Tag Archives: Batman

Let’s play “imagine the Aurora killer’s motivations!”


Aurora, Colorado, shooting suspect James Holmes, in a recent mugshot courtesy the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office.

We’ve had the weekend to begin to digest the news of what happened in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater early Friday morning. While officials spent much of the weekend de-activating suspect James Holmes’ booby-trapped apartment — where the most information about Holmes’ life is likely kept — reporters began circulating among his former friends and neighbors, gathering what shreds of information they could about a man who apparently lived little of his life on the Internet and mostly kept his interests and proclivities private.

In the absence of much information, people’s — and pundits’ — imaginations have begun to fill in the details.

For example, Pat Brown, a criminal profiler, speculated on CNN that video games were at the center of Holmes’ murderous outburst:

“He’s probably prepared for this for a long time, just obsessing over it, gathering his weapons,” Brown said on CNN. ”[He] probably spent a lot of time in his apartment, playing one video game after the other—shooting, shooting, shooting—building up his courage and building up the excitement of when it’s going to be real for him. And it’s made his day.”

“This has been something he has really been into. And now we’re going to find, probably on [Facebook] or anybody who knows him will say, ‘Yeah, he did have a lot of interest in that. He was always playing the video games. And I’m not saying video games make you a killer. But if you’re a psychopath, video games help you get in the mode to do the killing.”

Perhaps more innocently, the Los Angeles Times circulated an article in which a childhood friend of Holmes said the suspected shooter enjoyed video games and movies as a teenager. Of course, that’s like saying a teenager enjoyed loud music, Facebook, and sleeping until noon. None of it describes Holmes with any accuracy, and it especially doesn’t say anything about his ability to plan and commit such a horrific crime. However, pundits like Brown, and anyone who believes video games cause violent behavior, will jump on such a line and consider it evidence.

In fact, much research has found no link between mass shootings and video games. Some shooters may play video games, but the one doesn’t cause the other.

There are a couple of reports that Holmes was into role-playing games. Of course, those reports are coming from fishy-looking Web sites that harbor more conspiracy theories (or, er, boxing information) than actual fact-based journalism.

Then come the religious pundits who argue that the shooting was, in fact, motivated by Satan. In the Christian Post, Greg Stier writes that a text-message exchange about the shootings:

… got me thinking about another “Dark Knight” who ruled the heart of a gunman in Aurora last night. It got me thinking about Satan’s role in the Columbine massacre on April 20th, 1999 when he invaded the hearts of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. It got me thinking about Satan and the stranglehold he has in the souls of so many. Jesus tells us in John 10:10 that this dark knight, “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” and he did just that last night. He used the trigger finger of this twisted madman to steal innocence, kill people and destroy hope.

Research has indicated that Eric Harris’ psychopathy and Dylan Klebold’s depression, not Satan, was ultimately behind what happened in Columbine. (Apparently Stier didn’t get that memo.) I can understand the impulse to name the Devil as a scapegoat when we don’t understand why something awful has happened, and I’m thankful that Stier is blaming a mythological figure, rather than real-life Satanists, for what went on in that midnight movie.

As long as we blame forces outside ourselves (and to some extent outside our control), we let go of our power over very real, treatable motivations, such as mental illness in the Columbine case. In other words, it means we not only let the killers off the hook, we let ourselves off the hook for not intervening if someone we love goes off the deep end in a catastrophically violent way. It wasn’t my fault; it wasn’t his fault. It was Satan. It was video games. It was role-playing games.

Speaking of Columbine, Dave Cullen, the author of the definitive book on the shootings, wrote a piece in the New York Times decrying the temptation to jump to conclusions, and we all should heed it:

Over the next several days, you will be hit with all sorts of evidence fragments suggesting one motive or another. Don’t believe any one detail. Mr. Holmes has already been described as a loner. Proceed with caution on that. Nearly every shooter gets tagged with that label, because the public is convinced that that’s the profile, and people barely acquainted with the gunman parrot it back to every journalist they encounter. The Secret Service report determined that it’s usually not true.

Looking for answers in the latest Colorado shooting? Don’t be distracted by false explanations


James Holmes is the suspect in the Aurora, Colorado shootings that killed at least 12 people and wounded dozens more.

As reporters work to reveal the identity, history, and character of James Holmes, the suspected shooter in this morning’s massacre in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater, they may suggest that his personal interests could have led him to commit a horrific crime.

They’re wrong.

Whenever such a tragedy strikes, we want to understand why it happened, perhaps in the hope of preventing another from happening.

As long as we focus on subjects such as video games, music, faith, or even comic books, we are distracting ourselves from the real clues that may tell us that someone might be on the verge of a violent attack.

Instead, we should be looking at Holmes’ mental state, his life circumstances, his methods of coping — or not coping — with failure and disappointment. These, not patterns of media intake, are the real clues.

I’ll likely have more to say as the story unfolds.

On pedophiles and paganism: how the press got it wrong, again


Convicted child sex abuser Colin Batley: Pedophile? Yes. Satanist? Probably not.

Horror films are full of spooky, freaky imagery of Satanists. Either they’re robe-wearing cultists like the ones in The Ninth Gate or they’re the plain-looking old folks next door, like in Rosemary’s Baby. They kill people, conceive and kidnap babies, and perform strange rituals. So when we read about a “Satanic” cult initiating and sexually abusing teens, it seems totally plausible.

Of course, we don’t believe much else we see in genre films. We know there’s no Batman or Spiderman. We know Bruce Willis is not as indestructible as his John McClane character. We know these things because we have enough real-life experience to help us tell reality from fiction. But how many people know real-life Satanists or occultists?

Unfortunately, that lack of knowledge makes it possible for newspapers to claim that a pedophile cult leader like Colin Batley was a Satanist or even a Thelemite (a follower of Aleister Crowley’s teachings) when there’s no sure evidence that he was either one. When newspapers claim that Crowley himself was a Satanist — which he wasn’t — who is there to correct them?

The Batley case, as horrifying as it is, leaves the door wide open for reporters to fill their stories with shoddy information about pagan beliefs they don’t understand. Readers are left with the idea that Satanists and Thelemites are child rapists. (A hint: nothing in Satanism or Thelema encourages forcible sex, sex with minors, or dominion over babies, born or unborn.) Journalists get it dangerously wrong. Dangerous for people who live in fear of Satanists and Thelemites, and especially dangerous for the peaceful people who follow these faiths.

Judging by the Daily Mail article, it does sound as though Batley and the other cult leaders were adopting some elements from Thelema, especially the Eye of Horus, which everyone had tattooed on his or her arm. Keep in mind, however, that drawing inspiration from a sacred text isn’t the same thing as following it faithfully. Throughout history plenty of people have committed heinous crimes “inspired” by Christianity or Islam, but their actions did not reflect those faiths.

When reading newspaper stories about so-called “Satanic” criminals, it’s best to put on your critical-thinking hat. Or, better, a pair of glasses that blanks out ill-informed references to the occult. Unfortunately, there are no journalism courses in comparative religion — let alone pagan religion, and reporters are rarely self-taught experts. Until they are, it’s best to disregard much of what they claim on these points.

When you hear the term “Satanist,” what comes to mind? Where did those impressions come from? How close to the truth do you think they are?