By Heidi Hiatt
We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them
without removing some of our own skin. -André Berthiaume
without removing some of our own skin. -André Berthiaume
Martha Stout, author of The Sociopath Next Door, said, “The most universal behavior of unscrupulous people is not directed, as one might imagine, at our fearfulness. It is, perversely, an appeal to our sympathy.”
I find it very disturbing when people fall for this mind game, a trap that low to no conscience types and their defenders instinctively set when cornered. Finding themselves in the hot seat, they divert onlookers’ attention from their misdeeds to all other possible causes of their behavior, including how society, their parents, their education, and their uncle’s former college roommate’s cousin’s deranged hedge trimmer-wielding hamster all have responsibility for their “mistakes”. Heaven forbid they should have to take responsibility for their own choices.
When Congressmen Anthony Weiner’s resignation speech was broadcast live on the radio this week, I couldn’t help but slip into psychology mode and analyze the content. The speech began with a recap of “what the people wanted” and how he became a Congressman because of their will. It came across as “remember, happy campers, you want me. Resignation isn’t what you want. Everything I do, I do it for you.”
Then, as he spoke over hecklers who exhibited the maturity of a seventh grade locker room, he embarked on a progression of pseudo-apologies that peaked with a statement I found curiously similar to the “apologies” serial killers give in court. The congressman said something to the effect of, “most importantly, I need to take time out for myself, so I can heal.”
Um… dude. Really? That’s all you’ve got? That’s the pinnacle of a weird attempt at remorse? Where’s the apology for lying, or to any victims, or to your wife, or…? You’re the most important person, the most harmed individual in this? Wow. That’s pathetic. Sounds like the greatest love… of all… was happening to you… (Whitney Houston voice). It’s clear that he was looking out for number one.
I really didn’t care about what Congressman Weiner was doing until I heard a teenager might be involved and then learned he lied about it. Sometimes we just have to admit we’re wrong and do better. According to his initial public statements, though, it sounded like those tighty whities photos just magically teleported themselves to the cell phones of random female fans. It was one of those “I’m sorry, do you think your 300 million fellow Americans are stupid?” moments.
Weiner’s attempted Jedi mind tricks were hopelessly ineffective and transparent. I don’t know enough about him to speculate about his inner condition, but can say that his recent laments sound narcissistic. Many saw through the spins being put on his ethical logjam, but I’m concerned that a case much closer to home is not being seen as objectively.
Yesterday serial burglar, thief, vandal, firearms law violator, fire starter, et cetera Colton Harris-Moore pled guilty to a handful of charges in federal court. He will be sentenced October 28th. The media is reporting that he may serve up to 6½ years in prison, and that he has to “forfeit” or “give up” the profits that will result from his exploits (movie deal, books, and so on). One news site reported that Harris-Moore and his attorneys had a hearty chuckle when the federal prosecutor forgot to mention the theft of a TV dinner (oh, pssht, no biggie even though he had to break into someone’s house to get it, right?).
Note the terminology being used widely in the Seattle area media: he is going to “forfeit” the profits. He has to “give up” the money he could otherwise be making off of his crime spree. This “forfeiting” means he is paying “restitution” to the victims. His attorney says there will be enough money to “pay back” the people he terrorized and stole from (keeping in mind his crimes went far beyond the million dollar mark).
Just as I said, “huh?” as Anthony Weiner “apologized,” now I’m saying, “this is restitution?” How do you “give up” something you don’t have? If you’re “forfeiting” profits, doesn’t that imply that you are foregoing the acquisition or retention of money that belongs to you? I realize that without this stipulation, Harris-Moore could keep the money he’s made off of the victimization of other human beings.
My point is that he’s not earning it, or working for it, or making an effort to pay the victims back himself. He’s “paying them back” by taking advantage of them in the first place. While I applaud the U.S. Attorney’s office for ensuring that this condition be part of the plea deal, it should not be labeled true restitution. Restitution would be breaking rocks in the hot sun, since he fought the law, and the law won. In other words, he should have to do something other than sit back and let the money roll in.
This reminded me of when Harris-Moore “gave” the animal shelter in Raymond $100 while on the lam. Fans cheered his thoughtful act of charity, but others of us thought it unlikely that he had $100 to give; he was probably donating stolen money. At the time I said I hoped his fans would inundate animal shelters with money if they were so happy about it (it would be nice to see some genuine good come out of the followers’ frenzy).
Another strange and murky aspect of the Harris-Moore case that lingers like the stench of a refried beans eating contest in an airtight tour bus is the optimism over his upcoming “rehabilitation.” I don’t know if any psychological evaluations have been conducted since he’s been in custody or who has conducted them. Even if there has been an appropriate assessment of his internal state, the public may not be privy to it (though they should be).
Douglas Adams once said that the most misleading assumptions we make are the ones we don’t even know we’re making, and there is a widespread assumption that because of Harris-Moore’s age and intelligence, he will be rehabilitated. I want to post a billboard-sized neon caution sign with flashing red lights on it right here: we don’t know that. We should not assume that. From what we know through the media’s coverage of Harris-Moore’s crimes, even without seeing the official police and prosecutor’s reports, there is evidence of an almost lifelong pattern of antisocial behavior that’s escalated over time.
People with low to no empathy and remorse, in many cases, are not rehabilitated. Some experts will argue that they can’t be or that the only way to effect any change is to have them engage in a cost-benefit analysis of how their behavior affects themselves. When they are finally convicted of a criminal offense (many are not), they spend their time in prison studying, networking, researching, and impressing everyone with their “model prisoner” status. The parole boards love them and some only serve part of their sentence.
This is how swindlers, rapists, murderers, burglars, and other convicts weasel their way out from behind bars to return to their hunting grounds and strike again. Similar to how some who perpetrate domestic violence get to go to “treatment” to hone their abusing skills, then come out of treatment more deceptive and stealthy than ever, some antisocials, sociopaths, and psychopaths leave prison as “success stories” when in actuality they’re better equipped than ever to victimize others.
Harris-Moore has so many fans, and such an emphasis has been placed on the terrible circumstances of his childhood, youth, and intellect, that some people think he’s going to turn it all around and use his “superpowers” for good. I would remind them that for every Superman, there’s a Lex Luthor. Some use their gifts selflessly, some selfishly.
It is rare that someone entrenched in the wasteland of vanity and megalomania sheds their scales for a cloak of righteousness. They can appear to; those are the scariest kind of people, the ones who appear charitable and moral while pillaging the lives of others for their own ends. As the Good Book says, Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.
Do I want Harris-Moore to spend his time in prison productively and become a better person? Of course; that’s what we hope incarceration does for people. I can’t limit God’s grace or be certain of the outcome of this mess. Through the lens of forensic psychology, however, I see a lot of red flags that indicate a low potential for genuine change and a number of reasons to be concerned about this guy’s future impact on society.
When people say, “he hasn’t killed anyone,” I want to sit them down and point out that this is how such criminals develop. Besides that, he could have already killed someone—he started a fire in a home in front of a small child, may have fired at police officers, illegally flew planes he didn’t know how to land, and broke into homes.
He also stole an assault rifle from a deputy’s car, was frequently armed, and even fired a gun when apprehended. He seemed paranoid, telling witnesses before his arrest, “they’re going to kill me.” Let’s not forget the time he bailed out of his neighbor’s stolen Mercedes after aiming it towards a large propane tank when deputies were pursuing him.
That childhood people are quick to use as an excuse for his behavior is the same set of circumstances that research is now showing to be a huge contributing factor to antisocial behavior and psychopathy. Some researchers theorize that child neglect or abuse could actually be the “on” switch that activates the sociopathic personality (with the caveat that many sociopaths also have normal childhoods).
Personally I believe that no matter what biological, environmental, or other factors you’re dealing with, you still have a choice as to how you treat others. It is interesting, once you start delving into the excuses people make for someone else’s behavior, how the very factors they believe should exonerate the subject may be the exact things that make them so dangerous.
Logically, the more we believe that elements other than a suspect’s free will influence their victimization of others, the more we should be trying to protect society from them. If they’re not in the driver’s seat, then we need to keep them off of the road and stop sending them back for remedial driver’s ed.
Harris-Moore has yet to face the courts in Island and San Juan County. He may well be sentenced to more time, yet I won’t be surprised if he’s allowed to serve his sentences concurrently. I hope not; he is a danger to society and needs to be punished for his flamboyant, repetitive patterns of evil behavior. While I can’t diagnose him from a distance, I want to be on record as warning the public that all that glitters is not gold, and that “forfeiting” profits from crime is not an indicator of real remorse.
Pleading guilty yesterday was in his best interest. It avoids the risks and costs of a federal trial and he knew he had to pay the piper at least a little. I’m bothered that he probably won’t spend more than a few years in prison (6½? I’d be shocked) and that his mother can still profit from the domestic terrorism spree she helped fuel. I hope that Randy Gaylord and Greg Banks, for the sake of the public they serve, are not merciful and prosecute Harris-Moore to the fullest extent of the law.
Additionally, I want to address the significant number of people who call speaking out against Harris-Moore’s behavior “hatred.” I saw this accusation of “hating” resurface on newspaper discussion boards yesterday. Condemning criminal, dangerous, selfish, and/or antisocial behavior is not hating someone. It is hating the behavior. There is a big difference.
There are people in my life I love, but I abhor the sick and abusive things they do to others. I can hope and pray for the best for them, but I can also keep my distance and do what I can to stop their selfish behavior. My faith does not compel me to tolerate it or accommodate it. If anything, I’m called to stand up for myself and for the victims. That’s what our criminal justice system is supposed to do as well.
Returning to my rant on the self-absorbed woman in the grocery store last night, we have to stop excusing and allowing bad behavior. I can’t join the quasi-religious mysticism of the Colton Harris-Moore cult or think of him as Camano’s own Bart Simpson, just an impish cartoon character who commits endearing acts of comical mischief. No, he’s an adult who has exhibited some strange impulses and hazardous decision making. While an attitude of contrition lingers in the air, I see a smokescreen. Time will tell.
Just as recent presidents have trumpeted the infringement of civil liberties and beefing up of an inefficient government as “for the benefit of the American people,” certain people caught in lies in the news this week may be squirting the same ink. Don’t believe everything they say.
Dig deeper. Look for the spins. Analyze the words and phrases that are being used repeatedly. Think things through for yourself, and don’t let other people make up your mind for you. Ask the ancient Roman question, “qui bono?”—who benefits?
‘Cause hey, buddy, this is about you. You’re the American people. This is what works best for everyone. You wanted this, remember? This is fair. It’s all working out like it’s supposed to. The dishonest among us just need time to go heal themselves. They’re the real victims here. Just give them time, and it’ll all be okay. Right?
Heidi Hiatt is a Generation X woman who is proud to advocate for crime victims, including domestic violence survivors, people with food allergies, children’s issues, animals, personal privacy rights, government accountability, and ethical law enforcement practices. Read her blog:Truth, Justice, and All-American Allergen-Free Apple Pie Straight Talk in a Crooked World