Content Warning: This mentions various historical acts of suicide and associated public violence. Discretion is advised; don't feel like you have to read this.

Comprehending Columbine
Beyond Columbine

Dave Cullen, Jeff Kass, Ralph Larkin, Julie A. Webber

For various reasons, I happened upon the book Beyond Columbine: School Violence and the Virtual by Julie A. Webber. It is not a very good book. However, its opening chapters detail a pattern of historical revisionism in another book on the same subject, which Webber lambastes. Piquing my interest, I followed her citations in effort to judge the claim of historical revisionism for myself.

The accused culprit is Columbine by journalist Dave Cullen. It was published on the 10ᵗʰ anniversary of the “Columbine” school shooting, of which the book delivers an authoritative chronicle. Cullen was a successful journalist on the early internet and later for American elite media in various publications-of-record. His early coverage is considered a historical primary source, referenced so much that nearly all other books on the topic will mention him in some capacity. Owing to the success and reliability of this reporting, he became a trusted expert in the American media regarding the school shooting epidemic, including writing another book on the similar “Parkland” two decades later.

Due to a confluence of specifics from how it played out, as well as other once-in-a-lifetime conditions which haven't been seen since, a multi-month-long media frenzy followed the 01999 attack. This gave rise to a lot of misconceptions and misinformation about what was thought to have happened. Cullen's original usefulness stems from his ability to “demystify” this misinformation. ... however, it is Webber's contention that Cullen was under pressure to perform this same demystification multiple times over the course of ten years. Each subsequent time, the drawn conclusions would exist on increasingly tenuous grounds. Yet because of the accuracy and prestige of his earlier reporting, each new demystification was considered truth-by-default, even when it was incongruous with previous findings of the same kind.

“Columbine” was an axial event in the school shooting epidemic, of which local and federal American governments have been unable to contain. The issue is a complex and multifaceted problem, existing in an especially awkward intersection of varying kinds of modern malaise: political, societal, moral, economic, bureaucratic, infrastructural, and scientific. This interlocking nature of the problem frustrates attempts at solving the issue, and several more school shootings have occurred since, despite available countermeasures. As the contagion continued, the public perceptions underwent rapid change, growing more impatient and annoyed by each new Columbine-like occurrence. To paraphrase Cullen's own words on the subject, people stopped wondering “why is this happening?” and instead demanded “how do we make this stop?”

Whether or not Cullen indeed performed historical revisionism for his final take on Columbine is a question with a very dependent answer, entirely due to how conceptions regarding school shootings have changed over the course of two decades. Cullen's supposedly-revisionist history of Columbine is not controversial to our modern perspectives. It gels perfectly with the new-and-updated political consensus on the school shooting epidemic, yet also with the new “scientific” consensus on the psychological profiles of these specific perpetrators. Cullen may have seen what way the wind was blowing, attempting to “future-proof” his final draft on the historical school shooting, simpatico with how subsequent school shootings were being viewed.

However, Cullen's supposedly-revisionist history was considered highly controversial at the time of its publication. Though it agrees with our modern views, it predates their development. In other books about “Columbine” written by other authors at the time, Cullen's new theories were first encountered with suspicion. The propositions were either ineffective at best, or outright disingenuous at worst, as they relied upon some very selective interpretations of the available evidence. Also at play was an affect of how the demystification process worked, where any evidence against those conclusions could be recast as “misinformation,” unworthy of response. At the most extreme, there was a political agenda behind Cullen's revisionism; however, because that form of “politics” did not exist along any conventional axis of “left-versus-right” or “progressive-versus-conservative,” it was all-but-invisible except to some select few. ... a select few, such as Webber, with a stake in the topic the revisionist history attempts to erase.

The Many Catalogues of “Columbine”

To start from the beginning, following the claims found in this book:

... I followed up by reading these two other books:

Both Jeff Kass and Dave Cullen were Colorado-based journalists working on-the-ground at the time of the attack. Kass and Cullen also published these books about “Columbine” on the eve of its 10ᵗʰ anniversary in 02009 — literally within weeks of each other. Both books were titled Columbine, and both books cover the same event using the same primary sources. Yet these are two very different books, with radically different perspectives on what happened and why.

To describe these differences, I give the two perspectives the following names: “the Bullying Hypothesis” and “the Mental Illness Hypothesis.”

I then reviewed the following books which were written in reference to the Bullying Hypothesis, as it existed at the time:

I will admit this is not the first time I have read Larkin's book. I have vague recollections of having encountered it at least once before, though only in passing. (It is freely available under Creative Commons.) I suspect I may have encountered Newman too, even without direct memory of it. For the time when I was a high school student and “Columbine” still cast its shadow, these books were of the few available about the school shooting epidemic, which highlights the historical recency of the field.

There also exists an additional book within this subset, also written by Julie Webber, called Failure to Hold. At the time, it was her PhD thesis. I was able to find scattered references to it, but was not able to read the thing itself, due to being hard to acquire. (Which was a bit of a shame considering Beyond Columbine seems to be a continuation of it.)

As regards the topic of peer culture abuse, I then tracked down the historical literature on the subject, as was available to those writers. These turned out to be:

Chasing these leads into the future through the more-recently published material on juvenile bullying, were:

Then, all of those books needed to be compared against books written about the school shooting epidemic from the perspective of the Mental Illness Hypothesis:

I also briefly skimmed the following books in order to better understand the psycho-social mechanics which the Mental Illness Hypothesis requires. These were, admittedly, much more brief in review. (They were either too general-purpose to be of much use to the school shooting epidemic, or there were credibility issues with the author in question, as was in Coleman's case.)

Also briefly skimmed was the following book, about a specific psycho-social mechanic which turns out integral to the pseudo-political split between the Bullying Hypothesis and the Mental Illness Hypothesis. (I might need to revisit this one again.)

To interrogate the claims of historical revisionism closer, I also referenced the following two primary documents regarding the Columbine attack. Both are autobiographies written by people who had direct contact with the perpetrators. One was written within the context of the Bullying Hypothesis, while the other was written within the context of the Mental Illness Hypothesis.

I also referenced the following books to re-situate myself within the political climate as it would've existed at the time of Columbine:

And lastly, came the following books, done to review the political climate regarding the school shooting epidemic as it existed in the decades following Columbine:

This was all a lot of work, and likely pointless. However, when dealing with possibly-reckless claims of historical revisionism done by a well-respected writer, it is important to take all due precaution.

... it is also, in the case of those claims being correct, helpful in understanding the substance of the revisionism and why it took place.

The Twin Hypotheses of School Shootings

“The Bullying Hypothesis” was the first historical view of school shootings. In them, school shootings were inextricably linked to the schooling environment, and could only be a product of those machinations. At some point during the adoption of neoliberalism throughout the 01980's, the education system gained some maladaptive effect, the exact specifics of which are still a matter of debate. As a result of this systemic change — whatever it may have been — teen suicide rates began to observably skyrocket between 01980 to 01990. This risk of suicide increased uniformly across the board, with the children of privileged socioeconomic groups just as likely to be affected as children of poor and unprivileged groups. None were untouched by it.

This happened in the context of the “return to the quotidian,” a purported return-to-normalcy following the youth counter-cultural uprisings of the 01970's, in which discontent among adolescents gave rise to mass-unrest across the country. The 01980's saw the newer generation become more law-abiding and much less likely to adopt antisocial attitudes or practices. Despite this, the problems this newer generation faced grew rapidly, to the point where these students were statistically more likely to face harm and danger than the previous generation. (Who, comparatively, were actively trying to put themselves in harm's way.) This trend continued with time, even as it got further away from the point-of-quotidian.

The hypothesis states that some manner of change in the circumstances of education must have caused this, as none of these effects were observed at any point prior to the 01980's, especially considering how children would attend the same schools within the same communities as their parents once did. Something about the modern schooling environment was causing students to develop interpersonal issues, which they took out on other students, perpetuating a vicious cycle. Peer abuse and bullying was an increasingly common problem, and what few statistical measures existed suggested a historical upward trend. It was suddenly normal for the social environment of high schools to be considered “toxic,” and people would know what that implied. One of the most signature (and depressingly common) styles of bullying was a form of weaponized heteronormativity regarding the over-policing of gender norms, informed by the adult world's “homophobia” of the HIV-AIDS pandemic from the earlier decade.

When school shootings began to pick up the pace in the mid-to-late 01990's, they were seen only as extensions of this already-known problem. The uptick in gun violence also mirrored similar concerns regarding workplace-related violence, which was on the rise in other sectors at the time, such as the US Post Office. ... however, despite agreement over when these changes took place, the exact thing which caused the rise of teen suicide rates in the first place was never historically identified. It remains a mystery even now.

Meanwhile, “the Mental Illness Hypothesis” began to pickup steam in the mid-Aughts among professional psychologists, becoming commonplace thereafter. It followed from the identification of “the Dark Triad,” which is a psychological — but statistically viable — theory of antisocial behaviours: Narcissism, Psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. Under usual circumstances, a person afflicted with some mental or personality disorder will only suffer adverse effects relevant to themselves; such as depression or executive dysfunction causing someone to forgo social or economic opportunities which might otherwise benefit them. Triadic disorders are different, in that the person afflicted experiences no disorderly effects, but will instead cause disorder for all others in their immediate vicinity.

The dark triad was revolutionary in explaining a suite of antisocial behaviours both vexing and traumatic: a strategic focus on self-interest, indifference to common morality, and an apparent inability to have (or perceive) empathy for others. While these malevolent behaviours might appear quite impulsive and destructive, they are not bereft of reason. Those who possess these disorders for their whole lives learn how to maximize what benefit-plus-abuse they can get away with, all while minimizing the possible consequences to themselves. (It is, after all, within their self-interest to do so.) Both narcissists and psychopaths must learn how to cultivate performative charm and charisma, both to get what they want and get into the positions that benefit their needs, even if they're often derelict in the responsibilities those positions would then demand.

The 02010's, in particular, saw a great rise of interest in the dark triad. The continued ravages of neoliberalism led many to wonder about the psychopathic qualities of capitalism's elite, and their utter callousness towards everyone of differing circumstance. The Donald Trump presidency saw the United States put under the thumb of a narcissistic ruler, giving an immediate lesson in how terrible it is for everyone. ... or, everyone aside from the narcissist, who was doing fine. In the business world, triadic actors are invariably drawn to positions of power and prestige, using any manner of lies or underhanded trick to elevate their standing. One triadic in the right place at the wrong time can make life miserable for a great many people. (The danger the triad poses cannot be understated; the Internet is rife with emotional support communities geared for people trying to undo the damage in their lives caused by having any degree of current-or-previous relationship with a psychopath or narcissist.)

Numerous things statistically correlate towards the triad: workplace intimidation, internet trolling, crime, intimate partner abuse, political extremism, and impetus towards violence — school shootings included. Following the professional adoption of the Mental Illness Hypothesis, sub-clinical narcissism and malevolent psychopathy were key traits of the most vocal and violent school shooters, whose writings plus attitudes had come to typify the later epidemic. ... however, despite the observable similarities across wide-swathes of perpetrators, exact quantifiable measures regarding any one person's triadic states are incredibly rare to come by and often risked with error. Psychiatric ethics — via the “Goldwater Rule” — state that a proper diagnosis of any triadic disorder can only be reached by trained experts with extensive observation of a given patient, and most successful triadics know instinctively to avoid ever getting into such situations, lest it damage their narcissistic supply. Even Donald Trump possibly being a narcissist is something a lot of people can only make — professionally unfounded — guesses about; no matter how much it may explain if true, we will likely never have any means of knowing for sure, nor is it something we are owed.

Most “diagnoses” of school shooters are not clinical/psychiatric diagnostics as such, but are instead post-hoc “criminal profiles” reached through scant evidence and limited observation, with posthumous or “ex post facto” diagnosis especially common. The discrepancy between these modes of approach towards possible triadics exists due to “a loophole” in defamation law, in which the Goldwater Rule is based. For defamation to occur, a person's reputation must be provably damaged by route of an improperly-done diagnosis. However, school shooters arrive on the scene with already-damaged reputations, due to being school shooters in the first place. You couldn't possibly damage their reputations any further, so the Goldwater Rule carries less sway here than it normally would. This gives way towards a lot of possibly-dangerous armchair-pathologizing on the nature of school shooters. (Not everyone you dislike has a mental illness.)

Both hypotheses represent wholly different ways of looking at the world. For example, while the Bullying Hypothesis may contain a “mental health” component, the role of that “mental health” is quite different from what the Mental Illness Hypothesis would require. These surface-similarities mask stark differences in actual function. Furthermore, while “mental illness” is the general syndrome described by this hypothesis, not all these “illnesses” have preventative cures. Langman's taxonomy of school shooters splits down three lines: malignant psychopathy, trauma-induced suicidality, and severe-grade psychosis. (Major depression, onset schizophrenia, etc.) Psychopathy is less of an “illness” and more of a life-long disability; and as for the others, while treatment or management schemes might be marginally possible, this is seldom the case in practice. If these metastasize into creating a school shooter, the underlying sickness is already terminal — or at least those in the aftermath will treat it such. In a world where mental healthcare is an unevenly-distributed resource like any other, there will always be a difference between those who get the help they need, and those who never will.

The Bullying Hypothesis would posit that poor mental health is the inevitable result of prolonged exposure to maladaptive circumstances: it is not specific to the person who has it, but is instead a result of their environment. If a person has depression, maybe their social milieu has something to do with that. Perhaps a large number of people are constantly being unkind to them? Perhaps their workplace is abusive and stressful? In this view of the world, mental unwellness can be actively inflicted upon people as a result of extenuating circumstance, especially in the case of vulnerable or easily-suggestible populations — such as adolescents and children.

The Mental Illness Hypothesis would posit that poor mental health is a product only of itself. Like physical health, mental unwellness can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time, and for no particular reason. If poor mental health can still exist even in the best and most supportive of circumstances — it can — then environmental effects should be written off in their entirety. If a person has depression, then that person has depression, and that's all. It wouldn't have mattered if a large number of people were kind or unkind to them, because depression is an all-powerful glitch in the brain which will override even the nicest gesture. If other people are to have any serious effect on one person's mental well-being, there would need to be a very, very good reason for it. (e.g. the recent death of a loved one, or the active interference of a known triadic.)

Thus begets a debate between “nature” versus “nurture” on the genesis of school shootings. The Bullying Hypothesis demands that school shooters are created by the harsh circumstances of the educational system, all in response to the forms of “social cruelty” which are part of this socialization process. The greater the amount of cruelty, the more forceful of a reaction it will eventually prompt, with school shootings as a prominent and extreme example of this action-turn-reaction dynamic. The Mental Illness Hypothesis disagrees: school shootings occur essentially at random, without regard to the on-the-ground conditions of any given school, or even in “reaction” to anything specific. The attackers may claim to have “good reasons” for doing what they do, but the hypothesis questions the soundness of their judgment, as these reasons seldom turn out reasonable. If school shooters aren't “born bad” then they just “go bad,” always as a result of the pseudo-genetic lottery, whereby mental disorders develop. (Further debate may rage even here; Tristam Vivian Adams' book has its thesis in if psychopaths are either born as they are, or perhaps promoted through evolutionary pressures within the capitalist marketplace.)

There is one last, and very important, thing to note about the difference between the two hypotheses... While the Mental Illness Hypothesis may have arisen out of the nouveau application of the dark triad, the Bullying Hypothesis before the turn of the millennium was likewise simpatico with Herman's then-recent definition of “CPTSD”: complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Its relevance to the Bullying Hypothesis is important, as later psychological researchers such as deLara would define “APBS” (adult post-bullying syndrome) to describe a suite of mental maladies common in grown adults who were subject to frequent bullying when young. deLara's APBS is co-determinant with Herman's CPTSD in most respects, wherein CPTSD is commonly associated with both childhood bullying and adult refugees fleeing from active warzones. While that may seem like a large gulf between those examples, the common thread is how the victim's ability to simply remove oneself from the abusive environment is rendered entirely outside of their own control.

Childhood bullying does, in the strictest sense, inflict mental illness upon people. Yet while the dark triad was readily-adopted by institutions like academia and law enforcement, CPTSD retains its nouveau status decades later, no matter the general agreement over its existence. The American Psychological Association has thus far not formally recognized CPTSD, citing a lack of research, though other regulatory bodies like the United Nations World Health Organization since have. To understand the differences between CPTSD and post-traumatic stress disorder of the less-complex kind, regular PTSD results when things go very wrong against an otherwise normal state, while CPTSD is more likely to occur when maladaptive systems are allowed to continue normal operation. This split between “bizarre happenstance” versus “business as usual” in the genesis of traumatic memory, poses very different questions for determining legal liability and recognition of damages.

Jeff Kass and his Columbine was written in the context of the Bullying Hypothesis, which had been considered the norm for the time. Comparatively, Dave Cullen and his Columbine was written in the new light of the Mental Illness Hypothesis, and it was a radical break from all previous literature on both the Columbine attack and school shootings in general.

The publication of these two books also roughly outlines a demarcation point in the popularity of the two hypotheses, whereupon the Bullying Hypothesis had a precipitous decline and the Mental Illness Hypothesis began a grand rise. At the time of “Columbine,” the many student survivors considered the school's infamous culture of peer abuse as an important implicating factor in how the attack unfolded. Yet two decades later come the time of “Parkland,” the student survivors of that attack considered similar theories highly unrealistic, as well as quite patronizing and insulting. The students of Parkland felt no responsibility towards being the victims of an unprovoked attack, especially where the cause was nothing more than the sole perpetrator's degrading inner world, which he saw fit to take out on strangers. This difference in immediate reaction evinces a paradigm shift between these two points in time.

If one were to look up the records of prominent school shootings before the point of demarcation, the common lines about most of the perpetrators was that they had experienced frequent childhood bullying. From “Columbine,” to “Red Lake,” to “Dawson College” and “Virginia Tech,” this given fact supposedly held some explanatory value. It was even more common in pre-Columbine events such as “Bethel,” “Heath,” “Pearl,” and “Thurston.” Some of these did contain a recurring undercurrent regarding paranoid schizophrenia, but mental illness was largely seen as a personal and moral failing within this time period, where the Bullying Hypothesis helped in recognizing the negative effects from the cycles of otherization and stigmatization this viewpoint begot. Another factor changing this was the “opioid epidemic” which developed concurrently with the school violence epidemic, wherein conflicts of interest from the pharmaceuticals industry led scores of people to unwittingly develop severe drug addictions, giving the adult world a harsh lesson in how mental health is something people have less agency over than they may wish to believe. However, “Sandy Hook” in late 02012 was the rough point of inflection, where the same “bullying” factoid held no sway when the adult-perpetrator hadn't been a student of the targeted school for over ten years. It was a veritable moment of nothing, as the wanton slaughter of multiple kindergarteners only served to underscore the many failures which led to and from it.

Following that, the new-and-updated supposedly-explanatory factoid about the lives of these perpetrators was their strange habits of physically torturing pets and small animals: the one key symptom of psychopathy that has no innocent explanation. Videotaping themselves committing animal abuse was a shared hobby of the “Oxford” and “Uvalde” school shooters, while also of some other public shooters such as the “Sutherland Springs” attacker. When that's not available, pathologization is wont to occur through other means, all in an effort to achieve a modicum of explanatory value. During the trial of the “Parkland” killer, his history with psychological counselling was made evidentiary, though complicated through interpretation. Prosecutors and state investigators reported he had depression, autism, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; but the defense attorney noted that the provable evidence for these assertions was very thin, especially when he was never actually diagnosed for autism. Before the attack, the school's guidance counsellors and resource officers recommended him for an involuntary psychiatric examination under the Baker Act, but the responding mental institution thought that basis insufficient.

One of the factors supporting this paradigm shift can be found in changes to the specific mechanics of how school shootings play out. First came the realization of the “public shooting,” which saw gun violence become a common problem in all sorts of agora across the United States. (Churches, cinemas, concerts, grocery stores, nightclubs, etc.) This increased the appetite for a generalized theory of public violence, which the Mental Illness Hypothesis provided, no longer limited to just one locale. Yet even accounting for the push towards a bigger picture, there were still social changes which affected school shootings specifically. During the tenure of the Bullying Hypothesis, each school was an island unto itself, where one population of students existed in complete isolation of other students in other schools. Even their connections to the larger culture seemed fleeting, only seeping in through super-ego-style megastructures like family religions and government standardization. The Bullying Hypothesis was reasonable under these circumstances, as it required the perpetrators of school shootings to be active participants in a peer culture, which was forced and mandated. Life at this time in history meant that peer cultures within schools were often the only peer culture adolescents would have access to, with very little in the way of viable alternatives. Therefore, if a school shooting happened, it was always a local affair underlined by the systemic problems of that local culture.

The popularization of the Internet following the turn of the millennium changed these dynamics, not just regarding new options of sociability for regular students, but also for possible school shooters. It gave rise to what I (for the purposes of explanation) term “the community of violence,” an antisocial and nihilistic subculture of self-destructive youths who glorify terrorism in the public square. While it got started due to the common disaffections which the Bullying Hypothesis sought to address, over time this community began to take on a life of itself, and those old disaffections took a back-seat in the action. Public shootings no longer happened in apparent result of degrading local conditions, but instead for notoriety and status within an online subculture's group-reinforcement-mechanisms.

Webber posits the exact year of creation for Columbine's community of violence was in 02005. I do not entirely agree with her assessment, but generalities pointing in this direction do exist. The community of violence could only organize over the Internet, with the exact platforms in question not available until after 02005. Parcel to this, she argues that school shootings underwent two distinct “waves,” with the first ending at Columbine and the second coming into focus after this point. Independent of the community of violence, the second wave is also evidenced in the public record. Following Columbine, no school shooting drew the ravenous attention of the national media until “Virginia Tech.” This meant the American experience of “the Columbine effect” was essentially split in half. Though the contagion cluster was one long and largely uninterrupted string of mirrored morbidities, the larger body politic started to interpret it as two different objects, and the understandings of one-versus-the-other began a slow and eventual drift.

There is a small selection bias in Webber's assessment towards platforms with mainstream acceptability, such as YouTube and Blogspot. I suspect the community of violence was already in gestation far earlier, using platforms which were more specialized and serviced teenagers specifically, in areas where adult journalists and academics wouldn't have known to look. The “Red Lake” attacker used NewGrounds, for one example, which was a very popular website on the later-cyberspace Internet among children and teenagers — but not necessarily important to the class of people who began using the Internet professionally at the time of Facebook and Twitter. Those of us in the various RPG Maker workshops of the Internet had to deal with rough attention stemming from Danny Ledonne's Super Columbine Massacre RPG, which had an influence on “Sandy Hook.” Debra Larkin included a section in the later portion of her husband's book, sparsely detailing the online fandom surrounding Columbine in the year 02000, a mere sixteen months after the event. At the time, both her and Ralph Larkin would've had no reason to suspect what they were looking at was the community of violence in its earliest forms. I can also think of a few other places where, in retrospect, the burgeoning community of violence likely had a foothold of some variety. They would've flourished on the shadow of the clearnet, in areas that could operate with minimal moderation, cultivating a userbase which used nihilistic humour as a coping mechanism for endemic loneliness and depression.

Mass-casualty events attributed to the community of violence are recursive not just in the sense that they keep recurring, but also in how each recursion is a self-referential child of previous recursions. (Webber identifies this method as “methetic citation,” though the more traditional term describing this dynamic is “the Werther Effect.”) A practical consequence of this exists in the “manifesto plagiarism” problem of more recent public shooters. Norwegian killer Anders Breivik claimed his massacre was in service of his white supremacist ideologies, but the large bulk of his published manifesto was just a word-for-word reprinting of Ted Kaczynski's, which was on a different topic altogether. This pattern has since repeated, where a public shooter's own purported writings contain little-to-nothing of their authors, instead only being an expression of the community of violence and its intellectual inbreeding. While the exact boundaries of the school-turn-public-shooting fandom remains amorphous, their influence is traced as a malignant “suicide cluster,” but also as if it were a community of practice, where practitioners collaborate in seeking increasingly efficient ways to commit low-rent mass-murder.

The existence of the community of violence, and the many ties newer generations of school shooters had with it, complicated the older method of sociological analysis. This now-externalized threat meant local cultures were no longer the sole item of scrutiny in determining the possible motives of the perpetrators, who were suddenly more likely to attack random strangers in public than anyone of their “own” kith. The strength of the Bullying Hypothesis relies entirely on its ability to perform high-level sociological analyses within the bounded space of a school's peer culture. The more the Internet was a factor in things, the more porous those boundaries became, and the more difficulty sociological analysis had in finding reasonable answers. The works of Larkin and Newman were quite illuminating for school shootings on the eve of the millennium, such as “Westside” and “Columbine,” but the same methods would've yielded nothing against later school shootings like “Sandy Hook” and “Uvalde.” (Who were, increasingly, just products of the community of violence and little else.)

These are the conclusions I reached regarding why the paradigm shift occurred in the grander study of school shootings; acquired with a “bird's eye view” of these historical texts in aggregate. ... it is not, however, the conclusions those texts would have their readers make. One can agree that the Bullying Hypothesis did not withstand two whole decades of continued contagion. Whether or not the Mental Illness Hypothesis is without such flaw, is another matter altogether.

Fragments of a Debate

It's one thing for me to describe the two hypotheses as if they were conclusions of my own. It is, however, far more effective to see these positions presented in their own words. What follows are somewhat-long quotations from these books and their authors.

Some Columbine myths, such as Cassie Bernall saying she believed in God before being shot, were quickly disproved. Other “myths” were never myths at all, such as shooter Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold's disdain for virtually all other humans. Some supposed myths are complicated. Harris and Klebold may not have been members of the Trench Coat Mafia. But they wore trench coats; had friends in the clique; and maybe most importantly, identified with the group's rebelliousness.

Yet the ability to grasp subtleties and provide historical context was not evident for many reporters and book reviewers going over Columbine. As they attempted to rewrite the Columbine story on the ten-year anniversary, the subtext was, “We blindly put our faith in the early news reports. Now we are told they were wrong. We are now blindly putting our faith in the latest story we are hearing.”

Jeff Kass, writing in The Huffington Post

If I can make one intervention in this book, it will be to let other academics know where the rot is located: in Dave Cullen’s Columbine.

As we can see, there’s a lot of confusion about bullying among the American literati. As school violence became a growth industry for the media following Columbine, the reporting of it got much worse. [...] Cullen is certainly right that sometimes an idea gets solidified in the press that then becomes the uninvestigated truth of the story. Yet now, the idea that Harris and Klebold were not bullied has become one of these “truths.”

Cullen is currently a reporter at the New York Times. When Columbine began he was at Salon and produced two very important streams of articles for that online magazine, initially in 1999 and again in 2004, that were cited over and over again by academics and others as if they were the truth. One way that Cullen was able to succeed in this was by demystifying all the stories that initially rolled out of Columbine: the martyr story, the Trench Coat mafia, among others. He’s been a good foot soldier for clearing up media gossip. By 2009 and with a book that was “ten years in the making,” Cullen was now able to get away with his own bit of truth stretching. A new “demystification” was produced: Harris and Klebold were not bullied, that they had friends, and so on.

Larkin has addressed this hyperreal construction in his 2007 book, directly in a section parodying Cullen’s original thesis from 2004. He thinks this is not quite the case and [would only be argued to absolve] the administration at the school of responsibility. By contrast, Cullen and [Agent] Fuselier’s theory about Harris’s psychopathology exonerates the entire administration at Columbine, the media, the jocks and the Christians. Cullen wraps it all up into a neat little package with Eric Harris’s face on it, served to the American public as “evil.”

In true masculine fashion, Cullen is able to call them “losers”, and still get away with sounding professional.

Julie Webber in Beyond Columbine (edited for clarity)

Was Eric a psychopath? Was Dylan a depressive? Obviously, both boys manifested characteristics of these psychological categories. The problem with such characterizations, especially used by a nonprofessional such as Cullen, is that it tends to engulf the boy’s identities and reduce them to labels. Once the boys were labeled, then it became easy to engage in crude psychological reductionism.

Aside from the simplistic notions of causality, Cullen, drawing on the information from FBI profilers, concluded that the shootings were the consequence of the psychological pathologies of Harris and Klebold. He decided that the shootings were a result of Klebold’s depression and Harris’s psychopathology. The problem with Cullen’s conclusion is that depression and psychopathology are insufficient factors in determining any given behavior. Depression can evince itself in any number of ways, ranging from inability to get out of bed in the morning and function, to homicide. Psychopathology can be present in any number of people, from clever and manipulative politicians and CEOs, to serial killers. Environmental influences give direction to psychopathology. For Cullen to attribute the Columbine shootings to the psychological states of the killers, is to deny environmental influences in the generation of those psychological states, and to tacitly absolve others of any culpability. It is the equivalent of Columbine High School Principal Frank DeAngelis attributing the killings to the fact that the boys were “evil.” It is a case of labeling and throwing away the label. Nothing is explained; however, it gives the labeler a false sense of certainty of a deus ex machina, or more precisely, a diabolus ex machina.

Ralph Larkin in Comprehending Columbine

A year after the Columbine tragedy, research into the school's atmosphere was conducted by Regina Huerter, Director of Juvenile Diversion for the Denver District Attorney's Office. Huerter's findings paint a disturbing picture of cruelty and indifference in Columbine's halls.

From October 14 to November 29, 2000, Huerter conducted interviews with twenty-eight adults and fifteen current or past students regarding their experiences with bullying at Columbine and how administrators responded to it.

Huerter's nine-page report was presented to the Governor's Columbine Review Commission on December 1, 2000. It contained numerous examples of assaults, racism, and other forms of bullying that witnesses say went on in the years before the Columbine murders.

“All students with whom I spoke, independent of their status at school, acknowledged there was bullying,” Huerter wrote. “One identified the unwritten rules of survival in the school as: ‘Don't screw with anyone who can beat you up, don't look at jocks in the eye, bump them, or hit on their girlfriend, and don't walk in the wrong area . . .’”

At the same time, Huerter noted “a strong perception from nearly everyone I spoke with that there was ‘no reason to say anything about the bullying — no one was going to do anything.’ Some students were just ‘untouchable.’”

Huerter described an “overwhelming” sense that teachers responded only to bullying they had personally witnessed — and that when “certain parties” were involved, even these incidents were overlooked.

Students and parents who did report bullying often met with an unsatisfactory response. Among the examples Huerter mentioned in her report:

  • Two students repeatedly bullied a fifteen-year-old classmate in Physical Education class two years before the shooting. “The victim was repeatedly subjected to ‘twisters,’ a form of pinching and twisting the skin,” Huerter wrote. “Although the class was in session, the teacher didn't acknowledge knowing what was taking place. Another form of bullying against this student, a practicing Jew, involved racial slurs and ethnic intimidation, including threatening by the bullies to ‘build an oven and set him on fire.’ Each time a basket was made during P.E. basketball, the bullies would state, ‘that's another Jew in the oven.’ They also wrote a song to torment the victim.” The boy reported the bullying, and initially administrators confronted the bullies over their actions. However, the report states, the victim continued to be harassed for the next year and a half — and each time the new incidents were reported, “The counselor would bring the bully in to question him, the bully would deny the behavior, and they would let it go, telling the family, ‘we're doing everything we can,’” Huerter wrote. “The victim states that ‘[the administration] did everything but call me a liar.”
  • One student told his parents he wouldn't go back to Columbine after an incident with “four or five football players shoving and pushing him, harassing him verbally and following him to his car.” The boy's father called school officials, who did not return the call for six weeks. When an administrator did finally call back, he was very short and rude, the father recalled. The family pulled the student from Columbine and enrolled him in Heritage High School nearby. The student told Huerter that he still refuses to enter Columbine property to this day.
  • “I was told by adults working in the district that they were afraid to speak up about school issues, including school culture and bullying behavior, because they feared losing their jobs,” Huerter wrote. “All said bullying behavior was going on, that they did tell APs (associate principals), and nothing was done.”

According to Huerter, several of the individuals she interviewed pointed out that deans, assistant principals, and principals were “often, if not always, coaches, or had a coaching background. This feeds a further perception that athletes were given preferential treatment by those deans or APs.”

Students who weren't the main targets of the bullies did not always realize the extent of the problem. One former student Huerter interviewed “felt the cliques and bullying were just part of being in school. She doesn't believe that now.”

When this young woman's sister started at Columbine, she went from straight A's to failing. The family didn't know about it for months, until finally a physics teacher called. The girl reported being unhappy in Columbine's atmosphere, so her parents chose to enroll her in another school instead. There, “she is again flourishing,” and notes that kids at her new school are friendly regardless of what “cliques” they're in.

The older sister now works with teens from several different schools. “As they talk about their school experiences it has become apparent that bullying is not present in all schools — at least not to the degree she witnessed at Columbine,” Huerter noted.

As for students like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Huerter wrote that everyone she interviewed described the pair as “loners” and “often the brunt of ridicule and bullying. Although no one had specifics about when and the degree of bullying they received, most often it was about shoving, pushing and name-calling.”

Even those who associated with Eric and Dylan were punished. A female student told Huerter that she was talking to Dylan Klebold in the school hallway during her freshman year. “After their conversation was over, one of the notorious bullies slammed her against the lockers and called her a ‘fag lover,’” Huerter wrote. “Many students were in the area, but no adults. She did not report this to the administration. When I asked her why, she said that everyone told her ‘it wouldn't do any good because they wouldn't do anything about it.’”

Rob Merritt, in No Easy Answers

Most adults were not only unaware of how much bullying and intimidation occurred in the halls of Columbine, but they were also ignorant of what constituted bullying and intimidation. Numerous statements by students indicated that faculty, especially teachers who were also coaches, either inadvertently or openly encouraged or participated in the harassment or humiliation of students. Principal DeAngelis has continually defended the school and the faculty against accusations of systematic harassment. He has maintained throughout that harassment was not a serious problem at Columbine High School. DeAngelis was most defensive about the putative role that faculty played in encouraging bullying.

[...] Garbarino and deLara (2002) pointed out that one of the most risky acts students can do is to inform an adult about the behaviors of their peers. There is no assurance that it will be handled properly by the adult authority. A student revealed the following:

At Columbine, here’s how [conflict resolution] worked. ... It started off sophomore year, TS was one of RH’s right hand men, and TS came up to the smokers one day, and he wanted to bum a cigarette from me, and I refused. I said “no,” because I only had like three left—I don’t remember why. I had a good reason, but it wasn’t just because I didn’t like him. So his friends grabbed me and threw me up against a chain link fence and pounded my stomach. I fell on the ground. A teacher saw this, and they pulled us in for conflict resolution with Mr. Collins, my school counselor. He then did this thing with TS and me where he had us talk through the whole thing. He had us go through all the problems we were having, blah, blah. Afterwards, [TS] and his friends found me outside behind the temporary [bungalow] at Columbine where they had first aid classes, oddly enough. They threw me into it, and they kicked me in the face a number of times. I never told anyone again about TS. He continued to beat me mercilessly up until my senior year.

Although the student did not alert the adult authorities, the situation came to the attention of the adults, who, although well-meaning, bungled the conflict resolution process, failed to report physical violence to the appropriate authorities, failed to inform parents, and failed to follow up on the incident. Ineptness or disregard by adult authorities often creates situations worse than those they attempt to solve. When authorities, such as Principal DeAngelis, ask why students do not inform them of their problems, the answer is that too many of them have had bad experiences in doing so.

Although The Predators denied their participation in harassing and humiliating their peers to the media (Adams and Russakoff 1999; Kurtz 1999), one member let down his guard and told a reporter for Time Magazine the following:

Columbine is a clean, good place except for those rejects [NB: outcast students, including Klebold and Harris]. Most kids didn’t want them here. They’re into witchcraft. They were into voodoo dolls. Sure, we teased them. But what you expect with kids who come to school with weird hairdos and horns on their hats? It’s not just jocks; the whole school’s disgusted with them. They’re a bunch of homos, grabbing each others’ private parts. If you want to get rid of someone, usually you tease ‘em. So the whole school would call them homos, and when they did something sick, we’d tell them, “You’re sick and that’s wrong.”

The candor of this predator suggests that in addition to having fun at the expense of fellow students, the predators perceived themselves as defending the moral order of the school. They perceived themselves as acting with the will of the majority of the students. The mere presence of the outcast students was judged to be a blot on the pristine nature of Columbine High School, which gave them the right to harass and humiliate them. This astonishing admission raises serious questions about the unintended consequences of faculty members, who were also coaches, in tolerating and, in some cases, abetting the behavior of the predators. Not only does it create a climate in which interpersonal violence is tolerated, but it also justifies in the minds of those who engage in it the harassment of those persons who have been defined as outside the normative standard. That is, the tolerance of predation by adults is corrupting (Garbarino and deLara 2002). Not only does it encourage the repetition of such behaviors, but it teaches impressionable young minds that it is all right to treat with disdain and prejudice those who are different. This particular view had some support in the larger community. Adams and Russakoff (1999) quote a parent: “‘They [those students who were outcasts] had no school spirit and they wanted to be different,’ Randy Thurmon, parent of a wrestler and football player, said of the killers. ‘Anyone who shows any kind of school spirit, any pride in the school, they’re accepted.’”

As the evidence above has shown, this particular view of the openness of the internal climate of the school was counterfactual. Although the outcast students took the brunt of the abuse by the predators, numerous students testified that anybody could be violated if he/she happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. The student elites, both male and female, defended their status quite viciously.

These stories raise several issues about the internal context of Columbine High School that evoked numerous complaints from many students. First, male faculty members who were also coaches were perceived by students as encouraging predatory behavior by members of the football and wrestling teams. Several incidents were instigated by the same student who everyone in the school, including faculty and administration, knew engaged in predatory behavior. He had been expelled from his previous school because of his violent predilections. Yet some coaches encouraged his antisocial behavior. Second, many students complained about the hypocrisy of those people who called themselves “Christians” as a way of differentiating themselves as a moral elite from nonobservant Christians or members of mainline Protestant sects. These students engaged in such un-Christian acts as abetting or participating in the public humiliation of others and violence toward the weak, socially different, or those otherwise incapable of defending themselves. Third, many students, especially those at the bottom of the student status structure, perceived a hierarchy of privilege in which those at the top were given special treatment and exempted from punishment except when such behavior could no longer be ignored. Many students thought that such differential treatment was unjust.

Ralph Larkin in Comprehending Columbine

As the Columbine shooting took its place among an escalating number of school shootings in the 1990s, most observers asked: “What was different about those boys, what was it that made them reject common social and moral standards?” Such questions belie the fact that in some sense Eric and Dylan were affirming, rather than rejecting, some of the prevailing social and moral standards at their schools. These expectations push boys to achieve certain kinds of status at all costs — and in particular link the achievement of this status to a narrow definition of masculinity that values power and dominance above all else. A close look at three decades of school shootings shows how tightly school social expectations and the school shooters’ responses are intertwined.

If they want to be popular, male students in American high schools are often expected to conform to hypermasculine values. Boys are pressured to be successful at sports, highly competitive, dominant with girls, emotionally detached, able to hold their own in a fight, disdainful of homosexuality, and derisive toward academics. More often than not, they are expected also to be affluent, with a nice car, expensive clothes, and money to throw around — more evidence of their power and success. The recognition that boys gain if they exhibit these qualities allows them to climb up their school hierarchy and maintain a high social status.

Living as they do within such a strict and punitive social hierarchy, boys are told in one way or another to prove their manhood and, in some cases, to prove that they exist at all. Many boys feel they must go to great lengths to differentiate themselves from those perceived as gay, feminine, poor, intellectual, or weak. They’ll harass, bully, demean, humiliate, and generally try to crush the social value of anyone who doesn’t fit in, all in an effort to secure their own social standing. By calling another student “gay,” a boy demonstrates to others that he is successfully heterosexual, while a boy who “beats up” another student proves how powerful he is compared with the injured party. Such bullying techniques are pervasive across American schools as children work desperately to prevent their own social demise and to raise their otherwise fragile status; without this violence, boys, in particular, fear that they might not get recognized at all, or worse, could become the targets of the abuse themselves and lose any opportunity for social connection. In various ways, boys of all races and economic groups, across the country, feel compelled to demonstrate an aggressive masculinity. What’s more, “dominance bonding” tends to be socialized through school athletics as well as other school institutionalized activities.

Of the 166 school shooting perpetrators whose identities are known, 147 were male. Most of those who committed the massacres, as revealed in the examination of their cases, struggled for recognition and status among their peers. The majority of them languished at the bottom of the social hierarchy. They tended not to be athletic, and they were often described in the media as skinny, scrawny, short, lanky, or pudgy. They were teased for looking feminine or gay. They tended to be academically oriented. They were generally unsuccessful with girls. Many of them were also significantly less wealthy than the popular teens at their schools. As a result of these perceived failures, they were mercilessly teased and abused.

Without even a shred of the status necessary for surviving socially in their schools, these boys repeatedly chose to prove their masculinity through overwhelming violence. Many of them targeted more popular kids who had harassed them and girls who had rejected them. They believed their violent response, a powerful demonstration of masculine prowess, would win them the recognition they desperately craved. Whether they were dead or alive, free or behind bars, one after another, the perpetrators spoke about their yearning for notoriety. They could no longer imagine achieving recognition in their present reality, so they dreamed of receiving it in some form of afterlife obtained through violence and infamy. Most people work hard to get recognized and seen —  a basic human need. Without more constructive vehicles in schools and elsewhere in the community, these youth turned to any means necessary.

Some of the shooters who survived — who didn’t kill themselves or get killed in the mayhem — expressed these feelings explicitly. ... In fact many of them [became] nationally or internationally known figures after their shootings rather than merely abused and tormented “social rejects.” Sadly, it did seem to take the shootings to “broadcast” to the society at large the message that millions of students were suffering terribly at school every day. Suddenly, the school pecking order — and the dreadful plight of those at its bottom end — were exposed to public view. People began to notice that the periodic outbursts of violence seemed to be taking place not just at “disadvantaged” inner-city high schools but at “good” schools in suburban and small town America. Tamar Lewin, writing in the New York Times, observed, “Compared with big-city schools, these schools look homogeneous: the majority of the students are white, middle class, dressed in the same handful of brand names. But the reality is far more complex.” Lewin quoted Carol Miller Lieber, a former principal and director of high school programs at Educators for Social Responsibility, who spoke of the “winner culture” at many of the schools where mass shootings took place — an environment dominated by jocks, student government, and other “in” groups. “But the winners are a smaller group than we’d like to think, and high school life is very different for those who experience it as the losers. They become part of the invisible middle and suffer in silence, alienated and without any real connection to any adult.”

Writing in the New York Times Magazine four months after the Columbine shooting, Adrian LeBlanc outlined the hierarchy in a suburban American high school in 1999, complete with the names of each of the stratified groups: “The popular kids tend to be wealthier and the boys among them tend to be jocks. The Gap Girls, Tommy Girls, and Polo Girls compose the pool of desirable girlfriends, many of whom are athletes as well. Below the popular kids, in a shifting order of relative unimportance, are the druggies (stoners, deadheads, burnouts, hippies or neo-hippies), trendies or Valley Girls, preppies, skateboarders and skateboarder chicks, nerds and techies, wiggers, rednecks, and Goths, better known as freaks. There are troublemakers, losers and floaters — kids who move from group to group. Real losers are invisible.”

It was from the ranks of these “invisible losers” that many of the school shooters came. While only a fraction of bullied students respond with lethal force, thousands more suffer relentless hostility and humiliation at the hands of their peers. Both statistics and anecdotes show that bullying is an intrinsic part of the cutthroat status wars that have become commonplace at school.

Jessie Klein in The Bully Society

The most interesting question [Jesse Klein's] book raises concerns the fragility of certain scholarship in the social sciences. Early reports of tragedies are notoriously wrong, speculating about motive months or years before officials release most of the relevant evidence. Reporters and “witnesses” — schoolmates who often never knew the killers — bend their accounts to fit a profile of shooters that both the Secret Service and the F.B.I. have concluded is fiction. Klein perpetuates this imaginary profile, including the portrait of shooters as outcasts. The Secret Service said 41 percent of shooters belonged to the mainstream, while only 34 percent thought of themselves or were characterized by others as “loners,” and 12 percent had “no close friends.”

The reporting problem gets camouflaged by repeated layers of “scholarship.” One scholar bases a paper on faulty reporting, which gets cited by another scholar, then another — until a book like this appears with a bibliography full of academic citations. Academic weight increases as the research grows farther from the source, which is rotten at the core.

Klein’s first chapter begins on a start­lingly false note, asserting that Seung-Hui Cho staged his 2007 attack at Virginia Tech in response to bullying. The overwhelming consensus is that unlike most shooters, Cho appeared to be deeply mentally ill — a condition that dwarfed external factors. This goes unmentioned here.

Worse, Klein positions the 1999 Columbine massacre as her prime example. She regurgitates botched reporting that was debunked years ago, exhuming resilient myths about jock-targeting and the Trench Coat Mafia. The shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, left journals and videos to explain themselves, in which they complain about every petty topic imaginable, from slow drivers to the WB network, but not once, mysteriously, about bullies. The closest Harris comes is complaining about feeling left out, in a brief passage contradicting nearly every­thing else he wrote. Yet Klein cherry-picks to present the boys as bullied outcasts hunting jocks.

Dave Cullen, writing in the New York Times

[Why] would they write about being bullied? If Harris and ­Klebold wrote about these experiences and any others that may even be more gruesome, would they inspire the fear that most adults felt after Columbine? No. Furthermore, explaining the humiliation only serves to further underscore and legitimate it, especially in American culture, where blame is always shunted back onto the victim: Why can’t you just get over it? Did you do something to provoke the humiliation? Why are you so weird anyway?

Julie Webber in Beyond Columbine

Discussing his drugs of choice, Eric Harris, on [his website,] stated the following: “My recent OTC [over-the-counter] of choice is cough syrup. I recommend it highly. It’s the best thing after a hard day of being called ‘gay’ by a schoolyard full of fashionable jocks and cheerleaders.”

Ralph Larkin in Comprehending Columbine

It is one thing for adults to determine that a school environment is safe based upon their experience of it or their perceptions of day-to-day life. It is quite another thing for the students to declare that same school to be safe. The adults may feel safe, for instance, because they have power. Students overwhelmingly reported teachers and other adults on the school grounds do not have any clue about how many actual incidents of physical and emotional violence and harassment occur in the course of a day.

deLara and Garbarino, in And words can hurt forever

Jefferson County, shaped like a jagged knife blade, has a split personality. The western half where Dylan lived cuts into the Rocky Mountain foothills and creates a scenic backdrop for an eclectic mix of residents ranging from hillbillies in ramshackle homes to yuppies in multi-million dollar mansions. Denver — contrary to its reputation for blizzards — is essentially a high altitude desert where winters are softened by over three hundred days of sunshine. But the Jefferson County foothills reveal glimmers of the massive snow and deep cold found in the heart of the Rockies.

[...] The county flatlands where Eric lived spread east toward Denver and include Columbine. This is typical suburbia, with unremarkable cities like Lakewood, Littleton, and Westminster. This is also the heart of the county economy. Southwest Plaza sprawls on the plain and gets as upscale as Macy's before dropping down to Sears and J.C. Penney. In a county that is eighty-seven percent white, chain stores represent most of the ethnicity: Heidi's Brooklyn Deli, Qdoba Mexican Grill, Einstein Bros. Bagels.

Jefferson County's most prominent building, the courthouse, is known as the “Taj Mahal” for its approximately $60 million price tag and central, domed building flanked by two rectangular wings. The sheriff and district attorney offices sit nearby as the Taj robustly skirts the edge of the Rocky Mountains, guarding the terrain. Yet the Taj illustrates a suburban quandary as officers must patrol both wilderness and suburban sprawl with no downtown or center of crime to focus their attention. The county's signature building could not stop its signature crime.

Law enforcement was historically sparse in the Old West. The frontiersman would take the law into his own hands, and there was no better equalizer against nature, Indians, and the common criminal than the gun. Churches were seen as a civilizing influence, but even they could be warlike. In Colorado, most of the early miners were Protestant, yet crusading Presbyterians stood out for moving “against Mormons, Catholics, and others regarded as species of infidels,” according to the book The Coloradans. “These ‘Christian soldiers’ talked in terms of fighting battles, occupying strategic points, posting pickets, establishing outposts, and the like.”

The strife is said to continue in Jefferson County today, with believers against non-believers and sect vs. sect. “The churches have very little to do with each other,” says Reverend Don Marxhausen, who presided over Dylan Klebold's funeral. “There's two separate groups. The evangelicals and the mainliners.”

The violent individualist who stood up for himself not only survived, but was glorified, and came to symbolize the West.

William “Buffalo Bill” Cody first came to Colorado territory in 1859 at the young age of thirteen, like many migrants, looking for gold. But after the Iowa native did not find enough nuggets to punch his ticket, he was recruited by the Pony Express, according to some accounts, which was looking for “skinny, expert riders willing to risk death daily.” Cody earned his nickname in 1867 while hunting buffalo to feed railroad workers. He said he killed 4,280 of the animals in seventeen months, but was also known for hyperbole.

In 1872, at age twenty-six, Cody popped into show business by portraying the Wild West. One of his trademark stories, “Buffalo Bill’s First Scalp for Custer,” has him shooting Cheyenne chief Yellow Hair in the midst of battle, stabbing him in the heart, and scalping him “in about five seconds.”

Buffalo Bill performed in Colorado thirty-five times, and endorsed horse halters from the Gates Tire and Leather Company in Denver, helping boost the company that still keeps worldwide headquarters in a curved and shiny building full of glass in downtown. Cody’s sister also lived in Denver, and that was where he died in 1917 while visiting her.

There was some controversy over whether Cody wanted to be buried in Wyoming, where the town of Cody was named after him. But close friends and the priest who administered the last rites said he wanted to be interred on Lookout Mountain in Jefferson County. His state funeral, according to one account, is “still perhaps the largest in Colorado history.” He was buried per his wishes on “a promontory with spectacular views of both the mountains and plains, places where he had spent the happiest times of his life,” according to the Buffalo Bill Museum & Grave, which re-enacts his burial every few years.

Col. John Milton Chivington was among those who came to Colorado to save souls. A beefy man—over six feet tall and 250 pounds—with a burly, dark beard and jutting chest, he was balding on top but two sturdy tufts of hair jutted out over each ear. In his military uniform with gold buttons up the front, he looked the part of a no-nonsense, nineteenth century soldier.

Chivington was also an ordained Methodist minister, and in 1860 he brought his family to Colorado as the presiding elder of the Rocky Mountain District of the Methodist Church. But he would die as one of the West's most controversial figures for his gruesomely superb job of killing. At dawn on November 29, 1864, Chivington seems to have nearly taken it upon himself to lead a charge on the Sand Creek Indian Reservation. Historian Joe Frantz gives a compelling account of the incident and implies 450 dead, but the National Park Service, which oversees the National Historic Site of the massacre, says 160 died.

... Chivington faced court martial charges for Sand Creek, but was no longer in the U.S. Army and escaped that punishment. A Congressional investigation still condemned him for having “deliberately planned and executed a foul and dastardly massacre which would have disgraced the veriest savage among those who were the victims of his cruelty.”

Chivington left Colorado and lived in other states but later returned to Denver and worked as a deputy sheriff. He died in 1892 and was buried after what the Rocky Mountain News called “still the biggest, best attended funeral in the city's history.”

The Sand Creek Massacre, confirming the fears of the Eastern establishment, most likely delayed Colorado's bid to become a state and enter the union. “Do not allow Colorado in, with its roving, unsettled horde of adventurers with no settled home, here or elsewhere,” one Eastern newspaper wrote. “They are in Colorado solely because a state of semi-barbarism prevalent in that wild country suits their vagrant habits.”

A dozen years after the Sand Creek Massacre, Colorado did enter the Union and took the name of the Centennial State for being founded one hundred years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The next year, the state's premiere institution of higher learning, the University of Colorado at Boulder, admitted its first forty-four students. Nearly 125 years later, Dylan Klebold would apply there. He was neither accepted nor rejected. His application was not complete, and he put a bullet in his head before the shortcoming could be reconciled.

Dylan was not alone. Colorado, and the West, has some of the nation's highest suicide rates. Population booms here overrun mental health resources on the new suburban frontier, and people feel compelled to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Wide expanses wall people off from one another, and a lack of close family for new settlers keeps people isolated. What is left is the gun. So valued for self-protection, it becomes a weapon for healing thyself: Guns are the most common method of youth and adult suicide.

While Columbine united Eric and Dylan, it does not exist. It is an unincorporated swath of suburban homes anchored in south Jefferson County, fifteen miles southwest of Denver. It is full of middle-class families. But there is no town or city, mayor or municipality. It is a tiny dot of sprawl.

“There's no parade. Where would you have it?” explains Rev. Marxhausen, who once worked in Chicago. “There's no community center. You come from the Midwest, every area has its own downtown. There's no downtown here. The first thing clergy people who move here say is, ‘Where is the community?’ There is no community.”

Jeff Kass, in Columbine

He told them he loved them. Each and every one of them. He spoke without notes but chose his words carefully. Frank DeAngelis waited out the pom-pom routines, the academic awards, and the student-made videos. After an hour of revelry, the short, middle-aged man strode across the gleaming basketball court to address his student body. He took his time. He smiled as he passed the marching band, the cheerleaders, and the Rebels logo painted beneath flowing banners proclaiming recent sports victories. He faced two thousand hyped-up high school students in the wooden bleachers and they gave him their full attention. Then he told them how much they meant to him. How his heart would break to lose just one of them.

It was a peculiar sentiment for an administrator to express to an assembly of teenagers. But Frank DeAngelis had been a coach longer than a principal, and he earnestly believed in motivation by candor. He had coached football and baseball for sixteen years, but he looked like a wrestler: compact body with the bearing of a Marine, but without the bluster. He tried to play down his coaching past, but he exuded it.

You could hear the fear in his voice. He didn't try to hide it, and he didn't try to fight back the tears that welled up in his eyes. And he got away with it. Those kids could sniff out a phony with one whiff and convey displeasure with snickers and fumbling and an audible current of unrest. But they adored Mr. D. He could say almost anything to his students, precisely because he did. He didn't hold back, he didn't sugarcoat it, and he didn't dumb it down. On Friday morning, April 16, 1999, Principal Frank DeAngelis was an utterly transparent man.

Every student in the gymnasium understood Mr. D's message. There were fewer than thirty-six hours until the junior-senior prom, meaning lots of drinking and lots of driving. Lecturing the kids would just provoke eye rolling, so instead he copped to three tragedies in his own life. His buddy from college had been killed in a motorcycle accident. “I can remember being in the waiting room, looking at his blood,” he said. “So don't tell me it can't happen.” He described holding his teenage daughter in his arms after her friend died in a flaming wreck. The hardest had been gathering the Columbine baseball team to tell them one of their buddies had lost control of his car. He choked up again. “I do not want to attend another memorial service.”

“Look to your left,” he told them. “Look to your right.” He instructed them to study the smiling faces and then close their eyes and imagine one of them gone. He told them to repeat after him: “I am a valued member of Columbine High School. And I'm not in this alone.” That's when he told them he loved them, as he always did.

“Open your eyes,” he said. “I want to see each and every one of your bright, smiling faces again Monday morning.”

He paused. “When you're thinking about doing something that could get you in trouble, remember, I care about you,” he said. “I love you, but remember, I want us all together. We are one large family, we are—”

He left the phrase dangling. That was the students' signal. They leapt to their feet and yelled: “COL-um-BINE!”

Ivory Moore, a dynamo of a teacher and a crowd rouser, ran out and yelled, “We are...”


It was louder now, and their fists were pumping in the air.

“We are...”


“We are...”


Louder, faster, harder, faster — he whipped them into a frenzy. Then he let them go.

They spilled into the hallways to wrap up one last day of classes. Just a few hours until the big weekend.

Dave Cullen, in Columbine

The day after our appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show aired, graduation ceremonies were held for the Class of 1999. We tried to make it seem as normal as possible. My family posed for photos with me in my robe before we left for the ceremony. My parents told me how proud they were.

Still, there was no getting past the shadow that hung over that day. The ceremony was being televised nationally. Everyone was watching us.

Principal DeAngelis gave a speech to the 437 kids that were graduating that day.

... I felt drained afterwards. My parents gave me a hug, and then I stepped away for a moment, to be alone with my thoughts. When I did so, I became aware of someone standing behind me. It was Principal DeAngelis.

I hadn't spoken to him since the shootings.

“How are you, Brooks?” he asked.

I shrugged. “I'm doing.” Seeing as how the administration had asked me not to return to school, I really didn't feel like talking to him.

“What did you think of my speech?” he asked.

I paused and looked at him.

“I thought it was bad,” I said after a moment.

DeAngelis looked taken aback. “What?”

“Look, fifteen people died that day,” I said. “Not just the kids that you named up there. We lost people that day that you didn't even count. That your school cost the lives of. Avoiding the truth doesn't change it.”

“I just thought it would make it nicer for these kids,” DeAngelis said. “Easier to deal with.”

“You're wrong,” I said. I turned and walked away.

DeAngelis followed me. He'd been reading the papers; he knew my family had been speaking out against the atmosphere at Columbine. “What did I do?” he asked me. “Why are you and your parents so upset with me?”

I could have told him. For four years, the administration had turned a blind eye to the torment the unpopular kids suffered every day. They had allowed that atmosphere of hate and cruelty to exist. And now — even as DeAngelis gave speech after speech about Columbine being “full of love” — the school had asked me and the rest of Eric and Dylan's friends to just “go away” after the shootings. The words he had said to the cameras did not reflect reality.

I didn't feel like fighting with him about it, though. Graduation was over. I was done with that school now.

I walked away from DeAngelis and rejoined my family.

Brooks Brown, in No Easy Answers

The Klebold house was orderly and intellectual. Sue Klebold was a stickler for cleanliness, but Dylan enjoyed getting dirty. A neighbor — the woman who would struggle so hard to stop Eric before the massacre — fed Dylan's early Huck Finn appetite. Judy Brown was the neighborhood mom, serving up treats, hosting sleepovers, and rounding up the boys for little adventures. Dylan met her son Brooks in the gifted program. Brooks had a long, egg-shaped face, like Dylan's, narrowing at the jaw. But where Dylan's eyes were animated, Brooks's drooped, leaving a perpetual weary, worried expression. Both boys grew faster than their classmates — Brooks would eventually reach six-five. They would hang out all afternoon at the Browns' house, munching Oreos on the sofa, asking Judy politely for another. Dylan was painfully shy with strangers, but he would run right up, plop down in her lap, and snuggle in there. He couldn't be more adorable, until you tripped his fragile ego. It didn't take much.

Judy first saw him blow when he was eight or nine. They had driven down to a creek bed for a typical adventure. Sue Klebold had come along — horrified by all the mud, but bearing it to bond with her boy. Officially, it was a crawdad hunt, but they were always on the lookout for frogs or tadpoles or anything that might slither by. Sue fretted about bacteria, hectoring the boys to behave and keep clean.

They'd brought a big bucket to haul the crawdads home, but came back up the hillside with nothing to show. Then one of the boys slogged out of the creek with a leech attached to his leg. The kids all went delirious. They plopped the leech into the frog jar — a mayonnaise bottle with holes punched in the lid — and watched it incessantly. They had a picnic lunch and then ran back for more fun in the creek. The water was only a foot deep, but too murky for them to see the bottom. Dylan's tennis shoes squished down into the glop. All the boys were slipping around, but Dylan took a nastier slide. He wheeled his arms wildly to catch himself, lost the battle, and smacked down on his butt. His shorts were soaked instantly; dank black water splashed his clean T-shirt. Brooks and his brother, Aaron, howled; Dylan went ballistic.

“Stop!” he screamed. “Stop laughing at me! Stop! Stoooooooooooooooooooooooop!”

The laughing ended abruptly. Brooks and Aaron were a little alarmed. They had never seen a kid freak out like that. Judy rushed over to comfort Dylan, but he was inconsolable. Everybody was silent now, but Dylan kept screaming for them to stop.

Sue grabbed him by the wrist and whisked him away. It took her several minutes to calm him down.

Sue Klebold had come to expect the outbursts. Over time, Judy did, too.

“I would see Dylan get frustrated with himself and go crazy,” she said. He would be docile for days or months, then the pain would boil over and some minor transgression would humiliate him. Judy figured he would grow out of it, but he never did.

Dave Cullen in Columbine

The accelerated learning program for students in the Jefferson County Public Schools is called CHIPS, or “Challenging High Intellectual Potential Students.” Its intent is to push advanced kids to the next level. Classes took place not at Normandy Elementary, but at Governor's Ranch Elementary a few miles away. We were promised advanced learning classes, regular field trips to educational spots all over the state, and an education that would put us well ahead of the rest of the pack by the time we got to junior high.

Dylan and I both got in. So did a few of our friends from Normandy. Our parents congratulated us. They were proud to see their boys test high enough to move to the next level — and we felt pretty good about it, too.

What we didn't know at the time was that admission into CHIPS was based on politics as much as ability. Some kids got in because they tested high enough on the entrance exam; other kids got in because of who their parents were. Naturally, parents in Jefferson County wanted to be able to say that their child was in “the accelerated program,” and some parents had friends in the school district, or were otherwise in a position to pull a few strings.

As a result, the CHIPS program wasn't a big group of accelerated kids who were there to better themselves. Instead, what you had was one group of kids who had earned their spots, another group of kids who hadn't — and all of them trying to one-up the others, each trying to prove that he or she wasn't one of the “free ride” kids.

If you did a class project, you had to safeguard it from kids who might smash it when your back was turned. When kids smacked each other in the back of the head during class, the teacher would look the other way. Once kids realized that discipline in CHIPS was nonexistent, they went wild.

Finding friends within the CHIPS program was virtually impossible. In complete contrast to the friendly atmosphere we'd had at Normandy, classmates in CHIPS weren't friends; they were competitors, and it was a battle to make sure that nobody got too far ahead of anybody else. There's a theory about “crabs in a barrel”: when a lot of crabs are trapped together in a barrel, every now and then one of them manages to climb over the others and make it to the top. When it does this, the other crabs grab onto it and pull it back down. Classes in the CHIPS program worked in much the same way.

Looking to the other kids at Governor's Ranch for friendship didn't work, either. Every day at recess, the other kids knew who the CHIPS kids were. “Oh, there's the smart kids,” they'd sneer. They hated our guts. Dylan and I got our first taste of bullying on the playgrounds of Governor's Ranch. It wouldn't be our last.

We had been put into a class that we'd thought would consist of intelligent kids and teachers who cared about us. What we got was the opposite, and we felt disappointed and hurt.

I could feel the experience making me meaner. In first and second grade, I never got into fistfights; now they were almost commonplace. I would even fight with my little brother, Aaron, who was two grades below me. I was spending every day defending myself from bullies on the playground and saboteurs in the classroom, and my aggression was boiling over.

Dylan was showing signs of it, too. One day, he and I got into a fight on the playground. He said something that made me mad, so I pushed him. Just like that, he jumped on me and started punching; we rolled around, locked together, until the teachers peeled us apart and sent us to the principal's office.

That fight was the first time I ever saw Dylan's temper. Because Dylan internalized things so much, he would let his anger build up within him until one little thing finally set it off. When that happened, it was like an explosion.

The funny thing was, we weren't even that mad at each other; we were still close friends, still sleeping over at each other's houses. Yet the day-to-day experience of school had us both on edge, to the point that we were as ready to lash out at each other as our tormenters were.

Brooks Brown in No Easy Answers

Note the difference in how the two hypotheses approach a given subject. Brown, who is a strict adherent to the Bullying Hypothesis, solves the mystery of Dylan's temper by attributing it purely to the environment. Here, Dylan's temper is not special or unique, especially since it was considered a reasonable outcome for the circumstances. Meanwhile; Cullen, who is a strict adherent to the Mental Illness Hypothesis, considers Dylan's temper only as a result of Dylan as an individual. Now Dylan's temper is both special and unique, meaning its existence no longer implies anything about the culture-or-context where it took place. Both Kass and Brown's books are suffuse with details about life in Jefferson County and the historical milieu. Cullen's book chooses to wash these details out in effort to make its story more relatable, as if what happened could've taken place at any high school in North America, at any point in history.

Brown is a fascinating figure when viewed in retrospect. He and his family were of the earliest to catch advance notice that something terrible was afoot, making every attempt to inform the local police about it. Sadly, corruption within the Sheriff's office saw fit to turn them into scapegoats instead of heroes; a situation only rectified by the police cover-up eventually unwinding three years later. Being one of the earlier writers about Columbine from direct experience, Brooks was a firm believer in the Bullying Hypothesis. As Dylan Klebold was a friend at the time and had similar issues with the same advanced learning program, Brooks assumed that Dylan had similar opinions on the bullying matter overall. This assumption — in the grand scheme of things, entirely unverified — is what carried most of Brown's advocacy in the matter.

At the same time, the Mental Illness Hypothesis would not be possible without Brown's provided evidence of Eric Harris as a person. Simply having to deal with his wild and erratic behaviours paints the clearest possible picture of malignant psychopathy one could ever read. All the signs are there, even if Brown himself was ill-equipped to see them. The Columbine-version of the Mental Illness Hypothesis wouldn't be taken all that seriously without these written accounts, which even Cullen relies on to great effect. The FBI investigators who first proffered the psychopathology theory did so using alternative means, which were far less persuasive. Fuselier and Ochberg's theories relied mostly on the fact that they were able to catch Harris lying in his essays written for the Diversionary Program officers; and not even in any material matter, but more in a sort of “his heart just wasn't in it” kind of way. When separated from the authority granted by their expertise, this evidence would've been rightly derided as “weak.” Mercifully for them, Brown's evidence is much stronger, though Brooks himself would likely not care for that.

However, despite the fact that this damning evidence existed for quite some time, the Columbine-version of the Mental Illness Hypothesis indeed wasn't taken seriously. ... at least not until much later. Both Kass and Larkin have long sections in their books considering the full heft of the hypothesis, ultimately to decide against it. Even Brown himself, having experienced the brunt of Harris's anti-social fixations, took away from it very different conclusions. In the crescendo of his own personal narrative, Brown had to forcibly make peace with the belligerent Harris, in a move that quite possibly saved his life. Larkin's findings show the school had already refused to uphold a restraining order when one other student sought protection from another as her stalker, and Brown found himself in a similar position when — after he and his family had already reported Harris to the police for threats against them several times — the school saw fit to have the two of them share half their classes in close proximity for an entire semester. Brown immediately understood that he wasn't going to survive the season unless he brokered some measure of peace between them, but this incensed his parents, who rightly pointed out: “What the hell are you doing? This kid wanted to kill you!” As far as Brown was concerned, Harris's apparent psychopathology couldn't have possibly been a problem, since both the school administration and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office were all too happy to completely disregard it whenever it was brought up at any time before the attack. Pursuant to the Bullying Hypothesis, the true malignant party of the Columbine attack was not any specific aggressor, but instead their enablers — whom Columbine had in spades.

This appears logical if the powers-that-be do indeed have unclean hands, as Larkin's investigations would prove for the case of Columbine. ... but does this remain true in every situation? As the community of violence exerted more and more influence, this seeming requirement became fleeting at best. If one is not especially careful, this logic results in nothing more than blaming-the-victim. (And so it was come time for “Parkland” two decades later.)

Most of the myths were in place by nightfall. By then, it was a given that the killers had been targeting jocks. The target myth was the most insidious, because it went straight to motive. The public believes Columbine was an act of retribution: a desperate reprisal for unspeakable jock-abuse. Like the other myths, it began with a kernel of truth.

In the first few hours, a shattered junior named Bree Pasquale became the marquee witness of the tragedy. She had escaped unharmed but splattered in blood. Bree described the library horror in convincing detail. Radio and television stations replayed her testimony relentlessly: “They were shooting anyone of color, wearing a white hat, or playing a sport,” she said. “And they didn't care who it was and it was all at close range. Everyone around me got shot. And I begged him for ten minutes not to shoot me.”

The problem with Bree Pasquale's account is the contradiction between facts and conclusion. That's typical of witnesses under extreme duress. If the killers were shooting “everyone,” didn't that include jocks, minorities, and hat wearers? Four times in that brief statement, she described random killing. Yet reporters glommed on to the anomaly in her statement.

Bullying and racism? Those were known threats. Explaining it away was reassuring.

By evening, the target theory was dominating most broadcasts; nearly all the major papers featured it. The Rocky and the Washington Post refused to embrace the targeting theory all week, but they were lonely dissenters.

Initially, most witnesses refuted the emerging consensus. Nearly all described the killing as random. All the papers and the wire services produced a total of just four witnesses advancing the target theory Wednesday morning — each one contradicting his or her own description. Most of the papers advanced the theory with just one student who had actually seen it — some had zero. Reuters attributed the theory to “many witnesses” and USA Today to “students.”

“Student” equaled “witness.” Witness to everything that happened that day, and anything about the killers. It was a curious leap. Reporters would not make that mistake at a car wreck. Did you see it? If not, they move on. But journalists felt like foreigners stepping into teen culture. They knew kids can hide anything from adults — but not from each other. That was the mentality: Something shocking happened here; we're baffled, but kids know. So all two thousand were deputized as insiders. If students said targeting, that was surely it.

Police detectives rejected the universal-witness concept. And they relied on traumatized witnesses for observations, not conclusions. They never saw targeting as plausible. They were baffled by the media consensus.

Dave Cullen, in Columbine

How visible was bullying at Columbine high school? According to many students, bullying was an everyday occurrence. Obviously, the recipients of bullying claimed that it was widespread and that it was highly visible. However, numerous students, faculty members, and Principal DeAngelis claimed that bullying was rare. Once the media began focusing on bullying and accusing the faculty and administration of tolerating it, many students and adults became highly defensive about the image of Columbine High, denying the existence of predatory relationships in the high school. Not surprisingly, such denial was most often found among students in the leading crowd and the administration.

The administration was aware of [the predators,] but figured that they had the situation under control. However, Principal DeAngelis claimed, rightly, that students are not going to harass and intimidate their peers in front of adult authorities. Therefore, the vast majority of harassment and intimidation occurred outside the purview of faculty, staff, and administration. Because of this, many school officials radically underestimated the amount of violence that occurred in their school. This was in evidence in [the Colorado State Attorney General’s Office investigation] into bullying in schools. The investigation included thirty high schools in Colorado. Students routinely reported dramatically more incidences of school violence and drug abuse than administrators.

Because of the extreme polarization of the student peer structure at Columbine High School, literally two perspectives existed about bullying and harassment. Those students who adopted the dominant perspective downplayed [predation and] did not perceive [it] occurring routinely. Kurtz (1999) reported:

At Brooke Gibson's high school, nasty nicknames were the norm. “N***** lover” was what they called her when she listened to rap. “Dyke” when she cut her blond hair short. At the school her sister Layn attended, nicknames might poke fun at someone’s shirt color, but never their skin color or sexual orientation.

It was the same school. Columbine.

Ralph Larkin in Comprehending Columbine (also quoting the Denver Rocky Mountain News)

Why do we need to go about this scientifically or cautiously? [... The] problem is that it is highly likely that some apparently sensible interventions could produce negative or even disastrous consequences, depending on what is actually going on in the school. Let me give you one cogent example. A few days after the Columbine tragedy, my 16-year-old grandson came home from high school and said, “Guess what? The principal sent around a notice asking us to report any kids who are dressing strangely, behaving weirdly, appear to be loners, or out of it.”

At first glance, this might seem like a reasonable course of action: The authorities merely want to identify the kids who seem to fit the description of the Columbine shooters — kids who might be unbalanced or might cause trouble, kids who seem unpopular or separated from the other students, kids who dress in black trenchcoats or in other strange ways. The authorities can then keep an eye on them, offer them special counseling, or whatever. But my best guess is that the principal is shining his spotlight on the wrong part of the equation. Here’s why: From my classroom research, I have found that the social atmosphere in most schools is competitive, cliquish, and exclusionary. The majority of teenagers I have interviewed agonize over the fact that there is a general atmosphere of taunting and rejection among their peers that makes the high school experience an unpleasant one. For many, it is worse than unpleasant — they describe it as a living hell, where they are in the out-group and feel insecure, unpopular, put-down, and picked on. By asking the “normal” students to point out the “strange” ones, my grandson’s high school principal is unwittingly making a bad situation worse by implicitly sanctioning the rejection and exclusion of a sizable group of students whose only sin is unpopularity. By doing this, he is making the life of the unpopular students even more hellish.

It is becoming increasingly clear that a large number of school administrators have been tempted to go this route. They do this because, on the surface, this intervention seems sensible and harmless. Moreover, from the perspective of a bureaucrat, it is a self-serving response. Here’s why: If, in the aftermath of the Columbine massacre, my grandson’s principal did nothing, and a shooting subsequently took place in his school, he would be in serious trouble. But if a shooting took place after he had made an attempt to identify the “weird loners,” very few people would fault him — even though it might have been his action that exacerbated the tension and, therefore, contributed to the outcome. It is for this reason that school administrators will want to do something — anything — that will keep them from looking as though they are not attempting to address the problem.

Elliot Aronson, in Nobody Left to Hate

Aronson is a very strange writer in this space. The situation around Columbine was endlessly re-litigated throughout the years, with so much of the early reporting in need of some rather dire corrections. Reading him after having already finished Kass, Cullen, and even Webber, suggests that Aronson's grasp on the specifics of what happened at Columbine is... nebulous at best and surprisingly insubstantial. The strength of his polemical writing in favour of the Bullying Hypothesis is swiftly undercut by a lot of very obvious errors in fact.

Approaching the matter as an activist and salesman, Aronson uses the vague spectre of Columbine in effort to sell you on the concept of “the jigsaw classroom.” It was his grand invention, apparently meld in the hot crucible of American educational desegregation efforts, for mitigating the effects of peer culture abuse through cooperative learning. Jigsaw — to Aronson — was the solution to the school shooting problem, via route of being the solution to the bullying problem, just as it was once the solution to the school-racism problem. Suffice to say, these ideas never caught on, and further research into the jigsaw technique has since ground to a halt.

Despite the obvious problems with Aronson's book, I think he is interesting to view in the light of the Twin Hypotheses. (Well, “interesting” in the same way a train-wreck would catch one's attention.) You can see how, in Aronson, the two hypotheses move past one another to solve wholly different problems. He might be very well correct about how the “traditional classroom” sets a systemic standard for school bullying by fostering competition and atomization across student populations. He counteracts this by inventing a new kind of classroom which fosters cooperation instead. The claim both he and Larkin share follows: if the existence of bullying stems from the vagaries of the industrial education system, then the educational system is unsustainable in the long term, thereby mandating structural reform in order to save it from itself. This all seems entirely reasonable, so long as one assumes the dark triad is not anywhere present, and therein lies the rub. Through peer cooperation now being strictly mandated, jigsaw students might find themselves in the position of being exposed to abusive behaviours from their peers more often than before.

Despite being a psychologist himself, Aronson wrote and published his book two years before the early advent of the dark triad. One chapter relates his own experiences of being bullied when young, particularly at the hands of a rather fearsome figure. From his future vantage, he says “the outcome for bullies is usually worse than for their victims. I don't know what ever became of [that jerk]. I wish him no harm, but the odds are against him. Research shows that whatever pleasure he derived from being top dog in high school probably didn't serve him well in adult life.” He then goes on to describe what that “research” entailed, blissfully unaware that what he spouts just-so-happens to neatly mirror similar outcomes for psychopathy and antisocial personality disorder. These brief and uncanny moments show how entangled the two hypotheses are. ... but Aronson did not merely miss the boat on the subject, because arrangements of knowledge about psychopathy and narcissism were already around at the time; they were just of little help. Even if the Goldwater Rule theoretically allowed for him to make some reckless accusation, the two of them were already in an antagonistic relationship to begin with. Why bother with imagining the twisted contours of another's mind, only to pass such prognostications off as the truth? Aronson has no need for that whole song and dance, especially when the jerk's own vile actions speak well enough for themselves. ... which implies that one would only ever need to do this when simpler methods are arrayed against you.

It's this perspective which reveals why the Mental Illness Hypothesis, or something like it, might be of such value to a self-preserving bureaucracy. (Preferably if structural reform is something they wish to avoid!) Typical high schools can have over hundreds of enrolled students at any time, and through raw statistical throughput, at least a few of them are going to have some form of triadic disorder. It only requires that very few of them in the mix for deleterious effects to soon take root. ... but this is something that could be true of any organization responsible for such large masses of people, which makes it a plausible excuse for just about any kind of action, including inaction.

In all likelihood, following through on the Bullying Hypothesis was always going to be a non-starter. In the case of high school alone, each new year brings with it the responsibilities of another full three. There is a wide bias in assuming the setup of education to be an already-solved problem. Even during the height of the novel coronavirus pandemic of 02020, there was constant pressure to keep the gears of this grand machine churning, confining students to close-quarters classrooms despite the presence of a highly-contagious and very-deadly disease. If developing a video game while still building its engine is comparable to landing a plane while also paving the runway, educational reform would be like proposing massive renovations for every airport in the country, all without cancelling a single flight. (A similar strain of thought can be found in Japanese writer Asao Naito's findings on the nature of “ijime-style” bullying being linked to the Japanese “homeroom system,” but critics of Naito's calls for its abolishment suggest it “has the same logic and difficulties as saying that we should close the highway to avoid severe traffic accidents.”)

The cultural studies of youth in the 1980s and 1990s revealed a profound malaise. William Finnegan (1998) in his aptly named book, Cold New World, chronicled the struggles of black and Hispanic, poor and working-class adolescents in cold, heartless, uncaring environments, where parents were relatively powerless to help them, even though some tried. It was a period of declining opportunity and increasing poverty, especially for children. Family incomes stagnated while the cost of higher education increased dramatically, pricing economically marginal students out of the educational marketplace. Patricia Hersch (1998) intensively studied the lives of six upper-middle-class adolescents. She found them isolated and alone, living in a world unknown to their parents, learning to play a game in which false appearances substituted for a known reality. They all attended the same suburban high school which, given the cultural trends, was hardened in anticipation of violence that had not yet occurred. She wrote: “This year the administrators in the school are trying to toughen up all around. Expulsion policy is more exacting, rules are implemented more rigorously. School security is tighter, enforced by a full-time police officer in the school.”

Students complained about the arbitrariness of the enforcement of behavior codes that meted out punishment to the innocent and guilty alike for fear of a student getting away with something. In a reversal of the American system of jurisprudence, students were assumed to be guilty until proven otherwise. Students perceived the sanctioning system of the school as unjust and absurd. They had great difficulty making sense of their lives, but they heroically tried to make some sense despite it all. The sense of arbitrariness — of sanctions being applied equally to perpetrator and victim — and the lack of distributive justice that Hersh reported were voiced by numerous Columbine students. All of Hersch’s subjects, at one time or another, were depressed. One of her brightest, most dedicated subjects who appeared to work the hardest on himself to be a good and competent human being committed suicide shortly after she concluded her study.

Government statistics on homicide and suicide bore out the subjective and anecdotal observations of Gaines (1993), Finnegan (1998), and Hersch (1998). American adolescents, including white teenagers, were living in an increasingly violent world. One would expect that such violence would subside as the time from the end of the [middle-class youth] movement [of the 1960's] increased and young people reconciled themselves to the reestablishment of the quotidian; however, suicides and homicides increased throughout the 1980s as the level of desperation among young people, especially those who were outcasts, also increased. Yet something else was going on. If the lives of marginal and outcast students were being degraded, as were the lives of all vulnerable Americans, the celebratory, triumphalist, and aggressive behaviors of the American upper class were being transmitted to adolescent leading crowds. After all, if capital could shove it to labor, and if the American superpower could beat up on weak Third World regimes in Grenada, Nicaragua, and Panama, why could student elites not do whatever they wanted without fear of retribution?

Because the increased aggressiveness of elites was hegemonic, it was invisible and grossly understudied.

Ralph Larkin, in Comprehending Columbine

Kids are demonstrably more miserable today than they used to be. According to the book Kids Killing Kids, as many as one in every four children has some form of psychological disorder, and one in every five has a moderate or severe disorder. Just twenty years ago, these disorders weren't viewed as anything more than normal growing pains. Today, the slightest aberration brings an avalanche of drugs and therapy — the pressure comes from parents, administrators, and rapacious drug companies which have bought off the politicians. America's kids are pumped full of legal drugs — particularly Ritalin and Adderoll, which are essentially prescription speed, and Prozac, Zoloft, or other anti-depressants. At the same time school administrations constantly teach kids to “just say no to drugs.” You start to get a sense of the madness of school life today.

The number of children and adolescents who take a wide variety of psychiatric drugs more than doubled from 1987 to 1996, according to a study reported in the New York Times. Today, 20 percent of high school students are on antidepressants or medicines for other psychiatric disorders. Another study done by University of Texas physicians estimates that Ritalin use among school-age children jumped from about 400,000 in 1980 to 900,000 in 1990 — and then exploded to five million kids aged six to eighteen-years-old on Ritalin by the year 2000. Add to that another estimated three million kids who are on some other powerful psychiatric medicine — making the total of about eight million or 15 percent of the school-aged population.

Some might argue that these numbers simply show that kids are being diagnosed more closely and fed drugs more eagerly than before — that nothing has really changed except for the adults' hysterical doting, or the kids' whining. However, according to a government study conducted in 1999, one in five adolescents seriously considered suicide, and one in ten actually attempted suicide. This represents a 400 percent increase in the adolescent suicide rate since 1950!

It is difficult to argue, as some want to, that kids today are simply too pampered and whiny. They are demonstrably miserable, so much so that they're killing themselves and leading armed rebellions against their schools.

Mark Ames, in Going Postal

Bullying is as much about the adult world as about the world of children. The current focus on kids is an orchestrated distraction from the role played by adults and adult institutions in creating bullying. It leads to a warped discussion that makes bullying appear to be something specific to child psychology and behavioral disorders that tend to fade as people mature — something that, once outgrown, leaves few permanent impacts. The sociological imagination challenges this view, asserting that bullying is created by the adult world and the institutions that structure adult behavior. The focus on kids and child psychology masks the reality that bullying reflects the institutional and cultural values and power hierarchies of our society. We therefore need a new conversation, centering on adults and how adult bullying has resulted in the bullying scourge among kids.

Institutions as well as people bully. In the United States, corporations, the military, the police, sports leagues, the family, and other organizations all commit institutionalized bullying; accordingly, the bullying will take place somewhat independently of the psychology or personality of any particular institutional leader, since it is embedded in the DNA and legal structure of the institution. This happens on a large scale. In the sociological imagination, institutionalized bullying is the leading cause of personal bullying. When the conversation about bullying is largely about individuals who bully (and their psychology), it essentially enables more bullying because it distracts attention from the true sources of the problem.

The national focus on personal and child bullying is shaped to a large degree by the elites who control the institutions that are themselves the biggest bullies of all, such as the corporations and the military. This reflects simple self-interest, since it diverts attention from institutional bullying and its horrific, rippling effects on the social lives and pervasive bullying among both adults and children. Such twisted control of the discourse gains popular acceptance because it allows parents and teachers to believe that they can protect and support their children through their own psychological interventions, rather than by having to challenge the biggest and most powerful institutions in history, which, like air, are everywhere around us but actually unseen.

Institutional bulliers are closely tied to the bullying system that we call a bully nation. In the United States, a system of intertwined corporations, governments, and military institutions constitutes militarized capitalism. The system itself carries out “systemic bullying,” to create profits and sustain its own power. This gives rise to the bullying endemic to both the US version of capitalism and the culture and practices of the US military, used against other nations and America's own domestic population by militarized police forces. It also creates other repressive institutions of control, including schools, sports organizations, and the family.

The military, sports, schools, and the family are all “bridging” or “transmission” institutions. They help create and channel a bullying culture from institutions to individuals. They are, in a sense, the kitchen that churns out food for the bullies. They dish out the bullying values and conduct that nourish militarized capitalism, making them palatable and part of the daily routine of millions of Americans.

Charles Derber & Yale Magrass, in Bully Nation

Do people just snap when they go postal? Do they act “without any cause or provocation”? ... Or are they reacting to grievances both specific and institutional: grievances that we are barely able to see because we lack distance, grievances which seem as banal and part of the natural turn-ofthe-millennium landscape as strip malls and stress-palpitations, yet grievances which will be perceived as obviously unbearable twenty, thirty, fifty years from now? What, in case of Fight Club, are the grievances that lead Jack to wage a violent revolution against Middle America? Some are easy to put your finger on; other grievances are impossible to verbalize, they could sort of be summed up as “life.” Yet the millions who saw that movie and sympathized with its message understood what it was that drew Jack to violent rebellion. There was another, more comforting explanation for his violence too: Jack, as we learn at the end of the book, was mentally ill. As all rebels-before-their-time are ill. (The movie version wisely left that cheap escape-hatch ending more vague than the book, which is why the movie was far more effective than the book.) The huge underground popularity of [its] message makes another point: it takes someone who is mentally ill to see, and fight against, the sense of oppression that healthy people otherwise accept to such a degree that they can't even see it.

Everyone today agrees that slavery caused slave violence, and that inner-city poverty and pressures breed violent crime. Why is it so awful to suggest that offices, such as they are today, breed office massacres?

The school and the workplace are the two most important physical spaces for modern Americans — they are life's settings. This has become increasingly true over the last thirty years, as the family has withered away and as community has transformed from a concrete feature of life to an abstract, pathos-heavy myth whose demise is invariably rued in popular mainstream culture, such as in books like Bowling Alone. At the same time workloads and competition have increased, keeping Americans' lives more intensely focused on those two physical settings, the office and the school. While home and family have served as traditional settings for violence throughout human history, schools and offices had always been considered safe — until now.

Mark Ames, in Going Postal

For adolescents more than for any other age group, the future looms as a source of anxiety. For outcast students, prospects seem particularly grim, to the point that thoughts of the future are to be avoided at all costs, and perhaps even suicide is considered. These are the kids in the community who evince a visceral dislike. They are the ones that “don't have school spirit,” “give the community a black eye,” on whom the police are supposed to keep an eye, even though they may be victims of predation by their higher status peers who play on the sports teams, wear clothing, including lettermen's jackets that have the school colors, and are vested with the reputation of the local community.

Meanwhile, bullying begins to emerge as a social problem in the early 1990s. The shootings at Columbine, because of the motivations of the shooters, brought bullying to center stage. Anecdotal, participant observational, and statistical data all indicate that in the post-1980s world, young people of all races and ethnicities were increasingly likely to experience violence. It is a colder, harder world that they faced compared to earlier generations. ... working-class kids are no longer guaranteed a union job with a major corporation. For upper-middle-class kids, the taxpayer revolt resulted in the defunding of public higher education, which means that competition for selective universities intensifies and costs increase. The possibility of failure increases, raising anxiety levels.

Concomitant with the rise of public awareness about bullying, Americans began witnessing a new crime occurring not in overcrowded underfunded urban high schools but in rural and suburban middle and high schools: rampage shootings. According to Newman, between 1974 and March 2001, twenty-five rampage shootings occurred. However, nearly eight years passed between the first shooting and the second. Between 1982 and 1988, five rampage shootings were documented, followed by a four year hiatus. Between 1992 and 1996, there were six rampage shootings, all in rural areas. Between 1997 and 2001, Newman documented thirteen rampage shootings, including the mass murders in Paducah, Kentucky, Jonesboro, Arkansas, Springfield, Oregon, and, of course, Columbine. All were committed by males. With the exception of one Asian and two blacks, the other twenty-four shooters were white. In nearly every case, the shooter had low peer status or was described as a loner. In every case where evidence existed, the shooter had been either teased or bullied. In every case where evidence existed, the shooter's masculinity had been challenged, and he felt marginalized in the peer group. In most cases, as in Columbine, the motive of the shooter was retaliation. One exception was Michael Carrneal in Paducah, Kentucky, who shot five fellow students in a prayer group in an attempt to impress members of the goth subculture in his high school.

The two decades leading up to the Columbine shootings were not particularly good ones for adolescents. Families had been under increasing stress, privatization mania and tax revolts by the propertied classes undermined national commitment to public education and required public universities to institute and increase tuition. As violence increased among teenagers, tough-on-crime legislators instituted increasingly draconian laws for juvenile offenders. The adolescent's world continued to grow harder, colder, and fraught with increasing probabilities of failure. Meanwhile, a minority of privileged students, especially those who played football, became adolescent culture's version of celebrities who seemed to be exempt from the misery that many of their peers experienced, especially the outcast students, who, because they thought and acted differently than the majority of students, became targets for violence down the social system. All too often, the violence and the bullying were excused and ignored by adults.

Ralph Larkin, in Comprehending Columbine

Throughout proponency of the Bullying Hypothesis flows an oddly political undercurrent, which suggests the “Bullying” Hypothesis is actually the “Neoliberalism” Hypothesis. It's a strange kind of politics, because its ideology is the seeming result from an otherwise logical proposition: the rampage shooting epidemic did not exist before, but then it suddenly did, so whatever must have caused it would've been something unique to that narrow band of time in the 01980's. A difficult thing to guess, considering it was an otherwise unremarkable time of history. Nothing much would've affected wide swathes of young people so directly, at least when compared to the counter-cultural revolutions that were vogue only a decade earlier. What, exactly, happened during the so-called “return to the quotidian”? Furthermore, the early expression of the school shooting epidemic simultaneously affected the United States, Canada, and Germany; so the mysterious quality we're searching for must've been something that those countries shared in common. Interrogating the subject with these criteria, all the more prosaic explanations (like cultural concerns and weapons regulation) get filtered out, and the only thing left is the governmental imposition of neoliberal policy.

Ames is an overtly political writer, who is all-too-happy to draw a link between “Reagan's workplaces” and “Clinton's Columbine.” He ponders the phrase “going postal,” referring to the increase of workplace-related violence in the adult world at the time, with American postal workers especially affected. (The Columbine killers were aware of this, making reference to “going postal” in their own writings.) While the school shooting epidemic started with the Bullying Hypothesis and later evolved into the Mental Illness Hypothesis, the understanding of the postal killings flowed in the opposite direction. It began with the assumption that recent hires into the postal service were returning soldiers from the Vietnam War of the previous decade, and thus the outbreak of violence was a symptom of widely-distributed shell-shock or untreated PTSD. ... yet the application of this theory was uneven, as not all of the perpetrators matched the profile. Later government inquiries link the sudden change in fortunes to the imposition of neoliberal policy, which had turned the post office from a public-service institution into a for-profit business operation, hell-bent on extracting surplus-value and cost-savings even at their own workers' expense. The damning evidence which proved this was the difference between rural and urban postal facilities during the contagion cluster. These policies were enacted heaviest upon urban postal facilities, where they in turn had the highest incidence of workplace violence. Rural post offices were spared from the new project management scheme, and were completely untouched by the postal killings during the exact same period of time. If it were a psychological experiment to measure the social effects of neoliberalism, one could not ask for a better control group.

Even Larkin and Newman, who are not political writers but instead approach the subject as scientists, are nonetheless forced to acknowledge this politically-contentious aspect. It is there, in the background, radiating menace. The dark process of “pedagogical masking” might not wish to interpret the work students do as “labour,” but schools are no less a workplace, and it stands to reason that general trends affecting adult workplaces would come to affect them as well. Even under the shadow of the community of violence and long past the school-to-public-shooting transition, the US Secret Service has studied data which suggests the “workplace” aspect of the problem never really went away. The widespread adoption of the Mental Illness Hypothesis didn't affect their raw data on schools either, where the “bullying” aspect still lingers. However, as the understandings of both contagion clusters advanced, these complicating factors were no longer classified as legitimate issues in themselves, but instead as “grievances” — and soon, even less than that: “perceived grievances,” as if their eyes beheld some reality unknowable to the rest of us. The many facets which compose the underlying issue never changed between then-and-now; we merely made the choice to start looking at it differently, and the once-new stressors of the neoliberal world stopped seeming new enough to matter.

... and yet, for all these incriminating things, the evidence linking the school shooting epidemic to the development of neoliberalism is circumstantial at best. The dates certainly line up as they should, and so does the change in social milieu to go with it, but there is nothing which guarantees this. The United Kingdom was also a country that imposed neoliberal policy during the Thatcher years, but the school shooting epidemic completely passed them by. That's to say nothing of other countries who have also implemented neoliberalism, only to have their negative effects branch out in alternative ways. Complicating matters further is the issue of applicability. Being a politically-contentious thing that lives uncomfortably close to our economic system's own beating heart, criticisms of neoliberalism are not commonplace within the mainstream media, with knowledge of it primarily relegated to people who either have advanced education or keenly developed political intuition. I myself didn't even learn or understand the specifics of neoliberalism until well into post-secondary. Would this even be something school violence perpetrators know about? ... especially when the majority of them finish their lives before finishing high school? Webber's study on the community of violence illustrates how these methetic actors formulate their exterminationist ideologies through what is often the “quickest and cheapest” means available to them, which usually results in houses built on sand. Sure, we might choose to understand things this way, but they likely never cared.

For my part, I've pondered if there can be any direct link between neoliberalism and the seeming intensification of the educational system. The problem is that industrial education systems are still a historically recent invention, and we're looking at dynamics which must've evolved slowly over multiple generations, with only so many samples for us to compare. The neoliberal era might have brought about sudden and jarring change under the guise of apparent normalcy, but this sample size is even smaller still. Compulsory schooling wasn't commonplace across all of the US states until 01918, and only elementary school was required. The upper bound of this mandatory-minimum has slowly increased ever since, from the age of 12 to what is now generally 18. The neoliberal world, with its signature focus on expensive post-secondary institutions, has surreptitiously stretched those expectations even further in unofficial capacities. The extreme workload I was dealing with during the later half of high school, in terms of both sheer volume and unexpected difficulty, was much unlike the kind of academic work my parents did during the same time of their lives. Asking for help on any of it was quite out of the question, as they were just as clueless about it as I was. What brought about these absurd changes? Were they natural evolutions as the practice of industrial education had grown with time? ... or were they more unnatural adaptations, quickened by external pressure? Arguments can be made in either direction, but the school violence epidemic is implicated either way, as both came into being during the same span of time.

By Thursday, students in Clement Park were angry. The killers were dead, so much of the anger was deflected: onto Goths, Marilyn Manson, the TCM, or anyone who looked, dressed, or acted like the killers — or the media's portrayal of them.

The killers were quickly cast as outcasts and “fags.”

“They're freaks,” said an angry sophomore from the soccer team. “Nobody really liked them, just'cause they—” He paused, then plunged ahead. “The majority of them were gay. So everyone would make fun of them.”

Several jocks reported having seen the killers and friends “touching” in the hallways, groping each other or holding hands. A football player captivated reporters with tales of group showering.

The gay rumor was almost invisible in the media, but rampant in Clement Park. The stories were vague. Everything was thirdhand. None of the storytellers even knew the killers. Everyone in Clement Park heard the rumors; most of the students saw through them. They were disgusted at the jocks for defaming the killers the same way in death as they had in life. Clearly, “gay” was one of the worst epithets one kid could hurl against another in Jeffco.

[... A] young Goth from a nearby school showed up in Clement Park. Andrew Mitchell was a striking sight, standing alone in a foot of snow. Black on black on white on white. Jet-black hair cut long on top, shaved on the sides, bare skin above his ears. A silver-and-blue support ribbon pinned to his black lapel. The densely packed crowd parted. A ten-foot perimeter opened up around him. Reporters rushed in.

“Why are you here!” one demanded.

“To pay my respects,” Mitchell said. Then he offered a plea: “Picture these kids, for years being thrown around, treated horribly. After a while you can't stand it anymore. They were completely wrong. But there are reasons for why they did it.”

Mitchell was wildly mistaken about the killers' lives and their intentions. But it was already the pervasive assumption. The massacre brought widespread tales of alienation out into the open. Salon published a fascinating piece called “Misfits Who Don't Kill.” It consisted of first-person accounts from rational adults who had shared similar fantasies but lived to avoid them. “I remember sitting in biology class trying to figure out how much plastic explosive it might take to reduce the schoolhouse — my biggest source of fear and anxiety — to rubble,” one man wrote. “I scowled at those who teased me, and I had fantasies of them begging me for mercy, maybe even with a gun in their mouths. Was I a sick person? I don't think so. I'm sure there were thousands of other students who had the same fantasies I did. We just never acted on them.”

The more animosity reporters sensed, the deeper they probed. What was it like to be an outcast at Columbine? Pretty hard, most of the kids admitted. High school was rough. Most of the students in Clement Park were still speaking confessionally, and everyone had a brutal experience to share. The “bullying” idea began to pepper motive stories. The concept touched a national nerve, and soon the anti-bullying movement took on a force of its own. Everyone who had been to high school understood what a horrible problem it could be. Many believed that addressing it might be the one good thing to come out of the tragedy.

All the talk of bullying and alienation provided an easy motive. Forty-eight hours after the massacre, USA Today pulled the threads together in a stunning cover story that fused the myths of jock-hunting, bully-revenge, and the TCM. “Students are beginning to describe how a long-simmering rivalry between the sullen members of their clique and the school's athletes escalated and ultimately exploded in this week's deadly violence,” it said. It described tension the previous spring, including daily fistfights. The details were accurate, the conclusions wrong. Most of the media followed. It was accepted as fact.

Dave Cullen, in Columbine

The media were on top of these developments, along with everything else that was coming to light in the days after Columbine. Plenty of people in Littleton criticized the media for being too invasive and violating their privacy. But to be honest, I understood their predicament. They were good people who didn't want to be there any more than we did, but they had a job to do. There were some isolated examples of assholes, sure, but most of the people I met in the media were pretty cool to me. And it was their work that kept information coming out. If it had been up to the police and the school, any reports of bullying would have been suppressed, and the police would have kept quiet about our family's report on the [killer's web pages.] The questions about police response would have been pushed aside. It was the media who fought to keep that from happening.

I found myself talking to quite a few reporters in those first few days. After my first interview with Ward Lucas, they just started coming out of the woodwork. They mainly wanted to hear my story about the Web pages. They wanted to know more about these “warnings” the killers had left behind. They also wanted to know about my last conversation with Eric. “What did he say? Did you see any guns with him? Why did he let you go? Why did he tell you to leave the school? Did you know what was going to happen?” They wanted to know if the rumors about bullying and cruelty at Columbine were true, and if they'd played any part in Eric and Dylan going over the edge.

I told them the truth; I didn't censor myself. Other kids were sugar-coating Columbine, making it sound like this peaceful, tranquil land of flowers and honey that Eric and Dylan had just walked into and shattered. “Oh, sure, there were jocks and everything,” they'd say. “But it was never that bad. We just can't understand how this happened in a school like ours.”

If people wanted to know what Columbine was like, I'd tell them. I'd tell them about the bullies who shoved the kids they didn't like into lockers, or called them “faggot” every time they walked past. I'd tell them about the jocks who picked relentlessly on anyone they considered to be below them. The teachers who turned a blind eye to the brutalization of their pupils, because those pupils weren't the favorites.

I told them about the way those who were “different” were crushed, and fights happened so regularly outside school that no one even paid attention. I told what it was like to live in constant fear of other kids who'd gone out of control, knowing full well that the teachers would turn a blind eye. After all, those kids were their favorites. We were the troublemakers.

“Eric and Dylan are the ones responsible for creating this tragedy,” I told them. “However, Columbine is responsible for creating Eric and Dylan.”

As I would later learn, this wasn't what I was supposed to say. I was supposed to jump on the bandwagon like everyone else. I was supposed to put aside what we'd all experienced over the past few years and pretend that Columbine was a wonderful place. Do you want to know the truth behind the slogan “We Are Columbine”? It's simple: We were still the same Columbine, where rumors determine truth and you don't go against the group mentality.

It was almost sad, the way some of my classmates defended the school. It was like an abused kid whose father dies after years of torturing him. That kid's not going to tell you the truth about his dad. He's going to defend his father and talk about how great he was. That's basically where things were with Columbine. Few people would speak the truth about the way it was. It was infuriating.

Brooks Brown in No Easy Answers

Vester Flanagan was determined to explain himself. After murdering two TV journalists (and former coworkers) during a live broadcast ... he faxed three different suicide notes to ABC News that were strewn with absurdities, contradictions, and baffling rationalizations. Flanagan, who was black and went by the name Bryce Williams on air, complained about racism against him at the TV station, WDBJ, but then confessed to acting “somewhat racist against whites, blacks and Latinos” himself. He admitted to killing his own cats — because he was fired unfairly. He said how much he loved them, then gave a long, sadistic account of the execution; he killed his favorite first, and she didn't go quickly. Then he described the extreme trauma on the second cat's face as he killed her. He called it a gruesome scene — then decided he owed them a decent burial. Through the rambling diatribe, victimization is a constant theme: “Haters” hounding, demeaning, and harassing him at every turn. “I have a right to be outraged!!!”

Before my research into the Columbine High School massacre, I would have been flummoxed. But after 16 years studying these types of killers, his inconsistencies couldn't have been more consistent. Flanagan was a classic “injustice collector.”

Retired FBI profiler Mary Ellen O'Toole, who is widely regarded as one of the smartest people alive on these cases, described Flanagan as such on an appearance on CNN last week. And it was an easy call — Flanagan could be the case study. O'Toole published a primer on injustice collectors in the journal Violence and Gender ... and many of her descriptors could be lifted right out of this case: “nurses resentment ... accumulating real or imagined slights, insults or putdowns ... could not get along with his co-workers ... disproportionate and aggressive response.” Collectors magnify petty “injustices” and perceive them as intentional and purposeful. Over time, he forms a worldview of himself as victimized, bullied, discriminated and disrespected.

How does this lead to murder? The angriest collectors lash out in erratic and disproportionate ways. But they almost never kill out of the blue. One of the most notorious killings of this type was the Bath, Michigan massacre in 1927. Long before the big crime, Andrew Kehoe left a searing trail of fierce retaliation for petty offenses. He killed a family friend's dog, telling her it barked too much. He beat his own horse to death for laziness. He fought with co-workers, lost his job, lost re-election and was losing his house and farm. Then he set about his revenge. He spent months wiring the school basement with hundreds of pounds of dynamite. On May 18, he murdered his wife, who had been burdening him with tuberculosis treatment, and firebombed his farm, burning two trapped horses to death. Then he detonated the school. Forty-five people died, including 38 kids. At least 58 [more] were injured. Though widely forgotten, because it did not breed copycats, it remains the worst school massacre in American history.

Dave Cullen, writing in The New Republic

It didn't take much to set Eric off anymore. By the Winter of junior year, I would learn that lesson firsthand.

It wasn't some massive fight that drove Eric and me apart, or a prank that got out of hand. Eric decided that he hated me because I didn't give him a ride to school.

When Eric was a freshman, he got rides from his older brother whenever he could. Now that Kevin had graduated and gone off to college, Eric was back to riding the bus all the time, because he still didn't have his driver's license. So he had started riding along with me instead.

I had become friends with a guy naned Trevor Dolac through the Columbine debate program. He and I would alternate driving to school. One week, I would drive on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, while Trevor took Tuesday and Thursday. The next week, we would switch. Eric simply rode along.

However, as anyone who knows me will attest, I'm not exactly punctual. Since I didn't care that much about school, I'd oversleep or dawdle around in the mornings, which meant that I was almost always running ten minutes behind. Trevor never got too annoyed about it, but it drove Eric crazy. Every morning, for the entire drive to Columbine, all I'd hear was Eric complaining about how I needed to get my shit together.

One morning, I overslept again. Trevor called me, wondering where I was. “Sorry, man,” I said. “I'll be right over.”

As I got dressed, the phone rang again. This time it was Eric. I knew what he was going to say before I even picked up.

I didn't need this, I thought. After all, I wasn't asking Eric to pitch in gas money. I was late all the time and by now, Eric knew it. He still chose to ask for rides from me anyway, right? So he knew what he was getting. I told him I was running late. I suggested that he find another ride.

Unfortunately for Eric, the bus had already left. He was pretty pissed off about it, and he started yelling at me over the phone about what a dick I was. I let him yell for a little while, then hung up.

A few minutes later I was at Trevor's house. “Eric's being a little bitch,” I said as Trevor got in the car. “We're not picking him up today. We're just going straight to school.”

We headed out of our neighborhood toward Pierce Street. A familiar truck pulled out right in front of us. Eric had enlisted his dad to give him a ride.

When Mr. Harris saw our car, he pulled over and we followed suit. Eric got out of his dad's truck and climbed into my backseat.

“You asshole!” he said. “I'm ten fucking minutes late already! My dad's pissed off at me. I can't rely on you for anything!”

I'd had enough. I turned around in my seat and stared hard at him. “Dude, that's it. I don't need this shit every morning. I'm not giving you rides to school anymore.”

We arrived at school and went our separate ways. Usually, if I drove everyone to school in the morning, I provided a ride home as well. But that afternoon, Trevor and I took off from school without Eric. We never gave him another ride after that.

The next time Eric saw me at school, he refused to acknowledge me; I'd pass him in the hallways and say, “Hey, Eric,” and he'd just glare. Once I realized that he was going to make an issue of what had happened, I became so annoyed that I stopped talking to him, too.

I heard through my other friends that Eric was talking shit about me. For the most part, I shrugged it off. However, it did concern me when I heard that Eric wanted to mess with my car. I told my parents what was going on. It didn't surprise my mom that much. She had already developed a distrust of Eric Harris.

“Eric held grudges and he never let them go,” Judy Brown said. “It was not normal behavior for boys. Boys usually speak up, say what they have to say, and that's that.”

Initially. Randy and Judy Brown liked Eric, because he seemed like the most clean-cut of Brooks's friends. Most of them dressed and acted like typical members of the punk or alternative scene. Eric, by contrast, looked almost preppy.

“My main impression of Eric was driving down Elmhurst and seeing him in the window of his study every night, every time we drove by, on the computer,” said Randy Brown. “The Harris's study is in the front of the house, and every time I went by, he was there. It was uncanny.”

“You have to remember, too, that we were much more naïve then than we are now,” Randy continued. “The things that would now be considered red flags ... at the time we just excused as ‘teenage behavior.’”

The first time Judy Brown suspected something amiss was when Brooks came home and told her that Eric was refusing to speak to her son Aaron. Aaron had made a comment to Eric along the lines of “Hey, man, get a life; you're on the computer too much.” It was meant as gentle ribbing, but Eric didn't take it that way.

“Brooks said that Eric now hated Aaron,” Judy recalls. “I said, ‘You've got to be kidding. Can't you smooth it over?’ And Brooks said, ‘No way, Mom. There's no smoothing it over. He won't change his mind.’”

The next time Judy became concerned about Eric Harris was after Brooks and Eric had quarreled over rides to school. Brooks came home and said he'd heard that Eric was looking to damage his car in some way for revenge.

“I remembered how Eric had held a grudge toward Aaron before,” Judy said. “I knew he wasn't going to let this one go either.”

Shortly after Eric and I had our falling-out, Eric figured out a way to get two of his enemies with one shot. He and Dylan plotted a new “Rebel Mission” against Nick Baumgart.

Eric had decided he didn't like the way Nick laughed. It was ridiculous, but no more ridiculous than choosing to hate my brother for telling him to get off the computer, or hating me because I didn't want to drive him to school anymore. The same “clownish” traits that had made us laugh so hard at Nick's antics in the library during freshman year now had Eric hating him with a passion. Go figure.

Dylan and Nick had never been great friends, not even in grade school, and I imagine it wasn't hard for Eric to convince him to help with the plan.

Dressed in their usual black “mission clothes,” Eric and Dylan crept over to Nick's house late one night. They put superglue in all of his door locks, then tried to set fire to all of the plants and bushes outside.

Then, the next day, Eric went up to Nick and said, “Man, I'm sorry about your house. I was talking to some people and I heard that Brooks did it.”

Nick went home and told his mom, and she went off the wall about it. So my mom called her to explain that I couldn't have been involved.

For the first time, my parents' strict demands on me regarding school were about to pay off. Because I hadn't been doing a lot of my school-work, my teachers had begun sending a card home with me every week that indicated whether or not I had done assignments. That week, I'd missed some assignments, so I didn't have the card. My parents and I had a big fight, and I wound up grounded. I lost car privileges and had to stay at home every night.

As it turned out, one of those nights was the night that Nick's house was hit.

“I can guarantee you that Brooks didn't do it,” my mom told Mrs. Baumgart.


“Because he was here at home, grounded.” Based on that, it was pretty easy to figure out who the true culprit was. If Eric had been angry with me before, now he was furious.

A few weeks after Eric and I stopped talking to each other, Trevor and I happened to be driving home from school in separate cars. Trevor was driving his car ahead of me when we pulled up to the stop sign near my house.

The spot was right next to the bus stop. Eric, who was riding the bus again, was throwing snowballs with other kids from school.

When Eric saw Trevor, he picked up a chunk of ice from where it forms over the gutter. He threw it as hard as he could at Trevor's car, denting the trunk. Then, without missing a beat, he picked up another chunk of ice and threw it at my car. The ice smashed into my windshield; I heard it crack. It wasn't a large chip, but enough to make one of those little spider webs around it.

I was livid. I slammed on the brakes and leaned out of the car, yelling, “Fuck you! Fuck you, Eric! You're gonna pay to fix this!”

Eric laughed at me. “Kiss my ass, Brooks! I ain't paying for shit!”


In March of 1998, I was walking to class when Dylan approached me with a small piece of paper. On it was written the address for a Web site.

“I think you should take a look at this tonight,” Dylan said.

I shrugged. “Okay. Anything special?” I figured at the time that it was the address for some new program Dylan had uncovered.

“It's Eric's Web site,” he said. “You need to see it. And you can't tell Eric I gave it to you.”


My belief is that if I say something, it goes. I am the law, if you don't like it, you die. If I don't like you or I don't like what you want me to do, you die. If I do something incorrect, oh fucking well, you die. Dead people can't do many things like argue, whine, bitch, complain, narc, rat out, criticize, or even fucking talk. So that's the only way to solve arguments with all you fuck-heads out I here. I just kill! God I can't wait till I can kill you people. I'll just go to some downtown area in some big-ass city and blow up and shoot everything I can. Feel no remorse, no sense of shame. Ich sage FICT TU! I will rig up explosives all over a town and detonate each one of them at will after I mow down a whole fucking area full of you snotty ass rich mother fucking high strung godlike attitude having worthless piece of shit whores. I don't care if I live or die in the shootout, all I want to do is to kill and injure as many of you pricks as I can, especially a few people. Like Brooks Brown.


I sat there staring at the screen for a moment. It was unexpected, to say the least. On another page, Eric had posted my phone number, along with a specific list of everything he hated about me. On yet another, he encouraged would-be killers to seek me out, and promised a reward for my head.

Brooks Brown, Rob Merritt, and (posthumously) Eric Harris in No Easy Answers (disinformal notation added)

My first interaction with Nikolas Cruz happened when I was in seventh grade. I was eating lunch with my friends, most likely discussing One Direction or Ed Sheeran, when I felt a sudden pain in my lower back. The force of the blow knocked the wind out of my 90-pound body; tears stung my eyes. I turned around and saw him, smirking. I had never seen this boy before, but I would never forget his face. His eyes were lit up with a sick, twisted joy as he watched me cry. The apple that he had thrown at my back rolled slowly along the tiled floor. A cafeteria aide rushed over to ask me if I was O.K. I don't remember if Mr. Cruz was confronted over his actions, but in my 12-year-old naïveté, I trusted that the adults around me would take care of the situation. Five years later, hiding in a dark closet inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, I would discover just how wrong I was.

I am not writing this piece to malign Nikolas Cruz any more than he already has been. I have faith that history will condemn him for his crimes. I am writing this because of the disturbing number of comments I've read that go something like this: Maybe if Mr. Cruz's classmates and peers had been a little nicer to him, the shooting at Stoneman Douglas would never have occurred. This deeply dangerous sentiment ... implies that acts of school violence can be prevented if students befriend disturbed and potentially dangerous classmates. The idea that we are to blame, even implicitly, for the murders of our friends and teachers is a slap in the face to all Stoneman Douglas victims and survivors.

... students should not be expected to cure the ills of our genuinely troubled classmates, or even our friends, because we first and foremost go to school to learn. The implication that Mr. Cruz's mental health problems could have been solved if only he had been loved more by his fellow students is both a gross misunderstanding of how these diseases work and a dangerous suggestion that puts children on the front line.

It is not the obligation of children to befriend classmates who have demonstrated aggressive, unpredictable or violent tendencies. It is the responsibility of the school administration and guidance department to seek out those students and get them the help that they need, even if it is extremely specialized attention that cannot be provided at the same institution. No amount of kindness or compassion alone would have changed the person that Nikolas Cruz is and was, or the horrendous actions he perpetrated. That is a weak excuse for the failures of our school system, our government and our gun laws.

Isabelle Robinson, Parkland shooting survivor, writing in The New York Times

Part of the problem has been that any portrait of school violence perpetrators has been undertaken by the Federal Bureau of Investigation or some other federal agency whose unit of analysis begins with the notion of an already committed criminal act. As a lead investigator for the Red Lake shooting wrote, “Jeffrey's family dynamics are interesting. However, this was a criminal investigation and not a psychological autopsy.”

[Mary Ellen O’Toole] explains how the FBI behavioral analysis unit “[makes] a distinction between motive for the crime and justification for the crime,” which [goes] like this: “Justification is what the public wants to know in order to make sense of the crime. They want to be able to say, “Ok, I understand now why someone would go into a school and shoot and kill ten people.” There will never be a reasonable justification for what Jeffrey Weise did that day. However, the motive for the crime is entirely different. The motive is the offender’s emotional and psychological reasons for committing the crime, which can be either conscious or subconscious.”

See the difference? Neither do I.

Julie Webber in Beyond Columbine (some sarcasm)

“Fuck you!” Brooks screamed. “You're going to pay for this!”

Eric laughed. “Kiss my ass, Brooks. I ain't paying for shit.”

Brooks drove home and told his mom. Then he headed to Eric's. He was furious, but Kathy Harris remained calm. She invited Brooks in and gave him a seat in the living room. Brooks knew lots of Eric's secrets, and he spilled them all. “Your son's been sneaking out at night,” he said. “He's going around vandalizing things.” Kathy seemed incredulous. She tried to calm the kid down. Brooks kept ranting: “He's got liquor in his room. Search it! He's got spray-paint cans. Search it!” She wanted him to talk, but he felt that she was acting like a school counselor. He was out of there, he said — he was getting out before Eric got back.

Brooks went home and discovered his friend had grabbed Eric's backpack, taking it hostage, more or less. Brooks's mom, Judy, took control of the situation. She ordered everyone into her car and brought them to see Eric.

He was still enjoying the snowball fight. “Lock the doors!” Judy demanded. She rolled her window down a crack and yelled over to Eric: “I've got your backpack and I'm taking it to your mom's. Meet us over there.”

Eric grabbed hold of the car and screamed ferociously. When she pulled away, he hung on, wailing harder. Eric reminded her of an escaped animal attacking a car at a wildlife theme park. Brooks's friend shifted to the other side of the back seat. Judy was terrified. They had never seen this side of Eric. They were used to Dylan's tirades, but he was all show. Eric looked like he meant it.

Judy got up enough speed, and Eric let go. At his house, Eric's mom greeted them in the driveway. Judy handed her the backpack and unloaded the story. Kathy began to cry. Judy felt bad. Kathy had always been so sweet.

Wayne came home and threw the fear of God into Eric. He interrogated him about the alcohol, but Eric had it hidden and played innocent convincingly. He wasn't taking any chances, though — as soon as he got a chance, he destroyed the stash. “I had to ditch every bottle I had and lie like a fuckin salesman to my parents,” he wrote [in his diary]. That night, he went with the confessional approach. He admitted a weakness to his dad: the truth was, he was afraid of Mrs. Brown. That explained a lot, Wayne thought.

Kathy wanted to hear more from the Browns; Wayne bitterly resented the interference. Who was this hysterical woman? Or her conniving little brat Brooks? Wayne was hard enough on the boys without outsiders telling him how to raise his sons.

Kathy called Judy that night. Judy felt she really wanted to listen, but Wayne was negative and dismissive in the background. It was kids' stuff, he insisted. It was all blown way out of proportion. He got on the line and told Judy that Eric had copped to the truth: he was afraid of her.

“Your son isn't afraid of me!” Judy said. “He came after me at my car!”

Wayne jotted notes about the exchange on a green steno pad. He outlined Eric's misdeeds, including getting in Judy Brown's face and “being a little bully.” At the bottom of the page he summarized. He found Eric guilty of aggression, disrespect, property damage, and idle threats of physical harm. But he did not look kindly on the Browns. “Over-reaction to minor incident,” he concluded. He dated it February 28, 1997.

At school the next day, Brooks heard Eric was making threats about him. He told his parents that night. They called the cops. A deputy came by to question them, then went to see the Harrises. Wayne called a few minutes later. He was bringing Eric over to apologize.

Judy told Brooks and his brother, Aaron, to hide. “I want you both in the back bedroom,” she said. “And don't come out.”

Wayne waited in the car. He refused to supply moral support — Eric had to walk up to the door and face Mr. and Mrs. Brown alone. Eric had regained his normal composure. He was exceptionally contrite. “Mrs. Brown, I didn't mean any harm,” he said. “And you know I would never do anything to hurt Brooks.”

“You can pull the wool over your dad's eyes,” she said, “but you can't pull the wool over mine.”

Eric gaped. “Are you calling me a liar?”

“Yes, I am. And if you ever come up our street, or if you ever do anything to Brooks again, I'm calling the police.”

Eric left in a huff. He went home and plotted revenge. He was wary now, but he wouldn't back down. The next mission target was the Browns' house. The team also hit “random houses.” Mostly, they would set off fireworks, toilet paper the places, or trigger a house alarm; they also stuck Silly Putty to Brooks's Mercedes. Eric had been bragging about the missions on his Web site, and at this point, he posted Brooks's name, address, and phone number. He encouraged readers to harass “this asshole.”

Brooks had betrayed Eric. Brooks had to be punished, but he was never significant. Eric had bigger ideas. He was experimenting with timers now, and those offered new opportunities. Eric wired a dozen firecrackers together and attached a long fuse. He was fastidiously analytical, but he had no way to assess his data, because he fled as soon as he lit the fuses.

Judy Brown viewed Eric as a criminal in bloom. She and Randy spoke to Eric's dad repeatedly. They kept calling the cops.

Wayne did not appreciate that. He would do anything to protect his sons' futures. Discipline was a no-brainer, but the boys' reputations were out of his control. Every kid was going to screw up now and then. The important thing was keeping it inside the family. One black mark could wipe out a lifetime of opportunities. What was the purpose of instilling discipline if one crazy family could ruin Eric's permanent record?

Wayne scrutinized Eric for a while, but ultimately he bought into his son's version. Eric was smart enough to cop to some bad behavior. His calm contrition made the Browns look hysterical.

Three days after the ice incident, Wayne was grappling with more parents and a Columbine dean. Wayne pulled out the six-by-nine-inch pad and labeled the cover “ERIC.” He filled three more notebook pages over two days. Brooks knew about the missions and had gone to see a dean. The dean was concerned about alcohol consumption and damage to school property. He would get the police involved if necessary.

Eric played dumb. The word “denial” appears in large letters on two consecutive pages of Wayne's journal. Both times the word is circled, but the first entry is scribbled out. “Denial of even knowledge about alcohol subject between he & me,” the second entry reads. “Didn't know what [Dean] Place was talking about.” Wayne concluded that the issue was “Over & done — don't discuss with friends.” He repeatedly stressed that silence was key. “Talked to Eric: Basically — finished,” he wrote. “Leave each other alone don't talk about it. Agreed all discussion is over with.”

Wayne Harris apparently breathed easier for a while. He didn't write in his journal for a month and a half. Then come four rapid entries documenting a slew of phone calls. First, Wayne talked to Zack's mom and another parent. The next day, two years and one day before the massacre, a deputy from the Jeffco sheriff's department called. Wayne put his guard up. “We feel victimized, too,” he wrote. “We don't want to be accused every time something happens. Eric learned his lesson.” He crossed out the last phrase and wrote “is not at fault.”

The real problem was Brooks, Wayne was convinced. “Brooks Brown is out to get Eric,” he wrote. “Brooks had problems with other boys. Manipulative & Con Artist.”

If the problem continued, it might be time to hire a mediator. Or a lawyer. Wayne's last entry on the feud occurred a week later, on April 27, after a call with Judy Brown. “Eric hasn't broken promise to Mr. Place — the dean — about leaving each other alone,” he wrote. At the bottom of the page he repeated his earlier sentiments: “We feel victimized, too. Manipulative, Con Artist.”

Dave Cullen in Columbine

Psychopaths are often chronic liars who are very good at impression management, meaning they make a good impression while hiding their true intentions. This is what makes con artists successful. Charming, witty, and at times remarkably charismatic, they use these abilities to deceive their victims.

One of the most striking features of psychopaths is their inability to take responsibility for their own behavior. Even when they admit to their crimes, they tend to blame their victims and paint themselves as “the good guy.” They often experience punishment as injustice, feeling that they are being wronged. This, apparently, is a consequence of their narcissism — in their mental world, they ought to be able to do whatever they want. They are ultimately entitled.

Their narcissism is often so fragile, however, that they are hypersensitive to anything that is perceived as a slight. [Yochelson and Samenow, authors of The Criminal Personality,] discuss this extreme reactivity to what they call put downs: “Wherever [the psychopath] goes, he is vulnerable, in that anything that is not in line with his inflated image of himself as a powerful person is viewed as a threat. To be told what to do by others is a putdown. To have to ask a question of someone is a [put down], because it reveals ignorance. . . . The criminal is put down by any adverse event over which he does not have control.”

Understanding this dynamic is essential because it sheds light on why psychopaths felt justified in killing girls who rejected them, teachers who failed them, or anyone else who frustrated the gratification of their desires.

Peter Langman, in School Shooters

The link between “bullying” and “psychopathy” is an odd thing to measure. Here, we are dealing with the social dynamics of adolescents and children, with many citations about how these groups have different definitions for “bullying” than most adults otherwise would. Quantifying this bullying is flummoxed by the blurry boundary between objective and subjective experience. Physical violence is really the only form of bullying most school administrations ever deign to take seriously, if at all, as it tends to generate evidence within objective reality and thus could be measured. Subjective reality rarely leaves the same kind of mark, giving any would-be abuser a lot of slack to work with. The Bullying Hypothesis might be “sympathetic” to the claims of school violence perpetrators, but it also has an unfortunate effect of expecting a lot from them in return, which is seldom reciprocated. For the hypothesis to be true, school shooters must be:

  1. Active participants in a school culture. (Rendered impossible by the community of violence.)
  2. Accurate interpreters of their own social environment. (Rendered impossible in the case of onset psychosis.)
  3. Honest reporters of their own intentions. (Rendered impossible by presence of the dark triad.)

The vast majority of school shooters have difficulty living up to these lofty expectations. Each general profile in Langman's taxonomy considers reports of past abuse in different ways, with psychosis being notoriously hard to gauge, and with psychopathy actively using the issue in bad faith. Did you, in your dealings with a psychopath, ever decline to give them what they want? Did you do something against their wishes, even one time, or after previously being as accommodating as possible to their unreasonable requests? Congratulations! You just “bullied” them. This always applies, no matter how trivial, and there's no telling where it goes after that. In Langman's taxonomy, psychopaths were the most quick-plus-frequent to consider the victims of their attacks entirely deserving of the violence received, and that train of thought can lead through some bizarre paths. None of the other cohorts share this morbid disposition. (Even in the instances where you'd think they should!)

The only place in Langman's taxonomy where good faith reportage remains marginally possible is in the “traumatized” cohort of school shooters, but there are problems even here. While these are cases where Langman was able to identify past abuse as an aggravating factor, there is no guarantee that same abuse will carry any plausible connection to the later violence. Columbine's first “copy-cat” incident happened eight days later in Alberta, Canada. There, a 14-year-old student who killed one and injured one other, claimed that peer bullying was what motivated his actions. Details were graphic, bordering on torture, including an incident in First Grade where he was doused with lighter fluid and threatened to be set on fire. No one denied his trauma, where even the other students at the attacked school were quick to describe him as “reclusive and fearful.” ... but what's missing is the link between where the abuse took place — his elementary school — and where the “resulting” attack actually happened: his high school. Two different places. During the days of the Bullying Hypothesis, it was easy to overlook these disconnections on display. The traumatized cohort is unique within Langman's data, containing all sorts of intriguing facets not found in the others; but though they might be the most tragic of the lot, it is a overly-rationalist imposition to expect the thing which causes their trauma to always match who-or-what suffers the consequences from it. Poetic justice suits poetry well enough, but we live in the waking world.

This poses an awkward problem, as through these mechanisms, both hypotheses would claim the other to be harbouring murderers and abusers. What follows is a battle to see which party in the school shooting conflict gets their claim to victimhood properly legitimated. At the turn of the century, the bullying epidemic within American schools was truly so terrible that these disproportionate responses were shocking, but not surprising. Believing the hypothesis based on previous events, many students at Columbine feared their school was already at an increased risk of a school shooting. (According to Brown, at least.) The Bullying Hypothesis thrived on a great deal of shared sympathy for what was agreed to be a common problem. ... however, investigating the basis behind which specific instances of bullying led to this violence proved difficult, especially when some perpetrators were so unstable and insecure as to interpret anything-and-everything as intentional slights against them. On one hand, malignant social systems may generate injustices on a massive scale. On the other, how convenient would it be if every claim of systemic injustice is really the result of some petty squabble? Of the two, which is more likely for any one given scenario? Which of these viewpoints are you to adopt in the face of a “senseless” tragedy so forcefully thrust upon? Wanting to fairly evaluate claims of bullying and abuse is fine in the detached abstract, but if not careful, you're like to end up suffering “retribution” for the strangest things imaginable. Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but there is no accounting for taste.

The crowds in Clement Park kept growing, but the students among them dwindled. Wednesday afternoon they poured their hearts out to reporters. Wednesday evening they watched a grotesque portrait of their school on television. It was a charitable picture at first, but it grew steadily more sinister as the week wore on. The media grew fond of the adjective “toxic.” Apparently, Columbine was a horrible place. It was terrorized by a band of reckless jock lords and ruled by an aristocracy of snotty rich white kids in the latest Abercrombie & Fitch line.

Some of that was true — which is to say, it was high school. But Columbine came to embody everything noxious about adolescence in America. A few students were happy to see some ugly truths about their high school exposed. Most were appalled. The media version was a gross caricature of how they saw it, and of what they thought they had described.

It made it difficult for social scientists or journalists to come to Littleton later, to study the community in-depth and see what was really going on. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle had played out in full force: by observing an entity, you alter it. How bad were the Columbine bullies? How horribly were the killers treated? Every scrap of testimony after day two is tainted. Heisenberg was a quantum physicist, observing electron behavior. But social scientists began applying his principle to humans. It was remarkable how similarly we behaved. During the third week of April, Littleton was observed beyond all recognition.

The bright side is that a tremendous amount of data was gathered in those first few days, while students were naive, before any developed an agenda. Hundreds of journalists were in the field, and nearly as many detectives were documenting their findings in police reports. Those reports would remain sealed for nineteen months. Virtually all the early news stories were infested with erroneous assumptions and comically wrong conclusions. But the data is there.

Dave Cullen, in Columbine

Columbine is a detailed account of the shootings at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, by a journalist who lived in the area and wrote numerous articles about the shootings in Dave Cullen provides a detailed description of the shootings, events leading up to them, and the aftermath. A good portion of the book was dedicated to psychological profiling of the shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Although Cullen demonstrates a detailed knowledge about the facts of Columbine, he goes well beyond the facts of the case to produce an almost novelistic approach to the shootings. He gives [Eric] Harris a sex life that has no verification; Klebold and Harris are ascribed emotions that are impossible to know; he attributes sophisticated knowledge of architecture to the two shooters in the placement of the bombs for which there is no evidence.

Worst of all, he ignores an existing trail of evidence of rampant bullying at Columbine High School, eyewitness evidence of public humiliations of Klebold and Harris by members of the football team, and statements of the boys both before and during the assault of their intentions to target the so-called jocks. Many of their videotapes and their writings were obsessed with gaining retribution. Yet he states, “There’s no evidence that bullying led to murder, but considerable evidence it was a problem at Columbine High.” To not even consider the detailed explanation of their motivations by Harris and Klebold reveals a certain ageism. He accepts at face value Principal Frank DeAngelis’ evasion of any responsibility but ignores the words of the Columbine students themselves.

Cullen’s logic is doubly flawed. First, he selects his facts to support his conclusion while ignoring a vast body of facts that refute it — the fallacy of “cherry-picking.” Second, his conclusion is based on psychological reductionism — the fallacy of the single cause. According to him, the boys were mentally disturbed and, therefore, predatory social relations had nothing to do with the shootings.

David Cullen is no psychologist. Therefore, he became dependent on the observations of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) profiler Dwayne Fusilier who was also a Columbine parent. He also became a confidant of the school principal, Frank DeAngelis. By denying the role of bullying and the toleration of it by the school administration, he deflects culpability away from his friend, DeAngelis, and denies that the toxic environment of Columbine High School had anything to do with the shootings.

In the struggle over the control over the Columbine story after the media frenzy and on-site reporting, a variety of interested parties claimed specific knowledge or viewpoints. Since that time, though, ethnographic case studies and cross-case analyses have provided comprehensive and contextualized analyses of rampage shootings. These social analyses have raised serious questions about American society and culture, especially issues of masculinity, guns and violence, and predatory social relationships. It is a sad regression that on the tenth anniversary of the Columbine shootings, researchers are again overpsychologizing rampage shootings.

Ralph Larkin, writing in the Men and Masculinities

Kass presents an interesting thesis that it doesn’t matter “objectively” whether people liked or hated Harris and Klebold: they felt like outcasts; self-perception is important. This is a point of contention between Cullen and the rest of the independent journalists and academics who interviewed the Columbine community.

Kass argues that Eric’s mom had told the recruiter about the Luvox — innocently, she did not want anything to hurt his chances, and appreciated the possibility of tuition benefits for college. The recruiter told her that an applicant had to be off anti-depressant meds for one year. Cullen says that Eric never bothered to follow up with the recruiter as he was so intent on making his psychopathic dreams come true at Columbine. Kass, by contrast, reports that Brooks Brown indicated he mentioned the rejection at school on April 16ᵗʰ but downplayed it, and further another friend told the National Enquirer “Dylan and I were the first ones Eric told about the rejection. He asked me ‘Where do I go from [here]?’ He saw it is as a last option.”

Here is how Cullen frames it: He too recounts Kathy Harris showing the recruiter the Luvox (at this point, according to Kass, he was probably on 200 mg per day), and the recruiter said he would “check on it” and call back. Here’s Cullen, “Like Eric cared. He had been invoking the Marines in his war fantasies all his life, but all he really wanted out of the corps was the prestige of its patch on his shoulder. Eric never depicted himself supporting a squadron, and certainly not taking orders. It was always an army of one or two, and the mission was about him, not country or his corps. Gonzales phoned on Friday or Saturday and left a message to call him back. Eric never bothered.”

Did Cullen miss the ads for the army over the past decade that stressed “An Army of One” as an alternative path to college? I’m guessing a survey of recruiters would confirm that the majority of new recruits think about joining exactly the way Cullen describes it.

Julie Webber in Beyond Columbine (some sarcasm)

DeAngelis stated that he was in touch with FBI profilers. The problems associated with profiling of school assaults are manifold: first, it individualizes what is essentially an issue of social relationships. Of the twenty-seven rampage shooters documented by Newman (1999), nineteen were socially marginalized among their peers compared to fifteen who evinced severe psychological disorders and fourteen who were abused or neglected or had other home-related problems. These findings were corroborated by Meloy, Hempel, Mohandie, Shiva, and Gray (2004). Second, and worse, is that profiling ignores the etiology of rampage shootings. Inferring from Newman’s list and from media reports, minimally fifteen and perhaps as many as twenty of the rampage shootings were retaliatory. That is, the shooters perceived themselves as punishing peers or teachers who had done them wrong. Third is the problem of labeling. The major problem with profiling is the false positive. Certainly the Columbine shootings were retaliatory violence. For every rampage shooter, however, there are tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of students who fit the profile. It further victimizes students who, for whatever reason, dislike or are alienated from the school and are otherwise socially marginalized. As noted by Gaines (2001), outcast students have enough problems without being labeled as potential rampage shooters. Once a student fits the profile, the perceptions of adult authorities are influenced by the expectations that the student will engage in violence. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because authorities suspect the student of harboring violent tendencies. Therefore, the behavior of such a student is increasingly surveyed in expectation of uncovering violence.

The greatest problem with profiling is that it ignores entirely the context that generates the retaliation. DeAngelis and the profilers are looking through the wrong end of the telescope. However, the profiler perspective fits in with the dominant view of the problems at Columbine High School; they primarily reside in the persons of a small minority of disaffected students who bear watching. The dominant elites are absolved of any responsibility. Issues related to ostracism, defense of social privilege, homophobia, harassment, humiliation, and violence directed at lesser status peers are defined out of existence. Many people assume that because outcast students dress and behave differently than the majority of students, do not support the sports teams, have different tastes in music, and are otherwise different from the vast majority, they deserve what they get.

Ralph Larkin, in Comprehending Columbine

Some students tell the newspapers now that there is no bullying at Columbine. Others say the bullying is so bad that they're glad graduation is finally coming. In today's [April 20ᵗʰ, 02002] newspaper, a teacher said that when she hears the claims about bullying at Columbine, “I think sometimes we feel like the rape victim who's told her skirt was too short and she shouldn't walk down the street at night.”

Attempts are already being made to rewrite history. Also in this morning's paper, a Columbine teacher told the reporter, “[Harris and Klebold] scared me more than any other kids in the building. They bullied more kids than they were bullied.” Now, walking with my friends toward the memorial service, I see that same teacher moving in the opposite direction. I glare at her as I walk past. She doesn't return my gaze.

Brooks Brown, in No Easy Answers

Because schools are hierarchical structures in which power is unequally distributed between adult authorities and students, a major aspect of [school] culture justifies the hierarchy and exercise of power by officeholders within that structure. [This worldview is] the “hegemonic interpretation of reality.” Although some parts of this reality system are codified in [law, most is] a loosely held set of assumptions, some of which may be contradictory. For example, it is assumed that a high school is a place of learning; it is also a place where teenagers are compelled under threat of law to be supervised by adults. The hegemonic interpretation of reality emphasizes the former and de-emphasizes the latter. [...] A major function of the hegemonic ideology is to present the social organization as more cohesive than it actually is. Therefore, those who accept the ideology will downplay conflicts and highlight consensus.

The study of Columbine High School, the site of the worst high school rampage shooting in US history, found two sets of realities: [one] accepted by the vast majority of the administrators, teachers, students, and community members; [and] an opposition reality reflective of the experiences of the outcast students, which belied the beliefs shared by the rest of the community. After the shootings, the community agonized over the question “How could it happen here?” [while] investigators began to explore “the cult of the athlete” at the high school. The school, which had been lauded for it high-powered academic program, sports achievements, and good student behaviour, was now subject to scrutiny of the violence visited upon the rest of the student population by a coterie of [athletes and student elites]. The hegemonic ideology had been punctured, and a new version of the internal culture of Columbine High School was presented to America: one that tolerated violence and deviance in service of maintaining [its] championship sports teams.

No longer could organized violence from above be defined out of existence, at least temporarily. But just a year later, the school had returned to the status quo ante.

Ralph Larkin, writing in “Legitimated Adolescent Violence

“The impression I always got from them was they kind of wanted to be outcasts,” another classmate said. “It wasn't that they were labeled that way. It's what they chose to be.”

“Outcast” was a matter of perception. Kids who slapped that label on Eric and Dylan meant the boys rejected the preppy model, but so did hundreds of other kids at the school. Eric and Dylan had very active social calendars, and far more friends than the average adolescent. They fit in with a whole thriving subculture. Their friends respected one another and ridiculed the conformity of the vanilla wafers looking down on them. They had no desire to emulate the jocks. Could there be a faster route to boredom?

Dave Cullen, in Columbine

Ralph Larkin Jeff Kass Dave Cullen Julie Webber
Publication Year 02007 March 02009 April 02009 02017
Author Credentials Sociologist studying peer cultures
of high schools for over 30 years.
Journalist working in the final
years of local newspaper.
Journalist on the early internet,
and later American state media.
Political Theorist referencing
other academic works.
Book Type Sociological Study Popular Press, True-Crime Novel
(For adult readers.)
Popular Press, True-Crime Novel
(For teen readers & school teachers.)
First in series regarding newly-proposed
academic field: “Violence Studies”
Book Success Well-regarded, but of value
only to other academics.
Immediately overshadowed
by Dave Cullen.
Met with wild acclaim
and received multiple awards.
I may be the only other person
who has ever read it.
Historical Sample 01966 to 01999 01974 to 02007 01997 to 01999
(02007 briefly mentioned.)
01998 to 02016
Rampage Shooting Type School School School Public
Investigative Focus The Schooling Environment
Peer Culture
The Klebold Family
Colorado History
The Harris Family
Victims & Survivors
Epistemic Framings of
Mediated Mass Shootings
Bullying Hypothesis Supported by Data Geographically Determinant Considered a Fraud Suppressed by
Hegemonic Interests
Mental Illness Hypothesis Insufficient Proof
(Does Not Negate Other Hypothesis)
Correlates with Other Hypothesis
(Environmental Concerns Likely)
The Only Reasonable Conclusion
(Environmental Concerns Nonexistent)
Promoted by
Hegemonic Interests
Motivation of Killers Retaliatory Violence
(Targeting the school itself.)
Retaliatory Violence
(Targeting the Jeffco Police.)
Psychopathic Sadism
(Targeting everyone and no one.)
Suicide, via
Ritual Methexis
Social Status of Killers Only Friends with Other Outcasts Completely Friendless
(Even Outcasts Hated Them)
Popular, Many Friends
Well-liked by Everyone
Not As “Outcasts”
But As “Failed Joiners”
Identity of Bullies The School's “Moral Elite”
Supported by the Admin
Anonymous Student Bullies
and the Killers Themselves
The Killers Only Hegemonic Institutions
“The Control Society”
Sources for
Bullying Claims
Systematic Interviews of
Former Columbine Students
Brooks Brown & Regina Huerter
(Plus collected media reports.)
(“The Media” made it up.)
Étienne Balibar
(General theory of organized violence.)
From the Rest of the School
(Documented Pattern of Behaviour)
From Both School and Killers
(Documented Pattern of Behaviour)
Post-Massacre Only
(Not Pattern of Behaviour)
Per Situational Relevance
(Not consistent across incidents.)
Weaponized Racism From the Killers Only From Both School and Killers Nobody! Per Suicidal Exterminationism
(Consistent across several incidents.)
Depiction of
Eric Harris
Mixed Psychopathology Anger Management Issues
Mouth-Frothing Lunatic
Cool, Savvy Manipulator
Closeted Serial Killer
Methectic Actor
(As a means of suicide.)
Depiction of
Dylan Klebold
Identity Problems
(“A Cipher” and “An Asshole”)
Chronic Depression
Aggressive, But Risk-Averse
Trantrum Prone / Dyadic Pair
(Incapable of Independent Thought)
Methectic Actor
(As a means of suicide.)
Depiction of
Frank DeAngelis
Operated With Favouritism
Towards the “Moral Elite”
Not Worthy of Mention
(Conspicuous by his absence.)
A Heroic, Though
Tragic Figure
Functionally Equivalent to
an Absentee Landlord
Further Risk
Towards Contagion
Medium Risk
(Too dry to be of use.)
Very High Risk
(High contagion representation.)
As Low As Possible
(Zero contagion representation.)
Not Low, But Unlikley
(Too dry to be of use.)

Historical Revisionism

In his book, Cullen makes the following claims:

This forms the basis upon which Cullen's book is different from other books written on “Columbine,” specifically in relation to Kass's book and Larkin's book, both of which were published slightly earlier. ... it also forms the bulk of what Webber suggests is the historical revisionism, precisely because of those differences. These counter-arguments are summarized as:

While the claims of “news media misinformation” sound reasonable at first, it doesn't hold up under closer scrutiny. In other realms of activity, the presence of high-capital actants seeking to sustain a privileged status quo, is necessary to fund and operate misinformal spread. This is true for similar conspiracy theories and media hoaxes regarding more-recent school shootings, like “Sandy Hook” and “Parkland,” but was also the case for the other media hoaxes of “Columbine.” Justin Watson's book on the subject illustrates this succinctly. Any possible media hoax regarding “bullying” would be the only one that doesn't follow the same structures as the other media hoaxes. Misinformation does not happen in a completely contextless vacuum, but Cullen sets this one up as if it did, and requires such. Cullen also selectively quotes from Brown as a primary source, painting them both in supposed agreement, despite Brown's book containing evidence on the media-question which makes Cullen's contention impossible outright.

The fact of the matter is, bullying at Columbine High School is very well-papered territory, and the act of declaring it all null-and-void requires some highly specific leaps in logic. After all, there were government reports written on it. Larkin has an entire book-length sociological study of it. Kass interviews students where it is made quite clear that bullying was a fact of life, also writing from a perspective that explores the milieu of Jefferson County as an influence in what happened. Kass himself doesn't necessarily believe peer bullying was a singular cause of the attack, but he nonetheless considers it within a host of environmental aspects, which is something the old hypothesis supports while the new hypothesis resists. Cullen, however, is paranoid about his sources. Superstitiously, he believes interrogating school shootings with a mind towards bullying, will invariably bias the results towards finding bullying. Due to the old media frenzy, he elevates the importance of sources which haven't been “tainted” by the effect of this possible misinformation. Here, primarily filtered to just police reports, all evidence regarding bullying plummets to nothing. While that may seem notable, Webber deflates this “discovery” by asking a rather pointed question:

[No] one is ever going to admit that they bullied these school violence perpetrators. So when investigators like Cullen find that there is no bullying, it's because he's asked the correct people the wrong question. Who in their right mind would admit to the FBI or a journalist that they bullied the two most famous school shooters in the history of school violence, inadvertently producing the deaths of 17 people and harming many others?

Julie Webber, in Beyond Columbine

Webber argues that Cullen's entire thesis is built on an active misunderstanding of what “bullying” constitutes. Webber is able to trace this aspect of Cullen not just inside his Columbine book, but also in his writings elsewhere, including a very-critical review of Jesse Klein's book The Bully Society. Cullen is surprisingly hostile towards the topic, writing things which appear outwardly reasonable, but anyone with experience of bullying would innately understand are leading questions meant to set up snide dismissals. When he asks “what’s missing, astonishingly, are the bullies’ perspectives – what drives them?” it is a sign that he does not understand the issue at play. Bullies do not conceive of themselves as bullies. Rapists do not think of themselves as rapists. Abusers of any kind do not bare the burden of their abuse upon their own identities. It is a thing they may do, in the rare instances where they deign to acknowledge it, but it is never what they are. This is in contrast to their victims, who have their experiences entirely recontextualized by the traumatic impositions upon them, and must adopt sweeping changes in behaviour to further secure their safety. Knowledge of this one-sided nature utterly evades Cullen, except for when he considers the narcissistic fixations of Eric Harris, at which point it is suddenly clear as day. It's a highly selective mode of understanding. Larkin bases his entire thesis on how different people can have different experiences of the otherwise same place, but when Cullen writes about Jefferson Country’s depiction in the media being a “grotesque portrait,” he hopes to elevate one viewpoint above others: what Larkin identified as “the dominant perspective” of the “moral elite.” This is the story of Columbine from their vantage, not from any so-called “outcasts” with some petty and insulting “agenda” about bullying.

Webber believes Cullen operates under the auspices of a highly specific type of bias, where “the problem [is the very high] threshold American culture places on achieving the status of ‘bullied.’ [What Cullen presented] to his readers affirmed their own bias as Americans: if you are bullied or feel downtrodden, you cannot have any trace of enjoyment at all in your life. If you do have evidence of enjoyment, then any claim to marginalization is discounted.” The latent mechanics within the Mental Illness Hypothesis gives the necessary self-licensure to make questioning the experiences and motives of violence perpetrators morally defensible, but we can still observe the animosity of this bias when the shoe is on the other foot. Where trauma and victimhood threaten the status quo, expectations can run high and wild, especially so in the wake of school shootings. In the aftermath of Columbine, Sue Klebold going to a hair dresser appointment (which she could not cancel or reschedule) was enough to cause the media to question her grief over losing her son. Following tensions between the religious sects at the memorial services, Reverend Marxhausen was subject to a coordinated harassment campaign which eventually saw him run out of town. The aftermath of Sandy Hook had a much more sinister version of both, fuelling the ‘crisis actor’ conspiracy theory and media hoax which gave rise to a decade-long campaign of coordinated harassment against the parents of murdered children, all based on perceived slights in otherwise tear-choked media statements. This same trend continued into Parkland. Psychopaths don't have a strict monopoly over the means of DARVO, nor do children have a strict monopoly over bullying, as Derber and Magrass would say.

The feeling I got in reading Cullen's book, was less that he was a proponent of the newfangled Mental Illness Hypothesis, and more that he was just an opponent of the older Bullying Hypothesis. The simple proof is, at the time of his book's publishing, the Mental Illness Hypothesis was largely incomplete. The portions describing it are fully inferior to what you would find just by looking up “anti-social personality disorder” on Wikipedia, and this paper-thin quality is revealing. Years later, Cullen published additional articles detailing the missing pieces, such as Dr. O'Toole's much-needed theories of “injustice collection.” Without it, there is no plausible link between the two hypotheses, and that link has to be explained in order for everything to make any degree of sense. (Specifically, why the two hypotheses are in opposition to each other, rather than cooperation.) The Mental Illness Hypothesis first shipped with several key components outright missing, and Cullen's readers would've been left only with a vague outline of an inarticulate hypothesis, barely functional compared to the then-available Bullying Hypothesis. This separates Cullen not just from proponents of the Bullying Hypothesis, but also from other proponents of the Mental Illness Hypothesis. One wonders if it was all just a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.

Sue Klebold is also a proponent of this hypothesis, but her perspective and approach is quite different, being based in psychology-as-medicinal-practice rather than psychology-as-criminological-deduction. Our modern views might no longer stigmatize mental illness as a personal and moral failing, but given extreme enough situations, there are still times when we get uncomfortably close to re-crossing that line. For example, schizophrenia is treated by this criminological field as similar-in-function to psychopathy, even though it is a very different disorder which leads to wholly opposite outcomes for the afflicted. It's been statistically measured that schizophrenics are not inherently violent, but are instead more likely to be the victims of said violence. “... with risks up to 14 times the rate of being victimized compared with being arrested as a perpetrator.” Alas, these distinctions seem largely academic to the purposes of this field, where its usefulness remains as a tool for pathologization.

Even their opposition to depression seems less about it being a horrible and debilitating sickness to have, nor even about addressing the conditions which cause or exacerbate it, but instead of a need to protect from the consequences which depression may bring. In Cullen's Parkland, he mentions some of the newer strategies the authorities he follows were researching to counter continued contagion; yet between the usual proffers of “major reforms to the easy access to deadly weapons and ammunition” and “major change in the media’s coverage of these killers [to prevent lionization] in the eyes of unraveling future perps,” was something else — something, for the time, relatively new. “[A] targeted approach to mental health in the form of screening for teen depression, every semester, in every high school in the country.” This sensible-sounding solution somehow made me uneasy, because thinking on my own experiences with school-mandated psychological counselling, it wasn't something undertaken for my own benefit: it was the school itself trying to reduce its liabilities. (Liabilities they could claim of me; and liabilities I could claim of them.) Our programme was observably ineffective at solving the problems which prompted it, and that was true not just for my case, but also for the others in the “group sessions” which got increasingly common as they slashed the budgets. One can only hope they've gained more effective methods since then, but I honestly doubt it.

In this way, the Mental Illness Hypothesis suffers a similar affect to the anti-abortion movement within American politics. Despite the outward aesthetics of care for human life, the inward purpose of the movement was based in misogyny and supremacy, causing a disconnect between words and the actions of their legislative efforts. The common criticism of their motivated selections became “the sanctity of human life begins at conception, but ends at birth.” Likewise, the Mental Illness Hypothesis of school shooting epidemic talks a big game about psychology and protection from abuse, but reserves its actual function for maintaining the hegemonic status quo in the face of deteriorating situations. Its outward-facing justifications wilt against this institutionally-subconscious motive. The seriousness of mental illness is absolutely sacrosanct, from the moment a crime is committed, until the moment a criminal investigation concludes. Unfortunately, anyone with needs outside of those bounds might find this mode of thinking to be of little use or comfort.

Learning Lessons from Columbine, and How to Exploit that Process

I am sympathetic to Webber's general argument, and for largely the same reasons she reached her conclusions in the first place. In particular, the absolute reverence she has for Larkin's book is something I share. Larkin is quite an effective counterweight to Cullen's arguments about bullying despite predating him, and in Webber restating that from a post-02009 prespective, I have at least one other kindred spirit who thinks Cullen's mere dismissals of the topic do not constitute any actual proof against it. However, on the question of historical revisionism, I think things are more complicated than Webber would wish to present. She only considers Cullen as if he was an individual writer, who fell in with a rough crowd — in this case, the FBI — and then made a series of baffling decisions. This struck me as a limited scope of analysis, and surprisingly so. This was not exactly my first encounter with Cullen's work, and in engaging with Webber's writings, I recalled something from the distant past that made an unsettling amount of sense.

It happened in high school, during the final months of my last semester, literally in the month after it was published. His book lay on the desk of my writing teacher, who said he wanted to order the book in bulk to teach to the students in the next semester, after I had left. I found it deeply odd that a book on a school shooting was something my teacher thought kosher for a classroom setting. Were I in his position, I would not have considered it, because it seemed like a bad idea! I was one of the unfortunate many who actually believed in the old Bullying Hypothesis, which had turned the twin devils of Columbine into regressive folk heroes. The problems posed by the concurrently-running bullying epidemic was already extreme enough, and Columbine a symptom of it. Essentially all of the “copy-cat” events happened on the basis of Columbine's plausible relation to the bullying issue and its underlying seriousness. (Implicit within proponency of the Mental Illness Hypothesis is the not-so-subtle accusation that the Bullying Hypothesis served only to fuel the engines of contagion further, thus worsening the overall problem and being partly responsible for the many deaths within the copy-cat incidents.) Harris and Klebold wanted to “kick-start a revolution among the dispossessed and despised students of the world,” and even if you were to doubt their sincerities, the endless-bullying-pipeline was still providing their awful machine with plenty of material. I already knew the school system had no genuine response to either issue, so bringing it up in the classroom was just tempting fate in getting something terrible to happen; especially for a high school that had a rather blasé attitude about what happened in its own halls!

And yet, the relative safety of bringing Cullen's book into the classroom was precisely because of its firm opposition to the Bullying Hypothesis, which it openly ridicules and holds in contempt. This is the exact rub in why Cullen's book is so strange compared to the others, because it is not just a product of himself as a journalist, but instead an expression of the educational system's corporatized wants and desires. Beleaguered by the twin-headed hydra of both “bullying” and “gun violence,” the school system sought to disentangle the two issues. The Bullying Hypothesis demanded that solving one (gun violence) also required solving the other (bullying) — yet bullying was an already normalized problem that the educational system considered within the bounds of usual operation. (Even to the point of satire.) From a practical perspective, gun violence was the only issue in play. It alone was the thing causing all these needless deaths, and they desperately needed some way to counter it, especially since the state and federal governments weren't rising to the occasion. (please ignore all the other teen suicides from before; they didn't interrupt the business, so they don't count)

So what if they just lied about it? Sure, sounds terrible, but consider... Up until this point everyone was doing everything they could to “better understand” the issues that Columbine posed, but all that resulted from “understanding it” were even more Columbine-like events that kept happening anyway. So why not lie? Misrepresent it outright? Show it no respect? After all, it's not like it's going to make the situation any worse...

Enter Cullen's book, which was explicitly designed for the needs of the educational system. School textbooks are a common target for moral entrepreneurship, and this was true well before the extreme edge of the American right-wing politicized local school board elections. Jeff Kass's book is more honest in its approach, but this unvarnished honesty would utterly scandalize an educational setting, as it unflinchingly compares the Columbine attack directly to the Sand Creek Massacre of early Colorado history. Meanwhile, Cullen's book arrives in a state of already-thorough-censorship, such that a lot of the politically-contentious issues surrounding Columbine are presented in only-positive lights. The police cover-up is painted as just-a-few-bad-apples. The selfish actions of the Evangelical Christians in the disaster's aftermath are whitewashed or quietly dropped from mention. The inclusion of gun politics is not an act of deliberate malice on the part of a multi-billion-dollar political lobby, but instead just a case of unfortunate bad timing regarding a hotel booking. It's all a façade and Cullen knows this, because come time for his later book on Parkland, a lot of these very same political players resume their more-usual roles as the moustache-twirling villains in the wake of every school shooting. Yet to gain access to the embattled American classroom, these blatant untruths are just the price of admission. It is a “disneyland” version of the Columbine massacre, bowdlerised and edited for syndication, all to fit a Saturday morning cartoon time-slot. Why did Columbine happen? Because Eric Harris was “evil.” That's it, and it's not allowed to get any deeper than that.

Cullen's book was thoroughly marketed to teachers especially. It even published with a pre-made lesson plan and study guide for teachers to readily adopt with minimal effort, recommending the book for a wide array of possible high school classes, even Creative Writing. (Which, in retrospect, should have been a bit suspect.) Within the year, the American School Board Journal chose it as the “top education book for 2009,” saying it was “one of the best education books of the past 10 years.” Educators were desperate to put this book in front of their captive audiences, no matter the limited-to-lacking material it could provide. It was a one-stop-shop that actively warned against reading other books about Columbine for all the “lies” they contain. This Columbine was the literal definition of a misinformation campaign: spreading false information towards achieving a goal, which in this case, involved the plausibly-noble cause of stemming the tide of the school shooting epidemic. ... or at least trying to.

This “educational” aspect of Cullen's book is something I believe Webber did not have any means of knowing about. She certainly did not mention it in her text, even though it would've been quite relevant to her points. (It makes sense; she was already working on her PhD well before Columbine took place. Frankly, had I graduated one year sooner, I doubt I would've even seen this angle myself.) She approaches Cullen as if he was his own writer making his own opinions, but his book is much grander than just him. Like misinformation, historical revisionism cannot happen in a vacuum; it is the product of powerful and influential groups, in possession of a working means of dissemination, who have needs which are not served by the apparent truth. If Cullen's book is looked at not as the opinions of an individual writer, but instead as the product of a highly particular system seeking solutions for specific goals, the previously-baffling decisions start to make a lot more sense. This larger system would've pursued its ideological claims one way or another, and Cullen was simply an available-and-replaceable face for it to wear. If Cullen didn't do it, they would've found someone else. The revisionism is theirs, not his, and should be considered as such.

Bureaucratic Parallels

Of the others in my library, these collections about “Columbine” contain echoes from two specific books I've read previously.

First is Tanya Talaga's Seven Fallen Feathers, about the Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School in Thunder Bay, and the series of unsolved deaths which affected the student population. Over the ten years of Talaga's chronicle, students kept dying under mysterious circumstances, with their bodies found in the Kaministiquia River. Each time it happened, the Thunder Bay Police Services determined the deaths “non-criminal,” even as the repeated incidents reached uncanny levels. Talaga's investigations of the early deaths — by route of available evidence, happenstance, and simple logic — suggest that it likely began as an innocent accident; tragic, but not deliberate homicide. This relative innocence would be tested as the incidents kept happening, and each time, new criminal elements were involved. At the end of Talaga's book, the mysterious drownings in the Kaministiquia reached a fever pitch, having expanded beyond teenagers to target older adults; whose debit cards were still in use, even after their bodies had been recovered.

The Kaministiquia drownings of Thunder Bay mirror the evolution of the school shooting epidemic throughout the United States. Due to systemic incompetence and some small amount of racism, the Thunder Bay police were negligent in responding to the repeated occurrences. From an unknown vantage, criminal elements eventually took notice of this systemic negligence, and moved to exploit it as a perhaps-profitable weakness. (It was, in a sense, “the perfect crime!”) Thus the incidence was slowly repurposed, away from being tragic accidents, and suddenly towards something more sinister.

On a similar note, according to both Larkin and Newman, the school shooting epidemic likely did get its start on the basis of the conditions which the Bullying Hypothesis sought to address. Yet due to the political dysfunctionalism of the United States, the repeated lack of action taken in the wake of each new incidence drew further notice, creating yet-another opportunity for the perfect crime. Criminal networks pushed their advantage into the nascent community of violence, and the school shooting epidemic slowly took on a new character which wasn't bound by the old hypothesis. This is evinced in how racism and white supremacist ideology was relatively rare in pre-Columbine events as studied by Newman, but had become depressingly common for post-Columbine events as studied by Webber. The appeals to naziophilia as a means of radicalization-towards-suicide was one of the community of violence's earliest methetic adaptations. This also allowed various fascist-leaning terrorist groups within the United States to benefit from school shootings as a method of stochastic terrorism, which they covered for using campaigns of coordinated denialism, contributing to similar media hoaxes in the wakes of Sandy Hook and Parkland.

The second, and perhaps most interesting, is Lisa Stampnitzky's Disciplining Terror. Her book talks about the institutional development of “terrorism studies” (as a discipline) over the course of five decades, from the 01960's to the 02010's. During this time, that field of study underwent a similar kind of paradigm shift between two competing outlooks of what “terrorism” is and how to respond to it. Before the Vietnam War, “insurgency theory” was understood as a natural part of prolonged conflict, and “terrorism” was a tactic employed by rational actors in the course of achieving specific military objectives. Following the Vietnam War, insurgency theory fell out of favour within the American establishment, and they began shopping around for alternatives. What they eventually found in “terrorism” was no longer a valid tactic of war, but instead an identity which could be freely ascribed to any manner of political or military opponent.

This split between “the Insurgency Hypothesis” and “the Terrorism Hypothesis” within hegemonic geopolitics neatly mirrors the same split between the Bullying Hypothesis and the Mental Illness Hypothesis within the school shooting epidemic. What's more, the two paradigm shifts occurred under comparably-similar pressure.

Like the Bullying Hypothesis, the Insurgency Hypothesis got its start within academia. At the time, acts of terrorism were seen as an object with neutral shades of morality. Since all acts of violence are open to criticism on moral grounds, it made no sense to evaluate terrorism any differently from other acts of violence. As the invention and application of the atomic bomb was still within recent memory, any attempt to moralize against acts of sporatic and small-scale violence would always involve arguing oneself into a corner, losing the moral high ground in the process.

“Terrorism is a weapon of the weak,” wrote an insurgency theorist of the time, and it remains a factual observation even now: a self-destructive tactic that rarely achieves the goals it sets out for itself. Literally any other option would be more effective as military strategy, which means terrorism only becomes palatable when all other options are not on the table. Throughout history, it has been primarily used by those on the losing end of conflicts, often facing down the barrel of a large power differential they have no hope of overcoming. It is a tactic which may be rationally undertaken, but only pitiably so. Thus, the “sensible” way of responding to terrorism involved the same sociological analysis which later typified the Bullying Hypothesis: understanding, with some degree of sympathy, the on-the-ground conditions which led to the terrorism in the first place.

[It] would be tendentious to talk about the guerrilla movement in Guatemala (for example) without mentioning the glaring social injustices and the short-sighted [...] economic practices of foreign corporations like the United Fruit Company that explain its popular following.... [A]rmed rebellion is usually the symptom of a deep-seated social malaise. No one would quarrel with the idea that some governments are so corrupt or repressive that they deserve to be overthrown, or that violence is sometimes justified as a last resort for men who have no other avenue for protest.

Robert Moss, speaker at several terrorism-related academic conferences sponsored by the US government, writing in 01972, quoted in Disciplining Terror

This writing described the nature of political conflicts where some kinds of terrorism were common at the time, usually revolving around an intractable issue within a given locality: Quebec Separatism, “the Troubles” in Ireland, the civil rights movement in the United States, and even — for that moment — the Israel-Palestine issue under the sway of early Zionism. Terrorism appeared logical to these military theorists, and given the conditions, inevitable. Therefore, if a proper “counter-insurgency” method was to be devised and effective, it had to incorporate these understandings into finding diplomatic solutions to these stated problems.

... and yet, from a modern perspective, one immediately sees the problem with — and the vast difference from — this now-ancient method. For us living on the other end of “the War on Terror,” these views of terrorism are terribly antiquated, if not outright backwards — in much the same way the Bullying Hypothesis is now seen. The failure of the Vietnam War caused the American political bureau to become a lot more skittish in how it approached things. The Insurgency Hypothesis was undoubtedly very accurate in describing the nature of the problem, but understanding the issue does not immediately equate to solving it. If anything, it was putting the political bureau in an untenable position; as more often than not, they were the ones who propped up the proverbial fruit company in the first place! ... and so, if understanding the issue is suddenly an impediment to solving it, the “smart” thing to do is to get a whole lot dumber.

Thus enters the Terrorism Hypothesis. Here, “terrorism” is no longer a tactic used by rational actors in the course of conflict, but instead an identity that those with greater media sway can forcefully apply to their political opponents. While the tactic-of-terrorism may have been considered formally neutral from a morality standpoint, the identity-of-terrorism is now subject to constant moral censure, so much so that any paragovernmental media apparatus can self-sustain on the cycles of indignation which this supplied-identity provides. This also frees up terrorism-as-tactic for use in the hands of military governments and their allies, allowing them to benefit from committing what could factually be described as acts of terrorism, without themselves being labelled as “terrorists.” (All because who is or is not considered a “terrorist” is something which the government itself controls via means of political propaganda.)

According to Stampnitzky, the earliest form of the Terrorism Hypothesis had its source within the Israel-Palestine conflict. The fact that Palestinians were going to respond to encroachment from Israeli colonialists was incredibly obvious; so much so, even the Israeli settlers themselves foresaw it. A whole decade before the First Intifada against the Israeli occupation, Israeli think tanks pondered the earliest forms of the Terrorism Hypothesis, to navigate around the human rights issues their settler movement posed. If the Palestinians would claim a status of being victimized by a colonial oppressor, that colonial oppressor could then forcibly overwrite that status with something else; preferably something more conducive to further colonial interests. This allowed the Israeli government to side-step the issues of human rights and continue their armed incursions into Palestinian territory, via route of claiming all Palestinians to be evil-doing terrorists.

Following the closure of the Cold War, the United States would find itself in a similar position. As the sole military superpower in a now-unipolar world, they would proceed to invade and occupy many countries which had no genuine means of fighting back against them. As insurgency-based terrorism was the inevitable response to these one-sided conditions, the United States adopted the Israeli strategy for their own purposes, and it was quite effective in the subsequent “War on Terror.” Throughout the entire military occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, both the American military and American public were constantly harried by images of these nefarious evil-doers, completely unaware that those supposed “terrorists” were actually defending their homelands from American foreign invaders.

Despite the appearances of being rather blind and dumb, the Terrorism Hypothesis is a cunning piece of strategy in shoring up defense against terrorism-as-tactic. By denying your opponents the right to their own identities, it allows hegemonic actors to continue onwards in furtherance of their political and economic goals, all without any concerns for the “glaring social injustices” that would result from a more objective viewpoint. In fact, if you have absolutely no impetus to address those “glaring social injustices” which led to insurgency in the first place, this method allows you to safely ignore them in their entirety. It is not an accurate way of looking at the world, but what use is there in accuracy for your enemies, when all you really need them to do is go away?

The Mental Illness Hypothesis of school shootings is very similar to the Terrorism Hypothesis of Stampnitzky's view. Both were championed by the US government in response to awkward social problems, and were even popularized during the same period of time in the War on Terror. Both were done as an alternative to situations which would have required the American bureaucracy to adopt serious changes in their modes of operation. Both arose from mechanical changes in how their targets of observation evolved over time. Both allow the manufacture of replacement-identities for the more subversive elements of society, and this transplantation is something which only resides within high-capital media environments. Both use an element of “anti-knowledge.” Both allow for increased amounts of socially-acceptable moral indignation, with decreased risk of possible blowback. Both do not seek to solve or prevent their respective issues, but focus more on managing them within acceptable boundaries. Both sacrifice accuracy for increased political expedience, while still providing explanations that sound feasible, but don't actually pass muster upon closer examination. (“These paralepses [make] it seem like the answer has been found,” Webber says, “without having to follow it up with evidence or solutions to the problem it indicts.”) This works to render moot the terrorist's actual identities and motives, replacing them with things more suitable to the needs and priorities of the state which opposes them.

These are fascinating to me, because of how those large bureaucracies — both the US military and local school administrations — undertook such lengths to avoid dealing with social justice issues head-on. The bullying epidemic was seen as a “social justice” issue even at the time, with deLara and Garbarino using that specific language to describe it. (Derber and Magrass would later affirm this, though in more grandiose terms.) Larkin documented the Columbine administration's odd habit in “defining the problem out of existence,” where anytime bullying occurred the administration responded by moving the goalposts for what classified as “bullying” at all, in much the same way that Cullen would. Debasing this currency was what allowed them to maintain their “bullying-free” status quo at minimal cost and effort. Both the Mental Illness Hypothesis and the Terrorism Hypothesis involve a similar kind of debasement, defining their problems into-or-out-of existence, only on a much grander scale. ... but these similarities are also quite depressing. The American political bureau at least had their anti-communist sentiments leading them down those paths, but I struggle to wonder if the educational system ever had any such excuse.

... however, there remains one key difference in the applications of both. While they had no way of knowing at the time, wedding one's fortunes to the War on Terror was a plan destined to fail. The Terrorism Hypothesis allowed the military industrial complex to be profitable, but not successful in terms of achieving long-term objectives. (Pretty hard to do that when the notion of who-exactly you're even fighting this war against is subject to constant and ongoing change.) In this regard, the American military and the American educational bureaucracy may have dealt with similar issues in terms of generalized threat management, but each had fundamentally different goals in so doing. The military wanted the violence to be sustainably managed, but the bureaucracy wanted the school shooting epidemic to actually come to an end. The latent issues within the Mental Illness Hypothesis will likely doom them to tread the same path.

The Bullying Hypothesis The Mental Illness Hypothesis The Political Extremism Hypothesis
Period of Favour Roughly from 01992 to 02012. Roughly from 02004, still on-going. No sooner than 02016.
(Still Entirely Theoretical)
Object of Study Pre-Columbine School Shootings
Workplace Violence at the US Post Office
Post-Columbine School Shootings (Retroactively)
Mass Shootings & Public Violence within US Agora
The Community of Violence
as a Terrorist Network and Suicide Cluster
Informed Locales Schools & Workplaces Criminal Investigations
(General Purpose)
Online Social Networks
Informing Fields Sociology & Developmental Psychology Pathological Psychiatry & Criminology Sociology & Subcultural Ethnography
Psychological Theories Complex PTSD The Dark Triad “Radicalization”
Major Writers Ralph Larkin, Katherine Newman
(Academics operating independently
from their affiliated institutions.)
Peter Langman, the Institutional FBI
(Groups of academics organized through confrences
by American federal law enforcement agencies.)
Julie Webber
(Thus far, that I know of.)
Within this Sample Jeff Kass, Ralph Larkin
(Also informed by Katherine Newman, Brooks Brown,
Ellen deLara, and 02002-era Julie Webber)
Dave Cullen
(Also informed by Peter Langman and Sue Klebold.)
Julie Webber
Enviromental Influences Major Focus Non-Existent Co-determinant
Individual Profiles Co-determinant Major Focus Major Focus
Target of Liability Perpetrators, Institutions & Authority Figures
(Collectively, Where Events Occur)
Perpetrators Only
(As Lone Individuals)
Perpetrators, Political Extremists
(Collectively, As Stochastic Terrorism Network)
Modus Operandi Suicidality, with regards to
the Schooling Environment
Psychopathic Sadism
(Suicidality Downplayed or Minimized)
Suicidality, with regards to
Generalized Social Failure
Proposed Solutions Institutional reform.
Addressing social inequalities.
(Brushing up against political conservatism
and government dysfunctionalism.)
Psychological threat assessment
towards triadic actors.
(Brushing up against risk of inaccuracy and
limited scope of available assessment methods.)
Surviellance of, censorship of, and distruption of
online spaces where terrorists congregate.
(Brushing up against political conservatism
and limited scope of assessment methods.)

Future Developments?

Over the course of their lifetimes, both the Bullying Hypothesis and the Mental Illness Hypothesis struggled to contend with issues far outside of their control, all while the school shooting epidemic continued unabated. If discontent were to ever arise for the Mental Illness Hypothesis in the same way it once did for the Bullying Hypothesis, a possible third exists in what might be termed “the Political Extremism Hypothesis.”

Even on a theoretical level, such a hypothesis would be fairly accurate in representing the community of violence as it exists and operates. It neatly mirrors the many other tales of friends and family “self-radicalizing” in the face of the multi-social online modalities which we now commonly navigate in our lives, and the ways in which the community of violence operates has historically been no different. (Even if the results are horrifying.) Larkin has a section in his book which ponders the likelihood of this happening even at the time of Columbine, in relation to the 01995 Oklahoma City Bombings, allowing this hypothesis to date back all the way before the community of violence went independent!

Yet the “politics” of this type of “extremism” is not what we would consider conventional. The community of violence preys upon disaffected margins of social groups, giving new direction towards already-extant hopelessness. White supremacy is now common within the community of violence, yet the use for it is not as an ideology which genuinely seeks the elevation of one group over another, because school shootings are (or at one point at least were) counter-productive even to a racist perspective. They do not profess their love of neonazism for the possible success fascism may give them, but instead for its guarantee of absolute failure. Dylan Klebold of “Columbine” and Jeff Weise of “Red Lake” were both early proponents of nazism within their contagion cluster, while also themselves of pseudo-racial minorities which that ideology seeks to violently exterminate. This is not some accidental oversight on their part as dumb teens, but instead an intended feature, as both of them were already suicidal to begin with. Those of us who are not suicidal may struggle to understand this.

To view the different conclusions each hypothesis would reach, consider the example of Steven Kazmierczak of the “Northern Illinois” university shooting. It took place in 02008, when the Bullying Hypothesis remained marginally in favour. The event baffled everyone who knew the perpetrator, who was a successful honours student up until the moment when he killed 6 others before himself. He left little behind to suggest what his motives may have been. Pursuant to the Bullying Hypothesis, it was indeed true that his time before post-secondary education was not a pleasant one, and he may have been drawn to the contagion cluster as a result of those experiences — which haunted him long past the point of affecting him directly. Meanwhile, the Mental Illness Hypothesis focuses more on his overall history of mental instability and previous attempts at suicide, to the degree that it would be a danger to others if any routine keeping him going were to be suddenly broken — such as graduation, which statistical studies of student perpetrators do note as a factor in when attacks take place. However, the Political Extremism Hypothesis would instead focus on Kazmierczak's history having secured membership within domestic terrorist groups like the Klu Klux Klan, where the hypothesis suggests he was able to secure the necessary know-how to act upon the technical details of his attack — thus allowing his suicide to take the specific form that it did.

I should note I am vastly over-simplifying Webber's arguments here. “Political extremism” and “suicide clusters” may share mechanical dynamics in her view, but she still stresses that political extremism is only the method by which the process happens, not the purpose. She may think my appellation of her theory is a misnomer outright. That's fine, but I will retain this label as the best pithy summary which may be derived from her not-very-good book. It is dense, laden with terse jargon, often unsure of the point it is making, in dire need of an editor, constantly going on bizarre tangents, especially as it relates to ludology, wildly fluctuating between perfectly-sensible and impossible-to-understand on a page-by-page basis... I cannot overstate how unpleasant her choking-hazard of a book was to read, even as someone who may have been predisposed towards agreeing with her in the first place. It's a far cry from Cullen, who is able to present expertly-crafted pieces of information, all in service of bending the truth. Thus I bore witness to this fight, between a badly-written book with good intentions, against a well-written book with dubious intent. There's probably a lesson in that, though I'm not sure I care to learn it.

Of all these books, hers is the only one which actually attempts to grapple with the community of violence as an actual phenomenon. Webber was originally someone who studied the school shooting epidemic from the basis of the Bullying Hypothesis, in turn seeing the development of the Mental Illness Hypothesis as inherently fraudulent. Yet one cannot simply turn back the clock to as it was in 02012, so she attempts to synthesize a new hypothesis from the best qualities of both. (Even Larkin's more recent research, though sparse, trends in this same direction.) The older methods of sociological analysis were more likely to yield accurate-and-actionable solutions, even if there was no political will to act upon them. If the existence of an externalized community of violence frustrated the old methods of sociological analysis, then all we need is a new method which takes those externalized factors into account. This requires tracing the community of violence as a malignant subculture: a mode of sociability that merges with a person's identity like other group affiliations would, only to then isolate that person from their social connections as it accelerates their cycles of self-harm. It is a social network that silently infiltrates other social networks, all with murderous intent.

... however, I suspect such a hypothesis would be sternly resisted by the-powers-that-be. To them, there is a lot invested in the Mental Illness Hypothesis as it is, with little value in admitting that the community of violence operates with any form of political intentionality. In fact, all previous times the epidemic has been politicized, it only got that much more difficult to handle. All this would do is re-introduce the very same problem they worked so hard to define-out-of-existence, and nobody would benefit from that. It might just be easier to pretend that school shooters are nothing more than what we believe them to be — regardless if they even are.

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Book Metadata

  • ISBN of Columbine by Dave Cullen: 978-0-446-54693-5
  • ISBN of Columbine by Jeff Kass: 978-1938633263
  • ISBN of Comprehending Columbine: 978-1-59213-490-8
  • ISBN of Beyond Columbine: 978-1433120411
  • ISBN of No Easy Answers: 978-1-59056-031-0
  • ISBN of Rampage: The social roots of school shootings: 978-0786722372
  • ISBN of A Mother's Reckoning: 978-1101902776
  • ISBN of The Martyrs of Columbine: 978-0–312–23957–2
  • ISBN of Sandy Hook by Elizabeth Williamson: 978-1524746575
  • ISBN of Bully Nation: 978-0700622603
  • ISBN of School Shooters by Peter Langman: 978-1-4422-3356-0

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