Don't tell me the attacks are "inexplicable." Anything can be explained.
It seems like the last year has been an unending parade of unfathomable acts of mass violence, usually by "lone wolf" attackers against a bunch of strangers who never wronged them. Well, I'm not comfortable declaring things unfathomable. I want to fathom everything. It's how I cope. If you don't want to read about these people or think this is glorifying them, I respect your opinion. But me? I want to know. I want to understand.
So I've examined the lives of the mass killers who've made headlines over the last year, and what I've found is that the ensuing narrative in each case was usually either wrong or laughably oversimplified.
Note: I'm intentionally leaving out the Paris attacks of November 2015 and the bombings in Brussels, because those were no mystery -- they were the work of well-organized ISIS cells. I'm also leaving off the guy who shot 17 people in Kansas in April (do you even remember that one?), because he wasn't much of a mystery either -- he was a lifelong criminal who had so much meth and alcohol in his system that he probably had no idea what the fuck he was even doing.
The rest, well, aren't so simple. Let's take a few minutes to try to understand these fetid shitheads.
Oregon: A Guy Shoots 18 People At His Community College
Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Criminal History: None.
Shit, I bet most of you have forgotten this one too. Happened last October? Guy shot up a community college? There was a frenzy in the immediate aftermath to determine if he was a jihadist or white nationalist, then we kind of forgot about it, because it turned out he didn't really fit anybody's narrative. Hey, I get it, this was like 36 shootings ago.
Steve Dykes/Getty Images
You remember. It was the one where people sent "thoughts and prayers."
There were no real warning signs with this guy. He was named Christopher Sean Harper-Mercer (do most mass killers go by three names, or is that just something the press does in the aftermath?), he grew up in LA, and his parents divorced when he was a baby. You're going to find out that this, if nothing else, is a running theme on this list. He still lived with his mom. He was mixed-race, and his mother was black (this will be relevant in a moment).
He had Asperger's syndrome (though I hope I don't have to point out that mass murder is not a symptom of that disease), and attended a special needs school for a while. He joined the Army in 2008, but washed out of basic training after a month. He described himself on a dating website as an introvert, as well as "conservative" and "intellectual." He went to community college for two years, from 2010-2012. No incidents, no run-ins with the law -- just a quiet, socially awkward loner who loved the shit out of some guns.
Chris Harper-Mercer / MySpace
Does that last part describe you or anyone you know? That's the point.
Yeah, he owned 14 guns at the time of his death. His mother was a gun enthusiast too, and they went shooting together (if you think that's weird, keep in mind that's also how I grew up, and I'm normal as fuck).
Then, in the last few years, he started writing message board posts praising prior mass shooters for having found fame. "I have noticed that so many people like him are all alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are ... His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems the more people you kill, the more you're in the limelight."
So, you know, there's that.
He'd recently gone back to school -- Umpqua Community College -- and was involved in the theater program. He wanted to work in Hollywood. On October 1, 2015, he strapped on body armor, gathered up six of his guns, and went to campus. He walked up to somebody, presumably at random, and gave them a copy of his extensive manifesto. It rambled about his hatred of organized religion, bemoaned his virginity and lack of career prospects, and expressed a hatred of blacks (again, he was mixed-race and lived with his doting black mother). Oh, and on his old Myspace page, he praised the Irish Republican Army(?).
Chris Harper-Mercer / MySpace
He probably cared less about their politics and more that he thought those were some sweet-ass guns.
He walked into his creative writing class and started shooting. Supposedly, he made some of the students tell him their religion, and if they answered "Christian," they were killed (though two non-Christians were among the dead). Altogether, nine were killed and nine more were injured. The cops showed up, and Mercer shot himself in the head. He could have done much, much more damage -- they found him with plate body armor and an assault rifle.
How Could This Have Been Stopped?
And I mean, in terms of laws we can pass. The guy wanted to get famous by killing a bunch of people, so you might say, "Stop publicizing the names of shooters!" But do you mean we make it illegal to talk about them? Because any outlet which voluntarily self-censors that information will just lose audience to the outlets that don't. People want to know. They, like me, want to understand.
You can talk about an assault weapons ban, but he never fired his -- the killing was done with pistols. You can talk about background checks for gun buyers, but this guy had a clean record -- and even if he didn't, he could have just used his mother's guns, or had her buy on his behalf.
Cengiz Yar, Jr./AFP/GettyImages
It's not like their local gun shop was selling out anytime soon.
So? How do you prevent this? Ban and confiscate all guns? Post armed guards at community colleges? Arrest people who praise killers on social media? Seriously, tell me. I'm all ears.
San Bernardino: A Married Couple Drops The Baby Off At Grandma's, Then Shoots 36 People
The Washington Post / GettyImages
Age: The guy was 28, the woman was 29.
Criminal History: None.
Media Narrative Afterward: ISIS attack! Seriously, what is there to even discuss? We're at war!
Nothing about this makes a lick of sense.
The guy, Syed Rizwan Farook, grew up in Riverside, California, in what sounds like a shitty home. His parents were from Pakistan. His mom claimed his father was an alcoholic who abused her, and asked for a divorce on those grounds. So there's another broken home ... except Syed grew up, did great in school, and got a degree in 2010. Never got in trouble. A quiet guy, kept to himself (so we're two for two there, also), landlord said he had a good credit rating. He got a boring job as a food inspector with the county health department in 2011, made a decent salary. Co-workers said he was just ... kind of there.
Department of Motor Vehicles
His hobbies included watching TV, quiet walks, and taking the most stoned-looking driver's license photos in history.
In 2013, Farook met a woman named Tashfeen Malik on an online dating service. She was in Pakistan, came from an influential family, and had a degree in pharmacology. Strict Muslim upbringing, but no known connection with violent radicals. Farook brought her to the U.S. on a fiancee visa.
We know now that some of the private messages they sent back and forth upon meeting spoke of Jihad and martyrdom. There were no other indications of what was coming. Was their marriage genuine? Did they actually feel anything for each other? Or was it just a death pact, the marriage a sham to get her into the country? I still don't know. At least a year before the attack, they started planning. They filled their garage with bomb-making materials -- the FBI would find 12 pipe bombs in there afterward which they never got the chance to use. They bought guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
But get this: In mid-2015, they fucking have a baby.
Was that ... an accident? Part of the plan?
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Too bad their plans didn't involve reading the books they bought their kid and fucking understanding them.
Regardless, it didn't derail the mission -- they just made plans to give the baby to Farook's mother before they carried out their suicide attack. The day before the shooting, they dropped off the infant with her (claiming they had an appointment to go to) and rented an SUV. Time to initiate their grand plan to strike a blow for global jihad. Which was to, uh, shoot up Farook's office Christmas party. Obviously.
On December 2, Farook attends the party, staying quiet for most of it. They were about to take a group photo when he stepped out. Then he and his wife returned in black tactical gear and ski masks, each with the Standard Mass Shooter Loadout: An AR-15-style assault rifle and a semiautomatic pistol.
San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department / GettyImages
Two of five million Americans who own AR-15s.
They shot everyone they saw -- leaving 14 dead and 20 wounded -- then left a backpack on a table. It contained three pipe bombs which were intended to kill police and emergency workers who showed up to help the victims. (Those thankfully failed to detonate. All of their bombs appear to have been built poorly, off instructions they found on the internet.)
The police pursued the couple in a highway chase which turned into a running gun battle. It ended in a hellish last stand in which seven cops needed 380 rounds to take down this mild-mannered food inspector and a new mother with a degree in pharmacology. The couple fired 76 shots back, hitting two officers (both survived).
San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department
The couple's SUV was far less lucky.
There is no indication that the couple had contact with ISIS or were supplied/directed by them in any way. They had just decided, together, that they should abandon their baby and their comfortable middle-class lifestyle to form their own two-person terror cell, apparently for the express purpose of shooting up the county health department.
My opinion: These people were dipshits.
How Could This Have Been Stopped?
This is when you started hearing, "Don't let Muslims into the country!" from politicians as a possible solution. So we're including ones who are marrying existing citizens, and have college degrees and no history of violence? What if she tells immigration she's stopped being Muslim? Then what? "Just ban the ones from hostile countries, then!" Okay, but Pakistan has been a U.S. ally ever since it became a country. "Forget about all that, we need to strike back at ISIS!" By what, putting ground troops in Syria, where ISIS is? How does that stop this?
How does anything stop it?