In the past two weeks, cops in Texas and Louisiana have been ambushed, shot and killed by black men who reportedly were tired of the senseless killings of unarmed black men, women and children by police. I say "reportedly" because we won't ever know. Both men in question—Micah Xavier Johnson, 25, and Gavin Long, 29—were killed by police during their violent rampages, so their true motives died with them.
I can say this: These men are not leaders of a black movement or even outliers. They are actually more American than America would care to admit. America has a history of violence, and these men were not only following in America's bloody tradition; they were schooled in it. These homegrown terrorists were American-born, American-raised and, more importantly, American-trained. Both men were force-fed the military testosterone diet of how to kill swiftly.
On July 7, Johnson moved with "tactile precision" (as several officers would note after the shooting) during his rampage in Dallas that left five officers dead and nine injured. Later it was uncovered that Johnson had served six years in the Army Reserve. On Sunday, Long opened fire on Baton Rouge, La., officers, killing three and injuring three more.
Long joined the Marine Corps in 2008. He was deployed to Iraq and lived in California and Japan before being discharged at the rank of sergeant in 2010. He received a handful of awards, including the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, CNN reports.
Johnson and Long not only shared a military connection but were both soured by ill-fated doctrine that had them believing the enemy was the police. In short, Johnson and Long were trained soldiers with no war.
The issues that Johnson and Long may have faced before the shootings were twofold: Statistically, African-American men are less likely than any other group to seek professional mental-health treatment. Add to that the bravado of the armed forces, and you have two men who most likely needed help but were never going to get it.
"They are all very intelligent people. They've been very well trained to do their job. They know how to do their job, which is to take out the enemy," Marianne Horne, a professional counselor who has worked with veterans for years, told WFAA.
"When they go into the military, the military tears them down and breaks them apart and then rebuilds them into soldiers, killing machines," Horne said. "If they don't get the right kind of treatment, the right kind of counseling, they are going to have problems."
According to DoSomething.org, 30 percent of previously deployed soldiers develop mental problems within three to four months of coming home. It's common for those who return home from war to suffer from some form of post-traumatic stress syndrome or depressive behaviors.
Neither Johnson nor Long had been formally diagnosed with mental illness before his death, but the trail left behind shows that both men had become increasingly paranoid.
Johnson left the Army around April 2015 amid sexual harassment charges made by a fellow soldier who also recommended that he get mental-health counseling. Bradford Glendening, a military attorney who served as Johnson's advocate during the sexual harassment proceedings, told the Dallas Morning News that after the woman's complaint, Johnson began losing friends. Johnson became isolated and began spending large amounts of time alone.
"In Afghanistan, you're constantly on high alert and constantly have to watch your back," one of the men who served with Johnson told the Morning News. "To come back and have to adjust—just like that, with the snap of a finger—is hard. Some people just didn't adjust."
The Dallas Morning News notes that Johnson's mother told The Blaze that the bubbly son she sent to the Army didn't return home.
"He was here at the house," his mother said. "Or wherever he was, he was by himself."
While Long's story is still unfolding, before Sunday's attack, he posted several video diaries on YouTube in which his tone becomes more and more paranoid. On July 8, Long sent an email to several people, including online radio show host Lance Scurvin, noting what he wanted to be remembered should "anything happen" to him.
"I just want everyone to know that if anything may happen to me or with me, I am NOT affiliated with anybody, any group, nationality, association, religion, corporation, business, etc.," the email read. He would express the same sentiment in a YouTube video posted the same day.
On Sunday's morning, Long's 29th birthday, he dressed in all black and, carrying an assault rifle, gunned down three police officers in Baton Rouge.
The United States' palms are bloody. They have been since the nation's inception. To act as if the only wars that can be waged are the agreed-upon wars voted on by Congress is shortsighted at best.
These men were taught how to kill efficiently. They were given trainings and commands, and then released into civilian life with a clear and definable skill. This is what happens when trained soldiers who don't get the mental-health support they need re-enter civilian life. This is what happens when trained soldiers are given back to the world, changed, without a war to fight.