Tag Archives: Anders Breivik

The Familiar Voice Of Isla Vista’s Killer

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I don’t normally blog about mass shootings when the reporting doesn’t involve violent video games, aggressive music, the occult or one of the other topics from this site. Nevertheless, I often follow the reporting anytime an incident like Elliot Rodger’s crime spree in Isla Vista, California, takes place. I think we are just beginning to learn about this young man, who left behind hateful videos and an even more hate-filled manifesto. For better or worse, Rodger left behind a lot of documentation that points if not to an underlying reason, at least to his thinking and rationale for the attack. Without pathologizing anger and hatred necessarily, it’s worth pointing out that this level of malice and violent planning is one of the hallmarks of such killers — and of a particular strain of imbalanced mental state Rodger seemed to share with other mass shooters, notably Eric Harris and Anders Breivik.

From Rodgers’ videos:

“I will be a god compared to you. You will all be animals. You are animals, and I will slaughter you like animals. I hate all of you. Humanity is a disgusting, wretched, depraved species.… I’ll be a god exacting my retribution on all those who deserve it and you do deserve it just for the crime of living a better life than me.”

From Eric Harris’ diaries:

“I feel like God. I am higher than almost anyone in the fucking world in terms of universal intelligence.” [in a later entry] “The Nazis came up with a ‘final solution’ to the Jewish problem: kill them all. Well in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I say ‘Kill mankind.’ No one should survive.”

From Breivik’s manifesto:

“Once you decide to strike, it is better to kill too many than not enough, or you risk reducing the desired ideological impact of the strike. Explain what you have done (in an announcement distributed prior to operation) and make certain that everyone understands that we, the free peoples of Europe, are going to strike again and again.”

When we talk about what mass killers have in common, we have to go deeper than music or hobbies, or even spirituality. If we begin to compare the messages of those who left behind messages, there are certainly a number of common themes. Several of them talk about eradicating massive numbers of people. And many seem to carry this kind of righteousness, a righteousness that is apart from our cultural and legal order, as though they exist outside the societal code and get to decide who lives and who dies. One writer, Dave Cullen, pegged these traits in Eric Harris as sociopathy.

But it’s interesting, isn’t it, how these killers’ mental state is refracted through the hot-button issues of the day. Recently, our society has focused broadly and deeply on issues related to women’s rights — from kidnapped Nigerian girls to the firing of NYT executive editor Jill Abramson. We’ve also been looking more closely at race in recent years, sparked perhaps in part by the election of our first biracial president. Rodgers spoke of a specific hatred toward women, toward other races — very interesting, given that he was biracial.

Music writer Ann Powers said, on Facebook:

“The quick association of the Isla Vista killing with the culture of misogyny is right and necessary. I’m glad for that commentary. But if ever a tragedy illustrated how one pathological cultural imbalance produces and is produced by another, it is this one. As David J. Leonard pointed out, Rodger’s hatred of women can’t be separated from his entrapment within hegemonic masculinity. His distress at being biracial and hatred of both black and blonde people expose the insidiousness of racism. His feelings of sexual failure make me wonder about the competitively hypersexualized environment we all live in today. Mental illness often reflects the most troubling aspects of the historic moment that creates it. This event is a minefield. To reduce its origin to one thing is to fail to step carefully.”

This stuff is complicated, and I’m mostly glad to see, so far, that the non-sensational press (by which I don’t mean the Daily Mail, the New York Daily News, and so on) isn’t dumbing things down. I hope that continues as we learn more about this young man and his terrible crimes. The more nuance and complexity we can pull from the event, the more we will understand when the next one comes.

Oslo Mass Killer: ‘Prison Is Torture; Give Me Video Games Or I’ll Go On A Hunger Strike’

Anders Breivik, the man serving prison time for killing 77 people in a Norway killing spree in 2011, contacted prison authorities in November, claiming he’s being held in torturous conditions and that he will go on a hunger strike if those conditions aren’t improved.

Among his demands are better conditions for his daily walk, the right to communicate more freely with people outside the prison, and for the prison to upgrade his PlayStation 2 console to a PlayStation 3, “with access to more adult games that I get to choose myself.” He also wants a more comfortable sofa or armchair instead of the “painful” chair he has now.

He wrote:

“Other inmates have access to adult games while I only have the right to play less interesting kids games. One example is ‘Rayman Revolution’, a game aimed at three year olds.”

This is, of course, controversial because of the large role video games played in the story of his arrest, trial and conviction. Although he claimed that Call of Duty served as his training program and World of Warcraft consumed many hours of his days, he also recommended in his manifesto that aspiring mass killers claim they’re playing lots of video games while they’re actually plotting their killing sprees. It’s also quite clear that Breivik’s rampage was the result of his disordered mental state — a condition certainly reinforced by some of his latest demands, although probably a better walk and more comfortable chair isn’t unreasonable. But these comments pretty much seal it:

“You’ve put me in hell … and I won’t manage to survive that long. You are killing me,” he wrote to prison authorities in November, threatening a hunger strike and further right-wing extremist violence. “If I die, all of Europe’s right-wing extremists will know exactly who it was that tortured me to death … That could have consequences for certain individuals in the short term but also when Norway is once again ruled by a fascist regime in 13 to 40 years from now,” he warned, calling himself a “political prisoner”.

In some prisons, prisoners are indeed allowed video games. along with exercise, books, and so on. But content is often limited — books that contain criminal activity, for example, or instructions on bomb-making, aren’t generally allowed. That said, if Breivik is going to remain in prison, in solitary confinement, for the next two decades, I fail to see the harm in letting him play video games. Sure, there’s an argument to be made that he’s there to be punished and not entertained. On the other hand, no amount of prison time, however boring it is, is likely to reform him or make him regret what he did. He’s likely always going to find a way to make this into a story about how he’s being held as a political prisoner whose message was unfairly silenced by authorities.

Aaron Alexis, PTSD, mass shootings, mental illness and video games: the real call of duty

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As more details emerge about Aaron Alexis, the gunman in yesterday’s Washington D.C. navy yard shooting that left 13 people — including Alexis — dead, many news outlets have been focusing on claims that he played violent video games “obsessively,” up to 16 hours a day. This is according to friends, who said he had a habit of playing Call of Duty for long hours. Some have connected this detail to claims that Adam Lanza and Anders Breivik also played Call of Duty at length.

But here’s the thing about the Call of Duty franchise: just eight of its games have sold 124 million units. While some of those sales were probably to the same people, it drives home the point that this is a best-selling game title. And when more than half of Americans play video games, that’s a whole lot of people playing Call of Duty. If it were going to lead players to commit mass shootings, we’d be seeing many more of them than we are.

(I was interviewed this morning on KGO Radio by Ronn Owens on this topic; follow this link to hear his program on Alexis’ interest in video games. I come in around the 19:50 mark.)

And here’s the thing about Alexis: it appears that he had been suffering from mental illness for more than a decade. His symptoms started shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, in which he was a first responder. He was hearing voices as recently as six weeks ago. He “carried a .45 handgun tucked in his trousers with no holster ‘everywhere he went’ because he believed people would try to steal his belongings,” the Telegraph reported. I’m not a psychologist, but it’s clear there was much more going on with Alexis than his love of a good first-person shooter, and even when police were confronted with signs of his paranoia and delusions, they said “No further action was required.”

It’s heartbreaking to think that a man like Alexis, who was clearly trying to make a peaceful life in service of others, and who was also clearly suffering from some form of mental illness, couldn’t and didn’t get help. It’s heartbreaking to think that because he — like Lanza, Breivik, Holmes, Loughner, Harris, Klebold and so many others — slipped through the cracks somehow, 13 more are dead.

Jayne Gackenbach’s research suggests that soldiers and servicemen like Alexis who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder actually fare better when they play games like Call of Duty; such games reduce the number of nightmares they experience. Maybe the problem, at the end of the day, is that Alexis didn’t play enough video games; maybe he just couldn’t get the nightmares to stop, no matter what he tried.

I want to stress that while many suffer from mild to severe forms of mental illness, most of the time it doesn’t make people violent, either. But we need to know more about the nexus between psychological and neurological issues and the compulsion to commit mass violence. Culturally, it’s beyond time for us to destigmatize mental illness and amp up our mental-health resources so people like Alexis can get help before things get out of hand. Otherwise, these elaborate forms of suicide will continue unabated.

What does “black metal” have to do with Varg Vikernes’ terrorism arrest? Nothing — sort of.

The news broke this morning that Burzum frontman Varg Vikernes was arrested in the Correze region of France after his wife, Marie Chachet, after Chachet purchased four rifles (which she was licensed to own). The couple, who have three children, were charged on suspicion that they were fostering a terrorist plot, based in part on the fact that Anders Breivik sent Vikernes a copy of his 1,500-page manifesto before he went on a terrorist spree near Oslo, killing 77 people.

For readers who don’t know, Vikernes is one of the most famous — and most divisive — figures in the Norwegian black metal scene, to the point that it’s almost impossible to have a conversation about that scene’s early days without his name cropping up. In 2009, Vikernes was released from prison after serving 15 years of a 21-year sentence for the murder of his friend/rival, Mayhem guitarist Oeystein “Euronymous” Aarseth, as well as for the arson of several historic churches in Norway. His involvement in these crimes, and the subsequent coverage in international magazines like Kerrang!, put black metal on the world stage for the first time.

I recently finished reading “Black Metal: Beyond the Darkness,” an anthology of essays and interviews regarding the scene and its progression in the 20+ years since Vikerness stabbed Aarseth to death. Vikernes’ crimes cast a long shadow; they were mentioned in almost every piece in the book. Given that those crimes have now almost become synonymous with black metal’s origin story, it’s easy to see why. However, the book showed again and again how wrong it is to view all of the genre through the lens of Vikernes’ actions. By and large, the musicians and fans involved in the scene are not violent, destructive criminals. Sure, some adore theatrics, simulated rituals and references to Satanism (either real or metaphorical). But that’s another matter altogether.

It’s also worth noting that many, particularly within the black-metal scene, actively boycott Burzum’s albums both because of Vikernes’ actions and because he’s an avowed racist and adherent to neo-Nazi beliefs — which may be part of what attracted Breivik to him, though that’s speculation on my part. Even fans find supporting him complicated.

Euronews’ headline today reads, “Neo-nazi and black metal star Varg Vikernes arrested in France.” They’re not wrong to do so, given that Vikernes’ identity as a black metal musician is his claim to fame. This isn’t like calling Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris “goths,” or Breivik a video-game lover. Those facets, true or not, aren’t what made those figures known to the world.

What would be a mistake is to once again paint all of black metal with the Burzum brush, as happened in the mid-1990s after the arsons and Aarseth’s murder. Again, the genre has largely moved on, incorporating other elements, other philosophies. It’s still dark and harsh and rebellious in plenty of places, but the overwhelming majority of folks in the scene, musicians and fans, are focused on music, philosophy and community; not criminal mayhem.

Violent games didn’t cause Sandy Hook shooting


Did Call of Duty make Adam Lanza kill? Not likely.

I don’t know if this seems fishy to anyone else, but over the weekend, politicians and the press began speculating that violent video games must have had something to do with the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. For example, you had Connecticut’s own senator, Joe Lieberman, saying things like, “Very often these young men have an almost hypnotic involvement in some form of violence in our entertainment culture – particularly violent video games. And then they obtain guns and become not just troubled young men but mass murderers.”

That’s not the fishy part. Well, okay it is, but it gets fishier: a few days later, the UK’s oh-so-reputable Sun unearthed a plumber who swears that shooter Adam Lanza played Call of Duty for hours every day. I don’t even know where to start.

It’s hard to imagine how a plumber could have a good window into someone’s behavior over time, unless for some reason he lived in the Lanza home. So there’s that.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Lanza did play the game. Then there’s the fact that more than 55 million people play Call of Duty. Sure, Anders Breivik also played Call of Duty. I bet both Anders Breivik and Adam Lanza also ate toast, or wore pants, or saw The Sound of Music. In other words, this is a pastime so common that it can’t be linked to any particular sort of behavior. All sorts of people play Call of Duty. It has wide, massive appeal. One or two of them is potentially going to go off the deep end in ways we couldn’t have predicted. Their gaming habits aren’t relevant.

This week, the Internet has been awash with writeups arguing that video games did — or didn’t — lend a hand in the Sandy Hook shooting. I’m not going to go through them exhaustively, but you can check them out on the Backward Messages Pinterest boards. I do want to call two pieces of news and commentary to your attention.

In the first, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has introduced a bill to study the impact of violent video games on children. What a complete waste of taxpayer money. We’ve had dozens, even hundreds of studies — and even those that suggest a correlation between violent video games and aggression a) cannot prove that games lead to actual violence, b) only rarely show any verifiable link at all, and c) can’t prove whether it’s players’ need for an aggressive outlet which draw them to the games, rather than the games leading to aggression. Visit this blog’s video-games category to see articles on many of these studies.

In the second, the Washington Post looked at video games and gun violence in 10 countries and found, basically, “that countries where video games are popular also tend to be some of the world’s safest (probably because these countries are stable and developed, not because they have video games). And we also have learned, once again, that America’s rate of firearm-related homicides is extremely high for the developed world.”

A decade ago, studies showed that mass shooters tended to be kids who played video games less than average. Now that pretty much everyone plays a video game now and then — much more so than 10 or 20 years ago — it’s probably safe to say that these killers do play. But again, gaming is now so common that it’s akin to watching television or blockbuster movies; you just can’t say that engaging in it will lead to any specific outcome. And you can’t use one violent act to justify taking games away from the millions and millions of people who enjoy them safely.

In fact, it’s likely that Lanza enjoyed them safely, too. It’s likely that his gaming had nothing to do with his crime. It’s also likely that something in his mind went awry, and the fact that his mom trained him to shoot gunsnot the fact that he’d played a shooter video game — gave him the means to act on his brain’s break with reality.

Russia talks “Manhunt” crackdown after shootings


This image of alleged Russian mass shooter Dmitry Vinogradov may look like it’s from a video game, but that doesn’t mean games were involved in the crime.

It hasn’t taken long for Russian politicians to come out against violent video games in the days after a Russian man went on a shooting spree, killing six people in the pharmaeceutical company where he worked.

Specifically, they’re going after Manhunt, because some say the alleged shooter in last week’s Moscow rampage, 30-year-old Dmitry Vinogradov, was a fan of the ultraviolent video game. They can’t agree on what to do, exactly, but no matter:

Sergei Zheleznyak, a deputy of United Russia, said that one needed to submit an adequate inquiry to Roskomnadzor (the Federal Surveillance Service for Mass Media and Communications) to ban the game in Russia. The software was designed for adult audiences, but it is available on the Internet to all, including children, which is against the law, New Politics magazine wrote.

United Russia deputy Franz Klintsevich supported Zheleznyak’s initiative and expressed a more radical solution. According to him, access to bloody games in general should be restricted in the country, NTV reports.

First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Education Vladimir Burmatov put forward an idea to set up an interdepartmental commission to supervise the sales of computer games. According to Burmatov, playing violent games pushed the Moscow shooter towards the crime, wrote MK.ru.

How, exactly, Burmatov knows that these games had anything to do with Vinogradov’s mindstate is anyone’s guess. Is he close with the alleged shooter? Is he an expert in psychology?

According to many of the news reports, Vinogradov apparently brought a gun to work after he was dumped by a girlfriend. He also may or may not have been on a drinking binge in the days before the attack — which in itself isn’t to blame, but may be an indication of a more serious underlying psychological issue. There’s a chance that he played violent video games, or even the most notoriously gory ones, but that doesn’t have anything to do with the crimes he’s connected with.

At least Russian news outlet is already calling Vinogradov “Russia’s Breivik,” after Norwegian mass shooter Anders Breivik, a misnomer for a number of reasons. For one, Breivik killed more than 70 people. For another, Vinogradov’s violent mission seems motivated by a personal passion — lost love — and not some misguided political aim.

The main thing these men may have in common is that, even if they were fans of violent video games, those games didn’t make them kill. There was plenty else on their minds that was much more likely to kickstart their violence, and there’s no reason to take a form of entertainment away from millions of other nonviolent gamers simply because of the actions of one.

Sanity, lone wolves, and violent video games


Anders Breivik: the Oslo shooter is “sane,” and going to jail.

On Friday, major news emerged from Norway: Oslo mass murderer Anders Breivik is going to jail, and has been declared legally sane.

From the beginning, attorneys have argued over Breivik’s metal state at the time of the killings. While one psychiatric team argued that he is a paranoid schizophrenic, similar to Tucson shooter Jared Loughner, or perhaps Aurora shooter James Holmes, the winning side argued that Breivik is “narcissistic and dissocial — having a complete disregard for others — but criminally sane.”

They stopped short of calling Breivik a psychopath or sociopath — a form of mental illness, to be sure, but not one that meets the legal definition of “criminally insane.” Instead, he’s classified as a “sane” man who falls into the category of “lone wolf” terrorist, in the same mold as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, and most recently, Sikh temple shooter Wade Michael Page.

So, there’s a dilemma here: is a sociopath — someone who is incapable of embracing the same values of “right” and “wrong” as mainstream society — truly sane? Just because someone is capable of understanding his actions, does that mean he was in his “right mind” when he carried out those actions? Or is he more like a dog that attacks indiscriminately — one of those rare canines whom re-training won’t help?

With so many shooters in the news right now, we have the opportunity to compare and to categorize. Some are obviously suffering some kind of psychosis; others fall into this “dissocial” or even sociopathic category.

But you’ll notice that none of them fall into the “violent video games clearly caused it” category, or the “heavy metal music clearly caused it” category, or even the “Satanism made him do it” category.

From the very beginning, because Breivik claimed he “trained” on Modern Warfare and played World of Warcraft many hours each day, many felt that video games somehow informed his mission.

Instead, it seems clear now that the games were for Breivik, as they are for millions of others, an outlet. A pastime. And, among the millions upon millions of people who play these games, Breivik was the only one who perpetrated such an attack. When such a vanishingly small percentage of gamers commit mass murder, there’s no way you can argue that video games incite mass murder.

I’m glad to see that the conversation has moved on; I can only hope it stays that way.