Saturday, August 30, 2014

Martyr? Villain? The case of Patrick McLaw

If you've been listening to some of the buzz lately, odds are that you've probably heard of Patrick McLaw, also known as K.S. Voltaer and Patrick Beale. If you haven't, then here's the story as far as we know it:

A week or two ago Maryland educator Patrick McLaw was picked up by the police and taken in for an emergency medical evaluation to see if he had any psychiatric issues. They also checked his house once to see if there were any guns, explosives, or any similar items in his house, as well as performing two similar sweeps on his school, Mace's Lane Middle School. At some point in their searching they discovered that McLaw had written two books about school shootings, both of which were set in the future (2029, I think.) Afterwards, McLaw was put on administrative leave until the investigation is complete.

What's interesting about this is that almost all of the news stories put the focus on the fact that McLaw wrote two books about school shootings, which is probably due to the fact that the public has been given little to no information about why any of this has happened. Until the news broke, McLaw was apparently a model teacher and was even featured in the news for helping one of his students publish a book via Amazon. As you can expect, the reaction from the general public has been outrage, as many believe that McLaw was singled out because he was a black author that wrote about school violence.

Is this true? Honestly, there's no way to really tell. A post on one article by "Jessie" (who appears to be a citizen in the area McLaw teaches) alleges that McLaw was not singled out for his books but because of a four page letter that contained disturbing content that worried its recipients, the local Board of Education. She also claims that the police found floor plans for not only Mace's Lane Middle School, but also a previous school that he worked at. Another post on the same article by "Groldak" seems to back this up, saying that the police did not single out McLaw because of his books and that apparently McLaw did pose a viable threat because of other evidence. Of course, the issue with this is that we have no way of knowing if either poster is actually telling the truth or if they are, if they aren't going off of faulty information. In another article (I'll try to track it down) someone alleged that McLaw was no threat and that this all stemmed from a jealous co-worker who was angry that McLaw was receiving more public acknowledgement and praise (including a teacher of the year award) than they were.

We have to ask: Is he a threat? Did he post a letter to the BoE that illustrated that he would be a clear and present danger to everyone around him? Did he have the school plans because he was planning on doing something, even if it was something that he wouldn't ultimately act upon? (IE, revenge fantasies.)  Or is he just some well enough meaning schmuck who wrote a very, very poorly phrased and angry letter to the BoE, who took it as a threat? And he only had the school plans for writing research purposes? It's not that far fetched, after all- especially if we take the jealous co-worker angle into consideration. I've seen people sabotage people for less. The "valid threat" scenario might seem more likely, but then I can honestly see the "schmuck singled out by coworker" scenario as well- especially if McLaw is very into the idea of rebelling against the system. (IE, he would not dislike a government or organizational structure, but actively dislikes the ones currently in place and would prefer a system that allows for more personal freedom.) Given that there has been a surge in people who follow this viewpoint, paired with McLaw using a pseudonym based on Voltaire, it makes this scenario seem even more likely.

What bothers me about this is that we're not being told all that much about this guy and people are drawing definitive conclusions about him. Many are holding him up as a martyr for the cause of freedom of speech and racism, especially in the wake of recent events in Ferguson, Missouri. But... what if we're wrong? What if he really did do enough to pose a threat to those around him? This is one of those unfortunate situations where we really haven't been given enough information to know what is or isn't true. People have singled out their peers for abuse for various different reasons that have nothing to do with justice (jealousy, boredom, anger, etc) . I don't know the media reporting on this is a good thing or not. If he's innocent, then this does need to be addressed but if the police did have reason to suspect McLaw was a threat, then reporting on this with limited information does the entire scenario a very real disservice.

So.. all we can really do is report on this as we go and try to keep in mind that we don't have all the information about this. That means that we keep an open mind for both sides, meaning that either side could be in the right. I'm kind of suspecting that it's somewhere in the middle. Or at least I'm somewhat hoping that it is, because the alternative is far, far scarier: that we're starting to go more and more into an Orwellian society where our freedoms are becoming fewer and far between.

Further reading:


  1. Thank you for a thoughtful post that reminds us that we rarely have all the facts in the early stages of a story, especially in this age of instant reporting on social media. Like you, I hope there is more to this story and that the science fiction is incidental to the real reasons for concerns about this teacher. (And I sure hope the authorities got it right in that case.)

  2. Well done. I arrived here through researching using different related terms involved in the story. One of those was the commenter "Jesse". Good catch and even handed analysis on her comment as well.
    My limited research is available as a comment on the Google + post of a friend if you're interested.

  3. THANK YOU! All the major media I'm reading seems based on the bad reporting from one local reporter. Without real additional sources, I appreciate the additional perspective, even if it involves unsubstantiated rumor.