As with many devastating acts of violence, the deadly California rampage by Elliot Rodger has people searching for answers. Why would anyone commit such a heinous crime against seemingly random targets? Who, or what, is to blame? Just as predictable is the fact that many people will get these answers…well…wrong. Whether it’s violent videogames or Marilyn Manson, the wrong targets will become scapegoats and the real issues will be glossed over. In the case of Elliot Rodger’s spree killing, these are five of the biggest myths being peddled:
Myth #1: Elliot Rodger was “just mentally ill”
When a spree killer or mass murderer goes on a rampage we tend to focus on the obvious, including the availability of firearms and the presence of mental illnesses. To be sure, the debates surrounding gun control and the status of our mental health system are ones worth having. However, what we should not do — indeed, what we cannot afford to do — is ignore other relevant factors, such as the killer’s professed ideology. When a murderer leaves a manifesto or suicide note, as Elliot Rodger did, it becomes a window into their mind. We can see how they thought, what they felt, and what motivated them. There becomes less of a need for speculation and educated guesses. Rodger made his motivations abundantly clear, both in his YouTube videos and in his massive, 140-page manifesto which he titled “My Twisted World.” In both, he vents his utter disdain and hatred for women. What motivated Elliot Rodger was misogyny which, in turn, was fueled by his inability to either have a girlfriend or have sex. He was furious at the prospect of being a 22-year-old “kissless virgin,” a fate which he blamed solely on “those evil, slutty bitches” who rejected him.
Rodger hated women — whom he constantly referred to as “bitches,” “sluts,” and “cunts” — to the point that he began fantasizing about forcibly starving them to death in concentration camps. He also made the target of his “Day of Retribution” obvious. In his final video, entitled “Elliot Rodger’s Retribution,” he declared, “On the day of retribution I’m going to enter the hottest sorority house of [the University of California, Santa Barbara]. And I will slaughter every spoiled, stuck-up, blonde slut I see inside there. All those girls I’ve desired so much, they would have all rejected me and looked down upon me as an inferior man if I ever made a sexual advance towards them while they throw themselves at these obnoxious brutes. I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you.” Clearly it was his pathological hatred of women that pushed him to gun down innocent women and men in cold blood. Yet some people are treating this as if ideology played no role in it whatsoever.
First thing’s first, however. It should be stated up front that Elliot Rodger was evidently a disturbed individual. He appeared to be depressed — at one point in his manifesto he described an incident in which he broke down crying after hearing a group of “cool kids” talking about “their awesome lives and their parties” — and incredibly narcissistic. Yet to just dismiss him as a random “lunatic” or “loner” or “mentally ill individual” is too shallow an interpretation. It dodges the more difficult questions about what truly motivated him.
As Jacob Sullum of Reason Magazine wrote,
If we instead say that Rodger was in “an early phase of pre-psychosis,” as a psychiatrist interviewed by Los Angeles Times suggested, does that add to our understanding? Psychosis is usually defined as a break from reality. But judging from his autobiography, Rodger had surprisingly strong self-insight and a pretty clear (perhaps too clear) sense of what was going on around him, despite his occasional flights of grandiosity and magical thinking. Although he keeps buying lottery tickets in the hope that riches will be the key to attracting women, for instance, he acknowledges how unlikely that scenario is. He also concedes that his plan to free men from their baser instincts by banning sex, perpetuating the species by artificially inseminating enslaved and segregated women, is an impossible dream, not least because no one would ever trust him with such dictatorial powers. Furthermore, he admits that his political fantasy grows out of his own bitter experience (or lack thereof) with the opposite sex.
Having despaired of attracting women or reorganizing the world so that his inability to do so would not matter so much, Rodger settles on murder and suicide. He admits that he will not be able to kill as many people as he would like (and in the end his crimes fell far short of the elaborate, gruesome plan outlined in his autobiography). But he expresses the hope that his homicidal rampage will show that he mattered after all, that he was not a “mouse” but “a living god” with the power of life and death. “At long last,” he concludes, “I can show the world my true worth.”
There are many depressed, lonely, and alienated people in the world, of course, and almost none of them do anything like what Rodger did. That is one of the reasons identifying mass murderers ahead of time is so difficult. Although Rodger’s awkwardness and isolation were obvious to relatives, neighbors, acquaintances, and therapists, none of them seems to have recognized the depth of his anger or had an inkling of his homicidal intent. The cops who interacted with him after he was injured in a drunken fight and after his mother reported her concern that he might be suicidal perceived him as harmless. And despite the hindsight-aided criticism they have received for being too easily reassured, they did not have enough evidence to force him into a psychiatric evaluation or to search his apartment, where they would have found his pistols, knives, and ammunition, along with “my writings about what I planned to do with them.”
Since the vast majority of people diagnosed with mental disorders (including psychoses such as schizophrenia) never commit violent crimes, giving someone like Rodger a psychiatric label hardly qualifies as an explanation. His emotions were common, but the way he dealt with them was rare. We can call his murder spree the symptom of a mysterious and unverifiable disease, or we can call it an evil response to a recognizable human condition.
Moreover, there is, as some have rightly pointed out, a racial double standard at work as well. That is, if an act of mass murder is committed by an Arab or Muslim it is labeled an act of terrorism, as was the case with Ft. Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan. And if a black American commits a violent act you can almost bet that the media will label the perpetrator a thug and begin a discussion on the “perils” of black culture. If, however, the perpetrator is white (or half-white, as is the case with Elliot Rodger) he is simply declared to be “mentally ill.” No further analysis is necessary.
Myth #2: Elliot Rodger was not a misogynist
This myth has been depressingly common. To many Men’s Rights Activists and other wingnuts, Elliot Rodger wasn’t motivated at all by a hatred of women. Instead, they claim, he hated everyone equally and demonstrated this by murdering both women and men. In an article for the right-wing website Truth Revolt, Paul Bois wrote, “[L]ike the race hustlers in the Trayvon Martin case, the feminists have cherry-picked facts in the Isla Vista killings to craft a narrative that best suits their political aims, namely, to sell the idea that deep within every (white) American man lies a chauvinistic animal itching to wreak violence upon women they can’t control . . . Sorry to spoil your fun, feminists, but Rodger killed MORE men than women…”
And A Voice for Men’s Janet Bloomfield — who blogs under the pseudonym JudgyBitch — tried to deflect all criticism of the Men’s Rights Movement and misogynists in an article called “Murderer kills six: 4 men and 2 women. Cause: Misogyny!” Apparently, because Elliot Rodger killed more men than women in his rampage and spoke of wanting to murder men as well as women, that means Rodger was “an equal opportunity hate monger.” This can be answered in a word: no.
First, just because Rodger happened to kill more men than women in his attack does not, in any way, mean that his attack was not motivated by misogyny. To take this opinion would be completely illogical, as hate-fueled murderers constantly kill people other than their intended targets. Frazier Glenn Miller, a former Ku Klux Klan “grand dragon” who launched a murderous attack on a Jewish Community Center last April, ended up killing three people, all of whom were Christian. If one were to argue, as some have done in the aftermath of the Isla Vista massacre, that Elliot Rodger could not have been motivated by misogyny because he ended up killing more men than women, we must conclude that Frazier Glenn Miller’s attack wasn’t motivated by racism or anti-Semitism because none of his victims were Jewish. Yet killers like Miller and Rodger made their motivations abundantly clear in their writings.
In his 1999 book A White Man Speaks Out Miller continuously rants about the supposed Jewish control of government, banks and the media. In one chapter entitled “Christianity,” Miller wrote, “It was the Jewish founded, financed, and led American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which brought about the removal of prayer and the bible from public schools. They put the Negroes in and took the bible out, at about the same time they legalized pornography and interracial marriages.” Likewise, Elliot Rodger’s videos and manifesto laid bare his contempt for women. Discerning exactly what fueled their homicidal rage is a simple feat, since they spell it out for us.
Additionally, it should be pointed out that the reason why Elliot Rodger took his killing spree to the streets, killing and injuring men in the first place, was because his original plan failed. He had originally attempted to enter the “hottest sorority house of UCSB,” but was foiled by a locked door. If he had been able to gain entrance to the Alpha Phi sorority house, we could have expected a far higher female death toll.
Second, while it is clear that Rodger vented some of his rage at his fellow men, he only did so because he believed they were all having sex with the beautiful, blonde girls he desired. Men were his competitors, and he made this abundantly clear. Sure, he hated the “obnoxious brutes” whom, he believed, all the most attractive women flocked toward. However, he hated the women who chose them over a “supreme gentleman” such as himself even more. Most of the venom in his manifesto is aimed squarely at women, while his hatred of men is only secondary. As Roger wrote, “I hated all of those obnoxious, boisterous men who were able to enjoy pleasurable sex lives with beautiful girls, but I hated the girl’s [sic] even more, because they were the ones who chose those men instead of me. It was their choice. They are the ones who deprived me of love and sex.” Obviously Elliot Rodger was no “equal opportunity hatemonger,” and any effort to paint him as such is an act of intellectual dishonesty.
Myth #3: Elliot Rodger’s childhood crush made him kill
Just when you thought people couldn’t possibly stoop any lower, some folks decided that the bottom of the barrel wasn’t quite low enough. Even worse than glossing over this tragedy by ignoring the component of Elliot Rodger’s obvious misogyny is placing the blame on the young woman he was attracted to in grade school. Here is what Rodger had to say about the “pretty blonde girl,” whose name I will not include: “She must have thought I was the ultimate loser. I hated her so much, and I will never forget her. I started to hate all girls because of this. I saw them as mean, cruel, and heartless creatures that took pleasure from my suffering.” Later in his manifesto he wrote, “My experience during Middle School really darkened my view of the world, and it would only get darker from then on, as I suffered more and more. The way I was treated by girls at this time, especially by that evil bitch [redacted], sparked an intense fear of girls. The funny part of this is that I had a secret crush on [redacted]. She was the first girl I ever had a crush on, and I never admitted it to anyone.”
Various media outlets — the same ones who ran with the irresponsible “virgin killer” headlines — proceeded to pin at least some of the blame on the former target of Rodger’s affection. Yes, the woman whose parents say she “can’t remember even interacting with him” and who was a mere child when she attended school with Rodger. The New York Post, the sensationalist rag owned by the despicable Rupert Murdoch, led off with the headline “KILLER CRUSH” along with the sub-headline “Childhood snub set me off, madman seethed.” Even worse, prominently displayed on the newspaper’s front page was a large, color photo of the young woman. Other photos, including one showing her standing beside her brother and one of her in a bikini, were displayed inside the paper along with the caption “Ex-schoolmate’s shock as Calif. spree killer brands her a femme fatale.” The New York Daily News was only slightly better in this regard, reprinting her photos albeit with the faces censored. Of course there is nothing to indicate that this innocent woman “set [him] off.” As her father said, “She was ten years old for God’s sake – she can barely remember the guy. He’s a sociopath. She hasn’t seen him since school.”
Obviously this woman feels horrible for having even been mentioned by Elliot Rodger in his 140-page anti-woman screed. To have her photos and personal information placed in some of the top-selling newspapers in the country only compounds the devastation she must be feeling, not to mention the innuendo about her having driven someone she barely remembered to murder several innocent people. From a practical standpoint, she had done nothing wrong. Certainly nothing she had done would have caused a reasonable person to, years later, murder six people. In fact, although Elliot Rodger talked about how much he hated his former childhood crush, he makes it abundantly clear that this was not the only impetus for his rampage. He had negative experiences with other people throughout his childhood, teenage years and young adulthood which tormented him and caused him to despise women. To place the blame on this one young woman would be to both attack an innocent person as well as absolve Elliot Rodger by turning him into a victim.
Myth #4: Feminism and misandry caused the Isla Vista massacre
Attempting to shift the discourse — and deflect well-justified criticism of the Men’s Rights Movement in the process — some MRAs came to the galling conclusion that women and feminism were to blame for Elliot Rodger’s shooting spree. A Voice for Men’s Jalon Cain, for example, wrote a post entitled “You want to blame the MHRM for Elliot Rodger? Blame gynocentrism instead.” (“Gynocentrism,” much like “misandry,” goes unrecognized by my spellchecker.) In it he wrote:
When reading his manifesto, it is also quite obvious that he did not know how to befriend people. Instead, he was expecting things to somehow happen. He does not make a move, even when presented with the opportunity, like when a good-looking girl smiles at him as they are crossing paths on a private beach in Malibu. His inactivity allows him to maintain the belief that no woman is interested in him. Of course, his approach to social interactions is directly influenced by mainstream media nonsense. As a girl, you can lean back and just wait for something to happen. As a guy you are not so comfortable, and inactivity may easily lead to involuntary celibacy.
I don’t want to speculate too much, but it is quite telling that his parents did not intervene when he spent entire days playing World of Warcraft. It is the combination of parental neglect, and his hyper-sensitivity towards social rejection that made it very difficult for him to interact normally with his peers. Are those the consequences of feminism destroying the family unit? Sure.
So the bottom line here is that women have it easy — you can just wait and everything will come to you — and that feminism destroyed the family unit which, apparently, helped pave the way for this horrific tragedy. Sure. Cain then surprises me by bringing up an actual issue: “Being bombarded with the message that you are nothing if you don’t have a girlfriend, or that you are a loser if you can’t get laid, imposes a serious toll on the mental health of many young men. Virgin-shaming is part of life for many men, and so is having your sexuality questioned by women if you do not reciprocate their interest in you.” Wow. A real problem that stems from society’s interpretation of what masculinity means, and one which has a deleterious impact on young men. Seriously AVfM, don’t do that, you’re going to confuse your audience. They’re not here for complex gender issues. They want some good old-fashioned woman-trashing. Fortunately Cain veers back into misogyny territory, writing:
I wonder what would happen if we told young men about the possible dangers of getting involved with women: that they may get tricked into pregnancy, that a divorce may rob them of half their assets, that they might have children they come to love only to have them torn from them, that a mentally unstable girlfriend or wife may make them clinically depressed, which might threaten their career, that sex isn’t that much better than masturbation, but just different, that escorts provide a safe and cheap alternative, compared to an abusive girlfriend?
Ah, that’s more like it. And folks at the hideous Men’s Rights subreddit continued to use the shooting to attack feminism. One commenter accused feminists of attempting to “highjack what should be a Mental Health issue.” “So at this point would it be worth trying to look into a Defamation suit against those trying to link MRA’s with the recent tragedy?” asked another. One commenter even had the gall to pin the shooting on Elliot Rodger’s supposed “misandry,” writing, “In listening to Elliot’s videos, and reading some of his manifesto, I almost feel as if this guy really just hated men. It seems he put women on a pedestal and held such an adoration for them that he could not understand how the ‘beasts’ (among other terms)/men got to date them.”
Obviously Elliot Rodger was not motivated by feminism or hatred of men, nor did he act because he loved women and placed them on a pedestal. On the website PUAHate.com, Rodger wrote:
One day incels will realize their true strength and numbers, and will overthrow this oppressive feminist system.
Start envisioning a world where WOMEN FEAR YOU.
Not quite the kind of thing a man-hating feminist would say. To the contrary, his rhetoric sounds an awful lot like the type one would find on a Men’s Rights website.
Myth #5: Elliot Rodger was secretly gay
Well, we can’t let the MRAs have all the fun, can we? The Christian Right is nothing if not predictable; following tragedies like this one can expect to find at least one half-baked preacher blame it on a lack of God in our public schools, atheism, evolution, etc. The Isla Vista shooting is no exception. Fox News guest and psychotherapist Dr. Robi Ludwig made an astounding claim on an episode of Justice with Judge Jeanine that Elliot Rodger was actually gay. “When I was first listening to him, I was like, ‘Oh he’s angry with women for rejecting him,” she said. “And then I started to have a different idea: Is this somebody who is trying to fight against his homosexual impulses.” Apparently this is what passes for “expertise” on Fox News these days: desperate, homophobic talking points.
Conservative blogger and filmmaker Pat Dollard — who previously shocked the Twittersphere with his call to “start slaughtering Muslims in the streets” — linked to the segment on his website along with the caption, “Maybe the reason why women didn’t find Rodger attractive is because they found him gay. He sure looks, talks, and acts gay. What do they say about a duck?”
Again, there is no evidence to suggest that Elliot Rodger was gay, closeted or motivated to kill by a struggle with “homosexual impulses.” Claims like this, far from being grounded in psychology, are simply used to malign gay men and detract from the true reasons for this shooting. Nothing in Rodger’s videos and manifesto, nor anything said by his friends and family, indicated that he struggled with his sexual orientation. I suppose this is why Dr. Ludwig was fired shortly after her dreadful appearance on Fox.