Rockne Newell, the Pennsylvania man accused of killing three people by opening fire on a municipal meeting in Ross Township, had a long history of fighting with local officials. He also seems to have had an extensive archive of online political commentary, including discussions of gun rights, drugs, and the President.At his arraignment Tuesday, Newell said the conflict was “started” by a lengthy feud he had been engaged in with local officials since the early 1990’s over allegedly having junk and unsanitary conditions on his property, as well as building a driveway there without a permit.
According to a Pocono Record article about the feud that was published in June, when sheriff’s deputies visited the home in 2009, they found human feces in buckets. Newell, who maintained he didn’t have the money to make the improvements required by local authorities, was ordered to vacate the property in 2012. He told the Pocono Record he was living out of his car, a 1984 Pontiac Fiero, since being forced out of his home.
“If I lose this property, I have nowhere else to go,” Newell told the paper. “What they’re doing to me, what they’ve been doing to me for so long, it’s wrong.”
According to the Associated Press, Newell set up an online fundraising page last October in an attempt to raise $10,000 for legal fees and money for repairs.
“I need to clean up & I need a lawyer,I have no place to go and my 2 rescue dogs will be put to sleep because no one else will take them,” Newell wrote on the fundraising site. “Ross township took me to court & the court ruled that I have to vacate my home of 20 years.”
A Facebook page that appears to belong to Newell also referenced his fight with the township. The page, which has not been updated since July 6, featured Newell’s name and the same profile photo used on the fundraising page for his home, a picture of a sleeping bear. An update posted on the page in August 2012 also referenced Newell’s feud with Ross Township.
“Ross township took me to court & the court ruled that I have to vacate my home of 20 years,” Newell wrote. “I have no place to go I need a Lawyer but have no money!”
Along with the update about his feud, Newell’s Facebook page featured several political postings. In his writings there, Newell expressed beliefs that were all over the ideological map. Though he mentioned “anti-gun control” beliefs in multiple posts, Newell also slammed conservative economic policies, spread petitions supporting Planned Parenthood against the “Christain Taliban” [sic], and bashed Mitt Romney.
Based on the volume of posts, gun control seems to have been a major focus of Newell’s. In one update, he shared a picture that indicated families should use assault rifles on people who would try to “take” their guns.
“The Second Amendment: When they tell you don’t need it, that’s when you really need it,” a note on the picture said.
In late February, Newell shared a news story about a 4-year-old boy who killed himself with his father’s stolen handgun.
“Think on this had his father stole an assault rifle this boy would still be alive because an assault rifle is too long for a 4 year old to shoot himself!” Newell wrote in a note accompanying the article.
In April, Newell wrote a somewhat incoherent post describing his support for the Second Amendment and his thoughts on religion.
“I stand for the Second Amendment, you can have your sheep herders God!” he wrote.
Police said Newell used multiple guns during the shooting at the municipal meeting, and during the process even returned to his car to get another weapon. Pocono Record reporter Chris Reber, who was at the meeting, said Newell was stopped by a local official who “bear-hugged” him and managed to shoot him in the leg with one of Newell’s own guns.
Though he described himself as having voted for Barack Obama, he used his Facebook page to criticize the President for the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, “prosecutions of whistleblowers,” including Bradley Manning, and federal marijuana prosecutions.
“Re Police State I voted for Barry the guy who was the life of the pot parties not Barack Hussein Obama who champions religious laws like anti choice anti pot laws, boy did I get fooled!” Newell wrote in one post.
Along with Obama and Romney, Newell discussed Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) on his Facebook page.
“Re Rand Paul I think Most of what the two Paul’s have to say is crazy but what Rand said about the drones is spot on Ruby Ridge anyone?” Newell wrote. “Ruby Ridge really happened! So did Waco!”
Facebook was not the only website where Newell seemed to be active. His username on Facebook was “rockne1865.” There are accounts with that same username on a slew of other sites including YouTube, Twitter, Salon, an anarchist forum, a marijuana growers’ community. There are substantial indications these pages belonged to Newell. Several of these “rockne1865” accounts feature the same sleeping bear profile photo and identify the user’s location as Pennsylvania. A “rockne1865” account on a car forum described the user as having a 1984 Fiero, the same car owned by Newell.
In one particularly eerie web posting, a commenter with Newell’s username and avatar responded to a Mother Jones article about crime in Chicago.
“I am a Liberal & I don’t mind violent criminals in jail its Pot smokers & non violent crimes such as prostitution, protesting that I don’t want to see people in jail for,” they wrote. “if you bring an AR15 to a public meeting & parade around with it you should go to jail I believe in the second amendment, but there is a difference between the second
amendment & terrorizing people!”
Photo by AP and Facebook, composite by TPM’s Nick R. Martin