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Why Do We Have Mass Killers?

Be wary of imposing narratives for the sake of bringing order to scary chaos

A reader comments on the El Paso thread:

Rod, I read the Whiteshift book on your recommendation a couple of weeks ago, and the El Paso incident yesterday is straight out of the book’s thesis.

Should this guy have killed 20 people in a Wal-Mart? Hell no. Full Stop. Was it racist (no scare quotes) to go to the border to deliberately kill innocent Mexicans? Hell yes. Full Stop.

But many of the things he says in his “manifesto” are not totally unique opinions among white men, in particular the part about a culture that is visibly slipping away and cynical politicians who either are chasing “replacement voters” (democrats), or cheap labor/economic growth (most republicans), who sanctimoniously deem any objection as being immoral and therefore out of bounds.

I’m not going to go into the whole “White people… temper tantrum… Trump 2016…. establishment… Deep State…. yada yada” story that you already know very well, but it’s not entirely untrue. White people have legitimate and real fears about demographic change that are no less valid than the issues and concerns that drive other ethnic groups. And Whites are becoming increasingly frustrated that their elected representatives at best don’t seem to care and at worst are telling them that it’s wrong to feel the way they do. Trump’s election was entirely predictable and it is a harbinger of future elections.

This gets me back to the Whiteshift book. Continuing to ignore the concerns and priorities of white people, however illegitimate and distasteful politicians and leftists may think them to be, will only lead to more of these incidents and more (real) racism than we already have now. And cracking down on “hate speech” and tightening gun laws is only going to breed more resentment. White people need to be genuinely listened to and not constantly kicked and demeaned or told to “check their privilege”. There needs to be an effort made to listen to their concerns and come to a genuine compromise that recognizes the legitimacy of their concerns in a non-moralistic way.

Trump 2016 was “just” an election. What’s going to happen when whites decide the electoral process no longer works for them? What’s going to happen when anti-white political rhetoric morphs into something more tangible and malevolent with the power of the state behind it? When “asymmetric multiculturalism” becomes straight out oppression?

I’m an independently wealthy married father in my mid-40’s with an Ivy League degree. My life is good. I’m not one of those guys about to lose his job at the steel plant nor has my life so far been touched by the violence or addiction or any of the other ailments that plague American white men today that you speak so often about… but despite my personal advantages in life, I still found myself nodding along to a lot of what the shooter says in his manifesto. Am I worried about race mixing and genetic diversity? No. But I am worried about the distinctly American culture and heritage of my youth going away forever, to be replaced by something foreign because politicians were too cowardly and mendacious to protect it. I am worried that my children are going to grow up in a different world than I did, all in the name of “progress”.

This isn’t going to just fade away. Unless and until politicians and cultural leftists start taking white people and their concerns seriously – until they stop demeaning us as immoral and illegitimate and slurring those who speak up as “White Supremacists” (what a perfidious and insidious practice that has become) – these shootings and other violent incidents are only going to happen more and more frequently until all that can be heard is the sound of violent conflict. Our elected leaders are playing with fire. There’s a running joke in conservative circles that the ones with the guns are the ones who shouldn’t be provoked into an open conflict, but that’s not an entirely inaccurate observation.

If the only way to be heard is through violence, then eventually that’s all that’s going to be said and we will be in for much darker days than anything we have seen is far.

Please don’t take any of this as a threat or an open call to violence. All I mean to say is, despite the evil of his actions, the El Paso shooter isn’t a “lone nut” with out of the norm opinions. More people – more white men – agree with him than you might think, they just haven’t crossed that line yet where they feel their only resort is violence. This weekend was a warning for all of us.

I understand the point here, and I agree that the constant demonization of white men from academics and popular culture is summoning up a dark response from unstable white men. I have been saying that for a while in this space.

But I don’t believe that events like this can best be understood as political.

Yes, there is a political element in some of these crimes. The El Paso shooter left a manifesto, as did the Christchurch shooter. We have to take white supremacy and white nationalism as seriously as an ideological source of violence as we do radical Islam.

But consider that just hours after the El Paso shooting, Connor Betts, a young white male, killed nine people in a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, before police shot him dead. Here’s some of what we know about him:

Connor Betts, the Dayton, Ohio mass shooter, was a self-described “leftist,” who wrote that he would happily vote for Democrat Elizabeth Warren, praised Satan, was upset about the 2016 presidential election results, and added, “I want socialism, and i’ll not wait for the idiots to finally come round to understanding.”

Betts’ Twitter profile read, “he/him / anime fan / metalhead / leftist / i’m going to hell and i’m not coming back.” One tweet on his page read, “Off to Midnight Mass. At least the songs are good. #athiestsonchristmas.” The page handle? I am the spookster. On one selfie, he included the hashtags, “#selfie4satan #HailSatan @SatanTweeting.” On the date of Republican Sen. John McCain’s death, he wrote, “F*ck John McCain.” He also liked tweets referencing the El Paso mass shooting in the hours before Dayton.

On his social media feed, he also denounced Trump, and in advance of the Charlottesville march, said, “Kill all fascists.” Betts was a vicious, sadistic man from way back. The AP reports:

High school classmates of the gunman who killed nine people early Sunday in Dayton, Ohio, say he was suspended for compiling a “hit list” of those he wanted to kill and a “rape list” of girls he wanted to sexually assault.

The accounts by two former classmates emerged after police said there was nothing in the background of 24-year-old Connor Betts that would have prevented him from purchasing the .223-caliber rifle with extended ammunition magazines that he used to open fire outside a crowded bar.

Can we blame Elizabeth Warren, socialism, anime, or the Devil, for Connor Betts’s massacre? No.

What about Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook killer? There was nothing political in his madness. He was autistic — but millions of people are, and they don’t kill other people. Like El Paso killer Patrick Crusius, he was a child of divorce, but so are tens of millions of others, who never lift a finger to hurt other people.

These guys were all white. You know which mass killer wasn’t white?

Seung-hui Cho, the Virginia Tech mass killer from 2007.

Omar Mateen, the Pulse nightclub shooter. Mateen swore allegiance to ISIS just before he went on his rampage. It’s the fault of Islamic radicalism, then. Right? Probably not: it emerged that Mateen had been an awkward loner with a violent temper, and would toggle between fits of Islamic piety and drinking booze. He was divorced, and evidence emerged that he might have been struggling with his own homosexuality.

Micah Xavier Johnson, who in 2016 ambushed and slaughtered five police officers in Dallas. He was black, and explicitly said he wanted to kill white people in revenge for police killings of blacks. Also in 2016, Gavin Eugene Long, also a black man, ambushed and killed police officers in Baton Rouge, as a political protest.

My point is that people love to take these horrible events as validating the political narrative they prefer, but these narratives can keep us from understanding what really happened.

I remember when the Pulse shooting happened, because it was a gay nightclub, some gay rights groups, media outlets, and other liberals blamed homophobia. The New York Times published an editorial blaming Republicans’ “prejudice,” and Slate blamed conservative Christians. And then we learned that the killer had pledged allegiance to ISIS.

Lots of people today are eager to blame Donald Trump for El Paso. I think Trump’s rhetoric does nothing to tamp down these passions, at the very least, and he ought to have the decency and intelligence to recognize that as president, he has a responsibility to speak with wisdom and balance. That said, it’s simply too convenient to blame Trump for things like this. Patrick Crusius, the El Paso shooter, was a Trump fan (according to his social media), but he was also, according to those who knew him, an extreme loner who had a bad temper, and had grown up in a divorced family with a father who was a drug and alcohol addict for 40 years.

It could be that Crusius, like Omar Mateen, seized a violent ideology that gave him an excuse for acting out the violence in his heart over the fact that he was a failure. We don’t know yet. We’ll know more in the trial. Don’t forget the incel mass killers, who slaughtered people as a form of revenge on women who wouldn’t sleep with them. Those wicked men aren’t driven by Donald Trump. They are driven by rage, and their own failure and impotence.

And look, if you’re determined to kill people, you don’t need a gun. The Toronto incel mass murderer ran down people with his van (a technique that Islamists in France have used.)

The academic Tom Nichols has a really interesting Twitter thread this morning. Here’s how it starts:



If this were just a matter of widespread availability of guns, these things would be happening in the American South all the time. Nearly everybody has guns here. Some people have lots of them. If it were just a matter of racial hatred among right-wing gun owners — come on, do I really have spell this out for you? It’s the same logic that we use to try to understand Islamist terrorism. If every single person who believed in Islamic doctrine, even extreme versions of it, was a terrorist, the world would be quickly engulfed in savagery.

I have always hated those who try to minimize the role of weaponized religion in driving Islamic terrorism. They don’t take religion seriously enough. But it is equally wrong to only blame religion (or political ideology), because it keeps us from seeing what factors particular to an individual made him crack. There are reasons that a particular kind of young man is drawn to radical ideologies, be they Islamism, fascism, antifa, and so forth. Hannah Arendt, in her 1951 classic The Origins Of Totalitarianism, writes that these ideologies appeal to people — especially men — who have been radically isolated, and who have lost a sense of being anchored in a solid social order that gives meaning and purpose to their lives.

My view is that we seek to impose certain narratives on these irruptions of murder and madness as a way of ordering chaos that threatens us. Don’t get me wrong: we should try to understand what makes these things happen, so we can protect society from them. We should work hard to resist racialist narratives, from all sides. And so forth. We can’t just throw up our hands and say, “Gosh, we’ll never know.” The fact that we can’t ultimately comprehend the mystery of iniquity doesn’t free us from the responsibility to do the best we can to deny it opportunities to manifest. But let’s not lie to ourselves.

A former Soviet citizen I interviewed for my book project told me that there was a lot of violence in the USSR — and not just violence that the state visited on everybody else. I expressed surprise at this, given that it was a police state, and state had a monopoly on violence. He laughed, and said that there was all kinds of violence where the police couldn’t reach, or didn’t care to. This was just what it meant to live in the Soviet Union. Not even a totalitarian police state could eliminate the desire to kill, and the opportunity. It’s who we are, at some level.

The point I’m making here is that we are quick to settle on narratives that suit our own convictions, because that’s how we make the boogey man go away. At the extreme end, this is why people fall for conspiracy theory: because it’s less frightening to believe that a shadowy cabal of evil actors orchestrated the murder of President Kennedy than it is to believe a lone gunman killed the most powerful man in the world as he passed through a traffic intersection in Dallas.

A thought experiment: mass shootings were less common in the past, but the homicide rate was higher. Is there something about our society today that simultaneously reduces the general homicide rate, while making mass-shootings more likely?

By the way, I had a conversation over the weekend with a physician in Kansas City, a man born overseas (not in Europe). He said that as bad as things can be here in terms of violence, Americans are living in a paradise of peace compared to much of the world. I took him to be saying that this is not a reason to be complacent about it here, but rather to keep in perspective that man is a violent creature, and man’s inhumanity to man is a permanent feature of human culture.



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