We are constantly reading about mass shootings these days, and they mostly seem to be happening in the U.S.
But what do the people behind them all have in common? Writing on Cracked, Robert Evans set out to find out just that.
By speaking with former IRA bomber Shane O’Doherty, ‘Jack’, a guy who turned up at his school with two loaded shotguns intending to commit a massacre in 1992, and reading a load of interviews with attempted suicide bombers, Evans found that people’s perceptions of the criminals who commit these acts are usually wrong.
One difference Evans noticed is how race or religion changes the way the shooter is identified. Elliot Rodger is the psycho who murdered six people in Isla Vista, California, earning him the tile of a ‘killer’ on a ‘rampage’. Similarly, the Columbine killers were referred to as ‘gun-toting teens’ who were part of a ‘misfit clique’.
This is in stark comparison to the Paris atrocities, which were instantly labelled terrorism, and the San Bernardino shootings which was labelled an act of terror when it was revealed they were perpetrated by Muslims.
All these attacks are terrible tragedies, but what makes a shooting committed by a Muslim extremist an act of terror, and another by a white teenager just a killing? It turns out there really is no difference between what is reported to us as terrorism and what’s described as a mass shooting, or killing.
The FBI definition of terrorism covers acts that are ‘dangerous to human life’ and are intended ‘to influence or coerce a civilian population.’
The kid who aborted his planned shooting spree, ‘Jack’, said he wanted to send a message to the popular kids who’d bullied him, as well as become an example to other nerdy kids. He told Cracked:
I had Bon Jovi’s song ‘Blaze Of Glory’ playing on a loop for a long time. … There were some thoughts of being regarded as a hero by some people. Or the anti-hero. That fantasy was a big driving part.
This motivation is similar to that which drives suicide bombers in Palestine, a group that the media would consider terrorists. Edna Erez’s study of Palestinian suicide bombers noted that: “Becoming a suicide bomber is a social process [which requires] a community that extols perpetrators as heroes and embraces their acts as a noble form of resistance.”
Whatever ideology inspired the attack, an act of violence that is committed to terrorise a population is an act of terrorism.
Something else Evans notes is that the shooter is usually either reported as being, or generally considered mentally ill – and mental illness is the explanation for the shooting, rather than access to guns for example.
If Islamic terrorists’ actions can be explained by their belief in a hate-filled ideology, why is it not believable for a lone gunman to be filled with so much rage he would commit these crimes, regardless of his mental health?
It turns out humiliation is usually a more accurate cause than mental illness. Jack was inspired to commit his shooting after he was continually humiliated by ‘jocks’. ISIS’s propaganda magazine Dabiq frequently mentions the humiliation they are subjected to by the West, and the Palestinian bombers that were interviewed by Erez all mentioned the humiliation they felt as their people were oppressed.
While humiliation was frequently mentioned by mass shooters, a study found that only 23 per cent had a psychiatric history and only six per cent were psychotic – nearly half were victims of bullying, however.
Despite the media often portraying these killers as laughing, or generally enjoying the act of murder they’re taking part in, the truth is they are often totally detached from their actions.
Erez described the mindset of the attempted Palestinian suicide bombers she spoke to:
The interviewees described their feelings and conduct on the way to the target. They spoke of ‘robotic behaviour’ and of being emotionally detached. They focused on the mission, tried not to be distracted by any thoughts or concerns related to their family or friends. One participant explained during the interview how he felt during the ride to the target: ‘When I sit with you and want to drink water, I think of how I will get the water and get it and drink. But if I want to blow myself up, I don’t think about anything.’
Shane, the former IRA bomber, described how he would switch off and adopt an ‘incredibly robotic mindset’ when he was carrying out attacks, adding: “When you’re given bombs every day you really did switch off as many thought mechanisms as you could, especially fear. It’s like a software program at work. It’s dehumanisation.”
And the fact that both Jack and Shane have gone on to live normal lives runs contrary to what most people presume about mass shooters – that they’re totally broken as functional, normal human beings.
Jack was arrested and spent time in a youth correctional facility. He now has a kid and a job, and is a functioning member of society – he says he was stopped from carrying out his plan by the vice principal:
I walked into [his school] with two sawed-off shotguns, a bag full of ammo, and a bayonet. I went into the school, into the bathroom and waited for the bell to ring. I was on the way into the first classroom when the vice principal found me … he asked me to come into the office. At that moment, it was either go through with it or surrender.
After spending 10 years in prison Shane’s now married, spending his time helping the homeless in Ireland and trying to stop Basque teenagers from becoming radicalised.