The Virginia Shooter as Grievance Collector

The rush to find societal scapegoats after mass shootings.

The Right will have two conversations about the Virginia shooter. The first will be a high-minded lament of the presence of evil in modern life, the appalling inability of mental-health facilities to find and treat those who are dangers to themselves and others, and the silliness of the Left’s reflexive cry for gun control.

The second will feature a certain number of folks on the Right who will see the shooter’s horrific actions as a completely natural and predictable consequence of race-baiting politicians and media.

“He was a grievance-monger from two of America’s largest victim status groups,” declares one commenter. “Killings like these have been fueled by the media for years, and by the attitudes of groups like ‘BlackLivesMatter’ and Al Sharpton, etc.”

“The black shooter was radicalized by the constant media race-baiting,” declared another. “If we need to address the root cause then stop blaming guns and ban ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN etc. They’ve been trying to gin up a race war to get political traction for the Left. Well, here is the result.”

It’s a convenient cudgel for hitting the Left, and it feels like some fair play given the way the media seem to be eager to assign collective blame for shooters’ actions. The argument takes mass shootings — hated by any right-thinking human being — and ties them to larger forces many conservatives detest: a White House that intermittently fans the flames of racial tensions, media devoted to simplistic villain-and-victim racial storylines, and professional agitators determined to take the raw feelings surrounding every tragedy and alchemically turn them into a riot.

Conservatives have seen the Left utilize collective blame like clockwork. White supremacist Dylann Roof committed an act of mass murder in an African-American church, and Salon declared, “White America is complicit.” Francis Wilkinson, writing on BloombergView, tied Roof to “cultural conservatives harboring a strong dose of racial anxiety.” The Washington Post ran a column declaring, “99 percent of southern whites will never go into a church, sit down with people and then massacre them. But that 99 percent is responsible for the one who does.”

The problem with emulating the Left’s idiotic, illogical blame-throwing is that, as fun as it may be to give them a taste of their own medicine, it’s still idiotic, illogical blame-throwing.

Absolutely, the Virginia shooter was driven by a deep sense of racial grievance, allegedly explicitly declaring in his manifesto that he saw his actions as retribution for Dylann Roof’s mass shooting in the black Charleston church: “What sent me over the top was the church shooting. And my hollow point bullets have the victims’ initials on them. . . . As for Dylann Roof? You [deleted]! You want a race war [deleted]? bring it then you white . . . [deleted]!!!” 

But how important are the shooter’s racial grievances in comparison with his twisted belief that previous mass shooters were heroic role models and their homicide totals were high scores to be beaten? He allegedly wrote, “Also, I was influenced by Seung–Hui Cho. That’s my boy right there. He got nearly double the amount that Eric Harris and Dylann Klebold got.”

Like quite a few serial killers, the Virginia shooter began with animal torture, describing killing his cats in a forest “because of them.”

To search for an ‘input’ that drove the shooter to take his actions is to look for logic in the illogical and rationality in the irrational.

Finally, the shooter wrote that Jehovah spoke to him and told him to take his actions. Auditory hallucinations — “hearing voices” — is one of the more common signs of paranoid schizophrenia. Ultimately, that voice in his head — choose whether you prefer to see it as entirely psychological, or as literally or metaphorically demonic — was a much bigger force in his actions than any cable channel or activist.

To search for an “input” that drove the shooter to take his actions is to look for logic in the illogical and rationality in the irrational. Thousands of people watched the same programs and read the same websites. Millions voted the way he did.

What the shooter saw as his uniquely intolerable hardships are in fact commonplace. The U.S. has millions of African Americans and millions of gay men. Almost every one of them can recall times they felt they weren’t treated with sufficient respect. Lots of employees have tensions with their co-workers. Sadly, lots of Americans get fired. Less than a handful respond to those events with a shooting spree.

There is no “root cause” to be found in politicians, society, or the media that drove the killer to commit his crimes. Make no mistake, the “root cause” for the Virginia shooter was his belief that he was entitled to pick up a gun, ambush his former co-workers, and murder them in cold blood.

There are disturbing ramifications if media discussions are indeed driving us to become a more grievance-minded society. Willard Gaylin, one of the world’s preeminent psychology professors, writes about the dangers of “grievance collecting” in his book Hatred: The Psychological Descent into Violence:

Grievance collecting is a step on the journey to a full-blown paranoid psychosis. A grievance collector will move from the passive assumption of deprivation and low expectancy common to most paranoid personalities to a more aggressive mode. He will not endure passively his deprived state; he will occupy himself with accumulating evidence of his misfortunes and locating the sources. Grievance collectors are distrustful and provocative, convinced that they are always taken advantage of and given less than their fair share. . . .

Underlying this philosophy is an undeviating comparative and competitive view of life. Everything is part of a zero-sum game. Deprivation can be felt in another person’s abundance of good fortune.

At the heart of the grievance collector’s worldview is that he is not responsible for the condition of his life; a vast conspiracy of malevolent individuals and forces is entirely at fault. There is always someone else to blame, and the Virginia shooter quickly finds ways to excuse his actions and deflect the responsibility to others.

He writes, “Hell yeah, I made mistakes,” noting that he “should not have been so curt” with photographers in Roanoke. “But you know why I was? The damn news director was a micromanaging tyrant!!”

The shooter insists that outside forces made him take his actions. The question is why any right-thinking person would affirm his belief that he was “fueled” by someone else or spurred by some “root cause” outside himself.


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