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Ex-LAPD cop gains sympathizers on social media

Story highlights

  • Christopher Dorner is a "superhero" to some, like "Django Unchained," expert says
  • "Social media weirdness" favors villains, another analyst says
  • The little guy fighting injustice is often a folk hero in film and history, professor says
  • But Dorner's violence is unacceptable, says attorney who sued LAPD for racism

The life and apparent death of the ex-Los Angeles Police Department cop who declared war against police corruption has generated a social media fringe of fans asserting that Christopher Jordan Dorner was really a hero seeking justice, despite being a suspect in four killings.

The sympathizers have garnered 18,336 supporters on a Facebook page entitled "We Stand With Christopher Dorner." The online group has posted Dorner's manifesto against corrupt police, a document that was "scrubbed by mainstream media outlets," the webpage charges.

Another Facebook page, "We Are All Chris Dorner," had 3,819 "likes," or followers, with 6,620 people talking about the page devoted to how the 6-foot, 270-pound Dorner was "the victim of a manhunt and smear campaign. 5 years ago he was fired from the LAPD for seeking to expose corruption within it."

"He killed CORRUPT cops, cops kill INNOCENT people!" one supporter wrote on one of the Facebook pages.

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"it's a shame we the people couldn't help dorner against these government forces," another wrote.

Other supporters used Twitter: "Apparently burning people alive is now considered appropriate behavior for the police. Judge, jury and executioner," tweeted one man whose handle is @becomeyoung.

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That comment referred to how Dorner, 33, a fired Los Angeles police officer and former Navy reservist, was believed to have been killed Tuesday in a vacant mountain cabin outside Los Angeles. The cabin caught fire during a shootout and standoff with police, who also fired tear gas.

Dorner was a suspect in the killing of four people -- including two law enforcement officers and the daughter of another -- during the past 10 days, authorities said.

Readers on CNN.com offered their own comments, advancing a theory that police made sure Dorner was dead to silence him.

"Like Dorner said he cross the blue line and they burn him down for it," said one reader identified as silla1.

"Poor guy, driven over the edge and then killed in the cover-up. guess you need assault rifles at home with the LAPD around," wrote a person named Phrenchy.

"Well, it couldn't have turned out better for the LAPD, they definitely didn't want Dorner in court. Heads would have rolled if Dorner would have been taken in alive somewhere," said a posting by WeDontMatter.

Public fascination with and endorsement of an anti-hero is common in history and the arts, especially when the figure advances a political message that resonates with people, experts said.

"He's been a real-life superhero to many people," said Marc Lamont Hill, an associate professor of English education at Columbia University. "Don't get me wrong. What he did was awful. Killing innocent people is bad.

"But when you read his manifesto, when you read the message he left, he wasn't entirely crazy. He had a plan and mission here, and many people aren't rooting for him to kill innocent people, they're rooting for somebody who was wronged to get a kind of revenge against the system." Hill added. "It is almost like watching 'Django Unchained' in real life."

Fueling Dorner's folk-hero status is social media's iconoclastic tone, said BuzzFeed Radio host Jack Moore.

"You'll have people on social media who support these villains," Moore said. It's also home to fans of James Holmes, the man charged with killing 12 people and wounding 58 more in a Colorado cinema in July, he added.

"There is some part of it that is social media weirdness," Moore continued. The narrative of Chris Dorner "resembles a Denzel Washington movie where someone is wronged, and he stands up for himself and goes down in a blaze of glory," he said.

Opinion: Don't focus on Chris Dorner's politics

Films are steeped in lore of the little guy raging against injustice, sometimes based on historical figures such as Bonnie and Clyde, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Frank and Jesse James, said Elayne Rapping, a retired professor of American and media studies at the State University of New York in Buffalo.

Fictional or historical, the characters are often portrayed as latter-day Robin Hoods, victims of oppression or the everyman brutalized by an economy or authority, Rapping said.

"Americans have always been fascinated with outlaws, going back to early movies, James Cagney and things like that," Rapping said. "You always root for the underdog because of a sense of rebellion.

"We sympathize with them because very often, people do feel they are tied down to rules and regulations and don't have autonomy, and people say, 'I'm going to disregard this, and I'm going to do what I want to do,' " Rapping added.

Twitter users began marking their comments with "#TeamDorner" in support of the ex-officer. There were about 4,000 original posts with that hashtag by Wednesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, more than 1,870 people joined the Twitter page @WeRChrisDorner, a fan page linked to a similarly named Facebook page.

Some tweets pointed out how innocent civilians were mistakenly fired upon by police on Thursday during their weeklong manhunt in Southern California. Los Angeles Police mistakenly shot and wounded two people in nearby Torrance as the civilians drove a blue pickup resembling Dorner's vehicle. The LAPD officers involved in the shooting were placed on paid administrative leave.

Torrance police also fired upon another blue pickup the same day, but no one was injured in that incident, a law enforcement source said.

"From the perspective of people watching, two cars filled with innocent people were shot at in what to a lot of people looked like street justice than police procedure," said Karen North, a social media expert and psychologist at the University of Southern California.

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"It certainly doesn't help a police department that has a history of what looks like brutality, and then they act in a way that looks rash and unthinking on TV," North added.

On a talk radio station in the African-American community in Los Angeles, some residents "were lionizing and admiring Dorner," said civil rights attorney Connie Rice.

Rice has sued the LAPD for racism on behalf of more than 100 minority officers, an experience that she described as "hand-to-hand combat." The LAPD had a "racially hostile culture," evidenced in the videotaped police beating of Rodney King in 1991 that later triggered street riots, Rice said.

"The LAPD's relationship with the black community could only be described as a state of war. Outside of Mississippi, I've never seen anything like it," Rice said.

Because of reforms, however, the department has improved, and she even has a parking space at the police department's offices, she said.

She pointed out how Police Chief Charlie Beck has agreed to reopen the investigation that led to Dorner's firing in 2008. In his manifesto, Dorner said he was relieved of his duties after he reported excessive force by a fellow officer in July 2007. He joined the force in 2005.

The LAPD's history of racism aside, Dorner's alleged violence cannot be tolerated, Rice said.

She also took strong exception with Dorner's supporters and fans in the black community and on the Internet, which she also called the "Id town where a lot of the ugly things come out."

"The community that comes from Martin Luther King Jr. can never condone this kind of violence," Rice said.