The Columbus sniper, video games and the new Manchurian Candidates*
August 29, 2004
Alleged Columbus serial sniper Charles McCoy, Jr. was a fugitive from justice, but when he was captured in Las Vegas, he had his trusty PlayStation2 with him and the videogame Getaway to advise him on how to shoot people while on the run. Just as predicted by Miami attorney and sniper profiler Jack Thompson, McCoy was heavily immersed in violent video game culture. Franklin County Judge Charles Schneider unsealed evidence seized by law enforcement officials from McCoy’s home on August 16, showing that the alleged sniper had at least three video games in his possession involving a lone gunman shooting scores of people: State of Emergency, Max Payne - Lone Gunman and Dead to Rights.
Thompson told the Free Press that the Columbus mainstream media was “the most censorial media” he had ever encountered and provided the Free Press with an extensive paper trail documenting his claim.
In a letter to Franklin County Chief Deputy Steve Martin dated November 30, 2003, Thompson wrote: “I represent victims of nearly identical interstate shootings in June in Tennessee. I have been on national television talking about it repeatedly since then, most recently on the Fox News Channel this Saturday tying it to what is going on in the Columbus area.” The day prior, Thompson had noted on Fox News “the remarkable similarities between what happened in Knoxville and what is now occurring in Columbus, Ohio.”
Thompson complained, “The Columbus Dispatch today reiterates the opinion of a homicide expert that collaborates my profile that I gave you all days ago in writing. Still you don’t call.” Thompson profiled the “Freeway Sniper” as a lone, paranoid sociopath, addicted to sniper-intensive video games.
Thompson informed Martin that, “I was the only person in America who correctly profiled the Beltway Sniper.” He warned Martin that “Your Sniper Task Force is making the same mistakes the Montgomery Task Force made in the repeatedly botched efforts to catch the Beltway Sniper(s).” The same day Thompson wrote Martin, the 14th and 15th sniper shooting occurred in Central Ohio.
Thompson also issued a press release on November 30 claiming that the Columbus Sniper Task Force “was completely unaware of the Knoxville incident,” but was now “considering the plausible profile of a teen video gamer.”
Thompson was confident that the Columbus Sniper Task Force would follow up on his profile. After all, two weeks prior to the apprehension of the infamous Beltway Snipers Muhammad and Malvo, he had told Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today Show, “I believe we will find that the Beltway Sniper is a teenage boy as young as fifteen who has been trained on a first-person-shooter video game switched to sniper-mode, or what is also called God-mode.”
Two months after Thompson’s prediction, Dateline NBC reporter Stone Phillips reported: “Muhammad, satisfied that Malvo was able to kill as a sniper based upon the training he gave Malvo on the rifle range, was upset that Malvo was yet unwilling to kill as a sniper. So Muhammad had Malvo play the incredibly violent Microsoft XBox shooter game Halo, switched to sniper-mode or God-mode, to suppress his inhibition to kill. And it worked.”
Thompson’s press release concluded: “The Columbus Sniper may not be a teen video gamer, but the last two American snipers have been.”
So concerned was Thompson, that he contacted the Columbus Wal-Mart Supercenter store in Lewis Center, Ohio, just minutes away from where shootings occurred, and requested that store manager John Nuckolls immediately remove sniper video games from its shelves. Nuckolls complied.
The following day, Thompson issued two more press releases and wrote U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. All three written communications had the same theme: the Columbus Sniper Task Force was incompetent.
Thompson proposed a specific plan of action for the Task Force – that they should stake out the “high-tech video arcade GameWorks,” created and partly owned by Hollywood director Steven Spielberg, located at the Easton Town Center in Columbus. He noted that, “located in all GameWorks around the world was the popular arcade game SilentScope2 which allows the player to point a virtual sniper rifle at human targets.”
“A ‘Task Force’ truly committed, intelligently, to capturing the Columbus Sniper would this morning already have questioned the management at GameWorks to ask the description of any individuals obsessively playing the game. GameWorks may have receipts showing who, by name, has played the game around the times of the various snipings to hone his skills and to get pumped up to snipe.”
In Thompson’s second release that day, he disclosed that he had spoken with “. . . the analyst/profiler in the Columbus office of the FBI about the possible video game connection to the serial sniper.”
“The failure of the news media, national and local, to question the refusal of the Sheriff to share critical, useful information with the public, such as the caliber of the gun, is reprehensible and is presently delaying the sniper(s) capture,” Thompson charged.
After learning that the Task Force had not turned over his profiling information to the FBI, Thompson wrote Ashcroft that, “Now we have proof of the Franklin County Sniper Task Force’s incompetence.” He requested that the FBI “take over this investigation completely and immediately.”
Nine more shootings followed before McCoy’s father turned over two 9mm pistols to the Task Force, according to the Columbus Dispatch. One of the pistols turned out to be the murder weapon used to kill Gail Knisley on November 25, the only person struck and killed by the sniper. With McCoy’s family pleading with him to surrender, the alleged sniper was hiding in Las Vegas where he was arrested in the early hours of the morning on March 17. The 28-year-old McCoy was arrested only after tipster Conrad Malsom called the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police twelve times.
Thompson fired off a letter to GameWorks Chief Executive Officer Ron Lam which began, “It is now known that alleged Columbus serial sniper, Charles McCoy, frequented your GameWorks location in the Easton Mall in Columbus just as I warned law enforcement 3 _ months ago . . . They ignored me.”
“Here’s the deal: You have two weeks from today to pull all shooter games out of all GameWorks everywhere. You’ve trained enough Manchurian Candidates,” Thompson’s letter concluded.
Thompson points out that the Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT), part of the University of Southern California, is heavily involved in developing violent video games. ICT bills itself as "an award-winning research center that advances the state-of-the-art in virtual reality and immersive environments." On its webpage, the Institute touts that, "In addition to specific military training tasks the ELS [Experience Learning System] will have applications for a broad range of educational initiatives.'" The military claims that the ICT is helping it teach "leadership" skills to soldiers; Thompson counters that what's happening in the gaming world with the assistance of the military is more and more graphic and lifelike video games. "What they're really doing is desensitizing people to kill," Thompson explained.
In conversations with Franklin County Sheriff’s Department sources, Thompson found out that McCoy was indeed immersed in violent video games. A Thompson press release on March 20 stated that “. . . massive amounts of video game material, including multiple gaming platforms and numerous violent video games – were removed from McCoy’s home in the last few days.”
Thompson wrote the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department Detective Bureau on March 22: “I hereby demand a rightful portion of the $60,000 reward. Upon my receipt of it, I shall immediately turn it over to Mr. Ron Knisley, the bereaved widower of Gail Knisely, who was allegedly shot and killed by McCoy. He deserves it far more than anyone else.”
In a press release summarizing his experiences with the Columbus media entitled, “Columbus, Ohio’s corruption impaired apprehension of serial sniper,” Thompson points out that Easton Town Center, which houses GameWorks, is owned by Les Wexner. The release begins with the following assessment: “A little research, including talking to the locals, reveals that the two most powerful men who literally run Columbus, Ohio, are J.F. Wolfe, who owns the Columbus Dispatch and a local CBS-affiliated television station and his billionaire buddy, Les Wexner, one of the wealthiest men in America. So thorough is the stranglehold of these two men on the levers of power in Columbus that they are a modern two-headed Citizen Kane.”
“All the local Columbus television and radio stations, including the only newspaper in town run by Wexner’s friend, J.F. Wolfe, receive ad money from Wexner’s far-flung businesses. Most Americans understand that he who pays the piper calls the tune. The tune in Columbus is called by Mr. Wexner, to the detriment recently of public safety.”
As the Free Press went to print, Thompson had filed a “Notice to Court of Possible Misconduct by Defense Counsel.” In the Notice, Thompson refers to “virtual reality murder simulators” and points out that “the Associated Press reported that McCoy’s mother, Ardith, said the last she saw him he was on his way to one of his favorite places – the GameWorks Arcade at the Easton Mall.”
Thompson asserts that “the three games found at McCoy’s home have heroes who are paranoid lone gunmen and that this role-playing may have fueled McCoy’s paranoid schizophrenia.”
“Ms. Frisbee, Mr. McCoy’s former girlfriend, has said that Mr. McCoy would spend hours in his basement playing these games,” Thompson wrote the Court. He also argues that, “The killing simulators are specifically designed, through the marvels of virtual reality, to break down and obliterate right from wrong.”
Thompson told the Free Press that what the Institute for Creative Technologies and the military wants to do is to make ‘killing appear cool.’”
Thompson Notice to the Court also references the fact that “Les Wexner owns the mall graced with the GameWorks Arcade in which Charles A. McCoy, Jr., surely trained to kill.” Thompson explained in an interview that he’s concerned that the wealthiest man in Ohio is the owner of the mall and that Steven Spielberg is the owner of the high-tech arcade that McCoy frequented.
“Our Defense Department is creating killing simulators and then dumping them on to the commercial civilian market for sale to minors and deranged men like McCoy,” Thompson wrote.
The Notice further reveals that Thompson has been in contact with the Knisley family, who he suggests agrees with his concerns regarding videogames.
Bob Fitrakis is the Editor of the Free Press (freepress.org), a political science professor, attorney and co-author with Harvey Wasserman of George W. Bush vs. the Superpower of Peace.
*The Free Press has received comments mistaking this news analysis for a statement of opinion about the link between video games and violence. Dr. Fitrakis does not support the censoring of video games or the connection between violence and gaming, but wishes to further illustrate the connections between the video game industry and the U.S. military.
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