Tag Archives: manifestos

Shaping and Showcasing Killer Identities: The Example of the Jokela School Shooting

In the blog post published on the 22nd of June 2014, I outlined the ways in which promotion of an identity constructed before a school shooting is a ‘performance’ intended for a particular audience. This post will follow up on this, by looking at the specific example of the Jokela High School incident on the 7th of November 2007. In this case, the eighteen year old perpetrator, Pekka-Eric Auvinen, put together a manifesto package explaining his motives. Prior to this, he engaged in online discussions about school shooters and gave some indication that he would perpetrate his own attack.

 

Eight were killed in the attack perpetrated by Auvinen in an attack on the upper (secondary) school within the Jokela School Centre. Similar to other school shootings, this incident had been planned well in advance. Preparations for Jokela were thought to have started in March 2007 based on Auvinen’s diary entry at that time, which stated intent to carry out an ‘operation against humanity.’ Also included in that diary entry was a desire for this ‘operation’ to be infamous with a lasting impact on society and to inspire others to carry out similar acts.

 

These sentiments were echoed in online debates Auvinen engaged in, taking place in internet communities dedicated to discussing the Columbine school shooting. Auvinen’s interest in this particular attack was explicated in him making a video about the incident: for instance, he put together a montage from the surveillance camera footage of the Columbine attack. Researchers found that the ties to these online groups magnified Auvinen’s desires and went some way to encouraging him to follow through with these in a proper attack. (1) Corresponding with others interested in school shooters has been a feature of other school shootings: for instance, the perpetrator of the Sandy Hook attack compiled a spreadsheet about school shooters and discussed them in detail with others online. (2) In the case of the Jokela school shooter, a clear intention to carry out a school shooting was expressed; although this lacked concrete details such as a date and location.

 

With him having a potential audience within the online community he was part of, Auvinen then uploaded materials to the internet: one of these was a manifesto entitled ‘Natural Selector’s Manifesto.’ (3) Throughout internet discussions, Auvinen had been prone to paraphrasing the quotations of Columbine attacker, Eric Harris about natural selection and being ‘God-like.’ Similar to Harris, in this manifesto, he made scathing comments about certain types of social groups and decried the human race in general. In addition to this document, the final media package constructed the night before his attack included a more detailed manifesto comparing his actions to ‘political violence’ to promote an ideology, videos featuring various mass murderers and a goodbye note for his family. With his fascination with radical ideology and terrorism, Auvinen had originally expressed a desire to target the Parliament in Finland; however, he felt that an attack in a school would create more ‘publicity.’ (4)

 

Considering all of this, it is clear that the online discussions helped both to cultivate an audience for Auvinen and provide him with further details about school shooters. It was clear he admired the Columbine school shooter, Eric Harris, and this was echoed in his manifesto comments about ‘natural selection’ and humanity. This was exemplified further in Auvinen preparing a detailed final manifesto to portray himself and his beliefs in a certain way before carrying out the attack and sending this to the media with the belief that this would bring maximum publicity.

 

[This blog post looked at a specific school shooting incident in Finland. Continuing the international theme, the next post will compare and contrast European school shootings with those occurring in the United States.]

 

  1. Oksanen A., Nurmi J., Vuori M., Räsänen P. (2013) ‘Jokela: The Social Roots of a School Shooting Tragedy in Finland.’ In School Shootings, edited by Böckler N., Seeger T., Sitzer P., Heitmeyer W. New York, NY: Springer, 189-215.
  2. The dangers of ‘school shooter admirers’ was discussed in my blog post published on the 29th of June 2014.
  3. Accordingly, he picked the user name ‘NaturalSelector89’ for his user account on YouTube.
  4. See page 208 of Oksanen A., Nurmi J., Vuori M., Räsänen P. (2013) ‘Jokela: The Social Roots of a School Shooting Tragedy in Finland.’ In School Shootings, edited by Böckler N., Seeger T., Sitzer P., Heitmeyer W. New York, NY: Springer, 189-215.

 

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School Shootings as ‘Performances’: A Goffmanesque Understanding

“The majority of the audience won’t even understand my motives,” documented one of the Columbine perpetrators in his journal. Such a sentiment suggests that school shooters can view their attacks as a ‘performance.’ To explore this idea further, I wish to draw upon Erving Goffman’s theatrical metaphor about the ‘performing self’ and ‘front [visible] images.’ A key idea deriving from Goffman’s book is that “during a performance, the ‘performed self’ is seen as some kind of image.” Relating this to school shootings finds that prior to attacks, a number of perpetrators have carefully constructed materials, such as videos, photographs, writings and diaries, to display a certain ‘image’ and outline their ‘justifications’ for their forthcoming attacks. Drawing upon Erving Goffman’s theatrical metaphor, it could thus be said that they function as ‘stage props’ offering immediate displays of messages shown to audience members — in this case, the public — otherwise known as its “‘front’ [image].”

My blogs posted on the 4th and 11th June 2014 described how most school shooters tend to have narcissistic and fragile male identities. It could be said the shooters try to negate this and present themselves to others in a certain way using these constructed materials and thereafter try to maximise their potential audience by sending or intending to send their multi-media packages to news media outlets or uploading material to the internet. There are numerous examples of this occurring globally and it has just increased with the advancement of technology and growth of social media. Maps, notebooks, journals, blueprints of the school, websites, and videotapes were carefully constructed by the Columbine shooters with the intention of sending these to news media stations beforehand, although this never transpired. The Orange High School (2006) perpetrator mailed a collection of video tapes and a letter explaining his motives to local newspaper Chapel Hill News. The German school shooter of Emsdetten (2006) left a video and posted comments on the Internet. The Virginia Tech (2007) shooter sent a package consisting of twenty-seven video clips, an eight-hundred word document and forty-three captioned photos into the broadcast news station National Broadcasting Company (NBC). In Finland, both the Jokela (2007) and Kauhajoki (2009) school shooters left media packages and posted videos on YouTube. Similarly, the recent Isla Vista shooting spree (2014) of the surrounding campus area involved the attacker posting a video detailing his motives to YouTube and emailing a manifesto to people he knew, which has since been uploaded onto the internet.

This trend can be related to Goffman’s notion of presenting one’s self to gain acceptance from others and Lasch’s idea that the “narcissist depends on other’s validation.” It highlights the need for interventionary efforts before school shootings commence, with anyone aware of someone they know possibly putting together such materials bringing this to the attention of law enforcement and the educational institution they attend. School shooters do not tend to just ‘snap’; rather, attacks are usually planned well in advance, with these manifestos being part of the preparations. Incorporating these materials or the act of preparing such materials into threat assessment cements the idea that a threat is substantive and immediate action is needed to prevent the attack occurring. This requires co-operation from those closest to potential school shooters, however, and will require extra vigilance when someone is engaging in violent behaviour and/or making troubling threats.

Even after the school shooting has ended and the perpetrators are either dead or have been arrested, their ‘performance’ still continues through the viewing of YouTube videos, the promotion of their manifestos in the news media and discussions on social media. The continuation of the ‘performance’ via online discussions also emphasises the need for internet postings to be investigated. The online activities of the person in question could be interrogated for warning signs as part of threat assessment — this is something which will be developed further in a future blog.

[This blog was put together with Erving Goffman’s book and further reading about school shootings. Future blogs intend to build upon this one, by discussing the use of online comments in threat assessment.]