This nation has always had mass murderers. They’ve ranged from ultra-violent mobsters who slaughtered their competition to cold and calculated serial killers with confused sexual identities and a self-help plan of strangling coeds and prostitutes. The violent sociopaths have almost always been men, with a few females sprinkled into the mix, to remind that the tendencies of murder are male, but hardly solely male. You can watch any number of Netflix series to learn how the FBI began diving into the minds of the criminally insane in the 70’s with an understanding that these cold-blooded lamb silencers might very well have different brains than the rest of the largely non-murderous, general population.
The typical profile of these emotionless killers involves honing their craft in their boyhood with the slaughter of animals, and moving onto serials rapes and murders in their late teens and early twenties. Around the mid 90’s, teen boys who heretofore were merely disturbed killer understudies, discovered the allure of guns. Guns, when mixed with the rise of cable news media, could turn a troubled and suicidal boy into a real life Mike Teavee, the television obsessed boy from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Thoughts of wall to wall TV coverage of their murder suicide became infectious. With the advent of the Internet and online social platforms, these young men were able to compare and contrast their own planned bloody endings, and study those who came before them, as boys once did for their baseball idols.
We know the pathology of empty, often random, murderers to be one of mental illness. This was accepted science, until guns became the weapon of choice. Guns change everything. Not merely because the casualty numbers could be higher (though let’s remember that John Wayne Gacy raped, mutilated, and strangled to death at least 33 boys in the 70’s; Ted Bundy confessed to 30 beating and stabbing and sexual assault murders, though the number is believed to be far higher), but because there’s a large and active anti-gun political and social sentiment in the United States. Far less so for the rape and murder of teenagers by otherwise relatively normal looking men with deeply buried mental disorders.
This is when mass murder became a partisan political issue. When mentally disturbed young men were no longer sociopaths hell-bent on destruction, but suddenly poster children for the need for gun control and restrictions on the Second Amendment to avoid future such school shootings, even as those particular shootings remain statistically very rare. Most especially rare when compared to inner-city, almost entirely minority gun violence deaths, for which there is, again, very little political capital to be spent.
Like perhaps most people by the numbers, I could care less about guns. I don’t own a gun. I have no particular passion for hunting or target shooting or even a pressing need for self-defense. I’m burly and look fairly broke and apparently present a horrible target. The thought of owning a firearm or becoming a gun guy has never crossed my mind. If anything, I’d probably be the medieval nerdy weapon fan were I to take the leap. In contrast, I happen to care a ton about the civil rights laid out in the Constitution. They’re hardly perfect, but they’re a firewall against a tyranny of the majority, and those expressly laid out in the Bill of Rights, the first ten, have been the single greatest platform to the expansion and protection of civil liberties in our world’s history. Unless you’re into being arrested for unpopular speech, love unwarranted seizures, or want to be told in court when taking the Fifth Amendment that that no longer exists. Guns are in there too. You start chipping away at one, you start tearing down all. It’s like the Ten Commandments. You can’t live by only three and call yourself a solid Judeo-Christian. See John Wayne Gacy above for the best example of that.
The latest soft target civilian shooting involves Nasim Aghdam, the woman who shot up YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, California on April 3, 2018. The very manner in which Aghdam demographically differs from your typical mass shooter, Aghdam presents a prime example about how it’s the “crazy”, not the weapons, that are driving these murder-suicides.
Aghdam was the rare, female lone shooter. The perpetrators of these incidents are overwhelming male, typically teens and twenties, when the psychosis formed in boyhood turns into full-fledged desire for payback on the world and the media spectacle that follows. Aghdam is 39, a Persian immigrant with a seemingly functional nuclear family, no criminal record whatsoever, but a long and obvious history of mental instability.
The clever deceptions and discreetness of the serial stalker kills of the past have long since been replaced by unsettled rage expressing itself on social media rants. Sociopathic killers now signal their intentions, either directly or indirectly, but very obviously, well in advance of their end-of-days plotting. There are often long histories of school or family or law enforcement intervention prior to the deadly days. These are known, unstable, deadly quantities that inevitably fall through the cracks, because the cracks are huge. Not the cracks for acquiring weapons. The cracks in meaningful, early mental health intervention.
Aghdam was a self-described “Farsi speaking vegan bodybuilder” with a series of social media channels displaying her imbalanced thinking on topics regarding animal activism, her Iranian origins, ramblings on semi-related subjects, and more recently, repeated angry rants about how YouTube was discriminating against her videos. Aghdam was one of the many YouTube video amateurs peeved at changes to YouTube advertising policies that left her in the cold. Not that it could’ve been much money, but dropping to zero from anywhere is an unsettling feeling.
Aghdam had a relatively strong following in Iran, if that counts for anything. Not much apparently in the Google ads world.
Aghdam took to the streets with her outrage over the YouTube plot against her, signaling classic examples of mental instability, paranoia, and rage. When she disappeared from her San Diego family home, her own father and brother were well aware she was acting unduly irrational and angry; dad called the police to report her intense acrimony toward YouTube, her disappearance, and concern that she might be headed up to their offices in Northern California to complain in person. Aghdam appeared to have acquired her 9mm only prior to her planned attack, taking her first shooting range visit within 24-hours of her attack.
When Aghdam was found sleeping in her car in Mountain View, California, about 30 miles South of the YouTube campus in San Bruno, cops questioned her, noted her dad had phoned the police with concern over her disappearance, but police could not intervene. During their discussion, Aghdam presented herself quite calmly, mentioned that she needed to get away from her family, and was in the area looking for work. There was no indication of any weapon or threats. We can’t live in a society where police haul in a perfectly polite vegan bodybuilder woman because her dad says she hates YouTube and might be going to their offices to express her outrage. That’s too much, and too late.
The rest is history. Aghdam quite easily entered an outdoor seating area of the YouTube campus in San Bruno, screamed out the demons in her head regarding the YouTube conspiracy against her, shot three people, before shooting herself to death. She turned out to be a poorly trained shot, thankfully for her random victims, one of whom remains in critical condition, the other two less severely injured.
Naturally, public cries about gun control erupted. There was far less public rage the very same week when Jennifer Hart intentionally drove her SUV with her wife and six adopted African-American kids off a cliff a few hours north of YouTube HQ in Mendocino County, California. Eight dead there it looks like, six of them kids who had apparently been subjected to various levels of abuse from their adopted moms over the previous years prior to their frightening and likely brutal death. You might think the lack of media attention was because the children were black and the media quite openly cares less about unrepresented poor black children than their suburban white counterparts. Because that commonly happens. Though in this cliffside murder-suicide case, it’s far more likely the media fears taking on sacred partisan cows such as lesbians and lesbian moms, and even more relevant than both of those factors, there were no guns. Crazy mom or moms and an SUV driven off a Pacific Coast road is the height of drama, but not the right narrative.
If we could remove politics from these equations (an impossible ask, but for argument’s sake, humor me) we’d see that early intervention on quite identifiable emotionally troubled and anti-social young teenagers would lead to dramatically less violent endings across our land. Even if the Second Amendment were entirely repealed ever so ironically by people claiming to be for civil rights, and all guns in the nation were violently confiscated by authorities, and the punishment for distributing guns illegally was death by feral goat consumption, sick and twisted people hellbent on destructive endings would still have their destructive endings. See modern Europe for best examples of such. America isn’t an inherently violent society, it’s a society with a certain population of mentally ill young men that it refuses to address with a march or CNN Town Hall or wall-to-wall TV coverage and sweeping political opportunism.
It’s no coincidence that the three Florida mass shooting perpetrators, those of Parkland, Pulse Night Club, and the Fort Lauderdale airport terminal, were all egregiously troubled young men and known to be so by authorities. All three of these individuals had been reported to, or even interviewed and tracked, by multiple law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, in all three cases. In almost every single mass shooter instance, parents, neighbors, teachers, classmates, coworkers knew these individuals were powder kegs with lit fuses, and in many cases, they were reported to authorities well in advance of their murderous deeds. People saw something, and people said something. Everything went according to plan and the outcome still failed in almost every single instance. Because, as a matter of practical fact, by the time somebody has weapons, a plan, and a committed desire to die trying to leave his deadly mark, it’s done. An ounce of prevention may have worked; a pound of cure has no chance of stopping nearly enough. Government is simply not that effective or efficient.
Citizens have rights not to be committed without stringent protocols, or even remotely labeled as crazy and dangerous and in need of intervention; though far less so when they are minors. Rather than our national obsession with drowning out the masculine aggression of boys with hyper-doses of amphetamines, consider a psychological evaluation where pubescent age children, largely males, though not exclusively, are evaluated when showing clear signs of anti-social behavior. Anti-social doesn’t mean wanting to win at sports or defeat the competition or even angry name calling or shoving on the playground. That’s called football. A trained psychologist could explain it better, but something along the lines of maiming animals, an inability to make social connections, pronounced martyr complexes, uncontrolled rage, and a complete lack of hope for the future. Like, say, pretty much every single future school shooter.
The reason we punish hyperactive kids and the reason we only raise widespread outcry over the precise weapons used in these sensational incidents are fairly one in the same. A relatively small, but extremely well organized and funded segment of the population with a fervent belief that drugging boys and banning guns will bring the unicorns back. Or more importantly, heal the wounds of a nation, both real and imagined in their heads. This segment is predominantly white, largely educated, largely upper middle class, and largely women. Maybe they’re truly idealistic individuals or maybe their fathers and brothers and early boyfriends were horrible jerks who gave them a very slanted world view. They do not take well to boys or their toys.
We can’t have real and depressingly stark evaluations of the mental stability of our nation’s youth, or intervention resulting thereof, because this would involve judgment and injure esteem. Every kid is an honor student today. Read the bumper stickers. All kids are victims of bullies, living in pre-anaphylactic shock, and emotionally and esteem vulnerable. This isn’t merely another cliché joke about participation trophies, this is real life. You can’t judge a child anymore save to drug the hell out of them if they can’t sit still in class at age nine. ADHD is victim status; it passes the muster. Disturbed kid who pulls the wings off flying insects far less prestigious offspring.
If national outrage was founded in stats and science and recommendations from people who study science versus merely painting signs and marching and screaming alongside the team that feels morally superior, we’d have comprehensive mental health counseling and intervention for teenagers in the schools in the place of clear backpacks, armed teachers, and David Hogg fist pumping selfies. Waiting for an attack is waiting for defeat. Planning and addressing and nipping the vast majority of future killers in the bud, that’s the ticket. Some will get through, most won’t. Recent history has shown us almost none of these cases are discreet beings with crackerjack abilities to hide their intentions. Simply review their social media accounts.
Adam Lanza, Nikolas Cruz, Seung-Hui Cho, James Holmes, Devin Patrick Kelley, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, even Nasim Aghdam this week at YouTube, these mental health outliers are relatively easy to address in advance, and without the cost of eliminating the fundamental civil rights of the entire nation. It’s the crazy, stupid, and there’s something we can do about it right now. We aren’t, and we almost certainly won’t, but we could be. I’m always much sadder when I finish my thoughts then when I begin.