Prosecutors have alleged that Severance was motivated to kill by a child-custody dispute that went against him and a general hatred for those he considered Alexandria’s elites. Their most convincing piece of evidence might be Severance’s writings, seized from his car and through various electronic means.Twenty years ago I worked briefly with a man who had a similar rage against the rich, focused mainly on the upscale suburbanites who were moving into his formerly rural part of Loudoun County. I once saw him fly into a rage over the sight of a new car with classical music playing from the radio.
In one document, Severance wrote, “Knock. Talk. Enter. Kill. Exit. Murder” — an apparently perverted version of a biblical parable that prosecutors have argued seems to describe the crimes to a T. All of the victims were shot in brazen, daylight attacks at their homes, and prosecutors have said Severance might have simply gone to their well-to-do neighborhoods and picked them at random. . . .
In other documents Severance wrote: “The last scream of a victim echoes to eternity.” And “Murder on my mind, and my mind on murder.”
This sets me wondering why this sort of thing doesn't happen more often. Why don't more laid off workers go after their former bosses with guns blazing? Instead of protesting gentrification, why don't people defend their neighborhoods with vandalism and arson? Alexandria has been one of the major foci of gentrification in greater Washington, and there is now very little room left there for poor folks, so I would be willing to bet that Severance often found willing hearers for his rants. And yet he was the only one who reacted with deadly violence.
That such outbursts are so rare must be telling us something about our society. For all the rage that we hear around us -- at political rallies, in music, in movies -- most of us are committed to our society and its rules. By and large, we accept its terms and follow its laws. The people who act out violently are pretty much all crazy. This, I submit, might be the definition of a stable society -- that its legitimacy is accepted by the sane people, so that to defy it with violence is almost by definition a crazy act.
On the other hand it might be the definition of a very effectively repressed society; one doesn't hear much about violent rebellion in North Korea, either. But somehow I don't think that is really the situation here.
The real danger of far right paranoia in America has always been that it might break this compact and legitimize violent rebellion by sane, productive citizens. As we had with the Klan for so many years, and briefly with far left rebels back around 1970. The little revolt spurred by the defiance of rancher Cliven Bundy hinted at what might be possible. So far, though, I see little sign of this; for the most part people who say they think Obama is a tyrant still act like his government is legitimate. All the people I read about who think the IRS is a terrorist group and what-all seem crazy to me. When I start to read about outright defiance from people who strike me as sane, then I will start to worry.