A Would-Be Shooter’s Conscience
A curious detail in the June 8 arrest of the man who intended to assassinate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh doesn’t fit into the various political narratives surrounding his attempt. Namely, the would-be shooter, Nicholas Roske, called 911 on himself. As mass shooters become all too common, it’s rare — if not unheard of — for them to plan an attack and then turn themselves in beforehand.
This provokes the question, what changed Roske’s mind?
It wasn’t lack of resolution; the murder was clearly premeditated. Roske flew from California and took a taxi directly to Kavanaugh’s home. “Among his belongings when he arrived outside Kavanaugh’s home, according to court records, were the gun, a pistol light, tactical knife, two magazines of ammunition, pepper spray, a hammer, screwdriver, nail punch, crow bar, duct tape, the soft-soled boots and other items,” reported The Washington Post. If not loaded for bear, his suitcase was certainly loaded for home invasion. According to court records, Roske purchased the items “for the purpose of breaking into the justice’s residence and killing the justice as well as himself.”
He might have been frightened by agents protecting the home. An FBI agent wrote in an affidavit, “at approximately 1:05 a.m., two United States Deputy Marshals saw an individual dressed in black clothing and carrying a backpack and a suitcase get out of a taxicab that had stopped in front of the Montgomery County, Maryland, residence of a current justice of the United States Supreme Court. The individual looked at the two Deputy Marshals, who were standing next to their parked vehicle, and then turned to walk down the street.” Drew Wade, chief of the Office of Public Affairs for the U.S. Marshals service, interpreted, “We believe the presence of the deputies assigned outside of Justice Kavanaugh’s home served as the deterrent in this incident.”
He might have been convinced by his sister. After Roske retreated from the marshals, “this is when he texted his sister and told her of his intentions, and she convinced him to call 911, which he did,” Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones told The Washington Post. According to court records, Roske called 911 at 1:38 a.m., and again at 1:39 a.m. Both calls came a half an hour after Roske arrived in Kavanaugh’s neighborhood.
He might have temporarily gained control of a mental illness. “I need psychiatric help,” Roske told the 911 operator, adding that he had had suicidal and homicidal thoughts “for a long time.” He called 911 because “I want to be fully compliant,” he said.
The agents, his sister, his mental condition — all these factors may have played some role in Roske’s decision to turn himself in. And there may be other information uncovered by government or media investigations that shed more light on this dark affair. But the Bible gives Christians an interpretive lens that makes sense of all the facts and tells a more compelling story than the secular press.
The extra, explanatory factor the Bible adds, which secular investigators have overlooked, so far as we know, is that Nicholas Roske has a conscience and an inner awareness of God’s moral law.
In his lengthy indictment of all mankind, Paul argues that all men know about God, but they “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). This knowledge about God includes knowledge of his moral law. “The work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness …” (Romans 2:15). The proof Paul offers is that even “Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires” (Romans 2:14).
Paul’s point is as evident in our own time as it was in Paul’s. We see people who reject the one true God and His word, but who are also passionate about right and wrong, and matters of justice, stewardship, and love. Human nature has not changed because God does not change, and we are made in God’s image. God created us, so He knows us inside and out. And God is true, so God’s description of human nature is enduring, informed, and trustworthy. For these reasons, Christians can be confident that words written nearly 2,000 years ago accurately describe the inward parts of Nicholas Roske — or me, or you.
How does Roske’s conscience and inner knowledge of God’s law explain his behavior on the morning of June 8?
It’s clear that he was suppressing the truth by unrighteousness. He premeditated murder against another person who bears God’s image, and against himself. He had already taken steps toward fulfilling that plan — traveling across the country.
But when armed law enforcement officers stood in his way, it was a complication he didn’t expect. If Roske’s heart had been harder, he could have persisted in his evil scheme by seeking a way around or through the complication. Instead, he texted his sister, telling her about his murder plot.
In the 33 minutes between seeing the police and calling them, Roske walked a block and sent a text; that doesn’t take 30 minutes. Rather, it seems an inner struggle occurred. At some point — seeing the officers, listening to his sister, or being forced to think of his plan — Roske’s conscience pricked him. Sometimes, that “still, small voice” can be incredibly loud.
He came to kill another and himself. In the end, he killed neither one. He confessed his scheme and surrendered to the authorities. He admitted that he needed help. Christians have a vocabulary to describe these developments. It seems that Roske is laboring under conviction of his sin, a necessary precursor to repentance.
I don’t know Roske’s heart, just as I don’t know whether he needs the psychiatric help he begged for. I do know that — more than psychiatry, which is helpful only in this life — Roske needs the salvation only offered in Jesus Christ, which is his only hope for the next life.
In one version of events, Roske will be convicted of attempting to murder Justice Kavanaugh, spend a long time in jail, and that will be the end of the story. But that shouldn’t be the outcome Christians are hoping for. We worship a God who is rich in mercy, and who converts the worst of sinners into imitators of God, to the praise of His glorious grace. His grace is powerful enough even to blot out the sins of someone who was compelled by hate to commit murder in defense of the legalized killing of unborn babies.
As we thank God for foiling Roske’s plan and pray for the end of legalized abortion, let us, as Christians, also pray for Roske’s salvation. Let’s pray that the Holy Spirit would continue to work in his heart. Let’s pray that he would hear the gospel. Let’s pray that he would repent, put his trust in Christ, and be a zealous witness to others. Let’s pray that God, who has a purpose for everything, has ordained good to come from the evil Roske intended. Let’s pray that, in all things, God would be glorified.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.