Understanding Dorner


Christopher Dorner, ex-LAPD officer, sent the LAPD into hysteria with a threatening manifesto and a trail of assassinations of police officers. After nearly two weeks of mayhem, Dorner’s charred remains were recovered from a cabin many believe to be deliberately set on fire by police. The dramatic manhunt captured the nation’s attention and provoked a stormy debate about the LAPD’s conduct. The capitalist press selectively covered the events to avoid anything that might embarrass law enforcement. Confused leftists romanticized Dorner as a hero. But it is a meticulous and candid analysis—without bending reality for sentimentality or shortcuts—that is needed to appraise the aftermath of Dorner’s rampage.

LAPD’s “chickens coming home to roost”

Shortly after the assassination of American president John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X would infamously proclaim that Kennedy’s death was a case of “chickens coming home to roost.” He would later explain his commentary in an interview with Louis Lomax:

LOMAX: Is that the reasoning behind your remark after the assassination of President Kennedy? You are reported to have said that Kennedy’s death was an instance of “chickens coming home to roost.”

MALCOLM X: Yes, but let’s clear up what I said, I did not say that Kennedy’s death was a reason for rejoicing. That is not what I meant at all. Rather I meant that the death of Kennedy was the result of a long line of violent acts, the culmination of hate and suspicion and doubt in this country. You see, Lomax, this country has allowed white people to kill and brutalize those they don’t like. The assassination of Kennedy is a result of that way of life and thinking. The chickens came home to roost; that’s all there is to it. America—at the death of the President—just reaped what it had been sowing.

In the same way, it is plain to see that the LAPD—and the capitalist state as a whole—is no stranger to glamorized violence and celebrated chauvinism. The Los Angeles Police Department is a particularly nasty regime of brutality and bigotry, even when compared to its counterparts across the nation, perhaps being the most notoriously racist, abusive, and corrupt police department. It was over twenty years ago that the city was shaken by the 1992 riots in protest of the videotaped police beating of Rodney King and the judicial cover-up of the guilty officers. Several years later, the police department would again attract national attention with the exposure of overwhelming corruption within the Rampart division. Over seventy officers were accused of wrongdoing, and many cops were found on the payroll of organized crime. So scandalous was the corruption that the Rampart division was even implicated in the assassination of the hip-hop artist Notorious B.I.G. To this day, most of the Rampart division’s corruption has yet to be investigated fully. From the 1962 shootings of unarmed Nation of Islam activists, to the 2007 MacArthur Park rally suppression, it is clear that the LAPD is rotten to the core and is no friend of the poor and working class of Los Angeles.

The capitalist state, although democratic in appearance, ultimately exists to defend the capitalist system. While the military serves the needs of U.S. imperialism internationally, the local police departments are primarily used to defend the property of the capitalist class here at home. Defending the system requires the division of the working class along religious, gender, and racial lines.

In a city home to both Hollywood and Skid Row, the place of residency for a large immigrant population, where the plagues of poverty and drug addiction consume whole neighborhoods, this is obviously reflected in the racist reputation of the LAPD.

As a black LAPD officer, this was the culture that Christopher Dorner worked in every day. Even before his termination, Dorner had earned the ire of many in the LAPD for his intolerant attitude towards bigotry. One particular incident had him assaulting another officer for using racial slurs. A large section of his manifesto was a list of complaints of police brutality he observed. And the reason for his termination—the termination that he would use to justify his shooting spree—was reporting another officer for kicking a homeless man’s head, a man who was suffering from schizophrenia and dementia. His complaint was heard by a kangaroo court and he was fired for dishonesty.

His later terrorist actions were truly the LAPD’s “chickens coming home to roost,” not something to celebrate, not something to condone, but something to understand and place in context.

Christopher Dorner: A Revolutionary Role Model?

The bourgeois media, in their anxiety to protect the LAPD from controversy, have only reported half of the story. They vilified Dorner without focusing on what led him to commit such villainous crimes. But then there are those on the Left who reverse that mistake and go as far as to romanticize Dorner. They followed his killings with the glee of a moviegoer, without stopping to make any principled analysis of the bloodshed. In the eyes of Dorner’s admirers, the crimes of the LAPD justify the same violence in return. But even stacked against the entirety of the LAPD’s grisly history, the murders of the daughter and son-in-law of a former LAPD captain are inexcusable. To evaluate the merit of Dorner’s actions we must ask two questions: What were the political and personal motives of Christopher Dorner and what is the worth of the tactics he employed?


It would be incorrect to reduce Dorner to a one-man army intent on exacting justice from the LAPD for their systematic corruption and racism. In his own manifesto, Christopher Dorner identifies the foremost purpose in his actions: “That’s what this is about, my name. A man is nothing without his name.” By his own account, Christopher Dorner was driven to kill four and injure three to preserve his reputation. It wasn’t an act of revolt; it was an attempt to salvage his ego. While the LAPD was wrong to fire and publicly humiliate him, his response was just as contemptible. If we needed further proof of his self-absorption, a large portion of his manifesto was page after page of personal commentary on celebrities. The document that was written to define his actions was an appeal for attention from popular singers, actors, and politicians. The manifesto wasn’t so much of a political declaration as a demand for media attention to the name and ego of Christopher Dorner. He was playing out a Hollywood script of the macho renegade cop taking on his old department in the name of justice.

What were his political convictions? Dorner expressed support for both Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race in his manifesto. He also admired Barack Obama and considers the elder Bush and Bill Clinton to be his favorite presidents. Dorner’s spree wasn’t even inspired by a hatred for the police; he asked other departments to avoid confronting him. It is clear that not only were Christopher Dorner’s tactics indefensible, his politics were also a complete mess.

His motives aside, what of his actions? Christopher Dorner’s first shootings were the slaughter of Monica Quan and her fiance Keith Lawrence. Monica Quan was the daughter of an LAPD captain he blamed for his termination. This was an act of personal revenge, not political violence. Continuing with a handful of other attempted shootings, some successful, Dorner never deviated from his individual terrorist tactics. Even if he had revolutionary intentions—which was not the case—his tactics are completely alien to Marxism and deserve of no support from socialists. Individual terrorism inspires the most brutal forces of reaction and alienates the masses. It is an insufficient substitute for the mass struggle and only serves to discredit the struggle to change society (in this case, the struggle against racism and police corruption).

With counterrevolutionary politics, self-centered motives, and unwarranted tactics, Christopher Dorner is no friend to the proletarian revolution. Sowing false illusions in his story is irresponsible and reflects a pattern of unprincipled, opportunistic tail-ending much of the Left has fallen to in recent decades.

The Significance of Mental Health

An explanation of Christopher Dorner would be incomplete without looking at the question of mental health. America’s prided “rugged individualism” has left its citizens in virtual solitary confinement. We exist on isolated planes, economically and socially alienated from each other, always looking for our reflection in empty wishing wells. Bourgeois morality atomizes society and crushes the essence of the individual, which can only be fully realized through participation in collective social life. This is compounded by poor access to health care, the stigma of mental health, a lifestyle of poor nutrition and exercise, a culture of celebrated violence, the profit-driven pharmaceutical and medical industries, and so on.

America is experiencing a mental health epidemic. So it should come of no surprise that in his manifesto, Dorner reported a history of depression, depression that he felt bore directly on the shooting spree he was about to begin. This depression was detailed in what is a distorted cry for help: his request for a brain autopsy after his death. He felt this autopsy might reveal the biological impact of his mental state, drawing a profound parallel to the suicide notes of Charles Whitman. Whitman, like Dorner, was a military veteran who requested an autopsy in a note written to explain his shooting spree. Although Whitman’s case differs from Dorner’s in that personal motives were largely absent (most of Whitman’s violence was indiscriminate) and that a brain tumor was discovered after his death, both of their cases highlight a deep sickness in capitalist society.

What did Dorner identify as the source of his depression? His wrongful termination as an LAPD officer. Social and economic instability seem to have pushed Dorner over the edge, an all too common theme. Domestic violence, addiction, suicide, theft, murder; this is the legacy of society under the terror of capital. If we are to eradicate this dreadful culture and psychology we must take rational, democratic control over the economy that we, the workers, make possible. There is no safety under capitalism.

The Response of the LAPD

The LAPD, having become the prime target for the first time, reacted with manic violence. Law enforcement made unconcealed attempts to silence Dorner before he could see a grand jury, eventually succeeding. In the frenzy of the LAPD dragnet, police officers opened fire without warning on civilian vehicles in two separate occasions. The two trucks they mistook for Dorner’s getaway car shared neither the color nor make of Dorner’s truck. Days later, the police had finally trapped Dorner in a ski lodge cabin. What happened afterwards was a state-coordinated extrajudicial execution. Police chose to burn Dorner alive over arresting him. The actions of the San Bernardino Sheriffs and the LAPD can be partly blamed on the hysteria of West Coast law enforcement at the time. The police were thrust into a defensive fit of gunfire and paranoia.

Public Opinion

The larger response to Christopher Dorner was decisively split on a class basis. Businesses, wealthy philanthropists, and law enforcement organizations all chipped in for the largest bounty ever offered in the region. But public opinion wasn’t so sympathetic to the plight of the LAPD. Facebook groups in support of Dorner began to generate tens of thousands of likes. On any given online article about Dorner, the comments were overwhelmingly in favor of him. And after his death, a small protest was held outside LAPD headquarters in support of Dorner. But Dorner’s popularity can not be attributed to his tactics. The pro-Dorner protestors themselves stressed that they disagreed with his actions; they were there angered by LAPD conduct and corruption. Dorner’s support was not due to his unprincipled individual terrorism, but in spite of it.

The attention of the nation was drawn to law enforcement at its weakest moment. The blue line was shattered. An LAPD sergeant and a former LAPD officer both stepped forward, separately, to confirm Dorner’s claims of department-wide racism to the press. And finally even LAPD Chief Charlie Beck would reopen the case that led to Dorner’s termination. This was only a maneuver for the LAPD to save face, but it represents something much more significant—the actions of an unstable gunman had put the reputation of one of the largest police departments in the nation in question.

Who is Christopher Dorner?

Everyone is in a rush to tell you who Christopher Dorner is. “He is a madman,” “he is Django Unchained in real life!,” “he is why we need gun control,” “he is why we need guns!” However virtuous challenging the LAPD’s reign of terror may be, Dorner’s unprincipled and individualist acts were indefensible. But to dismiss Dorner would be as mistaken as romanticizing him. As Marxists, we cannot be prone to sentimentality or spite; a dialectical and scientific understanding of events is fundamental. Dorner didn’t drop from the sky with a manifesto and an assault rifle; his wrath was kindled in the corruption of the LAPD, his violence unchecked in a culture of alienation, even his weapons training was the work of imperialism. He is the mirror image of the LAPD, a reverse replica. Every gory act of violence exposes an equally macabre reality—the reality of an obsolete order and the gratuitous violence it craves. Shooting sprees stem from the same source as shopping sprees. Our great historic task is to see the destruction of the world that creates such carnage. Humanity has lingered too long in an age of barbarism and brutality. Capitalism’s terror of bigotry and repression must be stopped.

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