The Curious Case of Christopher Dorner

The depressed individual’s complaint that Nothing
is possible can only occur in a society which
believes that Nothing is impossible.

Byung-Chul Han


Two weeks ago, a former LAPD officer publicly detailed the corruption and racism within the Los Angeles Police Department. He joined Joe Biden and others in calling for an assault weapons ban. He came out in support of gay marriage. He praised Chris Christie, Hillary Clinton, and a host of celebrities. And he shot and killed four people, two of them civilians.

I never had the opportunity to have a family of my own, I’m terminating yours.
Christopher Dorner

Christopher Dorner’s shooting spree began in the first week of February. On Sunday, Feb. 3, Dorner murdered Monica Quan and her fiancé, Keith Lawrence. Quan was the daughter of former LAPD captain Randy Quan, whom Dorner named as one of his targets in a manifesto posted to Facebook on Monday. In that twenty-three-page rant, Dorner told the elder Quan and his other targets, “I never had the opportunity to have a family of my own, I’m terminating yours.” Dorner warned that police officers should stay out of his way, and on Thursday, he shot and injured a Corona police officer who had been pursuing him. Minutes later he shot two Riverside police officers, killing one and seriously injuring the other. That day Dorner abandoned his truck near Big Bear Lake, apparently disappearing into the San Bernardino Mountains.

In response, authorities deployed a drone to locate (but, reportedly, not to kill) the ex-cop, and announced a record $1 million reward for information leading to Dorner’s capture. Based on tips received, police raided a Lowe’s in Northridge on Sunday and a hotel in Tijuana on Monday night. On Tuesday, Feb. 12, authorities cornered Dorner in a cabin not far from where his burned-out truck was found. During the standoff with police, Dorner shot two San Bernardino deputies, killing one.

Then authorities set up a three-mile perimeter around the cabin, and asked news helicopters to stop broadcasting live coverage of the standoff. Police launched pyrotechnic devices called “burners” into the cabin, starting a fire that left behind little more than a chimney and a few scattered bricks. Authorities did not try to put out the fire, and they claimed it was not set on purpose. (Yet moments before launching burners into the cabin, officers can be heard on police scanners shouting “Fucking burn this motherfucker.”) That night, authorities recovered a charred body from the cabin, which was confirmed to be Dorner’s on Thursday. He’d died of a gunshot wound, apparently self-inflicted.

Dorner is the product of a system meant to protect the public, not terrorize it.

Dorner cloaked his campaign of vengeance in the rhetoric of reform and reason. He claimed he’d been wrongfully terminated by the LAPD for filing a false report (in which he alleged that his training officer, Teresa Evans, used excessive force on a mentally ill suspect.) He portrayed himself as the victim of a corrupt police department that punishes whistleblowers and rewards racist and abusive cops. In his manifesto, he called his actions “a necessary evil that I do not enjoy but must partake and complete for substantial change to occur within the LAPD and reclaim my name.” (The LAPD has since announced they will reopen the case that led to Dorner’s termination.)

Dorner’s tale of wrongful conviction may be suspect (he filed his report the day after Evans submitted a performance review critical of Dorner.) But the LAPD’s history of corruption and racism casts Dorner, who was black, as a compelling, vaguely sympathetic antihero. His story reads like the synopsis of a gritty new Tarantino movie: a sharpshooting ex-cop sets out to take revenge on a corrupt, racist system that, in his eyes, has robbed him of his family, his career, and his name. This dark action saga comes complete with a protagonist who declares that the cops’ contingency plans won’t work, since he knows them too well. Then LAPD Chief Charlie Beck not only confirms as much, but also provides a quotation readymade for movie trailers: “He knows what he’s doing; we trained him.” Thus begins the largest manhunt in local history.

Dorner lost his wife to divorce in 2007, his LAPD job in early 2009, and his career with the Naval Reserve on Feb. 1, 2013. And his rambling manifesto, titled “Last resort,” displays distinct markers of abject depression. Yet Dorner’s note goes beyond depression, and that all-too-common affliction cannot explain his pledge to wage “unconventional and asymmetrical warfare” on Southern California law enforcement. He makes bold death threats against police officers and their families, and brags about his extensive military training and formidable arsenal. All of this is easy enough to dismiss, for all of it is fairly familiar. It’s reminiscent of the journals of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the scattered notes of Seung-Hui Cho, the testimony of the Beltway snipers.

It is Dorner’s apparent rationality that seems so horrifying.

What is less familiar is Dorner’s acute lucidity about the nature of his actions. At times, his manifesto is poignant, remorseful, and, above all, self-aware. He understands he has a captive audience, and he uses the spotlight to compliment and castigate celebrities and politicians. Knowing he’ll be vilified in the media, he asks that his friends and family remember him for who he was before he started shooting. He correctly assumes his actions will end in his demise, and he emphasizes that his ultimate goal is the vindication of his name, rather than victory through vengeance.

It is Dorner’s apparent rationality that seems so horrifying. For while Chief Beck is right to label his acts “domestic terrorism,” Dorner cannot be dismissed as a political or religious extremist. In 2012, he supported Jon Huntsman, not jihad against the Christian West. He wasn’t trained in Pakistan or Afghanistan, but in a police academy. He is the product of a system meant to protect the public, not terrorize it.

America’s familiar enemies are, paradoxically, foreign and strange. They speak in odd tongues and espouse curious beliefs. If politicians are to be believed, they hate America and all it stands for. Dorner, on the other hand, hates the Westboro Baptist Church. He places his faith in Tim Tebow and quotes Mia Farrow. He mourns Trayvon Martin and praises the late Dave Brubeck. He likes the Hangover movies, Anthony Bourdain, and Bill Cosby. In short, he’s just like everyone else in a whole lot of ways. Which means that everyone else, in one way or another, is just like him.

Tim Reynolds has served as the Port Side's Editor-in-Chief and Web Editor. A senior English major at Pomona College, Tim can be found working with students in Pomona's Writing Center. Email him at

One Response to “The Curious Case of Christopher Dorner”

  1. From the Internet says:

    You can’t corner the Dorner.

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