanta do not now believe, nor have they ever believed, that Williams was anything more than a patsy — for the simple reason that the available evidence never came close to indicating otherwise. The media, of course, happily played along with the state’s ruse, billing Williams’ trial as the “Atlanta Child Killer” trial, just as Albert DeSalvo’s trial was billed as the “Boston Strangler” trial. The truth remains, nevertheless, that no one has ever stood trial for the murders in either Boston or Atlanta (just as no one has stood trial for the ten sniper shootings in Maryland).

Another parallel to the Muhammad case can be found in the trial of ‘serial killer’ Herb Mullin. Mullin’s defense counsel, James Jackson, began his opening statement by declaring: “Friday the 13th, October 1972, Herbert William Mullin took a baseball bat and clubbed one Lawrence White to death.” Not only had he declared his client guilty of murder, he had declared him guilty of a murder for which Herb had never even been charged! Jackson also informed the jury: “We do not, as you know, intend to argue the proposition that [Herb] did not commit these killings.”

“We do not,” Jackson may as well have said, “intend to actually defend our client.” Jackson employed that very same strategy when he was called upon to defend ‘serial killer’ Ed Kemper and ‘mass murderer’ John Frazier (Jackson was assisted in all three cases, incidentally, by psychiatrist Donald Lunde, just as Bailey was assisted by Bryan).

‘Serial killer’ Gary Heidnik’s attorney included this little gem in his opening statement to jurors: “The judge said something this morning about people being innocent until proven guilty. My client is not innocent. He is very, very guilty.” Heidnik, incidentally, was kept heavily dosed with Thorazine throughout his trial and reportedly sat expressionless, staring straight ahead and saying nothing. He was described as being “nearly catatonic.”

Gary Heidnik had joined the U.S. Army in November 1961 and requested that he be trained as a military policeman. The Army though opted to send him to Ft. Sam Houston, near San Antonio, Texas, for training as a medic. When that training was completed, he was sent to an Army hospital in West Germany to work as an orderly. At that hospital, Heidnik became the involuntary subject of experimentation with powerful hallucinogenic drugs (can you say MK-ULTRA?) Gary was then sent back to a military hospital here in the States and then released early with an honorable discharge. He later became a ‘serial killer.’

In January 1979, Jeffrey Dahmer joined the U.S. Army and requested that he be trained as a military policeman. The Army though opted to send him to Ft. Sam Houston, near San Antonio, Texas, for training as a medic. When that training was completed, he was sent to an Army hospital in West Germany to work as an orderly. That did not work out too well, however, and Jeffrey was released early with an honorable discharge. He later became a ‘serial killer.’

In September of 1948, Albert De Salvo was inducted into the U.S. Army. He was just seventeen years old and he was on parole, but Uncle Sam didn’t seem to mind. DeSalvo served for nearly eight years, spending much of that time in West Germany, before being honorably discharged. He later became a ‘serial killer.’

I could go on here. I could go on for a very, very long time. But I won’t.

Instead, I will close by noting that there was one website that distinguished itself by offering principled (though limited) criticism of the Muhammad (and Malvo) trials: Elaine Cassel (a practicing Virginia attorney, author, and teacher), in her various postings, has denounced what she referred to as the “shameful treatment” of Malvo; condemned Ashcroft’s selection of jurisdiction based solely on the desire to obtain a death sentence; and linked the sniper case to the U.S. Supreme Court’s January 27, 2003 decision to decline to review the use of the death penalty on juveniles.

Cassel also took aim at the strategy employed to garner Muhammad’s convictions. Those convictions, Cassel wrote, “remain quite shaky.” She noted three areas where there are strong grounds for appeal, one of which she described as “an extremely prejudicial evidence decision [that] allowed families of several sniper victims to testify, even though there was no specific evidence as to the murders. Thus, this evidence is of dubious, if any, relevance and may have been highly prejudicial to jury deliberations related to guilt.” The judge, Cassel suggests, “may have exceeded the bounds of his discretion.”

Cassel also questioned the judge’s dubious decisions concerning Muhammad’s purported role in the shootings. Specifically, Cassel objected to the instructions from judge to jury that they need only find that Muhammad was an “immediate perpetrator” of the crimes, and that they could consider the car itself to be a murder weapon. Those instructions, needless to say, certainly played a key role in garnering the convictions.

Most significantly, Cassel questioned the notion that a murder case can and should be treated as a ‘terrorism’ case. In addressing that issue, Cassel cut to the heart of what the DC Sniper trial was really about:

In the Muhammad case, the concept of “terrorism” has been stretched beyond its breaking point. Broadly interpreted, without attention to its purpose – as prosecutors have interpreted it – the Virginia law would view every crime meant to intimidate the civilian population as “terrorism.” But this broad interpretation cannot stand, for virtually every crime is arguably done with this intent … In the end, when the proverbial smoke clears, the sniper trials may be remembered as a landmark in the post-September 11 attempt to broaden the term “terrorism.” The appeal in the Muhammad case will test whether lawmakers can extend the reach of this emotionally charged term to everyday crimes.

Well said. I would add only that there is virtually no chance that Muhammad’s convictions, or his sentence, will be set aside. If there were any chance that an appeals courts would seriously and objectively review what occurred in Millette’s courtroom, the trial would not have been conducted with such a brazen disregard for the law.

Tobias Barrington Wolff, also writing for, has questioned “what it means for a civilized nation to be obsessively focusing its collective attention on the swiftest, surest way that we can take more life in response to horrible acts of murder … What does it do to our respect for human life to hear frenzied debates among government officials about the swiftest, surest way to kill the presumed criminals?”

What does it do? It cheapens and degrades human life, just as virtually all aspects of Western popular culture cheapen and degrade human life. Every time you turn on a television – or walk into a movie theater, or thumb your way through the latest bestseller, or fire up a computer/video game – you see human life cheapened and death trivialized … you see violence, sadism and vigilantism glorified … you see a world devoid of empathy, of sympathy, of decency, of compassion … you see a lack of understanding, of even a desire to understand … you see the celebration of ignorance, pettiness, and vindictiveness.

You see, in other words, the open promotion of a lynch-mob mentality. You see, coming from all directions, a massive propaganda barrage aimed at instilling in the American people a thirst for public bloodletting as a cure for our ailing nation.

What we bore witness to, in the guise of a legitimate legal proceeding, was a two-pronged effort to both obliterate the line between crime and ‘terrorism,’ and to sell to the masses the idea that the way to heal our wounds and make ourselves whole again is through wholesale bloodletting. All we need do is identify the ‘terrorists’ — and then kill them. Kill them all.

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And what of the sniper shootings themselves? As with most ‘serial killer’ cases, the murders served several purposes, one of which is to disguise the nature of targeted killings by mixing them in with a seemingly random series of murders (which is, incidentally, exactly what Henry Lee Lucas claimed that he was paid to do). The most likely targeted victim in the sniper case was Linda Franklin, though there could be others.

Another function served by ‘serial killers’ is to provide a pretext for a full-blown media circus, thereby providing a handy distraction from more substantive issues. Distraction is, you see, one of the primary tools by which Washington maintains control. Keep all eyes focused on the arrest, thousands of miles away, of an aging, disoriented, unkempt homeless man, and few will notice that Team Bush has bestowed upon itself extraordinary new police-state powers. Keep all eyes focused on Michael “Extreme Makeover Gone Bad” Jackson, and few will notice when Miami police hold a dress rehearsal for New York City’s 2004 Republican National Convention.

This is not meant to suggest, however, that ‘serial killer’ cases should be regarded simply as useless distractions. There is, in fact, much to learn from a thorough, independent examination of such cases — but little will be gained from the sensational, disinformational, homogenized, fear-inducing coverage that such cases normally receive.

This is also not meant to suggest that specific distractions are necessary to keep the media focus off of the egregious crimes committed by the Washington elite. As becomes clearer with each passing year, the American press corps can always be counted on to cover up and/or ignore that which is deemed unfit for public consumption. But providing distractions allows the American people (those who are paying attention) to continue deceiving themselves into believing that the massive U.S. media machine is not fundamentally corrupt, just easily misled.

The most important function served by any ‘serial killer’ case is, without a doubt, scaring the hell out of the American people. As should be clear by now to just about everyone, fear is another primary tool by which Washington maintains control — fear of crime, fear of ‘terrorism,’ fear of ruthless foreign tyrants intent on despoiling our cherished way of life, fear of all the things that we must wage war on.

No one can escape the pervasive fear that permeates 21st century America. The gullible and intellectually lazy (which is to say, the majority of us) live in perpetual, and irrational, fear of ‘the terrorists.’ And so it shall always be. Every hollow victory trumpeted by the White House is quickly followed by an elevation of the ‘terrorist threat level,’ to remind the unthinking that, while we are definitely winning the ‘war on terror,’ we will never again be safe.

Those who have not yet lost the ability to independently analyze the ‘news’ live in fear as well, albeit a different kind of fear — the entirely rational fear that comes with living in a country where any ‘suspect’ can be ‘disappeared’ indefinitely; and where, without a warrant, any home can be entered and searched, any phone can be tapped, any e-mail can be intercepted and read, any piece of mail can be opened, and any piece of luggage can be searched; and where exercising your purported right to express your dissatisfaction with the policies of your elected representatives can land you in jail, or in the hospital.

Perhaps the only escape from the fear is through self medication — hence the wholesale use and abuse of pain killers and psychiatric drugs.

Few things have struck fear into the hearts of Americans like the specter of the marauding ‘serial killer’ — a monster who kills without warning, without pity, and without rational motive. It is precisely the suddenness, the viciousness, and especially the alleged randomness of the killings that cause such fear. Anyone, according to conventional wisdom, can fall victim to a ‘serial killer.’

Just as importantly, anyone can be a serial killer, hiding behind a mask of civility. A co-worker. A neighbor. A friend. Even a family member.

The serial killer mythology, a creation of the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit, has played a prominent role in the atomization of ‘Western’ society (which is already at a very advanced stage). The objective of the ‘powers that be’ is to continue the process until all remaining social bonds have been shredded — until the people, broken up into armies of one, have lost the ability to fight back against the rapidly encroaching fascist police state.

And so it is that we now have lurking among us a new breed of mythical creature that preys upon society. As with ‘serial killers,’ no one is safe from the ‘terrorists.’ And no one is above suspicion. According to Team Bush, someone doing something as seemingly innocuous as carrying an almanac could be a ‘terrorist.’ And while ‘serial killers’ have been relatively few in number, ‘terrorists’ will be everywhere.