James Holmes, the joker in Colorado who shot into a crowd of people watching the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises
, now claims that he has been "brainwashed" by his therapist
. At least, that's what a fellow who was in prison with Holmes says
that Holmes says.
The prisoner is one Steven Unruh
. His story has been questioned...
Jail officials say there's no way that Unruh could have had that kind of access. Yet certain elements of the story -- which includes a description that resembles the headbanging routine that sent Holmes to the hospital last week -- have been attracting attention from law enforcement and even families of the shooting victims.
"They're going to try to discredit my story," Unruh told Westword in a recent interview at the jail. "But I was able to have a four-hour talk with him. I talked him out of suicide."
There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of the tale presented by Unruh, a 38-year-old inmate with a long history of drug and theft charges. To begin with, his account of what Holmes supposedly told him is as bizarre as a William S. Burroughs fever dream. Also, Unruh just got out of prison last January after serving six years for methamphetamine and credit-card fraud convictions, and he says he's been diagnosed as having a bipolar condition.
"It's always been meth with me," he says. "If I drink a beer or something, I've got the voices in my head that drive me to do more drugs. I'm really weak-minded."
Okay, so Unruh isn't the best source one could ask for. Still, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Holmes really did make such an assertion. But even if we posit that he did, that does not mean we should take the idea seriously.
There is a small, strange subculture of schizophrenics and troubled attention-seekers who believe themselves to be victims of mind control. Over the years, various people making such claims have tried to initiate legal cases against their therapists and other authority figures (such as the head of the CIA). These cases have always lacked any evidence beyond the word of the plaintiff, and thus have always been always tossed out with prejudice. The claimed "victims" would then pass around copies of the unfavorable court rulings within the community of alleged brainwashees. Soon, other "victims" would regard these official court documents
as proof that the mind control conspiracy is real...!
(Before we continue, let me issue a warning to those of you who think you can take me to school on MKULTRA and allied projects: Don't
Let's get back to the issue of Unruh's credibility:
Lieutenant J.D. Knight, who directly supervises booking operations, agrees. "It would be virtually impossible for Mr. Unruh to have any of the communications he has stated," he says.
But Unruh insists the sporadic conversation continued even after Holmes was moved to another cell in the area. He says that Holmes told him "he felt like he was in a video game" during the shooting, that "he wasn't on his meds" and "nobody would help him." He says Holmes also mentioned NLP -- presumably, neuro-linguistic programming, a much-scorned and outmoded approach to psychotherapy -- and claimed to have been "programmed" to kill by an evil therapist.
"When he got out to his car, he wasn't programmed no more," Unruh says. "It sounded kind of crazy. He was trying to run it by me, basically."
Unruh has a phone number that he says Holmes asked him to call. (The number connects to the cell phone of a bereavement counselor, who says she has no acquaintance with Holmes or Unruh.) He has a form that indicates James Holmes tried to send him a letter, but it was rejected by jail authorities. (Knight says he has no record of any letter sent by Holmes to Unruh, intercepted or otherwise.) He claims to have received messages from Holmes via other inmates since that night, but he admits he doesn't know if the sender was actually Holmes.
Still, Unruh's story seems to have drawn interest in one unlikely quarter. He says Holmes told him he "walked up and down the aisles" of the theater three times before he opened fire, and that detail, if true, might have some bearing on the pending litigation by victims' families against the theater chain.
Nothing I've seen so far indicates that Unruh had gained knowledge of facts that could not be gleaned from news accounts. The allegation that Holmes walked up and down the aisles three times does not ring true.
Conspiracy researchers have -- justifiably -- paid a great deal of attention to witness Corbin Dates, who has indicated the presence of more than one shooter. Dates (who seems quite credible
) said that the gunman began his attack "instantly" after entering the theater.
Sorry, conspiracy fans. You can believe Dates or you can believe Unruh. But you can't have both
, because they contradict each other and cannot be reconciled.
It's worth noting that Unruh gives us a "lone gunman" scenario.
Although some websites have said some very paranoid things about neuro-linguistic programming, I consider the whole idea of using NLP to program a mass murderer to be absurd. NLP is -- perhaps I should say was
-- a therapeutic fad
that has been largely discredited
. From Wikipedia:
Criticisms go beyond the lack of empirical evidence for effectiveness; critics say that NLP exhibits pseudoscientific characteristics, title, concepts and terminology. NLP is used as an example of pseudoscience for facilitating the teaching of scientific literacy at the professional and university level. NLP also appears on peer reviewed expert-consensus based lists of discredited interventions. In research designed to identify the "quack factor" in modern mental health practice, Norcross et al. (2006)  list NLP as possibly or probably discredited for treatment of behavioural problems.
Even proponents of this approach have always characterized its effects as both subtle and therapeutic. It has been used (to dubious effect) in the treatment of addiction, PTSD and depression. No advocate of NLP has ever claimed that it could be used to force someone to act against his own moral code, to induce an artificial case of Dissociative Identity Disorder, or to commit acts of violence. NLP is, in short, not a way to turn a normal person into a programmed murderer.
Even if Unruh is speaking truthfully, the tale he tells is nonsense.