It's too early to say whether 'troubled young man' is the wrong term for Austin bomber

The Austin, Texas, serial bomber, 23-year-old Mark Anthony Conditt, was, ...

Posted: Mar 23, 2018 11:42 AM
Updated: Mar 23, 2018 11:42 AM

The Austin, Texas, serial bomber, 23-year-old Mark Anthony Conditt, was, according to Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, a "very troubled young man."

By every measure of investigative and tactical resolution metrics, Manley and his department did a masterful job of working closely with the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives -- more commonly known as ATF -- to identify and track down the diabolical mastermind of six detonated devices that killed two people, in addition to himself, and injured five. Yet many have criticized Manley's genteel and ostensibly well-intentioned description of the bomber, who began his reign of terror with targeted bomb package deliveries in largely minority neighborhoods.

Police have recovered an apparent cellphone "confession" following a dramatic confrontation with the killer that resulted in him initiating an explosive device that took his life and injured a SWAT operator. We have yet to see the recorded message transcript, but Manley described it thusly:

"He does not at all mention anything about terrorism, nor does he mention anything about hate ... it is the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his personal life that led him to this point."

This attempt at an understated characterization of the killer has resulted in some debate in media circles and on social media platforms. The Washington Post directly confronted the debate with the headline: "Austin bomber: 'Challenged young man' or 'terrorist'?"

However, it would be unfair to presume that Manley was selectively characterizing the assassin in less condemnatory prose because he was white. When law enforcement officials brief the media in the midst of an ongoing investigation, they must purposely be curt and circumspect in their language and word choice.

And in addressing the question posed by the Post's provocative headline, it's important we define precisely what "implicit bias" refers to -- the "attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner."

Any person who commits the type of atrocities that this bomber has is a deranged, depraved sociopath. He clearly exhibited extreme anti-social behavior, seemingly bereft of conscience. One needs no medical degree to make this clinical assessment.

Let's also acknowledge that we exist in binary "pick a side" times. And the side you adhere to tends to assume the absolute worst about the other. Ergo, statements by law enforcement -- instruments of the state -- are certainly, and deservedly, scrutinized to the nth degree.

But should we assume the chief's statement as an indication that white reprobates are treated differently, as a product of implicit bias, than a person of color would be in the commission of the same offense?

Well, over the past couple of days, internet content has proliferated highlighting a cascading selection of paint swatches: lighter the hue, you are "mentally ill" -- a "challenged young man," perhaps. Dare you possess a darker skin pigmentation, you'll be damned as a "terrorist."

Is this a fair characterization of society's perceptions?

It has been my experience over a quarter-century of law enforcement experience that criminal motivations in mass killings often come down to these narrowly defined motivations: terrorism, hate, mental issues, anarchy, or a pursuit of the "rectification" of grievances and grudges.

And yes, often times there is overlap. Certainly, anyone who elects to end innocent lives has mental issues. But let's explore some of the motivations I enumerated above.

Terrorism, by the standard the FBI employs, is related to the unlawful employment of violence or intimidation in the pursuit of specific aims.

When someone is identified as a "jihadist" -- via social media platforms or written "manifestos" discovered in the wake of their shootings, bombings, or vehicular assaults -- this makes for a fairly simple designation.

This should also apply -- but often doesn't -- in the wake of a neo-Nazi or white supremacist assault or murder of innocents. The only salient differentiation is related to citizenship. US citizenship characterizes one a "domestic terrorist," while those hailing from another country are labeled "international terrorists."

What some have justifiably decried is the current President's haste and almost demonstrable glee in rushing to Twitter-characterize a jihadi attack as "terrorism," contrasted to his reference to the Austin bomber as "a very, very sick individual"

And defining something as a "hate crime" is a delicate endeavor as well. The definition is often referred to as criminal activity motivated by animus toward a person's race, sexuality, religion or creed. But it is predicated on a necessary absolutism in gauging motive and may dangerously infringe on freedom of thought and expression.

As an experienced law enforcement professional, I have always ascribed to psychoanalyst Theodor Reik's "third ear" listening technique that champions a gleaning of deeper layers of meaning in communication forms. So when Austin police initially surmised that the bomber's motivation may have been to "cause mayhem and death," my third ear intuited this may have been the work of an anarchist. After all, the purpose of anarchy is to sow chaos and disorder.

It could also be fairly concluded that the original three package bombs were addressed to and delivered to homes on the east side of Austin in predominantly minority neighborhoods. Law enforcement could easily conclude that this might have been the work of a white supremacist.

The fourth bomb, a tripwire switch, victim-activated device detonated on the west side of Austin injured two white males and was viewed as a target of opportunity bomb. Police have yet to identify the addressees on two packages shipped to a FedEx distribution facility in Schertz. If those packages -- one that detonated and another that was recovered intact -- were also addressed to minority residences, we very well could be closer to determining this serial bomber was directing his violence at persons of color -- making it a possible hate crime.

Motive determination is an imprecise science and the pursuit of it must remain free of an investigator's own internal prejudices. Rush to judgments should never be a condition of a fair, impartial, and unbiased process.

And sadly, the results of its pursuit don't always end with a neat, satisfactory and complete conclusion. So, investigators, internet sleuths and US presidents alike should always endeavor to check their implicit biases at the door when seeking to weigh in on complex motivations.

As some things just aren't so black and white.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 114236

Reported Deaths: 3548
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion21067764
Lake10397321
Elkhart6477109
St. Joseph6312105
Allen6113201
Hamilton4803109
Vanderburgh353630
Hendricks2694123
Monroe253136
Tippecanoe234713
Johnson2291123
Clark218756
Porter210546
Cass19399
Delaware191861
Vigo180324
Madison161975
LaPorte140540
Floyd135161
Howard129263
Warrick123436
Kosciusko121117
Bartholomew115557
Marshall99724
Dubois96418
Boone96046
Hancock91743
Grant90334
Noble90032
Henry79326
Wayne75114
Jackson7469
Morgan70938
Shelby66829
Daviess65828
Dearborn64728
LaGrange63411
Clinton59514
Harrison56624
Putnam54211
Knox5139
Lawrence51028
Montgomery50721
Gibson4964
White48314
DeKalb46811
Decatur45839
Miami4313
Greene42235
Fayette41913
Jasper3902
Steuben3787
Scott36711
Sullivan33312
Posey3160
Jennings31212
Franklin30325
Clay2995
Orange28824
Ripley2878
Carroll27313
Wabash2638
Washington2631
Whitley2617
Starke2597
Adams2553
Wells2513
Jefferson2473
Fulton2352
Spencer2283
Huntington2253
Tipton22122
Perry21613
Randolph2117
Jay1760
Newton17211
Owen1681
Martin1640
Rush1544
Pike1431
Vermillion1270
Fountain1202
Pulaski1161
Blackford1143
Brown1043
Crawford1040
Parke972
Benton880
Ohio787
Union780
Switzerland690
Warren391
Unassigned0226

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 147744

Reported Deaths: 4715
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin26545606
Cuyahoga17327656
Hamilton12953315
Montgomery7667157
Lucas7230364
Butler5838110
Summit5237252
Marion308347
Mahoning3030281
Warren300249
Stark2817170
Pickaway264444
Lorain229586
Delaware221620
Fairfield206752
Columbiana192480
Licking189863
Trumbull1876132
Wood180472
Clark177740
Clermont167923
Lake160850
Medina145139
Greene142032
Allen140869
Miami140751
Portage111666
Mercer110118
Erie93246
Tuscarawas92820
Wayne91967
Ross86823
Richland83919
Madison80212
Darke78442
Belmont71827
Geauga71348
Hancock68610
Ashtabula65548
Athens6532
Lawrence64122
Shelby61010
Auglaize5859
Putnam57923
Sandusky55820
Huron5427
Union5152
Scioto4896
Ottawa46930
Seneca46414
Preble43015
Muskingum3922
Holmes3857
Jefferson3354
Logan3083
Henry30613
Champaign3023
Perry2939
Defiance28811
Clinton28613
Brown2842
Knox28215
Washington25823
Morrow2572
Hardin25213
Jackson2466
Fulton2411
Ashland2364
Coshocton23311
Crawford2316
Fayette2286
Highland2223
Wyandot20812
Williams2063
Gallia18913
Pike1790
Meigs17410
Guernsey1678
Hocking1619
Carroll1527
Adams1264
Van Wert1163
Monroe11018
Paulding1070
Harrison632
Morgan470
Vinton473
Noble280
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
52° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 52°
Angola
52° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 52°
Huntington
Clear
49° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 49°
Decatur
Clear
50° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 50°
Van Wert
Clear
50° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 50°
Sunny, Pleasant Friday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events