MANHATTAN (CN) - Two men often on opposing sides of legal issues - an ACLU executive and a former federal prosecutor - say they are not persuaded by people who blame vitriolic political rhetoric for the shooting spree that killed five people and wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 13 others in Tucson.
"I think part of the public discussion has moved into free speech. I'm not quite sure it should have. Nobody that seems to have access to the facts has sort of demonstrated that this guy, the shooter, was motivated by somebody's words," said Michael W. Macleod-Ball, chief of staff and First Amendment Counsel at the ACLU's Legislative Office in Washington, D.C.
Many commentators, including former President Bill Clinton, have compared the Arizona shootings to the Oklahoma City bombings of 1995, perpetrated by right-wing militiamen with anti-government ideology.
But a former prosecutor of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh disagrees. Aitan Goelman says he sees little evidence that the Arizona killer was inspired by political beliefs or hate speech.
"McVeigh and Nichols had a particular ideology that held the government as the big villain, and they were very targeted about their hatred of the government," said Goelman, now a trial lawyer with Zuckerman Spaeder.
"From what I read of this guy, it didn't seem as focused on one particular enemy. It seemed more all over the place."
Goelman said that Jared Lee Loughner, the 22-year-old accused killer, seemed less concerned with politics than with paranoid theories of grammar, currency and "conscious dreaming."
The one parallel Goelman saw between Loughner and the Oklahoma City bombers was a shared obsession with currency.
"Terry Nichols used to write on his currency, 'Without prejudice, UCC 1207.' It was some bizarre militia pseudo-legal doctrine that if you did that, you weren't submitting yourself to federal jurisdiction," Goelman said.
Loughner and McVeigh both spent time in Arizona, but in vastly different places.
"I think the difference between Kingman and Tucson is greater than the difference between New York and Tucson," Goelman said.
Speaking of Loughner, he said, "It's still early to start psychoanalyzing him from afar, he seems to be more of a lunatic than a fanatic."
Loughner has been charged in federal court, with killing U.S. District Judge John Roll and other federal employees, and with trying to assassinate Congresswoman Giffords, who clings to life with a gunshot wound in her brain.
Loughner has yet to be charged in state court, where terrorism charges may be added.
Goelman said that at the time of the Oklahoma City bombings, a terrorism statute did not exist, but McVeigh and Nichols were charged with the closest thing to it: possession of a weapon of mass destruction.
While this does not apply to Loughner's case, he could be charged with a domestic terrorism charge that originated with the USA Patriot Act.
That law addressed crimes intended to "intimidate or coerce a civilian population," to "influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion," or "affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping."
"The statutes [during the Oklahoma City bomber trials] were obviously terrorism statutes, but they didn't have that added component of being applicable only for acts of terrorism. But you know, what else are you going to explode a weapon of mass destruction for?" Goelman said.