Elliott Rodger and the Santa Barbara Killings
By Dennis Loo (5/25/14)
New material added 1:15 pm PST
In today’s NYT in their story on the Isla Vista, Santa Barbara killings on May 23, 2014 by 22-year-old Santa Barbara City College student Elliot Rodger, one will find two quotes that I want to highlight and discuss. The first is from a police spokesman explaining why they did not do more than interview Rodger on April 30th in his dorm room after his mother contacted police alarmed at her son’s YouTube threats to commit mass murder:
“You’ve got to understand that this is a fairly routine kind of call that is quite commonplace,” he said. “The deputies are well trained and are adept at handling these kind of calls.”
A call from an alarmed mother that her son is making public threats to kill people is “fairly routine” and “quite commonplace”? No doubt the spokesman meant that the police’s visit to Rodger was routine and commonplace since they can’t be routinely getting calls from parents saying that their child is openly threatening mass killings. Obviously contrary to the spokesman’s statement, the deputies are not “well trained and … adept at handling these kind of calls” if they determined that someone who was soon to go on a killing spree was not a problem.
The police are not trained to properly handle a situation such as this. But they should be trained to recognize that their training is insufficient to deal with such a situation. They reported not doing anything further because Rodger was calm and polite. Certainly mass murderers are incapable of being calm and polite in front of police officers. Of course mass murderers will invariably demonstrate overt signs of agitation and therefore tip their hands to authorities. As if posting YouTube videos online stating that you’re going to kill people was not enough to single you out!
Then there is this from a former classmate of Rodger:
Patrick Connors, 23, a former classmate at Crespi Carmelite High School, a Catholic school for boys in Los Angeles, said Mr. Rodger had left school before graduation. He said that Mr. Rodger was treated by his classmates as an oddball and that students mocked him and played jokes on him; once when Mr. Rodger fell asleep in his seat, classmates taped his head to his desk, he said.
“We said right from the get-go that that kid was going to lose it someday and just freak out,” he said. “Everyone made fun of him and stuff.”
I find it interesting that Connors can say without any feelings of compunction after hearing that his ex-classmate has just killed several people that “We said right from the get-go that kid was going to lose it someday and just freak out. Everyone made fun of him and stuff.” Did Connors attempt to prevent such a future tragedy that he said they all recognized was going to happen by befriending Rodger and trying to get students who were making fun of him to stop? Apparently Rodger had some mental issues but bullying someone who is socially awkward is throwing gasoline onto a smoldering fire. I would think that Connors and others who bullied or stood by and watched others bully him would feel some sense of personal responsibility for this tragedy instead of taking pride in seeing it coming.
Someone in the comments thread at the online NYT named “dcl” posted this today:
People who are mentally ill, such as this young man, are the canary in the coal mine--they act on things that are *already* in their own society or culture. A mentally ill Christian person imagines the voice of Satan or God or Jesus but not of Buddha or Aphrodite.
This young man - in his rant - spelled out *exactly* why guns are popular. He said he would be the *alpha male.* He said he was sexually frustrated. He said he would punish women.
So he used a phallic symbol to ejaculate, penetrate and destroy. He even *said* that this phallic symbol would 'show' the women he was alpha, he was no longer a virgin.
And that in a nutshell is what guns are used for in our entire country. It is a huge fallacy to look at this young man as The Other and to say the issue is *himself* and others like him. No. No, look at him, look at him closely, for he is the face of America.
Our nation is filled with white men who feel powerless and spurned and marginalized - by women taking over jobs, by our country becoming less white and Christian, by America losing power, by middle class jobs being destroyed. So they resort to their phallic symbols. At least *these* ones are the biggest. They thump their chests and shout out they are the ALPHAS! We are number one!
It is *that* childish. It is that lethal and appalling.
DCL is right. People like Rodger are the canaries in the coal mine. They act out what is already present in the society and what society’s authorities encourage. Compare Rodger’s assertions that he would show who was the “alpha male” to President Obama’s “joke” at the May 1, 2010 White House Correspondents Dinner:
"The Jonas Brothers are here. (Applause.) They're out there somewhere. Sasha and Malia are huge fans. But, boys, don't get any ideas. (Laughter.) I have two words for you -- predator drones. (Laughter.) You will never see it coming. (Laughter.) You think I'm joking. (Laughter.)"
As I wrote on December 31, 2012 in “Red Herrings and Deadly Consequences: Mass Domestic Murders and Mental Illness:”
As anyone who’s been paying any attention to the fallout from the recent upsurge in mass - and not so mass - killings, media and public figures have been highlighting and popularizing an alleged link of mental illness to these incidents. In today’s New York Times, for example, in the lead story about Erika Menendez, the woman arrested for pushing an Indian Hindu, Sunando Sen, to his death in front of a New York Subway train a few days ago, one has to read nearly to the end of the article before you see any mention of the fact that Menendez’s stated reason for her actions were that ever since 9/11 she’s despised Muslims and Hindus. The whole thrust of the Times story is by contrast how Ms. Menendez has a history of mental problems. Similarly, in the Newtown killings, Adam Lanza’s mental issues have been put front and center of media attention and in comments and discussions about the tragedy.
This whole line of discussion alleging that we need to clamp down on the mentally ill, however, is a deadly red herring. What should be the focus of the latest subway murder is the impact of the “war on terror” and the stoking of hatred and stereotyping of Muslims and those who the ignorant confuse with Muslims, such as Hindus and Sikhs, by the major authority figures in our society. It goes beyond stoking hatred, even, to the actual killings on a mass scale by our government in wars abroad, including assassinations ordered in secret session by President Obama.
People like Ms. Menendez are more unhinged than the rest of us, but are more likely because of this to act out on the stance that is being promoted society-wide by our society’s leaders and taking that stance to its logical end. That, and not mental illness, is the root cause. People like Menendez, Lanza, the Aurora Massacre killer James Holmes, and Afghan mass killer Sgt. Robert Bales can be roughly compared to the canaries they used to use in mines who were most sensitive to the odorless fumes that would kill you before you noticed. What is amiss in our society isn't mainly that there are too many guns that are too readily available (it's a secondary factor). And it isn't that there are mentally ill people or even that there are socially impaired people around who have too ready access to weapons. The problem is principally and overwhelmingly because sociopathy has become the official norm of our foreign and domestic policies.
Instead of attacking this problem at its root, however, elites’ prevailing response has been to carry forward the ugly logic of the “war on terror” and compound the problem by stereotyping and repressing yet another relatively defenseless group of victims, the mentally ill, to join the ranks of Muslims, South Asians, Middle-Easterners, and so on. This is yet more evidence that this system and its leaders are utterly incapable of stopping this atrocious trend because they are in fact behind this trend and pushing it forward.
These killings are going to continue unless and until an upsurge from below, supported and joined by voices from among the intelligentsia and other opinion-makers, rises up strongly enough to challenge the whole trajectory of events and the system that is giving rise to this.
See also this.
Free market fundamentalist policies (aka neoliberalism) that say the market should decide everything, that the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer is the necessary spur for hard work and innovation, and that the poor can just eat “toxic waste,” are shredding the social fabric worldwide. If those in the leading positions of society are constantly propagating the notion that there is no such thing as social bonds and social obligations and there are only individuals, that the environment can be treated as a dumping ground and that it can be plundered with no regard for the consequences, and that innocents can be killed as “collateral damage” to protect “American lives,” then should it be the least bit surprising that isolated individuals are acting out this very same ethic? When our government claims that assassination, torture, and preventive and indefinite detention are necessary, legal, and moral, then why shouldn’t individual sociopaths and more unhinged individuals act this out themselves on a smaller scale?
In response to the Santa Barbara shootings Friday night, UC president Janet Napolitano, former head of DHS, stated that the killings were "almost the kind of event that's impossible to prevent and almost impossible to predict," that "[t]he right to bear arms is fundamental to the liberty interests of all Americans" and that "existing laws related to firearms and their possession are a sufficient framework by which to ensure the safety of all.”
“[I]mpossible to prevent and almost impossible to predict” when people knew that Rodger from his teen years was a victim of relentless bullying, knew that he was socially isolated and socially incompetent, and knew that he was publicly threatening suicide and murder?
Napolitano’s remarks remind me of Condi Rice’s comments after the 9/11 attacks when she said that no one anticipated that terrorists would take airplanes and slam them into the World Trade Center. Rice said this even though intelligence analysts were ringing alarm bells warning of airplane hijackings and the WTT as a prime target in the months preceding 9/11.
In Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney, you can find this brief summary of what the US government knew about the impending 9/11 attacks on pp. 268-270:
Afghanistan, Argentina, Britain, Cayman Islands, Egypt, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, Russia, and from within the US intelligence community all warned the US of imminent terrorist attacks. Some of the 9/11 pre-warnings include:
1996–2001: Federal authorities knew that suspected terrorists with ties to bin Laden received flight training at schools in the US and abroad. An Oklahoma City FBI agent sent a memo warning that “large numbers of Middle Eastern males” were getting flight training and could have been planning terrorist attacks. [CBS, 5/30/02] One convicted terrorist confessed that his planned role in a terror attack was to crash a plane into CIA headquarters. [Washington Post, 9/23/01]
June of 2001: German intelligence warned the CIA, Britain’s intelligence agency, and Israel’s Mossad that Middle Eastern terrorists were planning to hijack commercial aircraft and use them as weapons to attack “American and Israeli symbols which stand out.” [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 9/11/01; Washington Post, 9/14/01; Fox News, 5/17/02]
June 28, 2001: George Tenet wrote an intelligence summary to Condoleezza Rice stating, “It is highly likely that a significant al-Qaeda attack is in the near future, within several weeks.” [Washington Post, 2/17/02]
June-July 2001: President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and national security aides were given briefs with headlines such as “Bin Laden Threats Are Real” and “Bin Laden Planning High Profile Attacks.” The exact contents of these briefings remain classified, but according to the 9/11 Commission, they consistently predicted upcoming attacks that would occur “on a catastrophic level, indicating that they would cause the world to be in turmoil, consisting of possible multiple—but not necessarily simultaneous—attacks.” [9/11 Commission Report, 4/13/04 (B)]
July 26, 2001: Attorney General Ashcroft stopped flying commercial airlines due to a threat assessment. [CBS, 7/26/01] The report of this warning was omitted from the 9/11 Commission Report [Griffin 5/22/05]
Aug 6, 2001: President Bush received a classified intelligence briefing at his Crawford, Texas ranch, warning that bin Laden might be planning to hijack commercial airliners, entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the United States.” The entire memo focused on the possibility of terrorist attacks inside the US and specifically mentioned the World Trade Center. [Newsweek, 5/27/02; New York Times, 5/15/02, Washington Post, 4/11/04, White House, 4/11/04, Intelligence Briefing, 8/6/01]
August, 2001: Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the US that suicide pilots were training for attacks on US targets. [Fox News, 5/17/02] The head of Russian intelligence also later stated, “We had clearly warned them” on several occasions, but they “did not pay the necessary attention.” [Agence France-Presse, 9/16/01]
September 10, 2001: a group of top Pentagon officials received an urgent warning that prompted them to cancel their flight plans for the following morning. [Newsweek, 9/17/01] The 9/11 Commission Report omitted this report. [Griffin, 5/22/05]
In other words, Rice and the rest of the US government had to have been willfully blind in the face of the signs that a devastating attack was coming and that the World Trade Center and airplanes would very probably be involved.
Then Counter-Terrorism Czar Richard Clarke tried desperately to get a meeting with President Bush in the weeks and months prior to 9/11 and was continuously stymied by none other than Condi Rice who was in charge of determining who got to see the President.
Janet Napolitano, who now runs the UC system as its president, supported the invasion of Iraq, upholds the indefinite detention of suspects without charge, and endorses the suppression of civil liberties as necessary to "prevent terrorism.” The same individuals, in other words, who tell us that 9/11 was impossible to predict and impossible to prevent and the same individuals who tell us that crazed killers like Rodger can’t be prevented or anticipated, are the very same people telling us that they can prevent and predict terrorism by suspending and/or violating due process, the rule of law, and Constitutional guarantees against warrantless searches. They do not use their existing powers when directly told that individuals or groups are explicit threats who have been saying that they’re going to kill others, but they can and are constantly grabbing up more and more powers to spy on absolutely everybody and treat everyone as a suspect. Real suspects, in other words, are being ignored while innocents are being treated and punished as criminals and criminal suspects.
The Rodger killings are not an isolated incident. It is merely the chickens coming home to roost. Is there any other better reason for us to wake up to the fact that the authorities in charge and the system that they lead are a dire and immediate threat to the welfare of the people and of the planet? Does it make any sense to ignore this evidence and does it make any sense to not join the efforts of those who are trying to bring about a revolution to save humanity and the planet from destruction against these mad men and women in charge of this death-dealing system?
Editor's note: This terrible incident spotlights the consequences of society's authorities promoting the ethic of revenge killings. What Rodger did in proving that he was an "alpha male" is the same thing, except on a smaller scale, as what the US government did in its invasion and occupation of Iraq, and what Obama does when he assassinates people with drones. The standards being set by society's leaders are being emulated by individuals such as Rodger, as we should inevitably expect to happen since society is all of one whole cloth and if those who lead the society are justifying shredding the social fabric and treating others as suitable for torture and murder, then solitary individuals will surely follow that example. The only difference is the scale of their criminal actions. Loo's article delves deeply into how the Santa Barbara killings' concrete particulars are intertwined with the modeling going on by authorities in their domestic and foreign policy and their underlying philosophy of "me first." The people we have to fear the most, in other words, are not random unhinged individuals. The most dangerous people are those who are supposedly protecting our welfare who are presiding over a system wholly indifferent to our welfare. Authorities are saying point blank that they cannot protect us from these random incidents as they say they can't predict and can't prevent them. Society can never be entirely rid of the solitary madman. But when the solitary madman is mirroring authorities and when authorities wash their hands of these incidents because they are themselves too busy commiting grand crimes on a a world scale that dwarf these awful individual incidents, then it's time to thoroughly expose the criminal logic of those who govern over us and time to replace the criminal system that is fundamentally responsible for and the primary contributing factor for horrors such as this. This systems' now routine operations, in other words, are what we should fear the most of all.
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