The Alabama Moderate

Painting the Red State Purple.

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Up In Flames

Posted by ALmod on February 14, 2006

I’ve always had a certain fascination with psychology. My father, retired due to disability, was a cop, and he got his criminal justice degree from Samford University while I was in high school. (He graduated summa cum laude! Go Dad!) During my senior year, I decided to apply to a local community college and get some college courses out of the way early. My first class just happened to be my introductory psychology course, and I wrote two papers: one on the death process and one on criminal profiling. My dad’s textbooks came in handy, and I found that I often couldn’t put them down.

Had I been able to stomach the time and effort it would take to obtain the degrees needed, I might have pursued a career in criminal psychology. I’ve always thought that I’d make a decent profiler. Who knows what might have been?

With that in mind, I thought I might offer my own thoughts regarding the church fires that seem to be plaguing Alabama. I could be right. I could be wrong. It will be interesting to see.
I’ve heard it said at least a dozen times that the fires were “not racially motivated.” That theory should have been put to bed after the first set of fires. I can’t understand why I’m still hearing it after round three. Perhaps it’s just part of living in Alabama. Something goes wrong, and it’s automatically assumed that race is a motive. But I digress…

If there is a bias, it is strictly a religious one, targeted specifically toward Baptists. My belief, however, is that the situation is much darker than a simple hate crime. Scary stuff, but let’s look at the churches that were burned. All were fairly small in size and were Baptist. From what I understand, the fires were all set near the pulpit. There have also been several reports of a dark SUV with two white males near the scenes.

While someone might be quick to toss out the “devil worshiper” or cult theme, keep in mind that there are currently only two suspects. A cult or any kind, even Satanists, would likely involve a larger group of people, so I’m ruling that one out. I’ve even heard theories that angry Muslims could be the culprit, but that still would involve a larger group of people, and such militant groups have a tendency to want people to know that they were involved. They usually aren’t so neat, either.

Before someone tosses around the word “pyromaniac” again, let’s look at the behavior patterns of your typical textbook firebug. Someone who qualifies as a true pyromaniac does not set fires for revenge or to vent anger or to make a political or social statement. For a pyromaniac, the only real motive is pleasure, like an addict. Think of it as being much like a form of sexual gratification for that person. There is anticipation that builds before the event, a euphoric period during the event, and a release. There is usually no discrimination or pattern in the types of fires set. Pyromaniacs also typically display poor social skills and even learning disorders. They tend to work alone, and though fires can be planned out in great detail, they are not often planned with such strategy as these fires have been planned. For these reasons, I believe that pyromania as a motive is slim to none in these fires.

The only thing I could think of to argue differently would be to say that the churches, since they are small in size, were convenient targets with low security, easy access, and little chance for someone being hurt. If that were the case, the fact that Baptist churches were targeted could just be mere coincidence, since most churches in Alabama are Baptist. But pyromaniacs have a tendency to not really care about the safety of others, and with the targets being spread over several counties, it was hardly a real convenience in location. Plus, the fires were started near the pulpit. That shows something darker than pyromania lurking in the shadows. Not to mention, a true pyromaniac getting his fix would stick around longer to savor his work, leaving little time to visit multiple targets in one night.

The real psychological profile that I believe we may be dealing with is that of a psychopath. The reason I say this is because the main suspect apparently has a buddy. Psychopaths do not display guilt or regret, but they do enjoy manipulating people and situations, which can make them appear social, and they can be quite charming. If and when things do not go their way, they can lash out violently, though it may or may not be obvious. Although most people see a psychopath as being a very calm and calculating person, it is actually a very rare characteristic in psychopaths. Most are very impulsive and do not consider consequences for their actions. They are often characterized as not having a conscience.

Coincidentally, arson happens to be one of the early indicators of psychopathy, as is rebellion against authority. Some can display certain obsessive compulsive behaviors. (Ted Bundy, serial killer extraordinaire, had a thing for socks.) So when multiple crimes happen, patterns sometimes turn up.

So here’s my profile: We’re looking for a white male in his mid thirties with a younger white male accomplice. The younger man would be nothing more than a tool to suit the older’s purposes. Manipulated, if you will. The main perp would be a a father figure or big brother for the younger, and would be respected by most of the people who know him. He’d be middle-income or upper middle-income. He’d have a “hobby” of some sort, and while he has probably had several romantic relationships, they would be fairly short-lived. Perhaps the women (or men) found him to be a little too controlling. They may have even seen some violent outbursts. Or perhaps he just seemed to lose interest. This man grew up in a very religious setting. It is possible that someone close, like his father (or a father figure), was a pastor. At some point in time, he experienced an event surrounding that person that he could not control. Perhaps that person died, or left. Or perhaps he/she attempted to display authority over him. This made him angry, but he wouldn’t have necessarily shown anger at the time.

So, are there any other theories out there?

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One Response to “Up In Flames”

  1. Don said

    This is an excellent analysis, Hon, and I think you may have missed your true calling, other than becoming a wedded Mom, of course. If you are correct, and I were that younger accomplice, I would be high-tailing-it as quickly as I could to as far away as I could get from the older guy out of fear of losing my life should the psychopath get the idea that I might squeal on him
    .

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