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 connection. After 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.”
Another insurrectionist has tried and failed with a similar argument.
Attorneys who insisted their client has the “coping skills of a 4-year-old” proved unable Monday to secure a lenient sentence for the Washington man after he assaulted a police officer with a metal baton during the riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Defense attorney Elizabeth Kelley argued that because Devlyn Thompson, 28, has Asperger’s syndrome, he functions as a young child in many ways, and his lack of full social understanding merits consideration in deciding his punishment.
“ASD individuals can get embroiled in situations where they don’t know the consequences,” Kelley wrote in her sentencing memorandum, using an abbreviation for autism spectrum disorder. “Mr. Thompson had the socialization and communication skills of a young child, but at the same time had the intellectual capacity to maintain politics as his main special interest.”
Kelley said those factors, along with the fact that Thompson has very few friends, created the perfect storm for Thompson on Jan. 6.
In court Monday, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth told Thompson that he couldn’t justify a downward departure from the sentencing guidelines, given that Thompson violently fought in the Capitol’s West Terrace tunnel for nearly 15 minutes — yelling obscenities at officers, throwing objects — including a large audio speaker which hit a fellow rioter and drew blood — and helping members of the mob take riot shields away from police.