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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Conspiracy Nuts and Their Bombs: The Kevin Harris Case

     Kevin Harris lived by himself in a modest, one-story house in a quiet residential neighborhood in the southern California city of Costa Mesa. The 52-year-old, by covering his home in aluminum foil, attaching copies of his anti-government newsletters to a front yard tree, and videotaping his neighbors, revealed that he was strange, and probably mentally ill. He had also established himself as an anti-social loner with his Internet writings that included the statement: "I am the only one who can get into my house. I think it may be dangerous for you to come to my house alone."

     In America, we have more than our share of oddballs. Most of these people, usually men, are harmless eccentrics. Some of them, however, are psychotic, paranoid, and dangerous. Ted Kaczynski, the unabomber, fell into this category. Unfortunately, there's no sure-fire way to distinguish the Ted Kaczynski types from the common garden variety conspiracy kooks. When the distinction becomes clear, it's usually too late.

     Mr. Harris, in a 17,000-word Internet-published manifesto called, "The Picker: A True Story of Assassination, Terrorism, and High Treason," described the nefarious and clandestine activities of government agents. The author of this rambling manifesto had obviously convinced himself that secret government operatives were using a weapon called a "picker," a device that deposited germs on a victim's skin on contact. Government agents armed with these secret devices were infecting dissenters with illnesses like cancer and AIDS. According to Harris, government agents also used the deadly tool to cause various enemies of the state to die in freak accidents.

     The Costa Mesa conspiracy theorizer, in his manifesto, said: "I have had personal experience with both domestic and foreign operatives using pickers within the U. S. at the request of the U. S. Government. The rationale stated here should give you a reasonable indication that pickers are used in this country, but it is not absolute proof. The diseases of the ex-spouses, which I will describe, provide a proof so strong that some of these attacks will have to stop....

     "Many years ago I met a woman who had just divorced a government agent. She had also just had a radical mastectomy. She was afraid of her ex-husband, afraid for her life. That a woman should have to live (and die) in fear of this 'public servant' struck me as very wrong. Since then I have met a couple of other women who have broken off marriages with government agents. In each case the woman was diagnosed with cancer within a year of breaking up....

     "These women didn't get cancer because divorce and mortal fear are stressful. Emotional stress as a factor in carcinogenesis can account for a few percentage points at most. That is too small an influence to be reliably detectable. This is a cancer rate that is thousands of percent too high. Among other things, several attempts on my own life have confirmed to me that these cancers are intentional assaults...."

     At six-fifteen in the evening of Sunday, April 14, 2013, several of Kevin Harris' neighbors called 911 to report  that he was sprawled out on his front lawn. After the ambulance rolled up to the aluminum-wrapped house, Mr. Harris refused treatment. The paramedics drove off, and Mr. Harris disappeared inside his strange looking dwelling.

     Ninety minutes following the medical emergency, neighbors called 911 again to report a powerful explosion at the Harris house. Police arrived to find the front entrance to Harris' dwelling shattered from an explosion. The resident of the home lay dead in the doorway. Near his corpse Costa Mesa police officers saw an unexploded pipe bomb.

     Dozens of homes in the neighborhood were evacuated as FBI agents, the Orange County Bomb Squad, and a Huntington Beach hazardous materials team searched the Harris dwelling for additional bombs and explosive substances. They found three more pipe bombs on the premises.

     Because Kevin Harris was alone in the house when one of his pipe bombs detonated, the authorities have no way of knowing if he had killed himself intentionally, or had accidentally triggered one of his explosive devices. Perhaps he had mistakenly set-off a booby-trap of his own making.

     One of Mr. Harris' brothers told a reporter that Kevin was the youngest of five boys. Although all of his siblings were highly educated professionals, Kevin was the smartest one in the family. (His manifesto suggested that Kevin had been well-educated as well, possibly in the hard sciences.)

     The day after the Costa Mesa house explosion, terrorists detonated two bombs at the Boston Marathon. 

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