When I found out about Elliot Rodger’s killing spree through Twitter I did the last logical thing I should have done. I went looking for the video (Trigger warning for intense misogyny and violence towards women), entitled “Elliot Rodger’s Retribution”, that he posted on YouTube before committing mass murder. And it was mass murder, as defined by the FBI. Rodger was found dead at the scene and apparently it isn’t clear (yet) if he killed himself or was shot by the police.
I couldn’t even watch the whole video. I got about half way through and broke down crying. In case anyone hasn’t heard about this horrific crime, Elliot Rodger shot dead seven people and injured more near the University of Santa Barbara, seemingly as an act of revenge against all the women who dared to not go out with him, not have sex with him and not be attracted to him. He said in the video, “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me but I will punish you all for it”. Maybe that attitude has something to do with the lack of attraction. Just a thought. Although he described himself as “the supreme gentleman”, I suspect that perhaps one of the main reasons women didn’t view him as a suitable partner was that he was the kind of person who believed he was owed attention, owed sex, owed approval. I suppose there’s also the possibility that he exhibited behaviour which indicated he might one day COMMIT A BUNCH OF MURDERS. Attraction doesn’t have to be reciprocated, however painful or unpleasant that may be to deal with. Guaranteed mutual attraction is neither a law of nature nor a human right.
A sheriff involved in investigating the shooting described Rodger as “severely mentally disturbed”. No shit. People who aren’t severely mentally disturbed generally don’t go around murdering people. Actually, most people who are severely mentally disturbed don’t go around murdering people either. I doubt the sheriff meant this to be an excuse. I’m sure it was supposed to be an attempt at an explanation or a presentation of some background information or a suggestion of why something so monumentally wrong could happen or how one human could do something so utterly cruel to other humans, but it plays too neatly into the idea that mental illness equals violent tendencies for me to be entirely comfortable with it.
I read online that Rodger’s views were aligned with those of some Men’s Rights Activism groups (no links here as I refuse to send traffic to content of that nature). If you’ve never encountered Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) and feel like this would be a good time to go on a Google mission, prepare yourself for severe emotional discomfort. The Men’s Rights Movement is supposedly “a reaction to feminism” but is basically rape culture in a bottle, misogyny and bitterness distilled into pure hatred, a sickening expression of privilege. I’m always wary of suggesting that a person’s choice of online reading material and interactions can be considered to be an explanation for violent behaviour, but it’s difficult to ignore the potential influence of this particular ideology on a person whose words suggest he already had major entitlement issues and an intense disrespect for women.
When I saw Rodger’s video, I was instantly reminded of every time a perpetrator of a school shooting has been described as an outsider and how people so often jump to one of two (if not both) conclusions based on this. Firstly, that anyone who could be perceived as an outsider for any reason is potentially dangerous and should be pushed further towards the fringes for the safety of all the non-outsiders. Secondly, that if a person doesn’t receive social validation it somehow justifies them committing acts of violence. Loneliness and even disillusionment are not excuses for causing pain and neither do they necessarily lead to it.
Another question that arose in my mind while reading accounts of this soul-shattering crime was whether or not the mass media will report it as terrorism. I spent some time looking for definitions of terrorism and most of those I found referred to violence against a group of people committed with political or ideological motivations. There is no doubt in my mind that Rodger’s actions were ideologically motivated but the mass media seems to like actively perpetuating the idea that terrorists are people from other places, or at least people of minority ethnicities, people who don’t look like us or talk like us or think like us or behave like us and we should absolutely, definitely fear those people. THOSE PEOPLE. These days, “us” seems to refer to white people in the Western world, according to the Great Exalted Purveyors of Bigotry and Doom. We are “us”. Everyone else is other. Everyone else is dangerous and threatening and not to be trusted. A lot of people truly believe this to be the case, which is not acceptable and which scares me more than terrorism. The mass media has a lot to answer for.
It feels worth mentioning that I grew up in Northern Ireland where terrorists lived in the same country, the same cities, the same streets as the people they terrorised so my experience has never felt aligned with the notion that a terrorist is someone else from somewhere else. A terrorist can be from where you’re from. They can have the same colour of skin, speak with the same accent, wear the same kind of clothes, live in the same kind of house as you. They often do. They could be you, except you don’t kill people. Was Rodger’s killing spree an act of terrorism? Will it be reported as such? If it is, will people view this person and his actions any differently? Will they make the same excuses for his behaviour as they might if he was just a sad, lonely young man with an axe to grind and a point to prove?
I want to talk about gun control but I find it a near-impossible subject to articulate my thoughts on. I feel weak for taking the easy way out and just not talking about it but I can’t bring myself to move on to that topic. It would be another entire blog post or five or ten. It feels like too much to think about right now and I’m already fighting to avoid stream of consciousness and compose a logical article about a crime that hurts so much to even think about. So I’m not going to go there. I don’t have the mental energy required to address the issue today.
When something like this happens, it shatters any hope I have for the human race, any fragile impression I try to comfort myself with that the world is a beautiful place. This is not an isolated incident that it’s impossible to make sense of. It is one of many acts of violence in a world which permits violence, in a culture which rewards a “power-over” approach and a time when misogyny and entitlement are still accepted by so many as “just the way things are”. The system is broken. Anything I can think of to say falls short. There aren’t enough words, or the right words, for a situation like this.
My heart aches for the victims of this atrocity and for their loved ones, for the people who saw this terrible thing happen and for the family of Elliot Rodger, whose lives will never the same again. If every individual is a universe of experience and potential, how many worlds were destroyed at 9.27pm on Friday 23rd May?