On Wednesday, CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill seemed to defend the actions of cop killer and fugitive Christopher Dorner, who has since been killed by police after gunning down four victims.
"This has been an important public conversation that we've had, about police brutality, about police corruption, about state violence," Hill said during a CNN segment about the burgeoning online support for Dorner. "As far as Dorner himself goes, he's been like a real life superhero to many people," Hill said. "Now don't get me wrong, what he did is awful, killing innocent people is bad...Many people aren't rooting for him to kill innocent people, they're rooting for somebody who was wronged to get a kind of revenge against the system. It's almost like watching Django Unchained in real life, it's kind of exciting."
The clip was immediately put on YouTube by conservative site Townhall, earning widespread derision, but Hill is certainly not the only one to hold these kinds of views.
Online support for Dorner in the days since his rampage has crept out of the internet's more extreme corners — where such perverse boosterism is commonplace — and into more mainstream venues. Dorner is now hailed as a kind of folk hero by some on the Chomsky-esque left and the Ron Paul right, who view the killer's manifesto as an articulate indictment of the "police state" they have always opposed.
"This story has a lot of moving parts, thanks in large part to Dorner's long manifesto," said J.M. Berger, a journalist and expert on domestic extremism. "With the fragmentation of the media these days, people are more prone to selection bias — they pull out the parts of a story that resonate with them and ignore the parts they don't like. This is really a common practice among extremists, but it's creeping into the mainstream more and more."
"The LAPD's troubled history and continued bad reputation are also big factors here," Berger said. "I think it's difficult for a lot of people to root for the LAPD under any circumstances. But you really have to ignore big parts of Dorner's story in order to cast him as Dirty Harry or Rambo, as many people have. Dirty Harry didn't kill the daughters of people who got on his wrong side."
Groups dedicated to Dorner on Facebook range from "We Support Christopher Dorner" to "We Are All Chris Dorner" to "Teamdorner" and others. The #DornerGang hashtag is alive and well on Twitter, as are multiple fever-swamp conspiracy theories about the circumstances of Dorner's crimes and death.
And while many of the usual suspects — Alex Jones' websites, for one — are trading in these, the pro-Dorner sentiment is leaking into slightly more well-respected venues.
Alternet, the leftist online magazine, ran a story by Chauncey DeVega arguing that Dorner could "be transformed through popular culture and storytelling into a figure talked about for decades and centuries to come, with multiple versions of his tales and exploits, shaped by the griots and bards for their respective audiences."
"Christopher Dorner dared to tell his version of the truth regarding the LAPD's history of corruption and racism," DeVega writes. "They do not like tattle tales and 'snitches.' Dorner was a particularly noxious threat to the status quo both because of his violent actions, as well as the symbolic power of his words and deeds."
Salon's Natasha Lennard has written a couple of stories sympathetic to Dorner ("Ex-cops sympathize with Dorner's anger," "Were Dorner's complaints legitimate?"). Vice, in a story about whether or not Anonymous will retaliate after Dorner's death, implicitly compared Dorner to anti-establishment heroes like Bradley Manning and Aaron Swartz, while acknowledging that "a murderous ex-cop is a lot harder to defend than these nonviolent liberators of information."
Berger predicts that the fevered interest in Dorner will die down soon, unless his remains aren't positively identified:
"At this point, with Dorner's death, some of the momentum is going to die out on this story, at least it will if they make a positive DNA identification of his remains. If they can't do that, I suspect this will take on a D.B. Cooper quality."
Rosie Gray is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C. Gray reports on politics and foreign policy.
Contact Rosie Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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