The friends’ comments paint a picture bolstered by other former classmates and Loughner’s own Internet postings: that of a social outcast with nihilistic, almost indecipherable beliefs steeped in mistrust and paranoia…

Mistrust of government was Loughner’s defining conviction, the friends said. He believed the U.S. government was behind 9/11, and worried that governments were maneuvering to create a unified monetary system (“a New World Order currency” one friend said) so that social elites and bureaucrats could control the rest of the world…

Over time, Loughner became increasingly introspective — what one of the friends described as a “nihilistic rut.”

An ardent atheist, he began to characterize people as sheep whose free will was being sapped by the government and the monotony of modern life…

“He appeared to be to me an emotional cripple or an emotional child,” Coorough said. “He lacked compassion, he lacked understanding and he lacked an ability to connect.”