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Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Insurrectionist Will Cite ASD as Defense

There is no evidence linking autism to planned violence, but in recent years, mass shootings by young men have led commentators in the mainstream media and on the Internet to suggest such a connectionAfter the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, for instance, news reports said that the shooter was on the spectrum. The speculation made little sense to anyone who understood autism. Whereas autistic people have language delays and deficits, the killer had learned English as a second language — and learned it well enough to major in the subject in college. Later on, it turned out that he had an entirely different problem, a social anxiety disorder. Adam Lanza, who committed the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, may have had an Asperger’s diagnosis, but his father emphasized that his behavior stemmed from the psychiatric illnesses that he also had. Nevertheless, the media speculated about Lanza’s place on the spectrum, which worried autism parents. One mother of an autistic child wrote: “This is the first time I'm truly afraid for him. Afraid of what may happen to my son with autism at the hands of a stranger; a stranger who has chosen to buy into the media-fueled misinformation that individuals diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder are dangerous and capable of horrendous acts of terror and violence.”

Matt Shuham, at Talking Ponts Memo, interviews attorney Albert Watkins, who defending Capitol insurrectionist Jacob Chansley.

Watkins, the “Q Shaman” Jacob Chansley’s attorney, said his client had Asperger’s syndrome and indicated that Chansley’s mental state — and the impact of Trump’s “propaganda” efforts — would play a role in his case.

“A lot of these defendants — and I’m going to use this colloquial term, perhaps disrespectfully — but they’re all fucking short-bus people,” Watkins told TPM. “These are people with brain damage, they’re fucking retarded, they’re on the goddamn spectrum.”

“But they’re our brothers, our sisters, our neighbors, our coworkers — they’re part of our country. These aren’t bad people, they don’t have prior criminal history. Fuck, they were subjected to four-plus years of goddamn propaganda the likes of which the world has not seen since fucking Hitler.”
So now his lawyer is using what I'm going to call the Bumbling Aspie Defense (BAD): Stigmatize autistic people so your client can get away with a serious crime. I'm not suggesting autistic individuals are bumblers, to be clear. (I am myself autistic, and have interviewed subjects as diverse as Temple Grandin and Elmo the Muppet on this issue.) But in the eyes of certain people, perhaps, autism is perceived as an excuse for bumbling through life without being held accountable for your actions.
It's difficult to discuss those remarks calmly, especially since it sounds as if Watkins is being offensive and inflammatory on purpose. He is of course correct that Donald Trump has used Adolf Hitler's infamous Big Lie tactic and other fascist methods to create a cult of personality around himself, particularly after losing the 2020 election. But Watkins is offensively and dangerously wrong when he argues that autism had anything to do with Chansley's actions. Implying otherwise furthers the harmful stigma that people with mental illnesses or developmental disabilities are more likely to be criminals, when in fact they are more likely to be victims of crimes. (Watkins' use of slurs like "retarded" and terms like "short-bus people" definitely does not help.) Even worse, it reinforces the notion that people who are neurodiverse are somehow "less than" when compared to people who are neurotypical — that we are not merely different but also "damaged."

You know what did play a part in the insurrection?  The anti-vaccine movement.