Dangerous loners hard to catch before they act

The gunman accused of trying to assassinate Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killing six others, Jared Lee Loughner, was not on any government watch list that might have warned someone not to sell him a gun or caused police to investigate his unstable behavior.

It turns out there is not a list in the United States for people like Loughner.

The same goes for Joseph Stack, who flew his plane into an IRS office in Austin, Texas, last February. Stack left behind a 3,000-word, rambling screed about his problems with the U.S. tax code.

Less than a month later, John Patrick Bedell shot two Pentagon guards. He left behind anti-government writings and cited conspiracy theories involving the U.S. military.

Richard Poplawski, too, left an online trail of racist rants and paranoid thoughts about President Barack Obama imposing a gun ban before he allegedly shot and killed three police officers in the Pittsburgh area in April 2009.

In the past two years, there have been at least six incidents in which disgruntled Americans, acting alone, have taken violent action into their own hands. In many of the cases, signs of government distrust and paranoia wouldn’t have been enough to justify law enforcement intervention.

Loughner’s case includes cryptic messages left on a MySpace page, bizarre behavior in college classes and YouTube videos with anti-government rhetoric. Yet it wasn’t enough to put him on the radar screen of authorities as a possible violent person.

“This is a very difficult individual to find, to detect, minus any kind of mental evaluation or criminal violence he committed or suspicious activity that somebody reported that was in the system,” said Mike Downing, deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department who oversees counterterrorism and special operations.

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