The Batman killer is indeed a puzzling youth. Is the sport of hunting humans typically American, asks CyberShrink?
Surprisingly close to the site of the horrific Columbine shootings, where two nasty schoolboys shot teachers and fellow students, killing 13 people back in April 1999, more innocent people have been slaughtered by another puzzling youth. Despite similar events in Britain, France, Germany and more recently Norway, this seems the typically American sport of hunting humans.
As James Holmes sat, eerily passive, in court this week, he was puzzling to watch. When he dyed his hair orange, it was presumably intended for this display, as during the attack he was so covered in protective gear that it wasn't visible. He must have wanted us to see this. He appeared heavily sedated, largely motionless, sometimes almost nodding off. At other times his bright blue eyes widened and he stared, but it was never clear at what, or why. It wasn't ordinary sleepiness, as he never yawned.
Why all the protective gear?
Already questions arise. He went to trouble and expense to dress in full body-armour, helmet, and gas-mask - why? Even in America it was unlikely that the youngsters in the cinema would have been carrying guns and able to shoot back at him. Then he surrendered meekly to the police afterwards, so it wasn't to enable him to carry out a prolonged gun-battle without injury.
He elaborately booby-trapped his flat, so it could have been lethal to anyone who entered it after he left; he arranged for annoying loud music to play, as though to entice people in to complain. The local police seem to have taken this personally, but they would inevitably have gone there after his arrest - the music would have lured in neighbours even more readily than a patrol officer.
Naturally everyone asks : why did he do it? It's important to recognise that we almost certainly will never know. However well investigated the tragedy, however long the trial, we never genuinely do find out. Even if the killer were totally co-operative and frank (and this is exceedingly rare) I seriously doubt whether he could tell us or explain it to us. Like many lesser bad things we all do, it may have seemed to make some sort of sense at the time, but is hard to explain afterwards.
Crimes never explained
Often such killers, like the Norwegian Breivik, prepare and distribute a long, often rambling and confused manifesto or statement of their concerns. But no clear and convincing statement of their grievance. The crime is a non-verbal statement of protest. Specific individual motivations differ, the pattern and strategy is eerily similar, and, inevitably, fails to meet their aims.
Why the Batman theme? Like the robber who insisted he robbed banks "because that's where the money is ", a cinema audience is an excellent target - a relaxed, unsuspecting, vulnerable crowd, ready gathered for you, with limited escape routes at their disposal. The Columbine killers despised many others, including Star Wars fans. Maybe, rather than identifying with the Joker, he disdained Batman fans, and wanted to spoil the franchise?
Their protest is against society at large, the particular victims unimportant to the killer, except as exemplars of society. The act is intended to offend and shock the larger community, and as with terrorists, the innocence of the victims is useful to make the broader point. Like this Joker, the Columbine killers also prepared for explosions they hoped would kill more people. As in this case, for various reasons, the bombs didn't go off.
Likely to be psychopaths
They don't empathise or sympathise with their victims. (They might later simulate remorse if it brings benefits they want). Their own grievance, to them, dwarfs anyone else's. They're usually psychopaths rather than the schizophrenic laymen usually suspect. Schizophrenics are rarely interested in harming others, especially on such a scale, and are often too disorganised to form or implement such a plan.
To the psychopath other people are merely instruments to use for their own purposes, and can be eliminated with less concern that most of us feel in squashing a cockroach. Overwhelmed by the power and importance of his own feelings, he hardly recognises that other people even have feelings. It's like carving the roast chicken for Sunday lunch - you really don't consider the chicken.
These unfocused episodes of rage against an innocent crowd, might also be intended to punish that unidentifiable 'them' who must be responsible for all our problems. It's not our fault we're failing and flailing, it's 'them' who are causing this. So we strike back at any of 'them'. They all deserve it, or so these killers think.
Nothing useful was found on Facebook /Twitter. That’s not where he chose to reveal himself – it now emerges he wrote a manifesto to his tutor. Often mass murderers and serial killers seem to prefer the personal craft of pen and paper rather than Facebook and Twitter. Innocent people sharing his name were harassed online. There's a report that he very recently set up a page on AdultFriendFinder, apparently seeking contacts for "a fling". But added the sad and revealing comment, "Will you visit me in prison?" This suggests he already knew that was his destination.
A real surprise to others
Families and neighbours almost always express surprise afterwards. They're not being especially dumb, because these perpetrators delight in lying to others and hiding their motives and intentions.
Possible partial motives regularly emerge from these scenes of carnage. Facebook/Twitter sites offer opportunities for these killers to show off. But not enough to satisfy their malignant egos.
Their acts provide immediate world-wide notoriety. Television keeps telling us that there are many opportunities for fame, and implies that we all have a right to become famous and celebrated, rapidly, and without much work. As children especially demonstrate, attention-seekers will accept negative attention if the alternative is no attention at all. By being especially wicked, doing something dreadful, you guarantee the world's attention and a certain place in the history books. If you can't win Idols, then infamy is easier to achieve, and much more lasting.
These acts are usually not impulsive - they often show, as here, a significant period of weeks or longer accumulating weapons, ammunition, etc. They're fully premeditated. We may also wonder how a young man on a small educational stipend could afford the thousands of dollars his equipment cost.
Easy access to ammunition
From time to time, an unhappy or frustrated individual will think about carrying out a violent act against people around them. If, as typically in America, it is relatively easy for them to gather the means to lash out and kill others, there are few barriers between the thought and the deed. Procedures, yes (waiting for the courier to deliver your pack of ammo) but not barriers.
While America still considers it more essential to allow people to buy military-grade weapons and protective clothing, to buy rapid-fire large magazine machine guns, rather than simply a handgun for self-protection, such events will inevitably happen at regular intervals.
The Gun Lobby is fond of the excuse: "Guns don't kill people: People kill people." Yes, but people without easy access to guns they would find it harder to kill other people, especially to kill many people quickly. Guns enable you to kill and maim multiple victims quickly, and at a distance, without directly getting your hands dirty.
(Professor M.A. Simpson, aka CyberShrink, July 2012)