Tag Archives: Oklahoma City

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.

Teenagers setting a girl on fire is a lot of things, but “Satanic” isn’t one of them


After a South African girl was set on fire by friends, newspapers called the incident a “Satanic ritual.” Wrong. Photo by Flickr user gotsumbeers.

Today, I want to start out by looking at two headlines side by side.

First: Girl Set Alight In “Satanic Ritual”

Second: Satanic Ritual Planned in OKC

Now, if you read the first story, you might come to the conclusion (the very, very wrong conclusion) that Satanic rituals involve setting people on fire.

They don’t.

Then, if you read the second headline, you’d be pretty outraged. You wouldn’t want that event to take place, in Oklahoma City or anywhere else. You’d be angry at Satanists.

The problem, however, is that the newspaper with the first headline is taking some egregious liberties with the concept of “Satanic ritual.” Several newspapers are repeating this idea, though it’s not clear why. The girl was set on fire by some acquaintances after they went up a hill to drink and look at the view. That’s not Satanic. That’s an adolescent pastime. (Except for the setting-people-on-fire part. That’s not Satanic, either. That’s just horrible.)

Now, the second headline refers to an article about an upcoming religious event. This is the second such ritual — the first one, held last year, turned into a mess because it was so heavily protested. Unfortunately, the newspaper thinks it’s important to mention the former group leader, who had a dalliance with a prison inmate, as though that had anything to do with the group, its beliefs, or its ability to hold a peaceful religious observance. (It sounds like last year’s ritual would have been peaceful if it hadn’t been for demonstrators.)

I know there are plenty of “Satanists” who get into it to frighten people, to seem bad-ass, to “freak the normals.” But I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: media messages like the ones above, particularly the first headline, do very real harm. They harm respectful, peaceful Satanists who have not and would not hurt anyone. They make it more difficult for these people to be open, to find work, to sustain relationships, to keep their children in custody battles, and to stay out of jail for crimes they didn’t commit.

Some people would call this blood libel.

It has to stop.