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Thursday, January 6, 2022

Autism and the Insurrection

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.”

Capitol insurrectionist Jacob Chansley -- the "QAnon Shaman" -- unsuccessfully used autism as a defense earlier this year

Another insurrectionist has tried and failed with a similar argument.

Joe Henke at WXIA:
[Devlyn] Thompson reached a plea agreement and pleaded guilty to one count of Assaulting, Resisting, or Impeding Certain Officers Using a Dangerous Weapon. He was sentenced to three years and 10 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.

Thompson wrote an apology letter to the officer he assaulted during the riots according to court proceedings. Prosecutors in court said Thompson was part of a mob in a Capitol entrance that attacked officers. Surveillance video captured Thompson at the Capitol. Prosecutors said he struck a police officer’s hand with a baton he found. Prior to that attack, Thompson and others took riot shields from officers and he threw a large speaker striking the head of another rioter, drawing blood, according to prosecutors. His defense attorneys argued for a lighter sentence stating Thompson is on the Autism spectrum. The judge issuing Thompson’s sentence stated that isn’t an excuse for the defendant’s actions and noted he had a job with a $90,000 a year salary before the riot.