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Sunday, October 23, 2016

The first details about the mass killer at the community college in Roseburg, Oregon, were that he was a young man, lonely and full of hate. Of course he was. They all are.

Lonely young men full of hate have been with us since there were lonely young men. The modern phenomenon of their acting out their madness on a large scale started almost 50 years ago, when Charles Whitman climbed the University of Texas Tower and shot to death 16 people down below. There have been similar assaults against innocents ever since, but what accounts for the current rapid pace of what used to be rare, horrific events?

One change may be the growth of social media, creating an online community to ease the loneliness of these mentally ill time bombs — and perhaps endorse their perverse fantasies. The community lets the killers know that after the deed, which usually includes their death, they will have lots of people following them.

Christopher Harper-Mercer, who slaughtered nine at Umpqua Community College, had made an online reference to Vester Lee Flanagan, who murdered two former colleagues from a Roanoke, Virginia, TV station while they were on the air. Flanagan had referenced Dylann Roof, a young white man accused of murdering nine people at an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. Flanagan was enraged at Roof and then copied him.

In between, there was John Russell Houser, a rare older mass shooter, 59, who posted his political ravings online before killing two and wounding nine others at a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana. And he may have been copying James Holmes, who killed 12 and injured 70 at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.

The natural response after these multiple shootings is to blame lax gun control. The appalled father of Harper-Mercer went on TV and did just that. Politicians agreed or not, depending on their fear of the National Rifle Association.

Yes, bans on weapons of war and gun sales to the mentally ill are desperately needed. Looking back at these massacres, most of the weaponry was legally obtained.

But perhaps as dangerous as the flood of arms are the fumes of paranoia spread by the NRA and other peddlers of gun mania. What better audience for the instant-empowerment-of-guns message than depressed, lonely men?

Ours seems to be the only culture that uses guns for psychotherapy, as was well-portrayed in the movie American Sniper. One creepy similarity between Harper-Mercer and Adam Lanza, who slayed 26 at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, was that their mothers took them out shooting.

Certainly in Lanza’s case, the mother bizarrely thought she could channel her boy’s sick obsession with guns into a bonding thing. Both mothers had left lying around the house the guns their deranged sons used.

In the meantime, these lonely men find companionship, however imaginary, in these online communities of gun worship, places that often validate their paranoiac thoughts. (Many also seek refuge in violent video games.) What they desperately need is real community to offer reality checks and interface with mental health professionals.

Some law enforcement is trying to withhold the perpetrators’ names to deprive the criminals of the celebrity they crave. These officers fully understand the motive, but their good efforts can’t go far. The curious public does want to know names and the killers’ grievances, however crazy, and media will provide them.

The bigger concern is the ugly public seething online, honoring killers past and certifying the most twisted worldviews. Social media have some very dark corners that encourage mass bloodshed, and what can we possibly do about it?

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at [email protected] To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at

Umpqua Community College alumnus Donice Smith (L) is embraced after she said one of her former teachers was shot dead, near the site of a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, October 1, 2015. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola

  • Eleanore Whitaker

    This isn’t about lonely young men. It’s about a male psyche that lusts for power. This is something the most impressionable see around them in regurgitated media from others who seek autonomous power. Some of these loners simply do not relate socially to society as it exists. So they create the society “they” want and can control.

    In every obsessive/compulsive mind lies the desire to control the world around them. Social media doesn’t help these days when you have a segment of society who contradicts reality, truth and facts. These are mental anarchists who go off the deep end for no reason other than the desire to manipulate society to their way of thinking.

    The abjectively refuse to accept that they are ONLY part of society, not the entire controlling factor of the society in which they live. Most of us get along just fine with rules and regulations that keep order in society to prevent mob rule and mayhem. These anti-social sociopaths strenuously resist anything that remotely resembles order.

  • paulyz

    This article brings up the issue of mentally unstable lonely men. There is a very real need for professional help & live reality checks. My wife had worked as an RN in one of these community programs, giving these unstable people real social interaction to discuss their thoughts & problems. Then it brings up how the NRA spreads paranoia, but in reality, if there wasn’t constant attacks on 2nd. Amendment Rights & decades of pursuing gun control, the limelight of guns wouldn’t be center stage. There is also the glorifying of violence from Hollywood & video games as well, which this article touches on, which has influenced violent behavior.

    • SecludedCompound

      Under the second amendment you have a well regulated right to the ownership of a weapon. Obviously what kind and how many, how they’re obtained and so forth is left up to the courts.

      The NRA pushes a twisted version of the 2nd Amendment that leaves out the explicit call for regulated ownership within a state ordered militia (which, at the time of the creation of the document, was akin to the Swiss Guard or state reserves) to focus on a call for unhindered access to all weapons, always forever, amen. It’s appalling.

      What gun owners (and I am one) need to do is stop lying about what the 2nd Amendment says and its intent. Guns have always been centerstage, regardless of whether gun control has been pursued or not, and certainly, right wing mass murderers are far more active during the administrations of Democratic presidents than not; it’s a symptom of their authoritarian principles.

      • paulyz

        The one thing people leave out about a well-regulated militia, is the need for the People to keep & bear arms in order to be able to form a militia. That is very clear, the 2nd. Amendment doesn’t “restrict” the Rights of the People to obtain these arms.

        I had heard the reasoning about the need for anyone to have “assault” rifles, or high capacity magazines, which at first sounded reasonable, but, since criminals, or government oppressors could well have them, why can’t responsible, law-abiding Citizens. Furthermore, once they chip-away at 2nd. Amendment Rights, they always push for more!

        • SecludedCompound

          You realize that when the amendment was written, a “militia” referred to a governmental entity, mustered regularly and temporarily under command of state military personnel, right? You know, the national Guard.

          Anyway, I don’t mean to be mean, but the type of ignorance of the amendment that you displayed above is basically what’s been driving this discussion for a long, long time.

  • Anon Y. Mouse

    For one thing, eliminating the importance of keyboard warriors and online message boards AND comment sections would be a good start. Media greedily encourages these little digital realms of hate because it gets them more clicks as people come back and check on their comments. It’s about MONEY for them, but it is absolutely destroying who we are as people and encouraging a disgusting lack of respect for our fellow human beings. SHUT OFF the comment sections and stop reporting online comments as if they are real news. I am so sick of seeing that happen. It only encourages people to be more shocking and trolling in their comments.