If the charges leveled against Christopher Dorner are true, the brief but theatrical saga of the cop-turned-vengeful-murderer began on Super Bowl Sunday. That's when Dorner allegedly sneaked into an apartment-complex parking garage in Irvine, California—"America's safest city"—and shot Monica Quan and her fiancé, Keith Lawrence, as they sat in their new white Kia.
Dorner emerged into the rest of our lives the way so many things do nowadays: on Facebook. Not long after allegedly killing Quan and Lawrence, the ex-LAPD now-fugitive posted to his Facebook page a rambling, 7,000-word manifesto that, among other things, professed his plan to kill cops, and railed against the problems of self-discipline in the black community. About a week later, on Wednesday, the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department said in a press conference that they were officially closing the investigation into Dorner, and yesterday police confirmed that the charred, mangled remains pulled from a burned Angelus Oaks cabin were those of the 33-year-old, who once stood six feet tall and weighed 270 pounds.
In retrospect, it actually makes perfect sense that Dorner presented himself and his plans to the world via Facebook. Facebook, a company that, like Apple, has become synonymous with what people mean when they say "technology," was the perfect launching point for what would soon become a crime drama littered with the digital flotsam and jetsam of our increasingly electronic world. In a way, this was our first 21st Century manhunt, and watching it was equal parts exciting and revolting.
Almost immediately after Dorner's manifesto started to make its way around the internet, from Gawker to local LA news stations to RapGenius (yeesh), a rivalry was born that ended up following the Dorner story through to the very end-and even beyond. As California police teamed up to square off with Dorner late last week, America found itself divided between those who supported Dorner and those who vilified him. There were those who wrote Dorner off as little more than a cold-blooded madman, of course, but the eccentricities professed in his manifesto-a love for both George W. Bush and President Obama-also made him a sympathetic character for others. What's more, his characterization of the LAPD as a crooked hive of thugs resonated with the many Americans who have long felt aggrieved by the seeming invincibility of bad police officers, a problem that's always been particularly pronounced in California.
There used to be a time not long ago when glorifying a man who had made it his goal to go to war with police officers and their families might have found a person shunned by polite society, especially in a post-9/11 world so fearful of terrorism. Those days are gone. Facebook groups with names like "I Support Christopher Jordan Dorner" and "We Are All Chris Dorner" sprang up literally overnight. "Christopher Dorner Official," which describes Dorner as "a man of integrity and honor," has over 16,000 likes as of today. Other Facebook users made pages to mock Dorner's enemies, like LAPD Sergeant Teresa Evans, the woman Dorner had accused of brutality before being fired. One of those pages reads, "[Evans is a] Caucasian female police officer known to use excessive force. … She is indirectly responsible for the deaths of three people."
On Twitter, people of all kinds bonded over hashtags like #teamdorner, retweeting one another and laughing at dead police, much to the consternation of Twitter conservatives who immediately labeled Dorner, a self-professed fan of gun control and gay rights, a "liberal."
It wasn't just individuals supporting Dorner on Twitter. Anonymous joined in also:
After Dorner had successfully eluded police for three days, it was rumored that cops were sending drones outfitted with thermal-imaging systems to find him, thereby making the manhunt for Dorner as technologically driven as the online fracas over whether he was a righteous and good person. The drone stories were eventually discovered to be wild exaggerations, if not outright lies, but not before they'd made their way around the internet via Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook, adding to the snowballing mythology surrounding the Dorner tale.
The actual police work that led to Dorner's grisly conclusion was a lot less fanciful and Orwellian. After crashing his car in the resort town of Big Bear, Dorner hoofed it for about 20 miles to the mountain town of Angelus Oaks, where he invaded a vacant cabin last Friday. When the cabin's owners, Karen and Jim Reynolds, returned on Tuesday, Dorner tied them up and put pillowcases over their heads before taking their purple Nissan. After crashing the Nissan into a snowbank, Dorner carjacked a pickup truck from a Boy Scout leader, but by then it was too late.
You can read everything about Christopher Dorner's final moments—the shootouts, the tear gas, the burning cabin conspiracy theories—in thousands of places online by now, probably tens of thousands. What you can no longer do is watch those moments play out live before your eyes, as millions did on Tuesday. Thanks to things like livestreams from news chopper cameras and up-to-the-minute tweets, the world had a front-row seat to Dorner's fiery downfall in real time. We saw gun battles unfold in our browsers, we bore witness to SWAT officers sneaking up to the cabin's windows to shoot through them, we watched green tear gas swirl and dissipate into the sky. At one point the San Bernardino Sheriff's office asked journalists to stop tweeting all they knew about the cabin raid for fear that Dorner would be tipped off to their secret plans.
Eventually, we watched a cabin burn down around Chris Dorner's body, which may or may not have already been dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Dorner's corpse would be so damaged from the flames that police couldn't be certain it was him until two days later, after crosschecking DNA and dental records.
Within hours after the cabin had turned to embers, 4chan users had conspired to make the "Chris Dorner's Last Stand" videogame, a first-person shooter in which the player runs around a remote cabin slaughtering police officers and gathering buckets of fried chicken.
The standard way to end these sorts of observations is by complaining about technological advancement as if it's somehow eroding civilized society. It would be easy to rail against the fact that we now live in world in which you can watch a killer present himself on Facebook, watch that same killer ride a wave of support via Twitter and blogs, and then watch that killer die in a fire—and all in less than week, without ever having to leave your computer. But that forgets that American Civil War battles and public lynchings were once spectator sports. Puritans like to pretend that everyone born hundreds of years ago was so much more moral and virtuous than us technophiles now, but if Benjamin Franklin had been given the opportunity to watch Christopher Dorner shooting at police officers with a silenced sniper rifle from a cabin stronghold, I have to think he'd have been right alongside the scores of people doing so on Tuesday.
The only question now is where we can go from here. Our capabilities and gadgets improved so gradually that it seems as if hardly anyone noticed we just got unprecedented and immediate access into the life and death of a fugitive. It came so naturally that, presumably, it will come naturally when all homicidal maniacs begin disseminating their intentions (and favorite movies) on social media before going on the warpath, or when we watch video footage from the first person to commit a murder and record it with their Google glasses, or when we watch the first cop to film himself shooting the life from a criminal with a GoPro mounted to his gun barrel. These sorts of things may not soon be the "norm" per se, but they're not outside the realm of possibility either, as this past week has showed us.
Almost 18 years ago, another man with a murderous distaste for authority published a manifesto in the Washington Post, this one even longer than Dorner's at 35,000 words. That man was Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, and unlike Dorner, he had but one true enemy: the endless march of technology. He wrote:
Imagine an alcoholic sitting with a barrel of wine in front of him. Suppose he starts saying to himself, "Wine isn't bad for you if used in moderation. Why, they say small amounts of wine are even good for you! It won't do me any harm if I take just one little drink.... " Well you know what is going to happen. Never forget that the human race with technology is just like an alcoholic with a barrel of wine.