When Mass Murder Becomes Commonplace

Tragedy has played out so often that it has become a statistic.

The story of psychopaths, mostly young white men, with guns killing lots of people plays out so frequently in America that it’s to impossible to find anything novel to say about it. There was another in a Buffalo supermarket Saturday and, alas, another in a Laguna church yesterday. The usual suspects are reading off the same old scripts as in the last hundred times this happened.

The headline memeorandum flagged from the NYT live blog, “Classmates recall the suspect as ‘quiet’ and reclusive,” is almost comedic, recalling a classic Saturday Night Live sketch from almost four decades ago. Then again, the fact that SNL was parodying news coverage of killings (back in those days, just one person at a time) that long ago is on point.

Just scrolling the NYT coverage, one sees all of the classics:

One doesn’t really need to read the stories, as they’re all so familiar.

We’ll certainly get the usual “debate” about guns. And about the responsibility, or lack thereof, played by politicians and media personalities aligned with the shooter. And the problems with our mental health system. And of disaffected youth.

And then we’ll quickly move on to the next mass shooting which, sadly, has already taken place.

And nothing whatsoever will change. Except the body count.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Guns and Gun Control, Policing, Race and Politics, Terrorism, US Politics, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. drj says:

    And nothing whatsoever will change.

    Well, there is one side that provides the ideology of quite a few of the shooters, doesn’t want to restrict the ability to own guns, and couldn’t care less about funding mental health care.

    In other words, one side wants the current situation to continue. Because it plays well with their primary voters.

    And the other side can’t get rid of gerrymandering and the filibuster.

    It’s not that nothing can be done, it’s that a controlling minority doesn’t want that to happen.

    It’s a political choice.

  2. Cheryl Rofer says:

    They’re not psychopaths, James. They’re followers of the Fox/Republican cult. They’re not acting by themselves, as the copied manifestoes indicate.

    Tucker Carlson and Elaine Stefanik say it plainly, as did a Republican candidate for Senate from Arizona a couple of hours after the deaths.

    Calling them psychopaths, which implies that they are responding to inner issues, plays into the cult’s preferences.

    We can’t stop the deaths until we recognize the causes.

  3. MarkedMan says:

    When someone is in a bizarre toxic relationship it’s a well known problem that they lose a realistic perspective and normalize bizarre and abusive behavior.

    The Buffalo shooter was given a frikkin’ assault rifle by his parents on his 16th birthday. When he later made “jokes” about wanting to commit mass homicide to his teachers, it didn’t even seem to occur to anyone to take guns away from him and the rest of his household. This is considered standard practice.

    The US has a bizarre, toxic relationship with guns. The problem isn’t just the crazies and disturbed. It’s the tens of millions of people who are normalizing the gun as some kind of macho talisman.

    If you have a gun in your household it is multiple times more likely to be used to commit a murder than prevent one, regardless of your education level or socioeconomic class. And it is an order of magnitude more likely to be used in suicide.

  4. Cheryl Rofer says:

    Don’t listen to me, listen to Liz Cheney:

    The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-semitism. History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse. @GOP leaders must renounce and reject these views and those who hold them.

  5. Mikey says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    They’re not psychopaths, James. They’re followers of the Fox/Republican cult. They’re not acting by themselves, as the copied manifestoes indicate.

    This. Too many people believe only a “crazy person” would arm up and head to the local (or distant, in this case) grocery store to mow down patrons in cold blood. But if history has taught us anything, it’s taught us entirely sane people are fully capable of doing utterly murderous and abominable things.

    Calling people like Gendron “psychopaths” is simply a cop-out. They are sane people motivated by hatred, inspired by the hateful words and acts of others, and enabled by what @MarkedMan has correctly called America’s toxic relationship with guns.

    We know the causes, but in America the political system puts people who should be in the political minority into power instead. And so here we are, unable to effect any change, with the umpteenth iteration of a bunch of dead people and bullshit like “thoughts and prayers” as we await the inevitable next pile of corpses.

  6. Tony W says:

    They have been conditioned to believe, literally, that non-white people do not share the same values, and do not respect the constitution. They believe non-white people are going to disrupt the country they live in and love by not being “patriotic”.

    This is not a mental health issue. This is a propaganda, and availability-of-guns, issue, and it needs to be regulated.

    Charles Manson didn’t kill anybody directly, as far as we know.

  7. charon says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    They’re followers of the Fox/Republican cult.

    This, exactly. It’s a massive cult, and the guns are just one of many valences. The antiabortion garbage is another. Also the QAnon fantasies. The Comet Pizza adenochrome blood libel as well.

    Just a massive bunch of deluded people disconnected from objective reality, making their own reality.

  8. CSK says:

    According to multiple news sources, Gendron had planned to continue his shooting spree after he’d finished at the supermarket, driving up and down Jefferson Avenue looking for additional targets..

  9. Scott says:

    I’m still waiting for the good guys with guns to show up. And why isn’t our armed society a polite society?

  10. KM says:

    Indeed. Mental illness and crazy are not the same thing – that’s like saying a heart attack and “feeling achy” is the same thing. One is diagnosable and potentially treatable while the other may be just part of the aches and pains of life.

    Racism isn’t a mental illness but a learned behavior. Political extremism isn’t a mental illness but a learned behavior. Being willing to kill for your belief is about as human as it gets, thankfully uncommon but not as abnormal as people like to think. Human beings being terrible is unfortunately NORMAL. Assh^le is not a mental illness but chosen state of being for millions of people across the globe.

    We need to stop pretending they are sick as that implies they had no choice in what they’ve become. They WANT to be this way. They choose out news sources to reconfirm their biases and actively deny when one of their own goes and does the thing they spend months talking about. Poisoned they may be from FOX and hateful rhetoric but they willingly seek the chalice to drink more. Carlson gleefully makes millions while building up an army of people unwilling to state a grocery store full of dead Americans is a bad thing done by one of their own. If they admit it’s a tragedy at all, they give tots and pears and move on to the latest outrage without care for why it happened…. or will happen again.

  11. DK says:


    The US has a bizarre, toxic relationship with guns. The problem isn’t just the crazies and disturbed.

    Because America has a dangerous, toxic, extremist Supreme Court majority of far right Federalist Society radicals.

    Over the past few decades, Republican judicial activists created a heretofore nonexistent individual right for almost any individual to own almost any firearm they want with little restriction or regulation — contradicting both the text and original intent of the 2nd Amendment.

    Near the problem’s root, per usual, is the dishonesty, selfishness, and hypocrisy of conservative jurists. And the failure of American voters to reign in these thugs in robes.

    The Roberts Court has blood on its hands and will go down in legal history as one of SCOTUS’s worst eras.

  12. MarkedMan says:


    Because America has a dangerous, toxic, extremist Supreme Court majority of far right Federalist Society radicals.

    How much the Supreme Court merely manifests our society’s toxic relationship with guns, or exacerbates it, is an interesting discussion. But the fact that in millions of households around the country normal behavior comprises buying assault rifles for 16 year olds, or spending more on guns, ammunition and tactical gear than on a car, or hanging around talking about the kill power of one pistol versus another – that’s the immediate problem. There are tens of millions of US citizens that have an extremely unhealthy relationship with guns and no matter how we change politically, that will remain true for decades to come.

  13. Drew says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    That’s interesting. The “manifesto” is still being verified, but contains contravening statements. And there is no mention of Fox, or Carlson, although there is criticism of Fox.

    “When I was 12 I was deep into communist ideology, talk to anyone from my old highschool and ask about me and you will hear that. From age 15 to 18 however, I consistently moved farther to the right. On the political compass I fall in the mild-moderate authoritarian left category, and I would prefer to be called a populist.”

    Authoritarian left, you say?

    “But you can call me an ethno-nationalist eco-fascist national socialist if you want, I wouldn’t disagree with you.” He also repeatedly attacks capitalists, and rejected the conservative label because, he wrote, “conservativism is corporatism in disguise, I want no part of it.”

    I didn’t realize Fox had become the home of eco-fascist national socialists.

    He’s mentally unstable, people. And in your lust to score political points, each time you make reference to a cult you might want to take a look in the mirror.

    I also notice that in the variously vapid to banal comments there has been not one word about the fact that 10 dead is an average weekend in Chicago. And no white supremacists among the perps.

    Back to your ghoulish political point making now.

  14. KM says:

    *sigh* I don’t have the energy to debate your bullshit. He flat out tells you why he did what he did and you’re parsing it to try and find gotchas. He tells you he moved to the far right and wanted to kill Black people but y’all see the word “socialist” and go ooohhhhh, gotcha libs!

    Keep pretending he’s not one of you. Keep pretending he’s just sick and not spouting the exact same crap as all the people you hang out with and the shows you listen to…. because if he’s sick, that’s means you are too.

  15. charon says:

    From the piece linked, excerpts:


    Generally, and also the manifesto last night. The manifesto last night is also, broadly, copied from the Christchurch manifesto. [In March, 2019, a white gunman killed fifty-one people during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.] We’re dealing with a genre of writing in which these threats are brought up to paint a picture of a race under siege. It changes the logic for some of the issues that we think of as capital-“C” conservative. So opposition to immigration is not simply about national security. It’s about the reproductive capacity of immigrants and the fear that the white race will be overwhelmed and eradicated by intermixing. It is seen as an apocalyptic threat to their race.

    The “great replacement” comes about relatively recently from “The Camp of the Saints,” a novel that depicts a surge of migrants that usurps European culture. But it’s really the same ideology as the New World Order conspiracy, the idea of the Zionist occupational government—which is how people talked about this in the nineteen-eighties and early nineties. We see versions of this going all the way back to the eugenics movement in the early twentieth century, the writings of Madison Grant, and things such as “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” All of these are the same set of beliefs packaged with the cultural context at the time.

    My emphasis.

    (Q): Tucker Carlson is often discussed as the most prominent person who has mainstreamed this ideology. Is that your sense as well? More broadly, are there certain things you look for? There are a lot of politicians in America who rail against immigration in racist ways. Are there tipoffs or coded language that suggest people are talking more about a “great replacement” than just about immigration? How do you differentiate those things?

    (A): We’re operating on a continuum rather than in two camps of ideology. It’s very difficult to think Tucker Carlson and others who are using the words “great replacement” don’t have some knowledge of what they’re doing, or of the consequences in radicalized groups. There’s no way to think about “great replacement” as a phrase separated from its long record of violent acts against communities of color and its broader project of undermining democracy in the United States. There’s a section about this in the manifesto, which I think will be an interesting one for experts to look at. It’s about how democracy is effectively mob rule, and how acts like this are meant to bring order back.

    This is a fundamentally anti-democratic movement that’s interested in overthrowing the U.S. government and creating a race war. So that’s the fringe. The militant right would like to do that. This shooter was interested in that, and the people who have perpetrated this string of violent acts are interested in that. The big question for us is how to draw the connection between extremist acts of violence by militant right-wing actors and what’s going on in our political mainstream.

    It’s very complicated, but here’s the thing: either Tucker Carlson and others, like Stephen Miller, like Donald Trump himself, are invoking this language in order to gin up frustration, violence, anger, and acts like this for their own purposes, or there’s a degree of sincere belief. I’m not in a position to know which one of those it is. I don’t know whether somebody like Stephen Miller, who was circulating “The Camp of the Saints,” did that because he earnestly believes in the ideas that are in it, or whether it’s an operational, opportunistic move to access this particular, very active segment of extremist fervor. It’s hard to know.

    But, at another level, it doesn’t matter, because once that is ginned up it does not go away. It is not containable, and there will definitely be shootings like this. So the question is: how do we deal with things like January 6th, where we see these same groups participating, although in a small number, in a major attack on the Capitol? The long record of the white-power movement gives us a long history in which these two kinds of violence are deeply intertwined. By that, I mean mass attacks on vulnerable communities on the one hand, and major show-of-force recruitment violence, like January 6th, on the other. These are part of the same story, and our capacity to see them as such is going to be key in mounting a real response.

    Again, my emphasis

  16. charon says:

    And, here is how LGM sums it all up:


    American conservatism is made up of a bunch of apparently disparate core ideas that are actually fairly closely connected:

    (1) America is a white Christian nation.

    (2) Enemies, internal and external, are working to destroy its racial (white) and religious (Christian) identity, which is synonymous with destroying America itself.

    (3) This attack is also attack on (white Christian) American masculinity and manhood, which is what is protecting the nation from being destroyed by feminizing forces. It’s worth noting here that a key anti-Semitic trope has always been that the Jewish man is not really a man, but a soft, feminine creature, that uses its crafty unmanly intellect to undermine the (masculine) body politic.

    (4) Feminism is the ultimate contemporary conspiracy to undermine the righteous, God-given social order. Contemporary conservative thought considers itself above all to be the first blast of the trumpet against the monstrous regiment of women.

    The politics of reproductive freedom need to be understood within this larger framework, in which the spaces between patriarchy, white supremacy, and the American right wing are essentially non-existent. A “white supremacist” in merely an uncouth Republican — except that at the rate things are going, that adjectival modifier will soon be irrelevant:

  17. wr says:

    @Drew: “He’s mentally unstable, people”

    He set out specifically to kill Black people. I guess that’s just too uncomfortable for you to acknowledge. Or maybe you just don’t see anything wrong in it.

  18. wr says:

    @KM: “He tells you he moved to the far right and wanted to kill Black people but y’all see the word “socialist” and go ooohhhhh, gotcha libs!”

    And in his genius, neglected to note the word that preceded “socialist” — national.

    As you might recall from history, many countries had socialist parties called something like “The Socialist Party.”

    One country had a party named “National Socialist,” but they were usually called by their favored abbreviation. Nazi.

    This kind didn’t want to support Bernie. He wanted to put Bernie in a death camp.

  19. DK says:

    @Drew: I notice that in Republicans’ usual racist “But Chicago” concern trolling, there’s never one word about how the “murder rates in the 25 states Trump carried in 2020 are 40% higher overall than in the states Biden won.” Or that “the five states with the highest per capita murder rate — Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, Alabama and Missouri — all lean Republican and voted for Trump.”

    But that’s even before you take into account it would take a million weekends in Chicago to catch up to the white supremacist body count, whether it be from chattel slavery, colonialism and genocide. Or from terror attacks and hate crime murders caused by the ghoulish GRT bunk pushed by Republican leaders like Tucker Carlson and Elise Stefanik.

    Or from Trump’s ghoulish decision to let COVID run rampant because he thought it would kill mostly black people, effectively murdering 1+ million Americans.

    You remember Trump, don’t you Drew? He’s King of White Male Grievance, a racist birther bigot who controls the Republican Party, who tweeted a White Power video on June 28 2020, and who praised pro-Confederates marching alongside tiki torch Nazis that chanted “Jews will not replace us.” The pathological lying orange fascist who incited a QAnon #MAGATerrorist attack to destroy democracy but who your party of amoral, anti-American, forced birth scum want to make president again.

  20. DK says:

    @Drew: P.S. You can get back to being a right wing hypocrite who pretends to be aghast at those scoring “political points” while your GQP masters ban black books to score cheap political points, cancel black athletes to score cheap political points, erase black history to score cheap political points, attack Disney’s free speech to score cheap political points, and smear teachers, gays, and Ketanji Brown Jackson as pedophiles and groomers to score cheap political points (while protecting teen sex trafficker Matt Gaetz and abuse-enabler Gym Jordan).