Mickel's parents think their son is like Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber. Guilty, but sick.
Then there's the other disturbing possibility: What if, as Andrew Mickel maintains, he is sane, is exercising his free will, is fighting for a cause he believes in, until the bitter end? Like another infamous defendant, Timothy McVeigh. Only in Mickel's case, it is a jihad from the far left.
Andrew Mickel, accused of killing California police officer David Mobilio, says he incorporated as "Proud and Insolent Youth."
(Jim Cole -- AP)
If you are a nice, normal, decent mom and dad, and your son claims he assassinated a police officer in a revolt against multinational corporations -- what do you do?
Desperate, the Mickels sought help and advice from one of the few people who share their experience: the Unabomber's brother, who like the Mickels, turned in his family member to the authorities.
As Karen and Stan Mickel, churchgoing college professors, saw it, their son had somehow "gone Kaczynski."
"I just see these remarkable, these eerie, similarities between the two cases," says David Kaczynski, the brother of Ted the Unabomber, who is serving four life terms in a maximum-security federal prison after pleading guilty to mail bombings -- fueled by his hatred of technology and psychiatry -- that killed three people and maimed two. (Ted Kaczynski agreed to a plea bargain to save himself from a possible death sentence after he fought to represent himself and deny his lawyers the opportunity to present evidence that he was a paranoid schizophrenic. David Kaczynski is now an anti-death penalty advocate.)
Mickel's manifesto shares with the Unabomber's a persecuted, elaborate grandiosity, as well as heroic rhetoric ("if this be treason, make the most of it") and a call to revolution ("Teenagers! Smash it while your youth still helps you to see it!").
And like Kaczynski, who got the New York Times and The Washington Post to print his manifesto, Mickel used the media: in his case, cyberspace.
"It's almost crazy," David Kaczynski says. "That this is justice and that you have here a mentally ill defendant who refuses to let the most pertinent information be presented."
And crazy is what this case is about, at least to the defendant's distraught parents.
But seen another way, as the prosecutors do, Mickel -- with his stubborn stoicism, his cold calculation, his military training, his anti-government diatribes -- seems a cousin to McVeigh. Mickel sees himself as the vanguard of revolution. McVeigh thought the same thing. It is as if Mickel, in his thinking, had gone so far to the fringe left that he started to look a lot like the fringe right.
In his opening statement to the jury, the Associated Press reported that Mickel said, "I want to tell you that I did ambush and kill David Mobilio." The police officer's widow was weeping in the courtroom. Mickel did not express remorse. He has pled not guilty.
Instead, according to the Associated Press, Mickel held up a ball that was black on one side, white on the other and told jurors they were getting only one side of the story. He promised to provide his side during the trial. Mickel is scheduled to begin his defense on Tuesday. "I'm going to have to tell you that stuff later," he told the jury. "I don't have a sound-bite defense."
A Torrent on the Web
In the days after his manifesto showed up online, the Independent Media Center sites where it appeared were alive with messages debating the act.
A writer in Seattle urged "solidarity with cop killers" and celebrated that "another one bites the dust." A poster in Washington, D.C., suggested that Mickel, with his military service, might be a government "agent provocateur" engaged in "a disinformation ploy" to discredit the aims of the left. Somebody in Oregon wrote, "I'm not worried about the dead cop -- [expletive] him." Instead, the message continued, "I'm worried about playing into their hands. Shooting that cop will be remembered as the first major step in publicly criminalizing anti-corporate activism."
Other voices emerged. "So now he's some kind of martyr? He's a cold-blooded murdering coward," wrote one from Seattle. Someone else worried that the independent media sites, which are open forums and generally take a left-leaning stand against the Iraq war, the Bush administration and excesses of global corporate capitalism, was serving as a kind of "incubator . . . a magnet for deranged losers."
The angry rhetoric -- the applause for cop-killing -- harks back to the days when anti-government militias and McVeigh arose from the far-right fringe. Some of Mickel's friends suspect he entered an echo chamber of anti-government talk and that it served as an outlet for some kind of violent urge growing inside him.
In cases of sensational crimes, friends and families of killers try to understand what happened by mining the past for telling signs. "I don't want to pretend to understand how anyone would do something like this," says Griffin House, a lifelong friend of Mickel and now a musician who lives in Nashville. "It's just scary to think how far he went over the edge, how deep he got into it."