Mike Rosen: Granby madman no hero

By Mike Rosen, guest column
Mike Rosen (The Denver Post)

(Originally published June 24, 2004 in the Sky-Hi News)

“Gadflies feel for Granby attacker.”

So proclaimed a recent headline in The Denver Post. To drive home the point, two subheads intoned: “Rage understood” and “Local critics say although they may not agree with his actions, they can empathize with his frustration.” The story’s lead proceeded to paint Marvin Heemeyer as some kind of backwoods folk hero.

I wonder how many of his sympathizers would feel the same way if it were their property bulldozed. Or if one of Heemeyer bullets had succeeded in exploding the propane tanks he fired at, killing their spouse or child in the process.

Personally, I’m pickier about my heroes. I don’t romanticize rampaging, suicidal psychotics. It was only sheer luck that one was killed. Heemeyer’s deranged behavior was only different in degree and no more justified than that of the 9/11 al-Qaeda terrorists or Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski.

When asked, point blank, if they agreed that his actions were unjustified, some Heemeyer apologists resort to the Yeah But Gambit: “Yeah, he was wrong, but…”

A yeah but isn’t really a “yeah,” it’s usually a convoluted “no.”

One such equivocator described Heemeyer as “a man done wrong who done wrong in return.” By this twisted reasoning, the Columbine killer struck a commemorative blow for antisocial, high school misanthropes everywhere. Heemeyer was flat out wrong — period! Our compact with fellow citizens in this constitutional republic includes the understanding that we can’t all have our own way all of the time.

So Heemeyer was irritated and frustrated over some public policy beefs with town officials, businessmen and journalists. My, how unusual. He didn’t like the construction of a concrete plant next to his muffler shop. This is called NIMBY dispute: “Not in my backyard.”

It happens every day.

If it were built in some other place, someone else might have been unhappy. Welcome to life. He fought it through civic channels and lost. His remaining options were to grin and bear it or sell the business. He picked the latter and got $400,000 from a buyer. But that didn’t satisfy him. He wanted revenge. So he committed the remainder of his tortured life to a vendetta against his “enemies,” building a makeshift tank as his instrument of destruction — his own included.

The rest is bizarre and tragic history.

This is not the stuff of historic injustice. It’s not on par with American revolutionaries rebelling against the tyranny of King George, a Civil War fought to end slavery, or the Holocaust. It’s a petty squabble taken to absurd lengths by a madman.

Incidentally, simply because Heemeyer didn’t like the outcome of a dispute to which he was a party, that doesn’t make it, objectively, an injustice. But even if it were, injustices — in one form or another — are an inevitable reality of life. From bad calls in a basketball game, to the boss’s son beating you out of a well-deserved promotion, to zoning decisions.

Two-year-olds throw temper tantrums when they don’t get their way. Rational, civilized adults get on with their lives.

In his defense, Heemeyer empathizers have invoked everything from the arrogance of public officials to meddlesome homeowners associations. I won’t hold my breath for the coming of a society in which arrogance will be forever removed from the manner of public officials and bureaucrats. Government is an imperfect institution populated by imperfect beings. We tolerate it only because it’s better than the alternative: anarchy.

If Heemeyer weren’t the rare, demented exception, every Department of Motor Vehicles office in the country would have been long since bulldozed by irate citizens. If ever a man were treated unjustly by a homeowners association, it was Jerry Seinfeld’s father at the hands of the autocrats who ran the De Boca Vista HOA. But Morty was a mensch — he didn’t armor plate his Cadillac and lay waste to the neighborhood, he rolled with the punches.

We tolerate imperfect homeowners associations’ restrictive covenants and imperious board members because it’s better than the alternative of leaving our next-door neighbor free to raise pigs in his front yard or paint his house shocking pink. Heemeyer was a violent, self-style democracy of one.

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