Photo Credit: Mark St George / Rex Features via AP
The man accused of killing four people, taking hostages, carjacking and having multiple shootouts with police is being lauded as a hero by thousands coming to his defense on Facebook and Twitter. An international weeklong search for Christopher Dorner, former Los Angeles police officer and Iraq war veteran, came to a violent end on Tuesday in a police shootout and cabin fire in Big Bear, Calif.
iVillage asked psychiatrists and psychologists what exactly is behind such staunch support of a killer. “People root for Dorner because he’s seen as the underdog taking on police corruption and standing up for truth and justice,” says Carole Lieberman, M.D., a Beverly Hills forensic psychiatrist. The fact that Dorner was willing to sacrifice his life in order to call attention to perceived injustices only raises his martyr status.
It’s possible that the more than 25,000 fans of two Facebook pages -- “We Stand with Chris Dorner" and "We Are All Chris Dorner” -- don’t view their actions as being insensitive to the victims and their families. Instead, they’re most likely picking and choosing the facts that sustain their convictions. “The key to understanding this outpouring of support is a psychological concept called confirmation bias that can develop among sympathizers,” says Robert Epstein, Ph.D., senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology in Vista, Calif. Put simply, people see Dorner as a wronged man out for justice, while ignoring the fact that he murdered four people. Some have said something along the lines of 'Dorner shouldn't have killed innocent people, but…'
In his online manifesto, Dorner detailed why he was targeting cops who were involved in his firing from the police force in 2008, as well as other officers who insulted him with racial slurs. Dorner believed he was wrongfully terminated after reporting a fellow officer for using excessive force during an arrest. He also claimed that the LAPD’s actions against him led to his eventual honorable discharge as a lieutenant from the U.S. Navy Reserve this month. Reports now suggest that Dorner may indeed have been a victim of police retaliation -- another reason so many people are in his corner. Many can identify with what it feels like to be mistreated. “Everyone has fantasies of revenge, but most of us are able to look at the consequences and override those impulses,” says Atlanta psychologist Paula Bloom, Psy.D. Like a scene from a Hollywood action movie, Dorner vowed to get revenge and then actually went after the people he believed had wronged him.
“It was like ‘Tune in tomorrow to see what happens next,’” says Lieberman. Dorner was the star of a frightening live-action show -- in some eyes as the villain, and others, the hero. And the drama hasn’t yet ended. The LAPD says it plans to reopen the investigation that led to Dorner’s dismissal. No doubt his defenders will keep tuning in to see if Dorner will somehow be vindicated, not thinking of the four victims and their families left in his wake.