Culture

8 Things You May Not Know About Elliot Rodger’s Killing Spree

The tragedy is a looking glass if we ask the right questions.

Photo Credit: YouTube

The killing spree in Isla Vista by Elliot Rodger has grabbed the nation’s attention like no other news story in a long time. But there are many facts about Rodger that the media has botched, as well as serious questions to ask that don’t have easy soundbite answers. We compiled this list to try to elevate the public conversation.

1. He’s Not White

There have been many headlines like this from Salon.com, White Guy Killer Syndrome: Elliot Rodger’s Deadly Privileged Rage, or a popular story here on AlterNet: Yes, Elliot Rodger is 'White': What the Santa Barbara Shooter Can Teach Us About Race and Masculinity. But there’s a problem. Rodger wasn’t white. He was bi-racial.

As Jeff Yang writes on Quartz.com, “after seeing him consistently described as fitting the ‘typical mass shooter profile’ of a young, mentally disturbed white loner, I realized that both the conventional news and much of social media were making a profound and possibly important error. Because if you’re Asian, a single look at his picture is all you need to realize that Rodger was not white.” Yang continues: 

"A little research exposed what should have been obvious: Rodger is the son of British-born filmmaker, Peter Rodger, known for assistant directing The Hunger Games, and Lichin “Chin” Rodger, a Malaysian Chinese nurse for film productions who met and befriended Hollywood royalty like Stephen Spielberg, George Lucas (whom she briefly dated), and, of course, Rodger’s father. His 141-page manifesto is filled with passages describing his bi-racial identity and how it played a deeper and darker role in Rodger’s pathology than anyone has been discussing."

And those are not the only clues he left.

2. Not White, But Elliot Rodger Was Overwhelmingly Racist

A lot has been written about his misogyny, which fills his manifesto, and how his rage at women fueled his rampage. But Rodger made no secret about how he also hated the men that women chose over him, especially when they were not white.

In January, Rodger went to a pick-up artist bashing website (PUAHate.com), now taken down, and responded to a person who identified himself as an Asian male, who wondered if wearing a particular type of shoes would help his chances with white women. Rodger replied, “Shoes won’t help you get white girls. White girls are disgusted by you, silly little Asian.” The other man then posted what he said were photos of himself with a white woman. Rodger dismissed the photos as fakes and added, “Full Asian men are disgustingly ugly and white girls would never go for you. You’re just butthurt that you were born as an Asian piece of shit, so you lash out by linking these fake pictures. You even admit that you wish you were half white. You’ll never be half-white and you’ll never fulfill your dream of marrying a white woman. I suggest you jump off a bridge.”

Rodger’s racism went beyond his put downs of Asians. “How could an inferior, ugly black boy be able to get a white girl and not me?” he wrote in his manifesto, one of many examples of such jealousy. “I am beautiful, and I am half white myself. I am descended from British aristocracy. He is descended from slaves. I deserve it more.”

3. What About Three Murdered Asians?

Much of the killing spree coverage has been focused on his rage at women, especially blondes. One childhood friend, a blonde, who is now a model, was scapegoated by the sicker elements of the mass media as being somehow responsible for his rage. But his first victims were three University of California, Santa Barbara, students—young Asian men stabbed in Rodger’s own apartment. This part of the murder spree remains mostly unexamined, and is probably a key to understanding how the whole horrible mess came about. The fact that his first three victims were all Asian, and all stabbed to death, is notable, criminologists have said, citing the enormous amount of rage involved.

Nevertheless, the media frame that Rodger’s behavior was all about hating women for a sexless life is undermined, or at least made more complicated, by these three murders. It seems that Rodger’s overall unmitigated rage was directed at everyone he saw as enjoying things that he couldn’t—or standing in the way of his revenge-taking, as his manifesto describes (page 131). Why the differences in the media coverage of the white men and women killed versus the Asian men? Is it subtle racism on the part of the media; lack of information; or that aspect of the story not fitting the simpler media narrative?  

4. Society’s Macho Masculinity Trap

A huge amount of the coverage of Rodger’s murderous spree has been focused on his misogyny—brutal anger toward women—which dominates his video, and is central in his manifesto. The killings and coverage have launched a number of viral Twitter hash tag campaigns demanding an end to the horrors that this “women hating” attitude has manifested in society with stalking and violence. 

But very little attention has been given to the overwhelming message of society that for heterosexual men—if you are not attracting women, if you are not getting laid—you are an utter failure. The dividing line between men who are desirable and have sex, and those who don’t, is often cruel and arbitrary. In the case of Rodger, his rejections likely had something to do with his affect, which suggested to girls and women that he wasn’t right for dating, a relationship or sex. We all know males who seem to be particularly klutzy around women, and don’t have a clue as to why they fail with the other gender. That failing and frequent rejection is devastating and can breed depression and worse. 

Here is Rodger from his manifesto, “My misery became harder and harder to bear, and none of my parents understood my plight.... My father never prepared me for facing such a cruel world. He never taught me how to attract girls. He never warned me that if I didn't attract girls at an early age, my life would fall into a misrable pit of despair.”  

And this after graduating from high school:  “At my father’s house, we watched the movie Alpha Dog after dinner one night. The movie depicts a lot of teenagers and young people partying and having sex with beautiful girls, living the life that I’ve desired for so long. The main character is a fifteen year old kid who has sex with two hot girls in a swimming pool. I was so envious that I delighted in his death at the end... The movie deeply effected me emotionally, and I would think about it for some time afterwards.”  

Of course, dysfunctional cultural messages are not an excuse for what happened. But things happen for reasons. The persistence of violence against women, where most of it is done by partners, former partners, and acquaintances, almost always has to do with rejection and produces  sometimes inconceivable rage often with the message: “If I can’t have you, then no one can.” 

It is likely that much of this violent rage comes from early trauma, with the reliving of past trauma happening in the Reptilian brain, where logical and rational thinking is often overpowered in men by a fight response, sometimes with devastating consequences. 

5. Media Speculation About Possible Aspergers Is Irresponsible.

Following the Sandy Hook grade school shooting in 2012 and Isla Vista shootings, it was reported—but not confirmed—that these shooters had Asperger’s syndrome, implying this condition might be a contributing factor in the tragedies.

This line of speculation is wrong on many fronts. It is inaccurate to blur personality disorders that turn people into killers with neural development disorders such as Aspergers, which is characterized only by impaired social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication difficulties, and restricted and repetitive behavior. Such inferences scapegoat and stigmatize a large number of children, teenagers, and adults (mostly boys and young men) who are, as a group, gentle and even overly sensitive individuals. Simply put, there is no component of this syndrome that can turn someone into a mass killer.

Mental health professionals have been quick to caution the media. “There really is no clear association between Asperger's and violent behavior," psychologist Elizabeth Laugeson, an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the Associated Press. And while some people on the autistic spectrum may have higher rates of aggressive behaviors (mostly yelling, emotional outbursts, pushing and shoving) than the general public, this in no way translates into the homocidal mania at Newtown and Isla Vista.

Adults and children are already wary of “aspies” and other children on the spectrum. They’re geeky, quiet, and don’t handle social engagement well. Because of this, they are already shunned by their peers and the targets of bullying, which is something they are not very well-equipped to handle, considering their neurological diagnoses. Putting this additional fear into the community—the notion that people with Asperger's are just a bunch of ticking time bombs—can be way too much for aspies or their families to handle. Living with the syndrome is already difficult for them as it is.

6. Did Violent Video Games Turn Him Into A Killer?

Perhaps the people looking for answers should go to the killer’s own words and ask questions based on that. Thoughout the 141-page manifesto, Rodger talked about how he escaped, for years, into the world of violent video games as antidote to the pain, rejection and bullying that he experienced. This began in middle school, continued in high school, and through college. Rodger said that video games helped him create an alternative identity, especially “World of Warcraft,” where, as the game’s website describes, a “fallen titan… plotted to scour all life.”  

Rodger was quite a good writer. On page 57, he described the deep void that the games filled: “I found an ideology in my head of how the world should work. I was fueled both by my desire to destroy all the injustices of the world, and to extract revenge on everyone I envy and hate. I decided that my destiny in life is to rise to power so I can impose my ideology on the world and set everything right. I was only seventeen, I have plenty of time, I thought to myself."

By the time that Rodger graduated and started sporadically attending local colleges, he said that he would skip classes for two weeks at a time and just play World of Warcraft all day. But a time came when he could no longer escape into the games, he wrote on page 74. “WoW became a place where I could no longer hide from the evils of the world, because the evils of the world followed me there,” he wrote, explaining that other young men on the game’s online chatrooms bragged about their sexual conquests.

7. Did The Hunger Games Movie Also Play A Role?

Rodger was surrounded by dystopian fantasies. His father worked as one of the directors making The Hunger Games, the wildly successful movie series about a headstrong young woman who is thrust into a role leading a revolution against a totalitarian state. That plot centers around young adults killing each other, a grim scenario on par with the scorched-earth fantasies of the violent video games. He recounts how his father took him to an invitation-only debut for the film where he ended up by himself, and then became bitter that he did not have a date to impress.

By this point, the storyline in Rodger’s head was its own dystopian fantasy, where he was planning for a “Day of Retribution” in Isla Vista, the oceanfront town near Santa Barbara where the majority of residents are university and college students. In writing his manifesto, he was like a screenwriter who lovingly developed a plotline that was as cinematic as it was criminally insane.

He imagined taking people prisoner, torturing and killing them, and then taking their severed heads with him as he went from sorority house to sorority house killing all the young women. On page 131, he wrote:    

“I will torture some of the good-looking people before I kill them, assuming that the good looking ones had the best sex lives. All of that pleasure they had in life, I will punish by bringing them pain and suffering. I have lived a life of pain and suffering, and it was time to bring that pain to the people who actually deserved it. I will cut them, flay them, strip all the skin off their flesh, and pour boiling water all over them while they are still alive, as well as any other form of torture I could possibly think of. When they are dead, I will behead them and keep their heads in a bag, for their heads will play a major role in the final phase.”

“Once I reach Del Playa Street, I will dump the heads I had severed from my previous victims, proclaiming to everyone how much I made them all suffer. Once they see all of their friends’ heads roll onto the street, everyone will fear me as the powerful God I am.

What’s clear from these passages and his conclusion was that Rodger saw his identity as closer to the fantasy warlords in the world of video games and dystopian movies than the real world of living people. He writes, on page 134:

“I am not part of the human race. Humanity has rejected me. The females of the human species have never wanted to mate with me, so how could I possibly consider myself part of humanity? Humanity has never accepted me among them, and now I know why. I am more than human. I am superior to them all. I am Elliot Rodger… Magnificent, glorious, supreme, eminent… Divine. I am the closest thing there is to a living God. Humanity is a disgusting, depraved, evil species. It is my purpose to punish them all. I will purify the world of everything that is wrong with it. On the Day of Retribution, I will truly be a powerful God, punishing everyone I deem to be impure and depraved.” 

8. Why Not Talk About Society’s Denial Of Trauma and Mental Illness?

We live in a society where mental illness is not tolerated. It is often hidden, certainly not understood, and often not treated, or, more often than not, treated with drugs. Of course, mental illness and various pathologies and trauma are very hard to treat and often cause families and well-meaning individuals enormous stress. But one thing that never works is the theme pushed by Arthur Chu, on the Daily Beast where he "nerdsplains" entitlement in his analysis, Your Princess is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds. Chu ends his essay, “What did Elliot Rodger need? He didn’t need to get laid. None of us nerdy frustrated guys need to get laid. He needed to grow up.” 

Really? He needed to grow up? This is one version of the wishful thinking that pervades much of our society and the political rhetoric associated with social problems.  It is all too prevalent when it comes to an agonizingly difficult problem: how to explain and cope with violent men. This is a problem that drains society, and results in intolerable deaths and destruction. Nevertheless, telling traumatized men that they shouldn’t do something, or expressing in hash tags, speeches and books that men just have to get with society’s program, is rarely effective. It may make us feel good, but such false moralizing doesn’t move us an inch closer to addressing the major problem of male violence and gun violence.

As a society we totally lack the insight, commitment and capacity to deal with millions of people who have suffered from all sorts of trauma—sexual, violent, emotional. This is the trauma from wars, accidents, and any number of painful family and social experiences, especially including bullying and ridicule, which seems to have a role in any number of suicides. It seems that some number of bullied women kill themselves, but often some of the bullied or traumatized men turn terribly violent first, before taking their own lives as well.

On a basic level the violence can be understood in the context of the flight or fight instinct that is often associated with triggers that push people to relive their trauma. Scientists and therapists know:    

“That Post Trauma Disorder takes place in the oldest part of the brain, or the ‘Reptilian’ brain. The ‘fright and flight’ response takes place here when danger is present. Whenever there is severe trauma this part of the brain replays the events as it they were happening in the present. The human brain is highly evolved, yet at the same time it retains the instinct–driven brain of our reptilian ancestors. The central nervous system is highly vulnerable to stress and can be severely damaged. When this happens a condition develops called Post Trauma Disorder. Raw emotions and instinctual reactions create intense anxiety, depression and sleep disorders.”  

And sometimes murderous rages. Yes, it is truly hard to grasp that giving ill and traumatized people political directives, or trying to reason with someone who is in flight or fight, just doesn’t address the problem. If we continue to primarily rely on rhetoric, political demands and imploring people to behave appropriately when severe trauma or psychopathology is present, we will continue to fail our loved ones and our society.