The conspiracy fringe is in a state of extreme agitation over the news that one of their own was taken into custody by the FBI and hospitalized for psychological evaluation based primarily on provocative statements made on his Facebook Page.
Brandon J. Raub is a former marine whose recent Facebook postings included postings about 9/11 conspiracies, chemtrails and general anti-government invective, as well as relatively mild apparent threats of general violence, including “The Revolution is here. And I will lead it, “Sharpen up my axe; I’m here to sever heads”, and “The people responsible for posioning the America people from the sky will be held accountable. And there is going to be justice.”
The threatening statements and photos of Raub posting semi-nude with an antique shotgun are not particularly unusual for young people acting out their dissatisfaction with the increasingly restrictive government in the United States. What may distinguish his page is the combination of revolutionary rhetoric with clearly nutty conspiracy theories and the fact that he has a military background – a triple threat of red flags which may have drawn the attention of law enforcement.
However, his last few posts before he was taken into custody suggest that he may have been involved in deliberately attracting the attention of federal law enforcement and he seems to have been aware that he was going to be taken into custody a day before it happened when he posted “The Revolution will come for me. Men will be at my door soon to pick me up to lead it. ;)” It seems likely that he believed that his arrest would be some sort of catalyst for revolution.
It is significant that Raub was not arrested, but rather put under psychiatric evaluation. This seems like a relatively rational response to his behavior. While it is absolutely unacceptable to have the government monitoring private internet postings and evaluating online behavior as the basis for arresting people, if Raub did deliberately draw attention to himself as being potentially dangerous, putting him on a three-day psychiatric assessment was a more reasonable response than arresting him and treating him as a terrorist.
It has been well established that the irrational belief in conspiracies can be a symptom of a mental disorder called Cognitive Dissonance, which can lead to delusions and violent or self-destructive behavior in its most extreme form. Victims become paranoid and separated from reality and ultimately sociopathic and unable to relate to other people normally. Traditionally this disorder is dismissed as harmless, but it is not surprising that in combination with violent statements and aggressive behavior it might be considered a matter of concern.
If the people around the shooters had watched for warning signs like this then the recent shooting sprees in Colorado and Wisconsin might have been avoided. In both cases the men involved had shown increasingly peculiar behavior and had cut off ties to family and friends. If they had received psychiatric help before their behavior became dangerous many lives might have been saved.
From video made at the time he was taken into custody it appears that Raub had surrounded himself with a community of like-minded people. This cult-like environment, which is not uncommon among “truthers” and other conspiracy obsessives, likely contributed to and encouraged his behavior and his isolation from responsible family members who might have intervened out of concern for his mental health.
I absolutely do not support the misuse of psychiatric holds as a way of bypassing due process or of any kind of forced psychiatric treatment, but treating conspiracy obsession as a mental disorder and taking it seriously as a sign of a condition which may worsen and can be treated is a better response than criminalizing this behavior. It’s certainly better than the alternatives of treating more and more of the general public as if they were potential criminals or ignoring problematic behavior until it leads to acts of violence.