A forensic psychiatrist who has evaluated a number of high-profile defendants testified Thursday that the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter does not have a mental illness.

Park Dietz, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA’s medical school, first came to prominence as an expert witness in the 1982 trial of John Hinckley Jr. — President Ronald Reagan’s would-be assassin. Dietz has since evaluated several other mass murderers, including Jeffrey Dahmer, Dylann Roof, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing) and Ted Kaczynski (aka the Unabomber).

From May 21-23 Dietz conducted a psychiatric evaluation of Robert Bowers in a “large quiet room” in the Butler County Prison, where he has been incarcerated. Dietz produced a comprehensive 200-page report on the defendant’s mental health based on that examination; family, medical, school, employment, social service and law enforcement records; the defendant’s internet activity; Dietz’s independent research on far-right extremism; and experts’ reports from both the prosecution and the defense.

The psychiatrist concluded that the shooter does not have schizophrenia or epilepsy, and that he does not suffer from hallucinations or delusions — countering expert testimony offered by experts for the defense.

The mental health of the defendant is at the core of the second phase of the trial — the penalty eligibility phase — which began on June 26 and continued this week. Throughout this phase of the trial, the defense has sought to prove that the defendant did not have the mental capacity to form the requisite intent to commit a capital offense.

Dietz said that throughout almost 15 hours of interviews, the defendant had a calm demeanor and was “very responsive.”

When Dietz asked him if he knew the purpose of the interview, the defendant replied, “I am being held a POW in a war. There is a war on white people orchestrated by the Jew, and I am a soldier in that war.”

The shooter was “eager to tell me what he had done and the issues that mattered to him,” Dietz testified. The defendant, he said, was a “smart, articulate man who had done his homework,” who had paid careful attention to selective news and had a good memory for detail.

When Dietz asked him what his major preoccupations were, the defendant said, “I’m kind of dedicated to the war now. Nations don’t last forever.” And, if he ever gets out of prison, “Know your target. This war ain’t over.”

Dietz asked the defendant if anyone was out to harm him, and he replied, “Only the people on the prosecution team.”

Contrary to the findings of defense experts, Dietz — who throughout his career has been a defense witness many times — determined that the shooter does not have schizophrenia, does not have epilepsy, has the mental capacity to engage in substantial planning and premeditation, and has the capacity to form the intent to kill.

In forming his conclusion that the defendant does not have schizophrenia, Dietz noted that he was not diagnosed with the condition until after the murders; that he did not have delusions or exhibit thought disorders during the interviews; that, besides a brief hallucination when he was feverish at the age of 5, he had never had a hallucination; and that he was prescribed no medications for schizophrenia after his diagnosis.

The shooter did not experience delusions, which Dietz said are described in medical literature as “fixed beliefs that are not amenable to change in light of conflicting evidence.” He stressed that some cultural beliefs — that may seem improbable to differing cultures — are not delusions. For example, while Catholics have a core belief that Jesus was born to a virgin, and those of other faiths may find this implausible, that belief is not a delusion. Throughout history, he said, there have been many social movements that looked delusional to those who were not part of the group.

Dietz then explained his analysis of the defendant’s extreme beliefs about Jews and why they do not qualify as delusions. The origins of the defendant’s posts on social media platform Gab that Jews are trying to erase white people “so that they can control the whole world” go back to at least the 1950s, when white supremacists spouted the theory that bankers were plotting to create a single world order so that Americans would no longer be free, Dietz said.

The defendant’s social media posts claiming that Jews control academia, the media, law and entertainment are also common and longstanding antisemitic tropes, Dietz noted. And the shooter’s proclamation that “Jews are the children of Satan” is a phrase mentioned in the Bible that is often used by Christian nationalists.

The defendant also posted about the blood libel — that Jews drink the blood of Christian children — but just to “stir people up,” he told Dietz. “My big thing is ‘the great replacement.’ I care about what’s happening today.”

Dietz explained that the theory of white genocide originated in 1985 in a manifesto authored by David Lane, the leader of the terrorist group The Order, who killed Jewish radio host Alan Berg. Lane wrote 14 declarations in his manifesto, including that “all Western nations are ruled by a Zionist conspiracy to mix, overrun and exterminate the White race.”

“This is Mr. Bowers’ central belief motivating his crimes,” Dietz said.

Dietz traced the genesis of the “great replacement theory” back to a French author, Renaud Camus, who set forth the idea in 2010 “that indigenous white people were being replaced by people of color from Africa and Middle East.” Dietz said that one-third of the citizens of the United Kingdom “believe it is happening and it is real.”

Dietz said he was able to determine that not a single one of the defendant’s extreme beliefs originated with him.

“They were all part of subculture he was part of online,” he said. “They do not spring from mental disease.”

The trial will resume Monday.

Related story: Resources are available to ease trauma during synagogue shooting trial.

This story is part of ongoing coverage of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial by the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle and the Pittsburgh Union Progress in a collaboration supported by funding from the Pittsburgh Media Partnership.

Toby Tabachnick

Toby is editor of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle. She can be reached at ttabachnick@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

Toby Tabachnick

Toby is editor of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle. She can be reached at ttabachnick@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.