Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hostage situations and the Discovery building attack

Sources: FoxNews, The Huffington Post, and the FBI’s Crime Classification Manual

On Wednesday, a man entered the Discovery building in Silver Spring, MD threatening employees with a gun and explosives. Although most people were evacuated, he managed to keep three hostages for the stand-off with police, demanding changes to Discovery Channel and TLC television programming.

Hostage situations never end well for the hostage takers. Their actions assure them either prison time or death. In this case the gunman, identified as James Jay Lee, was shot and killed while pointing his gun at one of the hostages. So what could such criminals possibly be thinking? Do they really think their demands will be met under those conditions, or that they have a chance of remaining free men?


Lee had a history of confrontation with the Discovery Channel. In 2008 he was arrested for disorderly conduct, when he paid homeless to help protest with him in front of the building, throwing money in the air. He complained that the channel was not serious about airing programming to help save the planet, and that it was merely using the environmental movement for commercial purposes. His suggestions, and later demands, consisted largely of programming to portray humans as a "parasitic" and "filthy" "breeding culture", pushing for population reduction through sterilization and immigration control. According to Lee,

Programs must be developed to find solutions to stopping ALL immigration pollution and the anchor baby filth that follows that.

In addition, they must

Stop all shows glorifying human birthing on [their] channels and on TLC.

In his demands list, Lee referred to humans, babies and human activity as "filth" or "filthy" 7 times. This provides some insight into his obsessive mindset. Lee had been estranged from his family since 2008, and posted on his blog that "I can't seem to stop myself from this venture" and refused to read "anything that is not directly related to the overpopulation problem and global warming." On the blog he labeled himself "World Guardian".

When interviewed, Lee's brother-in-law said he had been prone to "emotional outbursts", "erratic behavior" and had "a lack of respect for any kind of authority". He also said that since the deaths of several family members, Lee had become more unstable.


Given that his activism and public disruption had not succeeded in persuading Discovery to alter its programming, why would Lee choose to resort to violence? Two possibilities come to mind. Either he sincerely believed that open threats would have a chance of convincing executives to champion his cause (in other words, he was insane), or he simply did not care whether they did or not.

In fact, hostage situations are not primarily about the demands of the hostage taker. This is not to suggest that his demands are irrelevant to motivation. However, they are secondary in the same way that a child's denied requests are secondary to the reason for a temper tantrum. The offender is expressing his frustration that prior attempts to get his way failed. The demands are a lost cause, but what remains is the anger at the unwillingness of others to behave by his rules.

Take hostage situations the FBI calls “homicides-to-be” and "pseudohostage situations". In a homicide-to-be, the offender makes clear threats against victims with whom he has a personal grudge, but issues no demands to third parties. In a pseudo-hostage situation, a person is held, but there are no direct threats made to the hostage and no real demands are given. For example, a husband pulls a gun on his wife during an argument. She leaves to get the police, and they learn that the son is still in the house. The husband tells police he is angry at his wife and to leave them alone. In both cases, there is an individual being held, but not for the purposes of collateral.

The existence of demands does not necessarily complicate the motivation. Lee had a demonstrable contempt for “stupid people’s brains”, as well as for their right to make decisions for themselves (whether concerning procreation or TV programming). What decisions he wanted them to make was less important to his anger than the fact that they disagreed with him. Thanks to police it is difficult to say whether he would have carried out his threats, however there have been recent cases in the DC area of individuals attacking strangers without even the pretense of demands. See the shooting at the Holocaust Museum, or the Pentagon. The offender who takes hostages is not more “reasonable”, but he may be less certain of his actions, may simply want the recognition, or may need the rationalization of giving his opponents a chance to save themselves before taking his revenge.

No comments:

Post a Comment