One of the almost universal observations of the Virginia Tech shooter is that his presence provoked fear. This fear combined with observations of his writings for class resulted in his forced hospitalization because he was a danger to others: Yet his quick release suggested the failure of the mental health system to diagnose his violent capacity.

There are scary people out there.

Ironically, I’m not talking about the Columbine killers, who seemed to be living in a childish immature fantasy world rather than being evil. I’m talking about the Chos, and the suicide bombers, who kill systematically out of hatred.

These people are scary. One might say evil. We docs see it in patients who frighten us, or sometimes when we see their partners. We go to do an exam on a woman, and find a man insisting he stay. Sometimes it is just for emotional support, and we sense the warmth and concern. But othertimes, we sense someone who wants complete control of the patient, usually a woman. These types are dangerous, and often these are the women who have to seek help from a woman’s shelter or have them stay with family members to protect them, because they are at risk for harm or death from the controlling partner.

The clue is our own sense of fear. In psychiatry, the emotional reaction to a person is called countertransference, and  part of psychiatric training is to recognize it for two reasons: One, it is a clue to the diagnosis, and two because to treat the person you have to work past the emotional reaction.

The “fear factor” is an important clue, and those who go around asking for “logical” reasons often ignore that in a trained observer, it is a valid observation.

Yet in the case of the Virginia Tech shooter, this was ignored. Why? Well, imagine going to court and they asked you: Why did you hospitalize him against his will? And you answered: He scared me. You would be labled as a bigot.

Or imagine that a man going through airport security scared you. If you pull him aside, you could be sued, so you let him through. And that scary man was Mohammed Atta, who flew one of the planes on September 11. And the shoe bomber. And several hijackers who were identified on a “dry run” by not only the stewardesses but by actor James Wood a week before 9-11.

Because of political correctness, people died.

That is why I was astonished to see that the popular website BoingBoing featured a link to an interview with a security expert who said that we should stop the nonsense of fair screening and go back to hiring cops and letting them figure out who to screen.

The taboo against “profiling” doesn’t really mean that we are safer: It means that people whose behavior or demeanor raise questions in those around them might not be properly screened because they were members of a suspicious group.
That is the scary part of the “Flying Immans” case: These men, through their demeanor and their actions (and according to one Arab speaking passenger, their discussion) were removed from a plane…but are suing not only the airline but the passengers involved for being anti Arab.

So, in order to justify searching the scary, those in charge of security have to do “dry runs” on innocent people.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician who lives in the Philippines. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket. 

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