Tag Archives: California

The Familiar Voice Of Isla Vista’s Killer


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.

On Politicians and Villains, Real and Imaginary


There’s been quite the kerfuffle the past day or so about Florida U.S. Congressional candidate Jake Rush, a 35-year-old Republican who also apparently plays Camarilla, a live-action vampire role-playing game, in his off time. From the sounds of it, Rush plays some sort of villain in the game, one who’s prone to making upsetting, sexually violent threats against other characters. I won’t quote those threats here; you can click through if you want to see them.

I wrote pretty extensively about role-playing games and LARPs in The Columbine Effect, and interviewed adult gamers who had played with a local Camarilla group in their teens and 20s. Although some people who play seem not to have strong boundaries between their in-game roles and their day-to-day lives, as I mention in the book, for the most part that doesn’t seem to be the case. I don’t know much about Rush and can’t tell you whether he behaves like his Camarilla character on a day-to-day basis. What I can tell you is that there’s nothing wrong with recognizing that you have a curiosity about villains or evil people, and finding a safe and harmless outlet through which to explore that curiosity.

Through play-acting. It isn’t real life. It’s pretend.

By contrast, let’s look at California Senator Leland Yee, who was arrested last week for allegedly conspiring to traffic weapons and also for taking political contributions (bribes) in exchange for favors. (You may recall that Yee was a vocal opponent of allowing minors to play violent video games, sponsoring legislation that was ultimately overturned by the Supreme Court). Yee was allegedly affiliated with a San Francisco-based organized crime gang, who knew him as “Uncle Leland.” Yee apparently told an undercover agent, who was pretending to be a gun runner, “There’s a part of me that wants to be like you. You know how I’m going to be like you? Just be a free agent [in the Philippines].”

That wasn’t pretend.

Some legislators play the villain in real life and just hope they don’t get caught. Some find a harmless way to do so instead. Why should we attack the latter as though it’s the former? Doesn’t make sense to me.

While we focus on “Satanic” angle, killer walks free

Was Arlis Perry killed in 1974 by a Satanic cult in Stanford University’s Memorial Church? Some still think so. Photo by Flickr user daviduweb.

Rumors of murderous Satanic cults always make for a compelling scary story, even if they can’t be proven. Maybe that’s why the Great Plains Examiner has a new article today about Arlis Perry, who was killed almost 40 years ago in a church at Stanford University. Her murder remains unsolved, which always stokes the fires of the imagination.

Scant details have led people to pursue the “Satanic cult” theory:

An autopsy later revealed that Arlis Perry was killed by a blow from an ice pick punched just behind her ear. The way she was laying in the chapel led detectives to believe it was a ritualistic killing.

“The way she was laying” is pretty vague, but there are speculative sketches online, likening Perry’s position to the shake of the unicursal hexagram — which, by the way, isn’t Satanic; in fact, it’s used to protect against evil.

Also? The ice pick isn’t a particularly “Satanic” tool.

Reading through the history of the case, it’s a pretty big mental stretch to call some of the players — if, indeed, they were players — “Satanic.” Speculation in this California murder suggests it could have been the work of David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz, or someone else involved with the Process Church, or there’s even a hint that the Holy Order of MANS was involved somehow. There were also rumors that Perry had attempted to convert some members of a North Dakota Satanic cult to Christianity… and this is why one of them tailed her to California and killed her?

I’m not familiar with any cases committed by Berkowitz in California — not to mention that he recanted most of his “Satanic” claims after he was jailed. The Process Church is only associated with Satan because he’s part of their beliefs — but that doesn’t mean they’re killers. And despite what it says in the Great Plains Examiner story, the HOOM folks didn’t wear upside-down crosses; they were a humble order working with Christian ideas. That detail alone makes me question the validity of the rest of the reporting — and it should make other readers doubt it, too.

Perry had a fight with her new husband the night she died. After the fight, she walked to Stanford, where she prayed in the church and was found dead a few hours later. Apparently later DNA analysis failed to yield a suspect. I have to assume that her husband was investigated — after all, 44 percent of female homicide victims in New York State, to take a random example, were killed by their partners. Still, it was more than likely the killer was someone she knew — and someone local.

The problem with such coverage — despite the fact that it’s speculative, filled with errors, and not very trustworthy — is that it leads readers to think in a particular way about a crime. Readers are potential witnesses; do they remember something? Did they see something suspicious that might be related to the crime? If they’re led to believe a certain context for Perry’s death, they might discount something they saw if it doesn’t fit that context. There’s a reason juries are selected, in part, based on how “tainted” they are by news reports — because such coverage can introduce a bias that can lead the wrong person to be convicted of a crime.

As long as people think a Satanic cult killed her — and there’s no evidence this Satanic cult exists outside people’s imaginations — her killer will remain free.

How not to get hysterical about a pentagram

Pentagrams and walls seem to go hand in hand — like bored teens and vandalism. Photo by Flickr user The Trousered Ape.

As the weather turns warmer, kids in suburban and rural areas go outside. They’re bored. They’re looking for something to do. They’re angry, or at least irritated. Maybe they have a magic marker in their back pocket. They’re walking through town, maybe past a church, and an idea strikes them.

Churches in Santa Rosa, California, and Prairie Grove, Arkansas, have suffered recent vandalism — one more seriously than the other. In Santa Rosa, The Church of the Incarnation was tagged with a few pentagrams and other designs. In Prairie Grove, the Illinois Chapel Baptist Church has been vandalized repeatedly over the years, culminating with arson late last month.

Two different cases, in two different parts of the country, reported in two very different ways. Let’s look, shall we?

From Arkansas Matters:

A church is set ablaze in Prairie Grove and officials find satanic symbols spray-painted on the building.

From the Santa Rosa Press Democrat:

The Church of the Incarnation on Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa was tagged with possible Satanic graffiti on Wednesday afternoon, and police said they may have a suspect.

Hmm. One seems more cautious than another. Let’s look again.

Prairie Grove:

“Devil worshiping signs, you know, and stuff, this is nothing but the Devil … People that does this stuff, they are lost … They haven’t the slightest what hell is really about.”

But everyone we spoke with said, there is one thing still standing strong, and that is their faith.

“The Devil can’t beat us down, not as long as we hold faith in Him … I know the good Lord is with us,” said Burnett.

Santa Rosa:

[Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Mike] Lazzarini said the suspect also tagged St Luke Evangelical Lutheran Church, as well as other buildings and signs.

“It’s not church specific,” he said.

A pentagram is a five-pointed star connected with lines considered by some to have magical connotations, and to have satanic meaning when inverted with two points up.

Lawrence said while the pentagrams are potentially upsetting to members of the church, “it’s not enough to make us feel threatened.”

You could chalk up the sensationalism of the Arkansas article to the fact that the crime is more serious, but there have been plenty of times when graffiti like Santa Rosa’s has been reported in a tone more like Prairie Grove’s. In fact, more alarmist reporting tends to be the norm. The Press Democrat reporters offer something refreshing: a report of the crime that doesn’t hysterically imply that the Devil controlled the vandal’s hand — or did the dirty deed himself.

The fact remains, most such vandalism is made by bored, aimless people — kids especially — and not Satanists with an anti-Church agenda. Reporters should write their articles this way, unless they know for certain who the suspect is, and what his/her motives are.

And yet, it’s still plenty interesting to read. Factual reporting that doesn’t descend into fear-mongering. When’s the last time you saw that in a story like this?

Occupy, violent video games didn’t kill couple

Susan Poff and Robert Kamin were murdered in Oakland, California. Police say their adopted teenage son confessed to the crime.

When an Oakland couple, involved in helping low-income communities, were found strangled and stuffed into the back of their PT Cruiser, police didn’t immediately suspect their 15-year-old adopted son.

However, after spending some time at the home, the teen — whose name is not being released — admitted to the officers that he killed Susan Poff and Robert Kamin. There doesn’t seem to be any clear motive in the attack. Can there be, when the child is 15 and has a good relationship with his parents, according to all who knew them?

Still, the press always looks for an explanation. That’s what reporters do. They try to answer: Who? What? Where? When? Why?

That may explain why one reporter tossed this line into a San Francisco Chronicle article Monday:

“The boy’s infatuation with violent video games was starting to give his uncle pause.”

Wait a minute here.

To back up, Poff and Kamin’s co-workers said the couple was recently having some arguments with their son about the amount of time he was spending at the Occupy Oakland encampment. However, those arguments didn’t sound like the fodder for homicide, they said.

So if those disagreements weren’t enough to fuel the killings, violent video games might have been?

According to the boy’s uncle?

Here’s a boy who, by outside appearances, was doing exactly what teens need to do: he was going to school, he was engaging in hobbies (Occupy Oakland, video games, karate — where he’d obtained his black belt), he had attentive parents.

What we don’t know — what nobody is talking about — is the boy’s birth parents, and what legacy of issues he may have, either due to genetics or to early abandonment. It’s true that plenty of kids overcome mental-health issues or psychological trauma, and don’t kill anyone. But for those kids who do kill, these can be primary factors.

We know video games save lives. We know they don’t make kids aggressive.

So why did the reporter mention it?

Could video games have kept teen from killing great-grandmother, stabbing grandmother?

An Atlanta teen (not pictured) killed his great-grandmother and stabbed his grandmother with a sword after they kept him from playing the video game Halo. Photo by Flickr user Aidan.Morgan.

In the big debate over whether minors should play violent video games, there are parents who let them play, parents who don’t let them play, and parents who say it’s okay for a while — and then try to cut kids off from such games when they become a problem. We don’t know why an Atlanta 15-year-old’s family told him to stop playing Halo. What we do know is, most kids who are separated from their video games don’t get so angry that they kill. One did.

Douglas County sheriff’s officials say the teenager used a 36-inch sword to stab his grandmother, 55-year-old Laura Prince, in the arm and to kill his great-grandmother, 77-year-old Mary Joan Gibbs.

Officers arrived at the home Monday afternoon and found the grandmother barricaded inside a room and the great-grandmother lying lifeless in the front yard, Douglas County Sheriff Phil Miller said.

The teen was standing in the doorway with what officers described as a full-sized sword and a pellet rifle, Miller said.

Officers used a stun gun to take the teen into custody after a standoff.

It turns out that this teen had already been evaluated twice after violent episodes, but was released. The question isn’t why was he allowed to play violent video games. The question is, why was he allowed access to a sword and a pellet gun? I doubt very much that question will be answered during the teen’s murder trial.

In the realm of the everyday, parents struggle with what to let their kids play. One San Diego mom said she doesn’t like her 9-year-old son playing violent video games. However, she works long hours and can’t supervise him at home. Fair enough. For child care, she’s relying on her brothers — who spend all their time playing video games. Not a great situation for a mom with her values, right?

Unfortunately, the article, from Latin in America, uses this tale as a springboard for a cornucopia of random, unfounded claims about video games. It starts by referring to an unnamed study that found that by age 21, boys have played some 10,000 hours of video games (and then calls this an “addiction”). If boys begin playing at 5, as the article suggests, that’s 16 years of gameplay. 16 years contain more than 140,160 hours. 10,000 hours is 14 percent of that — a little more than 3 hours a day. That’s not nothing, but it’s not “addiction” levels by any means.

The article goes on. Allowing kids to explore aggression and violence in a consequence-free way “sends the wrong message,” it claims — despite the fact that many teen gamers appreciate that opportunity. And it ends by warning parents that “video games are the new tools of sex predators.” What the?

Thankfully, there have been some voices from the other side of the fence recently. Let’s start with Chris Martucci at What Blag?, who offers “In Defense of Call of Duty”. Martucci takes on the idea that video games are the cause of real-life violence by pointing out:

1. As Lewis-Hasteley states, as popular as violent video games are, bad people are bound to play them at some point.

2. There is no “violent gene” or unitary “violent part of the brain.” Certain emotions are associated with certain parts of the brain, which are thus associated with violence. There is therefore no simple way to prevent your child from becoming an axe-murderer with Gattaca-style eugenics. What I mean to say is this: if violent video games are merely associated with something that is associated with violence, how much is that really worth to us?

Bad people play these very popular games, just as bad people go to church, drive cars, eat at McDonald’s, watch sports on television, swim in the ocean, have children, and breathe. We wouldn’t blame any of those other behaviors on violence, so why gaming?

Over at Reason.com, Peter Suderman extends his own defense of video games, again citing the dropoff in real-life violence that has coincided with the rise of violent video games. As with all data on video games to date, this is correlational — there’s no way to determine whether one caused the other. However, boredom and free time are frequently cited as reasons for juvenile delinquency, and, as Mike Ward has discovered, kids who are busy playing video games aren’t bored.

In general, it pays to listen to kids themselves. Over at Radical Parenting, 16-year-old gamer Monique shares her love of violent games as a way of safely exploring, expressing, and purging anger.

The media is so quick to jump on violent video games being the cause of aggression, however never stops to think that maybe a violent video game can help lesson aggression. When asked if he thought violent video games caused anger and aggression 16-year-old Edwin McGuffin replied by saying, “No, I don’t. I find that video games actually help reduce it. When I get mad I just jump on my Xbox instead of taking it out on others.”

What if that Atlanta teen had been playing Halo that day, rather than taking up his weapons in anger?

Parents respond to violent video games ruling

Will playing Grand Theft Auto make kids into real car thieves? Parents, mostly, say no. Photo by Flickr user Szili.

Last week, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the sale of violent video games can’t be restricted — even to minors. The Internet has been awash in responses since the ruling, and parents have been among the loudest voices in the room. Since this blog is so often written with parents in mind, I thought it would be good to check in with other parents and see what they’re saying about the decision.

WFMY News in North Carolina interviewed one mom who has been letting her son play Grand Theft Auto — under close supervision. She says, while the game is indeed gory, it doesn’t make him more aggressive. In fact, she notices the opposite:

She instead explained that allowing her son to play these type of games acts as a stress reliever. “I think sometimes it takes out some of the aggressions because he can come in here and play it when he’s pissed and not take it out on anybody around,” expressed Hicks.

On the flip side, NewsOne ran a piece by mom Tamika Mallory saying the ruling “makes parents’ jobs harder.” As a working mom, she says she doesn’t have the time to supervise her kids the way Hicks does:

While we may restrict gruesome video games in our homes, who will protect the kids when they set foot into the outside world? Knowing that my son wasn’t running around in the streets, I took comfort in the notion that video games at least provided an alternative, safe form of recreation for young people. But what are we teaching them if these games are inundated with nothing but guns, shooting and graphic violence? How different is that from what’s tragically out on the streets? And what kind of subliminal impact are we having on these kids if we flood them with these messages?

On that point, Mallory seems to be in the minority. InForum, a news Website in Fargo, North Dakota, found that “903 of 1,079 participants in The Forum’s online poll, nearly 84 percent, favor placing the responsibility of managing children’s’ access to video games with parents, while 10 percent said it was the business owner/gaming industry’s role. About 5 percent believe the government should be responsible.”

Another poll, conducted by Rasmussen Reports, also found that “parents are more responsible than the government — 79 percent to 4 percent — for limiting the amount of sex and violence children are exposed to in video games.”

And yet, their respondents paradoxically said government should be involved: “67 percent … said states should be able to prohibit sale of violent video games to children … 28 percent of U.S. adults said states should be barred from enacting prohibitions of sales and rentals of such games to minors.”

The differences in these polls undoubtedly relate to the questions that were asked, as well as the folks who answered.

Gabrielle Cullen, a mom in San Rafael, Calif., offered a balanced look at the ruling, but ultimately agreed that the responsibility rests with the parents:

It seems that gaming does have some adverse effects but can be easily contained and/or offset by conscious parenting. Violent video games will NOT turn your child into a cold-blooded killer and trying to prevent a child from buying a video game isn’t going to create more involved parents. It is similar to any aspect of raising a family, be aware of what’s going on in your house, attempt to engage in interesting conversation and simply limit the amount of time spent in front of the TV, computer, etc.

At the opposite end of the state, parents in Altadena chimed in on a similar discussion of gaming among teens and how parents should be involved. The comments include this one from a 15-year-old gamer who said even some of the most gruesome games can have positive messages, and that kids are paying attention to those messages:

For example, Metal Gear Solid, a popular shooting game, is all about how terrible and unnecessary war is. Grand Theft Auto 4 (the game where you can kill prostitutes) even has a good moral message. The main character spends the whole game searching for a man to get revenge. At the end, when the player finds this person, the game shows that revenge does not solve anything. In fact, almost games try to communicate messages such as these, and this law would put those views out of reach of minors.

Troy Wolverton, a parent and columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, said he felt conflicted about the Supreme Court’s ruling. On the one hand, he supports freedom of speech. On the other, he worries how these games might affect teen players.

[California’s] law didn’t attempt to outlaw violent games or prevent adults from accessing them, which would have been clearly unconstitutional. It didn't even attempt to prevent children from playing them. It merely said that kids ought to have an adult's permission before they can buy or rent one. As a parent, I find that reasonable.

Unfortunately, for parents who do choose to be involved with their kids’ gaming habits — as many parents and others agree is the best course of action — there’s always someone out there telling them that’s not such a great idea, either. For example, British parenting coach Sue Atkins quotes author Reg Bailey, who has published a new book called Letting Children Be Children.:

“One father said it was OK that he played Grand Theft Auto with his 13-year-old son because it helped them bond together.” He added that there “must be easier ways of bonding” with a child than playing a game that allowed “gangsters to run over prostitutes”.

“That doesn’t seem to be a very healthy balance in a relationship between father and son.”

Parenting is not an easy job. Each parent must determine what’s best for his or her own kids. We do the best we can to keep an eye on their activities, and to make decisions or set limits when necessary. Ultimately, the government decided to butt out of this one. What goes on between informed, involved parents and their kids shouldn’t be anyone else’s business.

Parents, what’s your take on the ruling? Are you happy to have the decision left up to you, or are you angry that you don’t have that extra layer of protection?