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Two Mass Shootings in 14 Hours: Thoughts on ‘The Gamification of Terror’

Posted on | August 4, 2019 | No Comments

 

Saturday night on The Other Podcast with John Hoge, we opened the show discussing the shooting at an El Paso Wal Mart that left 20 people dead and 26 injured. The gunman, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, evidently drove more than 600 miles from his family’s home near Dallas to commit this atrocity. He posted online a four-page manifesto citing the March massacre in New Zealand as his inspiration, and saying he expected to be killed. Instead, Crusius was “taken into custody without incident” and reportedly “told investigators he wanted to shoot as many Mexicans as possible.” Even as we were beginning to digest that news, however, there was another massacre in Ohio:

Nine people have been killed and at least 26 injured after a shooting at a bar in Ohio today in the second US massacre in 14 hours.
Police responded to calls about an active shooter in the area of East 5th Street in the Oregon District on Dayton, according to WHIO-TV.
The the gunman, who was using a ‘long gun’, was killed by police who were nearby in the early hours of this morning.
Customers said on social media many at Ned Peppers Bar were ‘piling on top of each other to get out’.
Witnesses described ‘casualties everywhere’ and an attacker who was a ‘white man dressed all in black’.

The Dayton shooter has been identified as 24-year-old Connor Betts, and this bloodbath would seem to fit the pattern of other recent incidents, including not only the El Paso shooting, but also last weekend’s massacre in Gilroy, California (see “The Poison Fruit of Radical Seeds”).

Young white men — the Gilroy shooter was 19, the El Paso shooter was 21, and the Dayton gunman fit the same profile — are succumbing to despair and rage, believing their lives are worthless, without meaning or purpose. Seeing no hope for their own future as individuals, they project their nihilistic sense of doom onto society at large, and resort to a sick “blaze of glory” fantasy, a suicidal impulse whereby they attempt to kill as many people as possible before they die.

While these massacres are characterized as “far right” or “white supremacist” in their ideology — the media wants to blame President Trump — Daniel Greenfield points out that the El Paso shooter’s manifesto also made an environmentalist argument:

“The American lifestyle affords our citizens an incredible quality of life. However, our lifestyle is destroying the environment of our country. The decimation of the environment is creating a massive burden for future generations,” the El Paso shooter wrote.
“This phenomenon is brilliantly portrayed in the decades old classic ‘The Lorax'”, Crusius wrote, citing a children’s story commonly used as a text by environmentalists.
“Fresh water is being polluted from farming and oil drilling operations. Consumer culture is creating thousands of tons of unnecessary plastic waste and electronic waste, and recycling to help slow this down is almost non-existent,” he ranted.
“We even use god knows how many trees worth of paper towels just wipe water off our hands. Everything I have seen and heard in my short life has led me to believe that the average American isn’t willing to change their lifestyle, even if the changes only cause a slight inconvenience. The government is unwilling to tackle these issues beyond empty promises since they are owned by corporations.”
At this point the El Paso shooter seems to be channeling Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders.
“Corporations that also like immigration because more people means a bigger market for their products. I just want to say that I love the people of this country, but god damn most of y’all are just too stubborn to change your lifestyle. So the next logical step is to decrease the number of people in America using resources. If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable.”

Anyone who has read Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer knows that, whatever the “cause” may be — left, right or otherwise — radicalism always attracts certain types of personalities, including “misfits” who for one reason or another are unable to obtain satisfaction in the ordinary pleasures of an ordinary life. Furthermore, the misfit who resorts to terroristic violence has, by his action, expressed a loss of hope in ordinary political activity as a means of influencing society in whatever direction he believes it should go. It is this hopelessness, a sense of inescapable doom, that distinguishes the terrorist from anyone engaged in ordinary politics, whatever their ideology might be.

There’s something else going on here, as online forums have created what journalist Robert Evans calls “The Gamification of Terror”:

In this discussion thread [on the 8chan forum], after one anon posts screenshots of the El Paso shooter’s thread, another asks, “Is nobody going to check these incredible digits?” This statement is likely a reference to the shooter’s substantial body count. . . .
Ever since the Christchurch shooting spree, 8chan users have commented regularly on Brenton Tarrant’s high bodycount, and made references to their desire to “beat his high score” . . .
What we see here is evidence of the only real innovation 8chan has brought to global terrorism: the gamification of mass violence. We see this not just in the references to “high scores”, but in the very way the Christchurch shooting was carried out. Brenton Tarrant livestreamed his massacre from a helmet cam in a way that made the shooting look almost exactly like a First Person Shooter video game. . . .
Until law enforcement, and the media, treat these shooters as part of a terrorist movement no less organized, or deadly, than ISIS or Al Qaeda, the violence will continue. There will be more killers, more gleeful celebration of body counts on 8chan, and more bloody attempts to beat the last killer’s “high score”.

In other words, the livestreamed New Zealand massacre functioned as a template upon which other angry misfits might model their own massacres, each attempting to exceed the “high score” of fatalities, a concept directly derived from first-person-shooter videogames. The nihilism and hopelessness of these killers is exacerbated by their social isolation, as spending endless hours playing videogames tends to prevent them from forming real-life friendships or romantic relationships.

We therefore have a “terrorist movement” of nerds and losers.

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds recommends Loren Coleman’s 2004 book The Copycat Effect: How the Media and Popular Culture Trigger the Mayhem in Tomorrow’s Headlines and, speaking of books, has Professor Reynolds mentioned he’s got a book about the toxicity of social media?



 

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