There is no telling what innocent words will trigger an evil person to act violently, as the murder of WDBJ-TV reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward by the racist Vester Lee Flanagan shows.
According to a report written by WDBJ news editor Greg Baldwin and quoted in the New York Post, Parker offended Flanagan’s sensibilities in 2012 when she was an intern by using absolutely innocent phrases. Baldwin wrote, “One was something about ‘swinging’ by some place; the other was out in the ‘field.’” Flanagan filed a complaint against her. For obvious reasons, Parker was never disciplined.
Trevor Fair, a cameraman at WDBJ, told the Post that Parker’s words were innocent, but Flanagan would interpret them as racist. Fair added, “We would say stuff like, ‘The reporter’s out in the field.’ And he would look at us and say, “What are you saying, cotton fields? That’s racist.”
Ryan Fuqua, a video editor at WDBJ, echoed Fair’s assessment, telling the Post, “That’s how that guy’s mind worked. Just crazy, left-field assumptions like that,” “[Those words are] just common, everyday talk. [But] that was his MO — to start s- -t. He was unstable. One time, after one of our live shots failed, he threw all his stuff down and ran into the woods for like 20 minutes.”
After murdering Parker and fleeing the scene, Flanagan posted, “Alison made racist comments… They hired her after that??”
Fair continued that Flanagan even assumed that a watermelon brought to the office by a manager was a racist action. Fair stated, “Of course, he thought that was racist. He was like, ‘You’re doing that because of me.’ No, the general manager brought in watermelon for the entire news team. He’s like, ‘Nope, this is out for me. You guys are calling me out because I’m black.’”
Flanagan filed a wrongful termination suit against the station, claiming he was discriminated against because he was gay and black. He wrote a 2014 letter to Judge Francis Burkart in which he stated, “The watermelon would appear, then disappear, then appear and disappear, then appear and disappear again only to appear again. This was not an innocent incident. The watermelon was placed in a strategic location.”
In a manifesto he wrote prior to the murders, Flanagan claimed he had experienced “nasty, racist things” while working at WDBJ
Fair also alleged that Flanagan called 7-11 racist because the chain sold watermelon-flavored Slurpees. Fair concluded, “This guy was a nightmare. Management’s worst nightmare.”
According to the Daily Mail, court papers reveal WDBJ conducted a performance review of Flanagan prior to his 2013 firing in which he scored 1 out of 5 in various categories judging his communication skills and his respect for colleagues.
Marco Iacoboni, a UCLA professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences and director of the school’s Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Laboratory, studies mirror neurons and told Scientific American in 2011 that individuals who act on their violent thoughts are not out-of-control. He posited, “What happens in these individuals is that their cognitive control mechanisms are deranged. Mind you, these individuals are not out-of-control, enraged people. They just use their cognitive control mechanisms in the service of a disturbed goal.”