I want to be clear as I can be up front: I can't look into the twisted mind of Paul Ciancia, the 23-year-old punk from South Jersey who mercilessly gunned down a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent named Gerardo Hernandez -- a public servant, husband and father just days short of his 40th birthday -- and wounded several others at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday..
And I can only trust reports from the FBI, highly reliable news sources and the respected Southern Poverty Law Center that the killer was carrying a handwritten note that Ciancia was "a pissed off patriot" wanted to killed multiple TSA agents and "instill fear into their traitorous minds" -- and that the note also included a gay slur against former Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano, adding: "FU Napolitano."
I don't know if a sick-minded 23-year-old youth who moved out to Los Angeles a short time ago event knew who Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is -- or was aware that just last year a Paul proposal to eliminate the TSA was publicized by the Tea Party group FreedomWorks as "a campaign to end the TSA's tyranny over America's airports," or that another group, Campaign for Liberty, said the Kentucky senator wanted to get rid of "government thugs posing as 'security."
Or if Ciancia knew that Sen. Paul himself stated that eliminating TSA would "get the government's hands back to only stealing our wallets instead of groping toddlers and grandmothers."
I can't yet know if Ciancia ever watched Fox News Channel host Geraldo Rivera make the baseless charge that the Napolitano-run DHS "a lesbian cabal" on national television, or if he was aware that many have said that term "Big Sis" that the uber-popular right-wing news aggregator Matt Drudge and other conservatives about Napolitano is taken by many as an anti-gay slur.
Indeed, the pervasive influence of the Drudge Report (it "rules our world," top DC pundit Mark Halperin once wrote) doesn't guarantee that the cold-blooded killer of a TSA agent would know about Drudge's five-year harassment campaign of big headlines mocking the woman he calls "Big Sis" -- for everything from wanting to look under women's clothes to TSA putting their hands down people's pants.
Most likely the airport shooter didn't know that opposing what he called "TSA's policy of groping innocent civilians" was a centerpiece of Sen. Ted Cruz's winning campaign in 2012 -- or that Alex Jones, a radio host with extreme ringe views who nonetheless is broadcast from coast-to-coast with a popular online following, has called TSA out-of-control "airport thugs."
Despite the uncanny similarities between the rhetoric of U.S. senators and radio hosts with wide access to millions of Americans and the scrawled words of a stone-cold killer, I can't be 100 percent certain that there's a connection between a) and b).
But I can ask this: Does it matter at this point?
Do we even have to prove which radio host or Tea Party icon -- if any -- influenced Paul Ciancia to know that the five-year torrent of hateful rhetoric against the TSA and Napolitano from so-called "respected" conservative thought leaders is morally unconscionable, beyond contempt, and an invitation to tragedy?
How strong a sense of right and wrong does one need to know that their ugly and unfounded words would some day influence some unhinged everyday citizen out there -- if not Ciancia then quite likely someone else some day, who would get the idea that an attack on the TSA was an attack against what some guy on the radio claimed was "tyranny."
I do know this: The men and women who work for TSA are by and large good people who stand on their feet for eight or more hours a day and deal with many hostile or unpleasant travelers, for middling pay, so that they can support a family -- no different, really, from the public servants who died a dozen years ago at the World Trade Center. No, TSA policies are not perfect and TSA agents are not perfect -- but don't forget that their mission since 2001 has been to prevent hijackings, and their record in thar regard is 100 percent.