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Thread: What mass murderers have in common

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    Elite Member witchcurlgirl's Avatar
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    Default What mass murderers have in common

    What mass murderers have in common

    A new analysis of the writings of various shooters finds a common strain of paranoia


    (Credit: AP)




    In trying to understand the actions of a mass murderer, our instinct is to grasp blindly for answers, settling on one that feels right. Setting aside the debate over access to guns, this often comes down to a lay diagnosis that the shooter was probably a psychopath—cold, unfeeling, heartless.

    A new analysis of the writings of three mass killers and one would-be mass killer, comes to a very different conclusion. A trio of University of British Columbia psychologists led by Donald Dutton report the gunmen appear to have suffered from an intense form of paranoia.


    Far from being cool or detached, these young men were enraged, their delusions of persecution becoming ever more intense and intolerable.


    “They become and remain fixated and obsessed with rejection by what they see as an elite in-group, whom they see as having unfairly achieved success,” Dutton and his colleagues write in a compelling paper just published in the journal Aggression and Violent Behavior. “Instead of transcending the rejection, they formulate plans to annihilate the transgressors, which they justify as vengeance for the transgressions made against them.”

    The researchers analyzed the writings of Eric Harris, who (along with friend Dylan Klebold) killed 13 of his fellow students at Columbine High School in 1999; Seung Hui Cho, who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007; Kimveer Gill, who shot 20 people, killing one, at Dawson College in Montreal in 2006; and Anders Breivik, who killed 82 people at a youth camp in Norway in 2011 (plus another seven in a bomb blast outside the Prime Minister’s office).


    They looked at the perpetrators’ diaries or blog entries in the weeks leading up to the shooting, as well as a manifesto Breivik circulated in a mass email in an attempt to explain himself. Aside from Breivik, whose paranoia found expression in socio-political terms, they expressed a surprisingly similar worldview.


    “A central theme that runs through these diaries is one of feeling rejected, dismissed, disrespected and devalued by an in-group invariably depicted as “jocks and preppies,” and of wanting vengeance for this maltreatment,” Dutton and his colleagues write. “The in-group is despised for being superficial and for getting unwanted status.”


    There is no shortage of examples of this kind of thinking. This is from Harris’ diary:

    Everyone is making fun of me because of how I look, how fucking weak I am, and shit, well I will get you all back, ultimate fucking revenge here. You people could have shown more respect, treated me better, asked for more knowledge or guidance more, treated me more like a senior, and maybe I wouldn’t have been so ready to tear your fucking heads off. … Same thing with all those rich snotty toadies at my school. Fuckers think they are higher than me and everyone else with all their $ just because they were born into it?

    Here is an online posting by Gill, translated from the French:

    If people were making your life a living hell, wouldn’t you be hurt emotionally? How come no one ever talks about those mother fucking jocks and preps whose fault it is. Oh no. Heaven forbid. We can’t possibly say that. Why does society applaud jocks? I do not understand. They are the worst kind of people on earth. And the preps are no better. They think they’re better than others, but they’re not.

    Finally, here’s Virginia Tech shooter Seung Hui Cho, apparently addressing the sort of privileged student he despises:

    Your Mercedes wasn’t enough? Your golden necklaces weren’t enough? Your trust fund wasn’t enough? Your vodka and cognac weren’t enough? All your debaucheries weren’t enough?

    “The paranoid individual is obsessed with revenge and justifies the revenge as payback for a perceived injustice,” the researchers write. “(Such people are) thin-skinned or hypersensitive to perceived slights (and they) have closed information-processing systems that preclude corrective information which is inconsistent with their world view from being received.”


    Breivik, the oldest of this group (he was 32 at the time of the killings; Harris was 18, Cho 23, and Hill 25), perceived a different enemy: Muslims. His paranoia “appeared to have worsened when he was past college age,” the researchers write. “Otherwise, his school peers, rather than a politically derived target, may have been selected.”


    “He believed that slaughtering a group of teenagers would make him Grand Master Knight Commander, deputized by a secret society to lead the forces of Christendom in a battle for the future of mankind,” they add. “He had military uniforms made to reflect his future status.”


    Overall, this analysis suggests many of the media’s cliches regarding mass killers appear to be wrong. They were bullied? “This group greatly exaggerates the negativity of their treatment, as reported by third-party school peers,” the researchers note, adding that their writings contain few references to specific experiences of being a bullying victim.


    Perhaps the problem is too few mental health services? Well, three of the four men examined here had been assessed by psychiatrists, none of whom picked up on the deep nature of their disturbances.


    That said, one popular conception about these men is clearly correct.


    “There were differing levels of social isolation for Cho, Gill, Breivik and Harris,” the researchers write. “Cho had extreme social anxiety, isolated himself and showed social incompetence. Gill and Harris had some friends, but clearly pictured themselves as marginalized. “All were described as loners.”
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    Elite Member MohandasKGanja's Avatar
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    How come nobody ever feels marginalized by the Chess Team, or the It's Academic Club?

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    Elite Member darksithbunny's Avatar
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    Um ok. I think a lot of us have felt marginalized at some point in our lives by a group of people, but we don't go around slaughtering them.

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    Elite Member louiswinthorpe111's Avatar
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    I'm a little more concerned that mental health professionals didn't pick up on the fact that these boys were disturbed.
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    Elite Member MohandasKGanja's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by darksithbunny View Post
    Um ok. I think a lot of us have felt marginalized at some point in our lives by a group of people, but we don't go around slaughtering them.
    Like most normal lower-tier high school student, I was quite satisfied to transition from being picked on to being totally ignored

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    Elite Member Lobelia's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by louiswinthorpe111 View Post
    I'm a little more concerned that mental health professionals didn't pick up on the fact that these boys were disturbed.
    As a mental health professional, I lost count long ago of the number of "disturbed" teenagers I've run across. Any of them could have gone out and murdered people at any time, regardless of my actions. In fact, several of them did but I'm not gonna beat myself up about it. I did whatever I could ethically and legally do at that time.
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    Elite Member Trixie's Avatar
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    I wish I could say these are startling revelations, but they're really not. I understand the desire to try to profile these types before the fact, but until they actually commit an act of violence, there's only so much anyone (including the professionals) can do. I know there are cases where everyone knew the person was a ticking time bomb, but more often than not, they didn't, and only remember all the warning signs in hindsight.
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    Elite Member Beeyotch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by louiswinthorpe111 View Post
    I'm a little more concerned that mental health professionals didn't pick up on the fact that these boys were disturbed.
    Perhaps the problem is too few mental health services? Well, three of the four men examined here had been assessed by psychiatrists, none of whom picked up on the deep nature of their disturbances.
    I don't for a second think it's the psychiatrist's fault in any way. I feel for the way these people must have felt; I think most of us realized that a lot of kids in high school are assholes, treat people cruelly, think they're better than others, unappreciative of what they have. But we deal with it in other ways obviously.
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    Elite Member MohandasKGanja's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lobelia View Post
    As a mental health professional, I lost count long ago of the number of "disturbed" teenagers I've run across. Any of them could have gone out and murdered people at any time, regardless of my actions. In fact, several of them did but I'm not gonna beat myself up about it. I did whatever I could ethically and legally do at that time.
    I'm more concerned that two high school students could acquire and stockpile guns right under their parents' noses. It's one thing to be troubled and have ill will toward people, but it's another to stockpile an arsenal of rifles and pipe bombs right under your parents' noses.
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    Elite Member Lobelia's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MohandasKGanja View Post
    I'm more concerned that two high school students could acquire and stockpile guns right under their parents' noses. It's one thing to be troubled and have ill will toward people, but it's another to stockpile an arsenal of rifles and pipe bombs right under your parents' noses.
    That's what I'm sayin. A big pile o'guns is a pretty good indicator that something has gone awry, had anybody noticed.

    Perhaps the problem is too few mental health services? Well, three of the four men examined here had been assessed by psychiatrists, none of whom picked up on the deep nature of their disturbances.
    Nice Monday-morning quarterbacking. Exactly how does the author know this? It says the boys were assessed. Well, an assessment is based on the information that is available to the psychiatrist or MHP. You can only assess based on the info given. Psychological testing is not 100% accurate.

    Sorry for repeating myself but I've sat across from some pretty disturbed teens and knew it, and knew that I wouldn't be surprised if I read something terrible in the news about them some day. But what are you gonna do? Hospitalize someone because they're angry at the world and have violent fantasies? Unless they express intent, you'll have a hard time with it and if you succeed in getting them admitted, they're gonna be even more pissed off when they get out. Just sayin. I can't follow these people around 24/7 and there is not a pill that will make them decide that things aren't so bad after all. I can't make people be nicer to them and I can't improve their social standing. Most of the kids I've worked with have parents who knew the kid was messed up but didn't want to change anything at all they were doing and just wanted me to either fix the kid or simply be there to blame when something went wrong. The parents I've seen have been any mixture of disconnected, checked out, hostile toward the kid, mentally ill, substance abusers and/or low intellectual functioning.

    People in the mental health profession operate with one hand tied behind their backs because of laws & regulations and this is a good thing. Think of how many people back in the day who were locked up because one doctor said so, even if the doctor was a quack or got his jollies from being so powerful, or even if the doctor had a personal reason involved. There is no perfect answer to any of this and there never will be.
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    Elite Member CornFlakegrl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by darksithbunny View Post
    Um ok. I think a lot of us have felt marginalized at some point in our lives by a group of people, but we don't go around slaughtering them.
    It's safe to say most of have at some point or another. What the article is saying though is that these particular people can't get past it. It talks about closed thinking or something, where they don't accept any information that doesn't conform to their world view (in this case, "I've been wronged and those people deserve to die for it.")

    This kind of de-emphasizes the "they did it because they were bullied" angle. They may or may not have been ... but in their minds, they were left out in some way, and so they killed.

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    Elite Member louiswinthorpe111's Avatar
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    Hey Lobes, I wasn't bashing anyone in the mental health field, but concerned because my 11 year old just started seeing a therapist to learn how to communicate better and deal with anger issues. I think I'm being very pro-active, but now am a little concerned that maybe his issues won't get resolved, I'm kinda going back to, what's the point of going through all this if it doesn't work?
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    My 8 year old was saying the same things. He is doing better after a good summer of building him up and lots of therapy, but school starts soon. *sigh*

    Louis, in addition to other books, I have found this advice useful.

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    Elite Member louiswinthorpe111's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WhateverLolaWants View Post
    My 8 year old was saying the same things. He is doing better after a good summer of building him up and lots of therapy, but school starts soon. *sigh*

    Louis, in addition to other books, I have found this advice useful.

    Discipline Help: You Can Handle Them All
    Well, that's interesting. I don't think any of these actually apply to my son. It's just strange.

    However, I have diagnosed myself as the Intellectual Show Off! I wonder how I fix myself....
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    Elite Member Lobelia's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by louiswinthorpe111 View Post
    Hey Lobes, I wasn't bashing anyone in the mental health field, but concerned because my 11 year old just started seeing a therapist to learn how to communicate better and deal with anger issues. I think I'm being very pro-active, but now am a little concerned that maybe his issues won't get resolved, I'm kinda going back to, what's the point of going through all this if it doesn't work?
    Oh you're fine, I just got a little defensive, I guess. I hate this field. I've gotten really cynical and grouchy about it.
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