As I have written over and over again during the last few years, I do not believe that we can learn a great deal from the justifications that are forwarded by public killers. Crazy people are crazy, and they tend to pick up on whatever latent ideas they can find. Certainly, ideologies play a role in their thinking. But only in a passive sense. Lunatics who believe that they are being wronged by cosmic forces are always going to put a face on their paranoia. Should we delve too deeply into why they chose this or that? No, I think not — at least not until adherence to a particular strain reaches a critical mass.
Mine, however, is not the only view out there. Indeed, there is a sizeable contingent within the United States that takes the question of what murderers purport to believe extremely seriously indeed. It is because of these people that we had to examine “toxic masculinity” in the wake of the Isla Vista shooting; that the Confederate Flag had to come down after Charleston (there were other good reasons for this, but that wasn’t one of them); that Anders Breivik’s manifesto was pored over as if it were a holy book; and that Sarah Palin was blamed for the attack on Gabby Giffords in 2011. This being so, I cannot help but wonder what the “culture matters!” folks think of these details from The Blaze:
When Alison Parker was an intern at WDBJ in 2012, [the shooter] — then a reporter for the station — heard her utter what he apparently considered to be racist words.
Parker made reference to “swinging” by a destination and also referred to heading out into the “field,” according to [the shooter's] 2013 complaint with the station, the New York Post reported.
. . .
“That’s how that guy’s mind worked,” Ryan Fuqua, a WDBJ video editor, told the New York Post of [the shooter's] racism claims. “Just crazy, left-field assumptions like that.”
“[Those words are] just common, everyday talk. [But] that was his MO — to start s**t,” Fuqua added. “He was unstable. One time, after one of our live shots failed, he threw all his stuff down and ran into the woods for like 20 minutes.”
WDBJ cameraman Trevor Fair recalled others using the term “field” around [the shooter]: “We would say stuff like, ‘The reporter’s out in the field.’ And he would look at us and say, ‘What are you saying, ‘cotton fields’? That’s racist,’” he told the Post.
“We’d be like, ‘What?’” he added. “We all know what that means, but he took it as cotton fields, and therefore we’re all racists.”
“This guy was a nightmare,” Fair told the Post. “Management’s worst nightmare.”
Then there was the time a station manager brought in watermelon for all employees. “Of course, he thought that was racist. He was like, ‘You’re doing that because of me.’ No, the general manager brought in watermelon for the entire news team. He’s like, ‘Nope, this is out for me. You guys are calling me out because I’m black.’”
7-Eleven’s sale of watermelon-flavored Slurpees didn’t escape [the shooter's] observations, either.
“It’s not a coincidence, they’re racist,” Fair recalled [the shooter] saying.
Half-joking on Twitter, the Free Beacon’s Sonny Bunch reacted to this news by observing that, “instead of going on a killing spree, this guy should’ve gotten a columnist gig at the Guardian.” As with all humor, there is some truth at the root of this barb. Certainly, the shooter was extreme in his willingness to take offense. But, really, he was no more extreme than many of the extremely silly people who write at Salon or sit on diversity boards or who stand up and make a nuisance of themselves on contemporary college campuses. If one believes that the culture causes people to pull triggers — and again, I don’t but many do — then one has to be ecumenical about it. For what reason is this guy exempt? Why do we not need to have a “national conversation” about hypersensitivity?
The answer, I imagine, is politics, for this instinct seems only to run one way. The same people who tend to think that ugly strains within our culture lead inexorably to murder did not seem to care much that the man who killed three Muslims in North Carolina earlier this year was a progressive atheist with strong views about Islam. Likewise, they were not greatly interested that the guy who shot up the Family Research Council was inspired by the always hyperbolic output of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and they saw no connection whatsoever between protestors calling for the execution of police officers and a host of incidents in which angry men did just that. Hypocrisy.