Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Bestselling True Crime Author provides motive for Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock [UPDATED]

Stephen Paddock's motive was revenge. How do we know? Revenge for what? It's not rocket-science, just a tried-and-tested true crime approach - by Nick van der Leek

64 year old Stephen Paddock never left a suicide note, or a declaration of intent. His family don't know why he did it.  The police aren't sure.  The media have no idea. Does that mean we can't apply our minds and put the psychological puzzle together?

Of course we can!  Here's a contemporary clue:

"First principles Clarice. Simplicity....Of each particular thing ask what is it, in itself. What is its nature? What does he do this man you seek?"

By going through a 7 point checklist, we will, by the end of this analysis, have not a rough idea but a clear idea of not only who Paddock was, but of his entire motivational psychology.

Let's begin by entertaining Dr. Lecter's question at face value. What is it, what is Paddock's nature? What does he do?

The answer is not that he's a terrorist, or that he slaughtered a crowd of people from a lofty tower.  The answer to who he is is not that Paddock now holds the record for the largest mass-shooting in US history. That is something - one horrible thing - that he did.  It doesn't tell us who he is. Lecter would say "that [the mass shooting record] is incidental." 

First and foremost Paddock was a gambler. This is not incidental. Paddock had worked as an accountant.  This too, is not incidental.  Paddock liked to play with money, so much so he had developed an obsession with it.  This obsession became an addiction which alienated him from his own family, effectively turning him into a "lone wolf."  What happens to a lone wolf when a big gamble goes bad?  Well, he loses - in a real sense - everything he has, everything he is.

We'll come back to the gambling theme, but for now, bear in mind the generic definition of the word:

Gambling is:

...the wagering of money or something of value (referred to as "the stakes") on an event with an uncertain outcome with the primary intent of winning money or material goods. Gambling thus requires three elements be present: consideration, chance and prize.

For a gambler the primary intent [or motive] then is winning.  The worst case scenario is for a gambler to lose, because his identity is thus instantly recast from winner to loser, with either identification related to the fate of stakes. The fate of stakes is the fate of the gambler.

7 Point Psychological Checklist

1. Operative Emotion

The operative emotion is loneliness. It is the unpleasant emotional response to isolation. In the schema of the crime, we see the symbology of that loneliness writ large.  We see a 64 year old suspended 32 storeys high in a hotel room, while at ground level, 32 000 revellers are having fun. He's not part of it - he's apart from it.


Unlike typical crimes, where there is a specific and identifiable victim, in Paddock's case the victim is the anonymous group, the community, which he is not part of. As such there is a vast vertical and horizontal distance between the criminal and his victims, far more than in conventiuonal crimes, and what's more, he has to smash through a layer of transparent glass, a barrier, in order to make lethal contact with the crowd.  I'll expand in a moment on the symbolism of the see-through glass barrier.

For now it suffices to note that Paddock's execution is not simply firing an automatic weapon from a building, it's a way of being heard by the crowd, being heard over the noise, a way of crying out from the rooftops. In making himself apparent Paddock was also, simultaneously, crafting his own destruction.  Social death transacted for social death.

In this sense Paddock's loneliness had given him a sense of emptiness, meaninglessness and above all, insignificance.  This inferiority complex also haunted Hitler, who gratified his interior insufficiency through the liquidation of six million lives.  Each life taken was a tiny notch in their effort to rebuild a rickety identity, and some identities can not stand no matter how many lives are taken.

If the operative emotion is loneliness, it is also a combination of other bristling resentments, bitternesses, and despair - all of which finally manifests as anger. Anger is an activating emotion, loneliness and despair are a kind of paralysing emotion. The man on the 32nd floor didn't fire one short burst and then recover himself.  It was a sustained barrage because the loneliness and pain fuelling that anger was bottomless.  Each bullet fired felt like relief, like he was transacting the same pain he felt had been inflicted on him by an uncaring society, and so no amount of death and carnage was going to be enough.  Another word for "transacting the same pain he felt" is revenge.

2. Identity

It may seem simple and easy to simply associate Paddock with his work and his addiction.  He was an accountant and a gambler. He worked in real estate. He'd worked for one of the world's largest defense companies, Lockheed Martin.  But though these play into the identity, they're not the core.  The core is Paddock's father.Benjamin Hoskins Paddock was a significant person. Wanted by the FBI for robbing banks, for stealing money, he was nevertheless a somebody.  He mattered.  He changed things.

 Paddock learned from his father that human beings were secondary to money.  All things, were secondary to money.

...the wagering of money or something of value (referred to as "the stakes") on an event with an uncertain outcome with the primary intent of winning money or material goods. Gambling thus requires three elements be present: consideration, chance and prize. 

And in making bets, Paddock discovered a twitching fish that told him he was alive.  Otherwise being alive was lonely, empty, insignificant, unfulfilling. For some people solo rock climbing brings that visceral sense of being alive back.  For Paddock it was betting large amounts of money.

Money was how Paddock measured his value.  But that kind of transactional attitude has a dark side.  If money maketh the man, man can also be unmade at the snap of a finger.  One can lose one's money, or one can have money and be rejected anyway.  Or one's own fixation on money can turn others off, who want and need something beyond bling to stitch into the fabric of their lives.

Back in the retirement community of Mesquite, this was Paddock's home. Ordinary, dull, insignificant.  Like him.  Nothing to look forward to.   His father had achieved significance by stealing.  Society had locked him away and deprived him of a father.  Now he could deprive them of fathers and family. Now he could steal their joy...

"What need did he serve by killing?  Was it anger?  No, he covets."

UPDATE: Some have reported in the media about a "white man's privilege".  Although most of that reportage is noise, it's not irrelevant. The fact that Paddock was a privileged white guy [in the sense of his wealth] and yet seemed to conduct himself like a rude, mean, scruffy loser on the fringes of society, I think plays into the idea that he resented white people.  He resented their happiness and belonging, he resented that he wasn't afforded a "proper" place in that society, specifically by white women.  This is why he was with a Filipina woman.  I have been to the Philippines myself; many old, ugly wealthy white men travel there in search of young prey because they are romantic failures in their own communities, rejected by the women of their tribe for whatever reason.  They travel to a poor country to "escape" the mores and confines in their own.

Perhaps he felt he could buy and own them [women, relationships], but when he found he couldn't keep them [he was twice divorced], his bankruptcy as a person was revealed. We can see that he was an odd looking guy, and his partner was only hip high, meaning the pair even looked like a pair of misfits, a regular Laurel and Hardy.  The inability to fit into society, and not coincidentally, white society, is a real factor here. 

3. Routine Reinforcers

I've made an assumption that Paddock was addicted to gambling.  This is based on:

1. the crime scene [He was staying in a casino hotel and fired from his room in the Mandalay Bay hotel]
2. the intuitive sense that regular gambling is founded on inner emptiness [Paddock lacked strong family relationships, significant societal investment or regular work commitments]

3. the age of the perpetrator [His relatively old age made him more susceptible to gambling addiction and loneliness than a younger, more attractive person with future prospects]
4. the fact that Paddock booked himself into casinos for weeks at a time [this exposes just how rootless and disconnected and empty his life was, along with the fact that he wasn't even on social media, though his Filipina girlfriend was].
5. the fact that Paddock was using Marilou Danley's identification to enable access to hotel facilities on a regular and long term basis [did that mean his own access had been revoked?]

The use of access cards provides us with a unique insight. Paddock's unusual need to be in a casino as much as he did meant his significant other was actually a casino employee.  Naturally he would meet someone where he was routinely spending his time. The question is, did Danley offer her access card to him or did he steal it off her?  Since Danley has been cleared as a suspect, one can assume that it was stolen, but with more information, this assumption is likely to change.

UPDATE #1: Marilou Danley has just flown into Los Angeles, where she was met by the FBI. Images of Paddock visiting Danley's family in the Philippines have emerged, along with evidence Paddock made $100 000 transfers to her/her family in the Philippines.

 From this we're left with an impression that Paddock lacked social graces. His brother Eric appears to reinforce this impression based on his first television appearances. This is more than an impression however, from photos Paddock doesn't look well groomed, he appears scruffy and neglectful of himself. Were his family, his brother Eric who claimed he loved him, aware of this?  The repeated use of the word "cheat" here is significant. Previously Eric refers to "liars".  It suggests an awareness for circumventing responsibility in a regular sense, beyond Paddock taking his own life. And we see that mirrored in Danley, who was married to two men at the same time, and also appeared to have something of a cavalier approach to the law and to casino rules.

Thanks to CNN we can also see Danley's movements, which seem beyond erratic, as if purposefully trying to disorientate anyone tracking her...
 The idea of a "weak person" is also hugely significant.  We intuit the same weakness, at least socially, in Paddock.  I have already mentioned his beef is with society, and for his being an outsider to society, and so a lack of social intelligence, and social currency, and social credit, would manifest as a weak personality seeking to align itself with someone else that is weak, someone he could buy and bully, and he did. This profile is a huge mismatch to the manner in which both Danley and his brother Eric have described Stephen.

 How likely is it that Danley would "more shocked" by his actions than her siblings who lived somewhere else?  Danley knew him, lived with him, knew he had weapons.  When he instructed her to leave for the Philippines, did she simply take the ticket and run, not knowing why?  This was a guy who was almost too stingy to buy her a cup of coffee [see below], and here he'd bought her a "cheap" air ticket without her even asking...

This ragged appearance, the impression that Paddock never slept is vital.  It shows he suffered anxiety and was stimulated in some way that actually impacted his ability to soothe himself.  We know that ultimately he lost that battle.  He decided instead of soothing, he would allow his boiling anger to take over, his stewing resentments to be heard rattling above Las Vegas.
It's also clear that Paddock was a mean bastard from ordinary observations made by those around him.  So why do his family insist he was a harmless sweetheart?  What are they hiding other than how they have been bought and sold with his money?
A final observation from the Starbucks crew: 
This regimented consumption suggests there was a similar empty, repetitive existence gambling. Paddock's life lacked real variety and real diversity.  Instead it was 20 years floating zombie-like through a sterile wasteland filled with casino chips and winking, clattering jackpot machines that took more than they gave.  It was a cruel, unloving world and Paddock wanted that world to feel his wrath... 

6. if Paddock was addicted to gambling, was he addicted to anything else?  If he was lonely and hanging out in casinos, wouldn't he be likely to hang out at bars and drink? Was he promiscuous?  if he was that would feed into the idea of people as expendable and disposable things.  Wasn't this why he'd lost touch with his family, and they with him?

"And how do we begin to covet, Clarice?...We begin by coveting what we see everyday..."

 4. Background Reinforcement

Paddock earned an income off properties he owned, and this business may have reinforced this sense of the world as a transactional [in other words Trumpian] win/lose environment.  The symbology of infrastructure is important, however. Think about the high rise hotel rising above the concert. Although paddock is there he doesn't live there, he doesn't live anywhere.  He is floating around, he is wealthy in a sense, but his wealth is eroding and he doesn't belong.  Even though he feels superior to the ordinary folks milling on the ground, he's envious of them.  He's envious of the community and its easy joy, and regular happiness.  It burns him to see it. And he can see it all from his perch, a nondescript hotel room in a honeycomb of similarly anonymous accommodations, where he finds himself facing the hours alone, filling up on a toxic brew of quiet desperation.  He's a man with no future, no children, nothing to look forward to.

He has lost himself for years in gambling, but he's seen what he's become: nothing.  An empty husk. A nobody. A loser.

The casino environment is, in itself, a disorientating maze.  It's difficult to orientate oneself because casinos are purposefully designed without anchoring reference points, such as visuals or time.  No casino will have a clock visible because it does not wish to remind its patrons of reality; that it might be getting late.  The casino is designed to snare its patron so they can lose themselves in fantasies of greed and reward.  At the end of a gambling spree, a gambler may feel exhilarated but also hollowed out and unfulfilled, especially if the dizzy heights have culminated in enormous losses.

We know that recently Paddock began gambling with sizable amounts of $30 000. Going through $10 000 and $30 000 a day over a period of weeks can turn a rich man poor in a relatively short time. 100 days gambling with $30 000 is $3 million.

5. Significant Environmental Factors

If Paddock got his kicks from gambling, he also got his kicks out of guns.  Money and guns gave an immediate sense of personal power.  By gambling more and getting his hands on more guns, and more powerful weapons, this imbued sense of power seemed to increase.

At the same time, environmental factors were circling which no doubt impacted on Paddock's psyche.  His mother and brother living in Florida had just experienced Hurricane Irma, and power outages.  From a distance Paddock observed how the community dealt with that crisis, and what's more, how his brother and mother were able to take care of each other without him.  In this crisis scenario he discovered himself to be unnecessary, unneeded, ancillary, insignificant. He found himself living outside the reality of community, and family, even the weather. Instead he was occupying the surreal world of air conditioned casinos and sterile hotel rooms, a world in which nothing was real, nothing mattered and no one was connected to one another.

Paddock differs from Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs in that what he coveted, in a central sense, was meaning.  He coveted connection to community.  Connection to family. Connection, relationships with another.  Gambling had effectively replaced genuine interactions with real people, and Paddock was starting to feel the excruciating reality of it.  He was feeling invalidated as a person. He was increasingly feeling invalidated by the easy happiness, the light levity of those entering and leaving Vegas.  But unlike them, he stayed in that cigarette smelling, whiskey reeking party-pooped reality.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas...

Well, so did Paddock.  he stayed in Vegas.  He saw the shallowness.  He felt it accumulating inside him.

6. Contributing Cultural Forces

President Donald Trump's divisive remarks, and in particular the flaring up of white supremacist rhetoric  in Charlottesville, may have reinforced the idea of lashing out against the oppressor.  If you feel insignificant, lash out at immigrants, or blacks, or Democrats.  If you feel threatened, make your feelings manifest [as Trump did with North Korea].  In other words, if you're unhappy, don't use diplomacy, use might. Use force. Don't wait, don't hold back, exact revenge!

I am not saying that Trump's politics, or US politics or racism had any relevance to Paddock.  I am saying in a more general sense, the highly reactive and reactionary politics [including the Steve Calise shooting in June, just three months earlier] would have triggered the same psychological sense of taking exception to one's perceived insufficiencies, and taking up arms to defend oneself, especially if one had an arsenal at the ready.

An FBI "expert" I happened to catch on CNN pontificating on the fact that there was nothing abnormal about Paddock owning an arsenal is what's wrong with the world today.  There are none so blind as those who cannot see.  My response to anyone who thinks owning a 42 weapon arsenal is normal is this:

7. Analogous Cases

If the above still seems like wishy-washy shot-in-the-dark speculation, then we need to ground this analysis in the annuls of true crime.  Well, is there an analogous case?  There always is!

With Ted Kaczynski, the same broad markers are there. Isolation, an obsessive pre-occupation [in his case with self-sufficiency or survival rather than gambling],  and out of this environment, where the lone wolf broods on his own unadulterated thoughts, the bitterness turns to anger, and angry thoughts are converted into obsessions revolving around payback and revenge.

Another example of a far more targeted attempt to exact revenge on an uncaring society was the murder of John Lennon by Mark David Chapman. After shooting Lennon five times, four times in the back, Chapman remained at the scene while reading from The Catcher in the Rye.  Unlike Paddock, Chapman repeatedly made his declaration of intent clear to the cops as they arrested him: he said the novel was his statement.  He had murdered Lennon as a sort of protest against the phoniness of the world.

But it was also because Lennon had invalidated Chapman.  Chapman had become a born again Christian and idolised Lennon, but that changed when Lennon claimed to be more popular than Jesus.  Chapman's anger escalated as the sense of invalidation escalated. Chapman had been bullied at school and so the invalidation played deeply into his fragile sense of identity, and an imputed sense of insignificance.

8. Conclusion

We get a sense of Paddock's instability from his own brother.  When Eric has fielded interviews he makes odd statements very much lacking in empathy or sensitivity.  It's interesting that Paddock's sibling doesn't acknowledge the eccentricity running through the family, in effect, the instability.

It's likely that we will soon discover the full story behind how and why Paddock felt emasculated.  He'd likely recently lost a small [or large] fortune gambling, and lost out in love, thus creating a kind of identity crisis. In a world where nothing seemed real, nothing had meaning, where he'd discovered himself bankrupt [emotionally, in a relationship sense, and in terms of society], he simply cycled back to the same destructive backstory of his own father.

We get an added sense, from the fact that Paddock took his own life, that he knew what he was doing was wrong, and was willing to pay a price for it.  But he felt justified, if he was going to lose in the gamble of life and love, then someone else [it didn't matter who] also had to pay the price.  Who?  The society that had rejected him.  The breaking of the glass of the Mandalay Hotel is symbolic of the transparency not only into the room of Paddock's broken world, but also into the world itself.  We live in a world of broken people, and when we discover the world to be empty and meaningless we're devastated.  We have no idea how to put the pieces of ourselves back together again.  That is an indictment not only of disconnected, addicted individuals, but of a society so disconnected from itself that it has begun to elect madmen to tell it what it wants to hear, and reality be damned.

In such a world, where there is no meaning, no significance and no consequence, where money maketh and unmaketh the man, where money is the sole arbiter of value....in such a world, make no mistake, madmen will continue to come out of the woodwork. One mad act inspires another. One fragile identity seeds more fragile identities. A world where lives are reduced to money and violence isn't a world that respects life.  It's a world that respects madness. Until further notice, this is the world we find ourselves in.  When we're asked what the motive is of madmen, we can't see them not because they're obscure, but because we've succumbed to the madness as well.  It's a madness composed of the inability to think for ourselves.


Unknown said...


Cheryl Burke said...

I missed this, and had thought about how much I would like to know your thoughts. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Hello! There are about a million unanswered questions concerning this incident. Am very surprised you ran with story as it's being fed to you as opposed to investigating this whole story as something is very hinky here! Several very troublesome questions come to mind immediately, which need to be addressed way before an in depth analysis of the dead man's psyche don't you think??


Nick said...

No, and that's the point I'm making. You don't need weeks or months of "investigating" to see the obvious. Most of the motive is clearly evident in the manner of execution. In the same way a knife crime or strangling is personal, an assassin-terror type scenario is impersonal. It speaks of Paddock's disconnection and thus discontent with society.

Anonymous said...

Loved reading your analysis and contempt for the idiocy of clueless "experts" professing sweet nothings on CNN (once actually a "news network"). And the symbolism analysis such "experts" might well ridicule because of their corresponding lack of depth in thought.

I do query though your thoughts on revelations that Mr. Paddock had apparently diligently scouted locations, maybe even for months or years previous. Seems maybe the influence of hurricanes and such weren't terribly relevant to the timing?

Nick said...

Obviously just an opinion, but the relevance of the hurricanes seems to be how Paddock felt "left out" of the inner family circle. His mother faced a crisis in Florida, because of the hurricane, and his brother came to her aid. This turn of events, and a lot of the national vibe of community at that time, especially in the south, and surrounding the approach of these storms, may have made a man who already felt alienated, excluded, isolated - angry. If you feel excluded and insignificant in terms of your countryman, and your family, then there is a sense of wanting to hurt that community, even if the victims are anonymous. That's what he did.