TUCSON, Ariz. — Soften the political tone: that’s been the message from lawmakers from across the nation since a gunman tried to assassinate an Arizona congresswoman and killed six people after posting confusing online rants about his views.
Yet as an image of the suspected shooter emerges, friends and online ramblings paint a picture of a troubled young man whose beliefs are unclear.
Some Democrats have suggested 22-year-old Jared Loughner was motivated by anti-government language from the tea party movement and rabble-rousing rhetoric from conservative figures such as Sarah Palin. The House temporarily postponed the debate over repealing the health care law.
But tea party activists in the state said the man identified as the suspect did not appear on mailing lists and did not appear to have attended any events in the state.
"I don’t think his ideology is anything coherent," said Trent Humphries, co-founder of the Tucson Tea Party. "I just think he was a very, very disturbed individual."
The tragedy at a Tucson shopping mall has left behind politically tricky ground for both parties, which are maneuvering carefully as details from the shooting emerge.
The attack occurred after a turbulent political season marked by tea party energy that that helped return control of the House to Republicans and bolstered conservative ranks around the nation. Arizona has been a hotbed of political strife, particularly over its tough illegal immigration law.
Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is a moderate Democrat who narrowly won re-election in November against a tea party-backed candidate who campaigned against the health care law. The suspected shooter registered as an independent in 2006, and he voted in the November 2008 presidential election, according to the secretary of state.
At an event about three years ago, Giffords took a question from Loughner: "What is government if words have no meaning?"
Loughner was angry about her response — she read the question and had nothing to say, according to two of his high school friends who spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they wanted to avoid the publicity surrounding the case.
Steven Cates, who attended an advanced poetry writing class with Loughner at Pima Community College last spring, said he didn’t recall Loughner talking about politics.
"He didn’t seem very interested in politics. Whatever politics were brought up in class, he seemed to tune it out," Cates said.
According to his cryptic Web postings, Loughner feared he was the target of government surveillance and considered police authority unconstitutional. He railed against the Education Department and questions the value of U.S. currency not backed by gold or silver.
"I can’t trust the current government," he wrote in one video posted online, one of several expressing deep suspicion of authority. "The government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling the grammar."
Elsewhere, Loughner lists favorite books including "Mein Kampf" and "The Communist Manifesto," along with two novels about control of the masses, "Animal Farm" and "Brave New World."
The postings suggest Loughner is "a person who doesn’t have a very concrete ideology," said Frederic L. Solop, chair of the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University. "I don’t see any reflection of a political party or a specific set of ideas."
An official familiar with the investigation said local authorities are looking at a possible connection between Loughner and an online group known for its anti-government rhetoric. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.
The anti-government organization American Renaissance is connected to the white supremacist New Century Foundation, according to an analysis by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based group that tracks hate crimes.
The group’s leaders said in a posting on their website that Loughner never subscribed to their magazine, registered for any of the group’s conferences or visited their Internet site.
One of the high school friends who spoke on condition of anonymity paused when asked if he considered Loughner a Republican or Democrat.
"Is there a radical party? It went beyond that, it wasn’t left or right," the friend said.
Associated Press writers Justin Pritchard in Tucson, Ariz. and Eileen Sullivan in Washington contributed to this report