Tag Archives: revenge and bullying thesis

School Shooter Admirers: Why Intervention is Required

In the last blog, I spoke about those who created a ‘revenge and bullying thesis to justify the actions of school shooters. Analysing such comments certainly suggests that for some users, school shooters have been romanticised as ‘heroes’ for bullied kids who dislike school. In this post, I want to further explore the sentiments expressed on YouTube comments by those expressing some kind of ‘fan admiration’ for the Red Lake and Virginia Tech school shooters.

Throughout the video comments, the terms used to describe the Virginia Tech shooter are ‘God,’ ‘true legend,’ ‘courageous warrior,’ ‘martyr’ and ‘hero’; whilst others said “my respect to him” and “he will be remembered for his bravery.” Some users placed responsibility for Cho’s actions upon his ‘bullies,’ whilst he is exonerated from blame and praised for defending himself. Other subjects’ comments proceed to assign the blame for the creation of school shooters to a variety of sources, such as society, popular people, life, society, bullies, high school environments, school teachers, and school officials. This comment log also addresses [in their words] feelings of being stifled, rejection, isolation, pain, torment, suffering, abuse, neglect, damaged, and being the ‘odd one.’ Other YouTube commentators made the point that they empathise with Cho but that he should not have killed innocent people, just his bullies: this at least shows some awareness of the lack of connection between the perpetrator and those he killed/wounded.

Similarly, a handful of commentators commended the Red Lake perpetrator for being ‘smart’; although the reasons why they think this are not given. A number of other comments were more standard displays of admiration claiming the perpetrator ‘stood up for himself’ and calling him a ‘hero.’ These kinds of comments show that the Red Lake shooter is idolised by disenfranchised kids who feel the same way as him. Users seemed to particularly feel sympathy for this perpetrator because of the tragedy in his life (his father killed himself and his mother was left brain-damaged after a car accident) and felt that he was too a ‘victim’: “he suffered great hardship and depression”; “he was obviously mentally ill and depressed.” Others revealed that they too had felt the same way. It seems the personal tragedies he suffered made users feel his suicidal tendencies were more understandable than other school shooters, especially if they themselves can empathise with him. The use of evaluative adverbs here ‘bullied,’ ‘depressed,’ and ‘suffered’ all convey value judgments) about the Red Lake perpetrator’s life. It seems that if a school shooter is relatable in some way, people are more likely to sympathise with him. This does not always necessarily lead to admiration; however, it shows a move towards a humanised interpretation of the school shooters, differing from traditional understandings of him as an ‘evil figure’ based on a Nietzschian understanding of ‘evil’ being inherent in the actions themselves.

More worryingly, to a handful of users carrying out a school shooting was the more ‘desirable’ option than just committing suicide, as this would not have garnered any attention. Comments claim that the infamy arising from some school shootings was the persuasive element for them: “violence is the way to get world attention”; “we all die but he’s [the school shooter] now a legend.” The sociologist Emile Durkheim (discussed in the blog published on the 8 June 2014) made some very interesting points on imitation and suicide that could be linked to the ‘copycat’ nature of school shootings. Imitation is defined as “the immediate antecedent of an act is the representation of a like act, previously performed by someone else,” which can occur between unconnected individuals. More importantly, “no imitation can exist without a model to imitate” and that is where the ‘cultural script’ of school shootings comes into play, prescribing a course of action which school shooters use to try and solve their problems. Paralleling this is Durkheim’s acknowledgement that pertinent to the act of imitation is seeing the initial act; without this, the act of suicide will be non-existent. In the case of school shootings, these tend to be highly publicised and the ones that are particularly shocking (Sandy Hook, December 2012) or with the highest death count (Virginia Tech, April 2007) are notorious in nature. For school shooters, the prospect of infamy through their act of homicide-suicide — more likely to come from particularly shocking and deadly attacks — is a driving force for them.

[This blog used a critical discourse analysis framework to assess YouTube comments. Future posts will incorporate the blogs published throughout June 2014 to formulate a threat assessment model.]

The ‘Revenge and Bullying’ thesis: YouTube Discussions of School Shooters

The ‘revenge and bullying thesis’ circumscribing bullied boys getting revenge on their tormentors was popular in YouTube debates. This is in spite of the fact that school shooters target innocent people; in some cases, they do not even know their victims (Sandy Hook; Virginia Tech). An effective evaluation of this was an YouTube debater stating “If kids are bulled too much, they now carry out a Harris-and-Klebold [type] revenge.” More worryingly, in YouTube reactions of there was a high proportion of praise and sympathy for the Columbine and Virginia Tech shooters, which suggests that the perpetrators — in particular the Columbine ones, since their friends were quoted as saying the shooters had been bullied constantly at the school — are idolised by other bullied kids; this could possibly inspire others with grievances to plan a similar attack.

The idea that the Virginia Tech perpetrator had been racially abused and sought ‘revenge’ against his bullies was a way for disgruntled teenagers to romanticize his actions. A video featuring an interview with his suitemates left some users purporting that they must have bullied him: “These two f**** made fun of him all the time and talked s**** about him”; “It’s obvious that they didn’t treat him like a normal human being.” By contrast, his suitemates made an effort to speak to him and would bring him along to social events, but he would ignore them or engage in strange behaviour like stabbing the carpet at a party they took him to. This left others wondering why the shooter did not target his suitemates in his shooting rampage. At times, users threatening and verbally abusing each other, which is indicative of the nature of online ‘discussions’ — certainly showing that the ‘virtual sphere’ is not always conducive to free and democratic debates — and also shows the strength of people’s feelings on the matter: they feel their point of view is correct.
It certainly seems that because bullying is such a widespread problem, a number of users will have experienced it before and thus empathize with school shooters, with some stating that if they too had been pushed a bit further they may also have taken a similar route. This relates to the theory that school shootings create a ‘cultural script’ of action utilized as a coping strategy for kids feeling depressed and angry, whether due to bullying or personal problems. The correlation between bullying and school shootings became so prevalent for users that they began to ‘normalize’ that a school attack would be the consequence of bullying: “If people didn’t bully and treat others like s*** there wouldn’t be any school shootings”;“If you shove the “weird kid” enough times, he WILL shove back.”

There were counterchallenges in YouTube discussions to the instances of blaming bullying. In the Columbine sample, claims were often made that the perpetrators engaged in bullying themselves and/or were popular in school. The main challenge to the ‘bullying and targeting’ theory prevalent in YouTube discussions is that the Columbine perpetrators killed some people that they did not even know and few of the victims were actually jocks; this, coupled with the fact that the attack was originally intended to be a bombing to blow up the entire school, makes the alternative theory that the shooters were instead targeting the school as an institution a more viable one. Similarly, there was counter-opposition to the idea that the Virginia Tech shooter had been bullied, with people surmising that he was perhaps jealous of everyone else on campus for having an easier time adjusting to university life. The fact the perpetrator went into a number of different classrooms in Norris Hall (the site where the worst of the massacre occurred) showed he was not targeting any particular groups. Moreover, the particularly brutal nature of the attacks — a total of just over a hundred bullets were fired into the thirty-two killed and each of the survivors had been shot at least three times — suggests that the shooter intended to damage the university in general rather than having a vendetta against any specific persons. Accordingly, some users recognised that those killed were not necessarily the ones who bullied the perpetrators: “everyone is a target” and “they kill anyone who gets in their way.” Further exemplifying this were users’ discussions of the Aurora Theatre and Sandy Hook shootings: the completely random nature of these attacks and lack of relationship between the shooters and victims is likely to fuel feelings of fear and the idea that ‘anyone can be a target’ — something which suggests a particular typology of violence.

[The research conducted for this blog were analyses of YouTube comments on videos relating to the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings. Future blogs will build upon this to develop a threat assessment model relating to online activities.]