Plus, would I ever sell Tangle?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 14 minutes.

Today we are covering the trial of a Michigan mother for her son's mass murder. Plus, would I ever sell Tangle?

Bill O'Reilly interview.

Tomorrow, I'll be publishing an interview I did with former Fox News anchor Bill O'Reilly. The transcript will be sent to Tangle members.

Quick hits.

  1. The U.S. Senate failed to advance the border security bill that negotiators released last week. The bill failed on a 49-50 vote. (The vote)
  2. Nikki Haley vowed to stay in the Republican race for the presidential nomination despite losing in Nevada's primary to “none of these candidates.” (The promise)
  3. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a counterproposal from Hamas for a ceasefire and hostage release plan, pledging to continue Israel's military operation until "absolute victory." (The response)
  4. The U.S. Supreme Court is going to hear oral arguments today over whether former President Donald Trump is ineligible for Colorado's primary ballot under the 14th Amendment. (The case)
  5. Five U.S. Marines were confirmed dead after their helicopter crashed outside San Diego. (The crash)

Today's topic.

Jennifer Crumbley. On Tuesday, a Michigan jury convicted Crumbley, a school shooter's mother, on four counts of involuntary manslaughter for her son’s killing of four high-school students in 2021. Crumbley is the first parent in the U.S. to ever be found criminally responsible for their child carrying out a mass killing. Her husband, James Crumbley, is scheduled to stand trial next month.

Editor's note: Tangle does not name mass shooters because of the well documented contagion effect. For similar reasons, where possible, we also try to share limited information about the shooter and their alleged motives.

Crumbley, 45, was accused of failing to secure a gun and ammunition in her home and failing to get help for her son after he displayed warning signs of violent inclinations. She received four guilty verdicts, one for each of the students killed at the high school. Crubmley faces up to 60 years in prison, 15 years for each guilty count. Her son, now 17, had already pleaded guilty as an adult to murder, terrorism and other crimes, and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

During the trial, prosecutors argued that Crumbley had abdicated her responsibility to be attentive to her 15-year-old son. Prosecutors portrayed her as a neglectful mother whose extramarital affair distracted her from monitoring her son's behavior.

She and her husband gave their son a semi-automatic handgun as a gift days before the shooting, then failed to properly store it. On the day of the shooting, school officials called the Crumbleys because their son had drawn a disturbing image of a gun, bullet, and wounded person, accompanied by "desperate phrases."

“The thoughts won’t stop. Help me. The world is dead. My life is useless," the words said on the drawing.

The parents were called to the school for a meeting, but failed to tell officials their son had access to a firearm at home and didn't remove him from school. A few hours later, their son took a handgun from his backpack — which nobody had checked — and shot 10 students and a teacher. During the trial, prosecutors showed the jurors social media posts of the student calling his new gun his "beauty."

Jennifer Crumbley's lawyers argued that it was James Crumbley — the father — who had been responsible for storing the weapon, and that the school did not fully inform them of how serious their son’s issues were. The jury forewoman told reporters that the jury was influenced by evidence presented that showed Jennifer was the last adult to possess the gun. Because of a gag order that is in effect until after James’s trial, neither the prosecution nor the defense can comment on the case.

During the trial, Jennifer Crumbley testified that her son had been depressed but that his mental health never alarmed her. She never took him to a professional to seek help and, while she conceded she could have taken him home on the day of the shooting, she said she never believed he was capable of committing acts of violence. However, shortly after leaving their son’s school, Crumbley and her husband saw police cars heading toward it. She then texted her son, “Don’t do it,” something prosecutors presented as evidence she understood he was a risk to others.

“I have asked myself if I would have done anything differently. I wouldn’t have. I wish he would have killed us instead,” she testified.

Today, we're going to examine some arguments from the left and right about the jury's decision, then my take. Note: The shooter's name will appear redacted in our piece, indicated with language surrounded by brackets.

What the left is saying.

  • The left has a range of responses to the verdict, with some suggesting heightened levels of accountability for all involved could help prevent future mass shootings. 
  • Others say the case is a reminder of systemic failures that contribute to these incidents. 
  • Still others question the logic of charging the son as an adult while also charging the parents for his actions.

In Bloomberg, Francis Wilkinson called the verdict “a breakthrough.”

“The Crumbleys offered [their son] a remedy familiar to anyone who follows the pathological storyline of America’s young, White, male mass shooters. What the Crumbleys’ deeply disturbed boy really needed, it seems, was a semi-automatic firearm and plenty of ammo,” Wilkinson said. “The dead and wounded have failed to dissuade the denizens of American gun culture that firearms don’t magically cure the problems that guns, in reality, create. Guns, in this make-believe world, are defensive instruments of peace and justice. They don’t harm. They protect.”

“Parents who make guns available to troubled offspring are at last receiving scrutiny. The father of the Highland Park, Ill., mass shooter who killed seven and wounded 31, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor reckless conduct for sponsoring his son’s gun ownership application. A Virginia mother whose 6-year-old brought the mother’s gun to school and shot a teacher was sentenced to two years in prison for felony child neglect,” Wilkinson wrote. “The guilty verdicts against Jennifer Crumbley represent a leap forward… Facts have proved impervious to gun culture. Perhaps accountability can begin to make some headway.”

In CNN, Jennifer Tucker said the case is “a powerful warning to parents.”

“Most parents want their children to be safe, yet many continue to enable household access to loaded guns. The American legal system is structured to focus on the individual — getting to the truth via the adversarial system,” Tucker wrote. “Meanwhile, the American public typically wants a single, individual villain to be held accountable. Placing blame solely on the individual shooter is a stance staunchly promoted by the National Rifle Association and other powerful gun rights groups.”

“The Crumbley trial and other similar cases shine a light on how a shooter rarely acts ‘alone.’ It’s a wake-up call, alerting us to the need for a cultural shift around this complex issue if we ever hope to change our country’s shameful standing when it comes to gun violence affecting children,” Tucker said. “This case opens the door for parents to be held legally accountable, and reminds all parents of their responsibilities when it comes to gun safety… Everyone wants to find a single villain, but the reality is that everybody is at risk and many people are responsible.”

In The New York Times, before the verdict was announced, Megan K. Stack asked “what is this mother really guilty of?”

“There is a logical contradiction in the state declaring [the shooter] an adult — with full responsibility for his crime — while prosecuting his parents for gross negligence in child care. [The shooter] was a child, or he wasn’t. He was responsible for his actions, or his parents were. Can the state argue both positions at once?,” Stack asked. “While the parents have been excoriated for giving him access to the gun, this is something of a legal dead end. Michigan, at the time of the shooting, did not have a safe-storage gun law on the books. (It does now.) The Crumbleys were not legally obliged to keep the weapon locked away from their son.”

“The Crumbleys had their share of problems. We can puzzle over the true meaning of the fragments of family life in the evidence, but all we really know is this: [The shooter] was depressed and struggling. Everything else, in the end, is open to interpretation. The vagueness at the heart of this case is not unlike the emotional haze that clouds our national response to gun violence: It’s more about feelings and perception, about finding somebody to blame, than about clear-cut criminal intent or meaningful reform,” Stack said. “All we can do, it seems, is punish the people we can reach and go to sleep at night hoping that will somehow help to stem the violence.”

What the right is saying.

  • The right is also mixed in their response, with many concurring with those on the left who say the result is a win for accountability. 
  • Some say the takeaway from this case isn’t about guns but the importance of parental supervision. 
  • Others criticize the verdict, saying Jennifer Crumbley’s guilt was not adequately proven. 

The Boston Herald editorial board said “make Crumbley precedent for holding parents accountable.”

“It’s a game changer, and a welcome one. While most parents work hard to help their children grow into good adults with respect for the law and their communities, others are no-shows at the job,” the board wrote. “Troubled children are essentially left to raise themselves, aided by social media influencers and the messages of TikTok creators. Mental health problems are ignored, dismissed or passed off to schools to deal with. What should be a strong home is instead a house of mixed-age roommates.”

“Jennifer Crumbley had a duty under state law to prevent her son, who was 15 at the time, from harming others. It’s the duty of all parents, no matter where they live,” the board said. “She may have tried her best to dodge accountability, but the jury didn’t let her get away with it. We can only hope that this is a precedent, not just for, God forbid, other school shootings, but for all instances where underage children commit criminal acts… [Parents] bear responsibility for properly raising their children, keeping an eye of their behavior and emotional health are fundamental to the job.”

In Bearing Arms, Cam Edwards explored whether the verdict will be a “precedent or an outlier.”

“Gun control activists are hoping that a Michigan jury’s decision to find Jennifer Crumbley guilty of four counts of involuntary manslaughter for her son’s murder of four students at Oxford High School is just the beginning of many similar decisions to come in the future, but their myopic focus on the fact that the teen’s parents purchased a firearm for him ignores all of the other aspects of the case that led the jury to reach their decision,” Edwards wrote. “Time will tell if this case is an outlier or the start of a new wave of prosecutions for the parents of juvenile criminals.”

“Should every gun-owning parent be worried that if their kid commits a crime they’ll be charged as well? Owning a gun doesn’t make you a bad parent, though that’s exactly what the gun control lobby wants the public to take away from the guilty verdict here,” Edwards said. “Honestly, I think our bigger concerns should simply be the well-being of our children. If you see them struggling, talk to them. Don’t ignore what they have to say, but listen and respond accordingly. If you have concerns about the state of their mental health, get them help. You might decide that temporarily removing firearms from your home is appropriate, but that’s a decision that has to be made based on your particular circumstances.”

In Reason, Billy Binion argued the conviction “sets a dangerous precedent.”

“While she very well may have been a flawed parent—few serious people would argue adultery is a stand-up choice—testimony at trial made it far from clear that her son's murderous streak was predictable, much less that she ‘willfully disregard[ed]’ it and could have prevented it via ‘ordinary care,’ the standard required by Michigan statute,” Binion wrote. “Despite the fraught subject matter, and the absolute tragedy of those deaths, Michigan law still appeared inept to apply to the Crumbley parents.”

“The Crumbleys had specifically been told that their son should not be left by himself, and [their son] had just expressed to Throne, the superintendent, that the thought of missing homework assignments depressed him. With hindsight, listening to him was obviously the wrong choice. But I can understand why it was made, as parents, whether weak or adept, are not clairvoyant,” Binion said. The prosecution’s success “says less about the intellectual coherence of that approach and more about our desire to address every awful injustice with prison, no matter how much it may defy logic.”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • I have been arguing for exactly what this verdict provides, and now I’m not sure it’s the right thing.
  • Trying the shooter as an adult and the lack of solid context, exact laws about gun security, and focus on the school’s responsibility all give me pause.
  • I think some small penalty is a good outcome, but anywhere near the 60-year maximum sentence would be insane.

I have really mixed feelings.

First and most directly, this is exactly what I've been asking for. In nearly every piece I've written about mass shootings over the last four years, I've said something to the effect of, "the most responsible person is the shooter, and the next-most responsible people are the family and friends who almost always could have done more."

Yes, our often-unenforced gun laws and the simple prevalence of guns in America play a role. Yes, the way law enforcement treats potential threats is often a big part of these tragedies. Yes, our gun culture today is not at all like the gun culture I learned about firearms in. But over and over, when I've talked about building "blame pyramids," I’ve stressed that the people close to these shooters have a lot of responsibility, and that those people should be put much closer to the top of that pyramid than they usually are.

Now that’s happening and, well, I have to confess — I'm getting cold feet.

The case against Jennifer Crumbley is pretty straightforward. Her son was clearly in distress, and in text messages to friends he said his parents refused to help him. She and her husband did a poor job securing the firearm they had bought for him at home (ATF agents said the safe's code was still 000, the factory setting), and (if their son's messages to friends are accurate) they ignored him when he pleaded for help. Most importantly, though, on the day of the shooting they came to school, saw a not-so-subtle drawing their son had made that indicated he was having violent thoughts, and did not take him home, check to see if he had his gun, or even just alert the school he had access to a firearm.

That is all incredibly damning.

The other side is that all of this is much easier to judge after the fact. In The Daily's episode about this case, a reporter explained that some research has shown 50% of all parents whose kids have attempted suicide aren’t even aware of their attempts. In fact, parents have been shown time and again to be some of the worst people at seeing their children clearly — which makes sense. How many parents are even capable of seeing their sons as potential threats to their classmates?

And details that seem obvious now might be far less revelatory than we think. For instance, prosecutors presented evidence that Jennifer ignored texts from her son about seeing bowls being thrown in the house and demons that were haunting him. He pleaded with her to text back, and she didn't. Then they showed that at the time those texts were sent, she was taking pictures of her horses. The prosecutors tried to show the jury that she cared more about her animals than her own son.

But on the stand, Jennifer gave a pretty convincing answer. She explained that her son had been convinced the house was haunted ever since he discovered that it was built in 1920 years prior. A Ouija board they gave him for Christmas had only thrown gas on the fire. She, her husband, and her son all joked about the house being haunted. Their son had named the ghost Boris, her husband named it Victoria, and it was all just "typical" joking around, as her defense attorney put it. In that light, evidence that seems like damning proof that Crumbley ignored her son’s mental illness looks a lot more benign.

There aren’t just narrative complexities — there are legal issues, too. Many onlookers criticized the Crumbleys for not having properly stored the firearm, but Michigan did not have a safe storage law at the time of the shooting. Also, as Megan K. Stack wrote (under “What the left is saying”), it’s contradictory to try this shooter as an adult for a crime they committed at 15 years old while, simultaneously, sending their parents to jail for his actions. Either the shooter is a fully formed adult capable of acting on his own, or his parents are partially responsible for his behavior because he is a minor. Somehow, the prosecutors convinced the jury these things could co-exist.

As for negligence, the strongest arguments against Jennifer are that she didn’t take her son home or alert the school about his gun. But, again, it wasn’t just her in the room. The school’s assistant principal also expressed shock about who the shooter turned out to be, saying “I didn’t think he could possibly be the shooter… it seemed odd that it would be him.” Counselors at the school also said they never believed he might harm others “based on his behavior, responses, and demeanor.” So why is Jennifer taking so much of the public ire? What about the father? What about the counselors, or school administrators?

This is the fundamental complexity with holding someone like Jennifer Crumbley accountable. The questions of what she could or should have done become a lot more obvious with 20/20 hindsight. And it raises even more difficult questions about the future: Is this what we want? Parents of mass shooters to immediately become the targets of investigations and inquiry? 

In the end, I think I've landed somewhere a little different than I expected. I do, actually, think Jennifer Crumbley's actions were egregious and negligent enough that she should be held to account (and I hope James, the shooter’s father, is too). Weighing all the different narratives — not alerting the school about the gun, not checking for the gun herself, and clearly believing somewhere in her heart her son was capable of this (the “Don’t do it” text is incredibly damning) — it all makes me think there is enough here for Jennifer Crumbley to face punishment.

I think a short prison sentence or financial penalty would be appropriate (I do not see the use in sending her to jail for multiple years, which seems like a strong possibility — the maximum sentence for her conviction is 60 years). The facts of this case are so damning that it seems fair to send a clear message about the responsibility parents, family members, and friends have — and that could end up being preventative.

Going forward, though, I don't think this should be the trend. I do not hope this is the new angle for trying to stop these acts of mass violence. We need to teach parents and friends how to recognize the signs and warn the proper authorities — but we don't need to be imprisoning those people unless, as I think is the case here, their actions are criminally negligent. And if something like failing to provide safe storage for a minor’s firearm isn’t criminally negligible, then the law should be changed so that it is.

To put it as simply as I can: I’m glad Jennifer Crumbley is being held accountable for her actions, but it’s hard to feel good about convicting parents as a consistent course of action.

Disagree? That's okay. My opinion is just one of many. Write in and let us know why, and we'll consider publishing your feedback.

Your questions, answered.

Q: What would you do if one of the major outlets offered you a life-changing amount of money for Tangle? Every time I seem to find something independent, they get swallowed up, and it never turns out good for the consumer. They always assure that "nothing will change", but it always does.

— Jon from Palatine, Illinois

Tangle: It really depends on who the outlet is, how much money they're offering, and what the terms of the deal are.

To be clear: I have no plans to sell Tangle. If the goal is to make a lot of money and work a bit less, I've always thought that far better than selling Tangle would be taking some kind of decreased workload and continuing to help shepherd its growth as a more hands-off CEO. The truth is I love the work, and though I certainly don’t think what I’m doing now is sustainable long-term, I also wouldn’t just give up control for a big check. I also think we are just scratching the surface of what is possible, so if I ever did sell it would be way down the line when I can show just how valuable Tangle is. 

That being said, based on conversations with other media executives, I think that as it is right now Tangle is worth — at minimum — roughly $5 million. If I got an offer above that price that allows me to maintain full editorial control, keeps my team in place, and also helps us grow while taking the business workload off my plate so I can focus solely on writing and producing content — that'd be a pretty difficult offer to turn down. You're right, of course, that I'd be signing up for change and it'd never stay the same as it was, but change is inevitable no matter what I do. Change is constant. It is going to come to Tangle whether I'm in control or not, and the most important question is just how true to our mission we can keep it.

Like my attitude toward dissecting the day-to-day debates we cover, my position is that I'm open-minded. I love having control, and I love owning this business, but there are downsides to it, too. I never get a day off and I frequently have more on my plate than I can handle. I have heard and will continue to hear offers from anyone who is interested in supporting this work, whether it's buying us, donating, or contributing as an employee.

But one more time for good measure: I have no plans to sell Tangle.

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Under the radar.

China-backed hackers have reportedly had access to critical U.S. infrastructure for at least five years, a new intelligence advisory released on Wednesday said. The campaign would constitute a major escalation in China's cyber tactics against U.S. infrastructure, something well beyond the typical stealing of state secrets. According to the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, critical infrastructure operators need to be aware of the threat and act accordingly. U.S. officials are increasingly worried China could launch destructive cyber attacks in a lead-up to an invasion of Taiwan. Axios has the story.


  • 4.6 million. The number of minors in the U.S. who live in homes with at least one loaded, unlocked firearm.
  • 70%. The percentage of U.S. parents who reported that their child could not access a household firearm, according to a 2021 study. 
  • 34%. The percentage of children in households with guns who reported that they could access a loaded firearm in less than 5 minutes.
  • 13%. The reduction in all firearm fatalities in children aged 0 to 14 between 1991 and 2016 in states with child firearm access prevention (CAP) laws. 
  • 6.0. The firearm mortality rate per 100,000 for children and teens ages 1-19 in the U.S. in 2021. 
  • 0.6. The firearm mortality rate per 100,000 for children and teens ages 1-19 in Canada in 2019. 

The extras.

  • One year ago today we covered Biden’s State of the Union address.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday’s newsletter was our new YouTube video where we try to build the perfect president.
  • Not immune: 1,102 readers responded to our survey asking about the recent ruling that former President Donald Trump is not immune from prosecution in his federal election interference case with 83% strongly agreeing with the court’s decision. 10% mostly agreed, 1% neither agreed nor disagreed, 2% mostly disagreed, and 2% strongly disagreed. Only four respondents were unsure or had no opinion.
  • Nothing to do with politics: Lil Jon is dropping a new guided meditation album.
  • Take the poll. What do you think of Jennifer Crumbley’s conviction? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

Despite suffering a setback during the Covid-19 pandemic, life expectancy is once again trending upward all over the world. In 2024, European median life expectancy is 80 years old. In North America it’s a little higher. Even better, babies born today will actually have higher life expectancies than that. Barring major disruptions, like a pandemic or war, babies benefit from health advances and societal improvements that occur during their lifetimes. For those in adulthood today, chances of living to 100 have never been better. The Progress Network has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.