There's no crime like the present
The lunatic fringe is supposed to be a faraway place.
But with gunmen assaulting the White House, a jobless plumber
going berserk in a stolen tank in San Diego and a former soldier
accused of blowing up a federal building in Oklahoma City, some
fear the "fringe" is migrating inward to the places where the
rest of us live and work.
A string of high-profile attacks -- some bloody, others just
bizarre -- is raising questions about the nation's state of mind.
Is an anxious, wayward America breeding more crazies than
erlier? Has society lost the power to contain the lunacy that
altways has lurked at its fringe!
Or is life just imitating life?
"There are fads in almost everything. including crime," says
James Alan Fox, dean of the College of Criminal Justice at North-
eastern University in Boston.
A few years back, Mr. Fox says, it was schoolyard snipings. Then
came carjackings and workplace assaults. But he is wary of
consigning the latest outbursts - which range from the Long
Island Rail Road massacre to the Oklahoma City bombing -- to the
category of crime fad.
"There are lots of marginal people out there for whom life is
just not that exciting or fulfilling, who start to think this
would be a neat idea," Mr. Fox says.
Such people find plenty of encouragement, crime watchers say.
"We've developed a culture of crime as entertainment and the
criminal as a kind of celebrity," says Jamin Raskin, professor
and associate dean of the American University Law School. "So
this culture gives license to borderline personalities to go out
and make themselves famous."
The newest candidate for "celebrity" is Fairfax County resident
Leland William Modjeski, who authorities say is recovering from
a bullet wound after scaling a White House fence Wednesday night
and being shot in the arm by a Secret Service agent.
Mr. Modjeski, 36, may not have planned to live to see his name
in print, authorities have speculated, since he carried an
unloaded revolver over the fence. On Sept. 12, Frank Corder stole
a small plane and crashed it onto the White House's South Lawn,
killing himself. Six weeks later, Francisco Martin Duran pulled a
semiautomatic rifle from his trench coat and fired at the White
Bullets pierced the building without hitting anybody. Duran
was convicted on several charges, including attempted murder. In
December, while he awaited trial, somebody else fired at the
White House, possibly from a passing car.
But these were tiny infractions compared with what happened
The bomb blast that blew open the Alfred T. Murrah Federal
Building in Oklahoma City, killing 167, also demolished any
lingering belief that sane, law-abiding people might be safe from
people operating on rage.
The chief suspect in the bombing, Timothy McVeigh, has been
depicted as a brooding, distrustful ex-soldier who blamed his
government for the 1993 FBT assault on the Branch Davidian
compound near Waco, Texas, which ended in a fire that killed more
than 80 people.
People argued bitterly over who was to blame. But some observers
say the squabbling missed a larger point.
"I would not be one to portray this [violent activity] as
completely extreme and divorced from the rest of the culture,"
Mr. Raskin says. "We have a very violent society and a very
violent culture. You only have to turn on the television to see
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