Last evening, about two miles south of the office building where I work, a crazy guy named John Patrick Bedell opened fire at the Pentagon Metro station, wounding two officers before being killed by return fire. While police are still sorting through his motives, bloggers are combing through the trail of his Internet activity. One thing we know already: Bedell was a contributor to Wikipedia.
The website Media Elites was the first to locate his user account, which has since been suspended (reason given: “User is deceased”). The user page for Bedell’s account has been shielded from public viewing; no public explanation was given, but this is almost certainly to prevent Wikipedia from becoming a posthumous soapbox for Bedell’s views (Wikipedia tolerates unorthodox beliefs, but not when they become the impetus for attempted murder). However, Media Elites thought to copy and republish the full text before Wikipedia’s administrators stepped in. Here is an excerpt:
I apologize for the graphic content of some of my contributions, but detailed evidence is sometimes necessary to address important matters. I am very disturbed by the fact that Col. Sabow’s civilian superiors and their successors have been able to continue their narco-mercantilism. For historical comparison, I might resemble the odd German still complaining about the murders of the Night of the Long Knives in 1938(?). Of course, Wikipedia didn’t exist in 1938!
- As declared in his former User page, Bedell was focused on adding information related to the late Marine Col. James Sabow, whose apparent suicide is apparently believed by conspiracy theorists (which Bedell clearly was) to have been a murder covered up by the U.S. government. Bedell created an article about Sabow on more than one occasion. Said page was deleted on more than one occasion — the deletion debates are still available, here and here — partly for containing original research.
- Bedell was an occasional but occasionally very active editor. His edits span 2006 to 2009, although he did not edit (at least from this account) even a single time during 2008. While much of his activity was related to advancing his views, this was not the sum of his activity. His first contribution was in November 2006 with a minor edit to the Bureaucracy article. His last was in August 2009, creating a redirect from one page to another, about the company Inslaw Inc.
- Bedell was familiar with Wikipedia conventions, probably as a consequence of being thwarted in his efforts by other editors. Rather than giving up, Bedell studied up on the community, making for what I can best describe as sophisticated weirdness. Here he is commenting on an obscure project page, making a “confession” that only kind of makes sense. Here he is on Jimmy Wales’ Talk page, challenging Wikipedia to approve his Sabow article and “create an environment where wikitruth, wikijustice, and wikilove may prevail.”
- Bedell joined a few subcommunities within Wikipedia’s ranks. He listed himself as a member of WikiProject Military History and WikiProject Molecular and Cellular Biology.
- Many of his edits were minor changes, constructive in nature, frequently on esoteric or offbeat topics: Khalistan movement, Basilar skull fracture, Human penis size, Joseph Stalin, David Icke, Vince Foster and so on.
- Although his articles on Sabow were deleted twice in February 2007, other articles that he created remain, most prolifically about U.S. government and military officials. Some of these include William G. Thrash, Peter D. Williams, Roger E. Combs and Tony L. Cothron. The article Air Intelligence Officer is also his. In February 2007 — by far his greatest period of activity, he created the article September 11 demolitions. It has since been redirected to World Trade Center controlled demolition conspiracy theories.
While political bloggers argue over whether Bedell was a member of the far-left or the far-right, such arguments are really less about Bedell and more about the participants. As Gawker put it, Bedell was “clearly intelligent” but “nonetheless a certifiable wackjob”.
Likewise, I can imagine some who would depict Bedell as a typically obsessive Wikipedian, although as Media Elites notes, his Internet activity included Facebook, YouTube and Amazon, although it seems not Twitter. Believe me, I have known obsessive Wikipedians, just as I have known people on the far-left and far-right, and they haven’t shot anybody. Bedell’s participation in Wikipedia was as incidental as his politics; the content of his madness and platform for its expression are less important than the fact of it.
Update: It should come as no surprise, now John Patrick Bedell is the subject of a Wikipedia article himself.