Media  
comments_image Comments

EXCERPT: The Scene of the Crime Was the Cause of the Crime

It wasn't Marilyn Manson or lax gun control laws that prompted Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to open fire at Columbine High School. It was life at Columbine.
 
 
Share
 
 
 
 

The following is an excerpt from Mark Ames' recently released book, " Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion -- From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond" (Soft Skull, 2005).

On April 20, 1999, the bloodiest of all school rage massacres took place at Columbine. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered twelve students and a teacher, wounded twenty others, and then killed themselves. Americans wanted to blame everything but Columbine High for the massacre -- they blamed a violent media, Marilyn Manson, Goth culture, the Internet, the Trench Coat Mafia, video games, lax gun control laws, and liberal values. And still skipping over the school, they peered into the opposite direction, blaming the moral and/or mental sickness, or alleged homosexuality, of these two boys, as if they were exceptional freaks in a school of otherwise happy kids.

They searched all over the world for a motive, except for one place: the scene of the crime.

In fact, a typical Columbine school day for Harris and Klebold was torture. Former student Devon Adams told the Governor's Columbine Review Commission that the boys were regularly called "faggots, weirdoes, and freaks."

As one member of the Columbine High School football team bragged after the massacre, "Columbine is a good, clean place except for those rejects. Most kids didn't want them there ... Sure we teased them. But what do you expect with kids who come to school with weird hairdos and horns on their hats? ... If you want to get rid of someone, usually you tease 'em. So the whole school would call them homos."

Harris got it worse than most, not just because he dressed weird or was one of the computer nerds, but also because he was short, he was a transplant from out-of-state (like Andy Williams) and, due to an embarrassing indent in his chest, he never took his shirt off during P.E., giving the jocks more ammo to attack him.

Former Columbine student Brooks Brown recounted one incident: "I was smoking cigarettes with [Klebold and Harris] when a bunch of football players drove by, yelled something, and threw a glass bottle that shattered near Dylan's feet. I was pissed, but Eric and Dylan didn't even flinch. 'Don't worry about it, man,' Dylan said. 'It happens all the time.'"

Once, a student reported them to the administration for allegedly having brought drugs to school, just to humiliate them for a laugh. Harris and Klebold were dramatically removed from class and searched -- as were their lockers and cars. No drugs were found, but the damage was done. Another time, according to a report, students surrounded them in the cafeteria and threw ketchup at them.

They were so marked for abuse that even talking to them was dangerous. One female student recounted how, when she was a Columbine freshman, some jocks spotted her talking to Dylan Klebold in the school hallway between classes. After she walked away from him, one of the bullies slammed her against the lockers and called her a "fag lover." None of the students came to help her -- and when asked later why she didn't report the incident to the administration, she replied, "It wouldn't do any good because they wouldn't do anything about it."

Klebold and Harris weren't the only victims of bullying. Debra Spears, whose stepsons attended Columbine in 1994-1995, said, "It was relentless. The constant threats walking through the halls. You had a whole legion of people that would tell you that just going to school was unbearable." Her stepsons both dropped out and never earned their diplomas -- Columbine essentially destroyed their lives.

One favorite bullying game for the seniors was to "go bowling," in which they'd spread baby oil on the floor and throw a freshman on it, causing him to slide into the other kids. This was the original "bowling for Columbine." Another jock was notorious for forcing kids to push pennies across the ground with their noses in front of the whole school; teachers "would see it and just look the other way."

Regina Huerter, Director of Juvenile Diversion for the Denver District Attorney's office, compiled a report on Columbine's "toxic culture," as Dylan Klebold's parents later described it. One Jewish student she interviewed told how jocks threatened to "build an oven and set him on fire," and how, during P.E. basketball, each time someone scored a basket, the bullies would cheer, "that's another Jew in the oven!" The student complained over and over, but, he said, the school administration not only didn't punish the jocks, they "did everything but call me a liar."

Another student was physically and verbally abused by a group of jocks so badly that he refused to go back to the school. The father tried contacting the administration, but they didn't return his calls for six weeks, and when they did, they were curt and rude. The father pulled his son from the high school and told Huerter that "he still refuses to enter Columbine property to this day."

"All the students with whom I spoke, independent of their status at school, acknowledged there was bullying," Huerter wrote.

Students and parents all complained of Columbine High's exceptionally brutal culture, but the administration did nothing about it. Some who worked in the school district told Huerter that they kept mum about the bullying because they were afraid for their jobs. As Brown noted, "The bullies were popular with the administration."

Bullying was so deeply ingrained that, as the American Psychology Association Monitor wrote, "Columbine students said teachers and staff did not seem to notice the bullying and aggression; apparently such behaviors were culturally normative." Here again is a perfect, modern example of how what is considered normal is not only tolerated, but is simply not seen, no matter how brutal it is. From this example, it's a little easier to sympathize with how whites accepted -- did not even notice -- slavery, in spite of its cruely.

Many parents and students said that the reason for Columbine's bully-coddling culture went straight to the top, to principal Frank DeAngelis, himself a jock.

DeAngelis, along with district officials, disagreed. "We had problems just like any other high school," he said. The real problem, he implied in a statement to the governor's commission, was the lack of optimism expressed by his whiny detractors: "I'm a very positive person. That upsets people at times because they say, 'How can people be so positive? How can things be so rosy?'"

Most Americans, even today, essentially side with DeAngelis, the positive-thinking jock-principal. They still don't blame the school for causing the massacre. Even though all of the other alleged causes (liberal moral relativism/violent media/availability of guns) have left us unsatisfied, a poll taken five years after the Columbine massacre showed that 83 percent of Americans now blame the boys' parents above everything else. Just three years before that, 81 percent of Americans blamed the Internet.

Yet both Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold came from two-parent homes, and both openly confessed their love for their parents in their otherwise rage-filled video diaries. Their only regret was how their planned massacre would hurt their parents. In fact love for their parents was the only love that they are known to have professed. Eric Harris, considered by many to be the more "evil" of the two, said, "My parents are the best fucking parents I have ever known. My dad is great. I wish I was a fucking sociopath so I don't have any remorse, but I do. This is going to tear them apart. They will never forget it."

Eric Harris was not the only one who wished he was a psychopath -- so do a lot of people today who are still trying to frame the Columbine massacre as a product of something unrelated to the school environment. Slate's Dave Cullen, commenting on Harris's Web diary rants (which are often comical in the list of things he hates, such as "Cuuuuuuuuhntryyyyyyyyyy music," "Star Wars fans," "all you fitness fuckheads," and "morons" who mispronounce words like "eXpresso"), concluded, "These are not the rantings of an angry young man, picked on by jocks until he's not going to take it anymore. These are the rantings of someone with a messianic-grade superiority complex, out to punish the entire human race for its appalling inferiority." Indeed.

Other, more serious psychology experts disagreed. In the APA Journal, the two development psychology academics observed, "Research indicates that chronic targets of peer harassment become increasingly withdrawn and depressed. The other, much less common reaction to bullying is hostility and aggression. Why did Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold have this more extreme reaction? It seems that bullying and victimization were not just individual phenomena, they were part of the school culture at Columbine High."

It was the school, and the larger middle-American culture that nurtured a school like Columbine, that they hated.

Susan Klebold, Dylan's mother, told New York Times columnist David Brooks five years after the murder, "I think he suffered horribly before he died. For not seeing that, I will never forgive myself."

Mark Ames is editor of the Moscow English alt weekly, The eXile and author of the forthcoming book Going Postal : Rage, Murder, and Rebellion -- From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond."