DOMESTIC TERRORISM IN LAS VEGAS: PADDOCK AS PRUFROCK ON STEROIDS
The looming question of a motive behind the mass slaughter of spectators at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas in October remains, to date, unanswered, largely because all the usual suspects are irrelevant to this case of domestic terrorism. Despite the self-aggrandizing claim by ISIS, there is no connection of the mass murderer, Stephen Paddock, to any terrorist groups, domestic or foreign; and despite the self-serving allegations by the alt-right that Paddock was an anti-Trump registered Democrat, even an active member of Antifa, he had no strong political convictions or affiliations; nor did he have any religious affiliations or allegiances. There is no criminal history; no military service; no evidence of white supremacy or other radical ideology; no previous acts of any violence; simply nothing that would indicate Paddock was a ticking time-bomb waiting for his 15 minutes of infamy and notoriety.
Clues to his motive, or at least deeply flawed character, are not to be found in criminal or medical records, but perhaps in poetry, specifically T.S. Eliot's "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock". For Paddock seems to have been a Prufrock on steroids. In his classic poem widely acclaimed to offer a penetrating insight into the self-loathing mindset of a non-entity who has accomplished nothing of significance, Prufrock explicitly states that "there will be a time to murder" (line 28) and emphatically asks his pitiful self, "Do I dare? Do I dare?" (line 38); "Do I dare disturb the universe?" (lines 45, 46). Even more haunting is the fact that the setting is a "soft October night" (line 21), in which he proclaims to "know the voices dying with a dying fall beneath the music from a farther room" (lines 52,53), and talks of "lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows" (line 72). Acknowledging that there still is "time to turn back and descend the stair, with a bald spot in the middle of my hair" (lines 39, 40), he wonders if he should "have the strength to force the moment to its crisis" (line 80). Self-identifying as neither prince nor prophet, but "almost at times the Fool", Prufrock regretfully and fearfully admits that he has seen the moment of his greatness "flicker" and the "eternal Footman" [Death] hold his coat "and snicker" (lines 84, 85). In the concluding lines he once again questions his fortitude and resolve by asking "Do I dare to eat a peach" (line 183), a metaphoric echo of his earlier question, "Do I dare disturb the universe?" (lines 45, 46).
Prufrock answered that question with a muted affirmation and an end to his own tormented life through drowning. Paddock loudly echoed that affirmation with thousands of rounds from automatic weapon fire directed at a helpless mass of people drowned in blood before taking his own miserable life.
Paddock, like Prufrock, was an aging dead soul with a balding head, who entered the last stage of his nondescript life full of despair instead of integrity. Aside from his relationship to his co-habitating woman friend, Paddock's social life was a vast void. He had no friends and neighbors recall him to be "aggressively unfriendly" and "extremely standoffish". He divorced his wife, Peggy, in 1990; had no children; and never re-married. His absentee biological father was a notorious bank robber on the FBI's Most Wanted list for years. Though evidently not fully estranged to them, he maintained only highly limited contact in recent years with his nonagenarian mother and only sibling, a brother living in Florida. He golfed alone; typically stayed in bed until noon; rarely spent any time in his backyard; and kept the blinds to his largely empty Nevada house firmly closed.
Paddock's work life was as listless as his social one. For a decade he was employed in government service; first as a letter carrier for the USPS; then as an IRS agent; and finally as an auditor for the Defense Audit Agency. For three years, he worked as an accountant for the corporate predecessor of Lockheed-Martin. Beginning in 2000, he was the manager and owner of an apartment complex in Mesquite, a suburb of Dallas. About this time he starting making a killing in the real-estate market and by the time of his suicide was worth some $2 million.
His only real passion was gambling, and he spent countless hours playing multi-hundred-dollar-hand video poker, and even resided at casino hotels for months at a time to feed his gambling addiction. His fascination with guns, especially automatic weapons, was of more recent vintage and manifested his slow, steady descent into his internal hell. Precisely when he decided to affirmatively and emphatically answer the Prufrockian question of daring to disturb the universe, is unknown. But it is certain that he had carefully planned the mass murder for days in advance, and brought some 17 weapons, mostly military style rifles, into his hotel room to unleash his domestic terrorism and disturb the universe horrifically.
In a rare moment of clarity and honesty, Prufrock states that "I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas" (lines 73, 74). If only that same fate had been Paddock's as well as the vulture culture that gave rise to this miscreant, how much less disturbed our universe of humanity would be.
brief bio: Werner Lange is a retired college educator and ordained minister living in Oho.