Columbine and Aggression By Aaron Rudkin Sociology-Anthropology 2260: War & Aggression Submitted to Dr.
Vincent Walsh August 8th, 2006
Nazism (Feldman 1999). “poisoned culture” (CNN 1999a). The subject remains controversial today. Several videos filmed by the killers themselves are publicly available (Shepard 2006a). In the end. 2006. Many of the references cited in this
. county sheriffs and police officers (Vaughan 1999). parents (CNN 1999c). There is consensus that Klebold and Harris were deeply disturbed. Michael Moore’s 2002 film “Bowling for Columbine” (Moore 2002) examined the role of the violent mass media as well as gun culture played in helping set the stage for these shootings. but have yet to be released as of this writing. sociologists and anthropologists. As early as the day after the shootings. violence in video games (CNN 1999b). all unsuccessful. the internet (ibid). although a partial transcript of their contents has been assembled (Shepard 2006b).1 When the Columbine High School shootings took place in April 1999. FBI psychologists concluded in 1999 that shooters Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were respectively “the depressive and the psychopath” (Cullen 2004). conclusions are varied and often poorly supported or contradicted by the facts. The official Jefferson County Columbine Report weighed in at 10. Courts have heard lawsuits against video game makers (Ward 2001). All critical analysis of the minds of the killers or others by secondary sources can be attributed to one of these three sources of information. Whatever the controversy. providing new insight into the personal lives of the killers. collectively referred to as “The Basement Tapes” are referred to in the official report.937 pages. vehicles. (Sheriff’s Office 2004) On July 7th. mass media. but few can agree as to who is to blame and what could be done different to prevent future Columbine shootings. though. and this writing will endeavor to cite primary sources as often as possible. there is certainly no shortage of evidence to analyze. almost one thousand pages of documents seized from the Klebold and Harris residences. Five tapes. and countless other sources. gothic culture (Walton 1999). and politicians alike immediately set about the difficult task of discerning the motives of the killers and answering the question of whether or not problems endemic in society allowed this to happen. and computers were finally released by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office (Sheriff’s Office 2006). blame had been pointed at gun availability (Etheridge 1999). Dozens of books have been published about the subject.
fluvoxamine is comparably safe versus other medications. this writing will endeavor to illustrate one possible viewpoint as to how the killers formed their appetite for murder. According to Harris’ writings. For the purposes of this writing. Dylan Klebold was 17 years old. Evidence from the early trials of the drug had indicated that the drug had shown a 2-4% likelihood to induce mania in youth taking it. the psychological state of mind of the killers. lending credibility to these assertions. including
. internet URLs with transcripts of original broadcasts have been provided. Given that the majority of the analysis of the motives and actions of the killers took place immediately after the killings. social relationships. claims related to the role of anti-depressants. Eric Harris was 18 years old. parenting and family life. however. First. been taking the prescription antidepressant fluvoxamine (under the brandname Luvox) (Sheriff’s Office 1999a:9). the manufacturer of Luvox. Where possible. and bullying. he was not a heavy drinker. racism. Sheriff’s Office 1999b).
Biological / Psychological Claims
Luvox At the time of the shootings. amongst antidepressants. In the aftermath of the shootings. (FDA 2006) There is very little evidence to suggest that the drug played any significant role in the shootings. Autopsy results on both teens indicated that neither teen was under the influence of illegal drugs or narcotics (Sheriff’s Office 1999a. In specific. ostracism. for the shootings. Several rebuttals to this assertion are obvious. After discussing these claims. and Nazism. the video game Doom and violent media. the central claims surrounding the motivations of the killers will be divided into biological/psychological (claims that center around the physical or mental states of being of the killers) and sociological (claims that center around the external actions or influences of society and culture on the killers). and bigotry will be discussed. gun availability. some criticized Solvay Pharmaceuticals.2 writing were originally broadcast and no longer readily available in their original form. (Sheriff’s Office 2006) Harris had. and that both were physically unremarkable. it seems important to revisit the evidence with perspective and objectivity and debunk some of the popular misconceptions surrounding the events.
Dr. (Haines 2005) Klebold. talked frequently about his future and plans for university (ABC 1999)
. but to “terrorize tbe entire nation by attacking a symbol of American life. and the FBI’s lead Columbine investigator. The Psychopath and the Depressive Shortly after the shootings. It is noted that most people who attempt suicide are overheard discussing their mortality. there is little valid evidence to prove a causal relationship between the use of anti-depressant medications and destructive behavior. but he lacked many characteristics of individuals who are suicidal. for example. noting that both Klebold and Harris took part in the shootings. Nowhere in Harris’ writings does he report a difference in behaviour after beginning to take the drug (as did.” (ibid).” (CNN 1999d) This theory seems further unlikely. but only Harris was taking Luvox. FBI investigators convened a summit on school violence in Virginia. The conclusions first and foremost were that Harris and Klebold were not attempting simply to shoot their classmates. there is ample evidence that undiagnosed and untreated mental illness exacts a heavy toll on those who suffer from these disorders as well as those around them. Rodrigo Munoz plainly denied the idea that SSRIs might be the cause: “Despite a decade of research. Dwayne Fuselier (ibid). On the other hand. Frank Ochberg (ibid). Slate Magazine published a column called “The Psychopath and the Depressive” (Cullen 2004) which presented the conclusions of the summit citing experts such as Dr.3 fluoxetine (commonly Prozac). which some attribute to a malignant brain growth). Klebold was certainly shy and withdrawn. Five years later. Former president of the APA. The investigators determine that Klebold was “depressive and suicidal” (ibid). on the other hand. Charles Whitman before his shooting spree at the University of Texas.
Investigators concluded that Harris was a psychopath. I didn't like life too much. Harris and Klebold filmed a taped message (Shepard 2006b). or intense subjective distress that characterize most other mental disorders. and that “his death at Columbine may have stopped him from doing something even worse. Both boys talk as ostensively equal partners.” However. Just one half hour before the shootings began. gotten help in the process. The column itself ends by saying Harris was “irretrievable” (ibid). hallucinations. both express a clear intent to do what they are doing. Harris had lengthy friendships with many individuals without seeming to manipulate them.4 Some evidence. Harris frequently wrote sincere expressions of affection for others. and conceivably could have gone on to live a normal life” (Cullen 2004) Looking at the Basement Tapes (Shepard 2006b). One of the last things Klebold says is “Just know I'm going to a better place. and there is nothing to indicate that Harris is using or otherwise controlling Klebold.” (Cullen 2004) Certainly. would never have pulled off Columbine without Harris. “Without Conscience”. Robert Hare. nor do they experience the delusions. it is tempting in the face of any atrocity to wax fatalistic). The column directly cites Dr. So I'm gone. does support their conclusion. it seems tempting to be able to attribute the actions of the killers to the sort of “universal criminality” associated with psychopathy (indeed.” (ibid) The investigators continue by saying that Klebold was largely an accomplice in the shootings and assigning the blame for the shootings to Harris: “Klebold. He might have gotten caught for some petty crime. With reference to the 2006 Columbine Documents
. however. to define psychopathy “Psychopaths are not disoriented or out of touch with reality. and his book about psychopathy. Good-bye. and I know I'll be happy wherever the fuck I go. evidence does not suggest this diagnosis is correct. they agree. it seems hard to support this conclusion.
but on page 501 of the 2006 Columbine Documents (Sheriff’s Office 2006). and many others. was “Susan. Instant messenger conversations found on pages 657-661 as well as pages 716-718 see Harris apparently flirting with an online friend. I want you to have that fly CD. pages 507-512. is lacking in references to any evidence supporting the conclusions. The hardest thing to destroy. persecution is not something I want to face. political concerns. Harris writes “The framework of society stands above and below me. but it’s also true that Harris shows what are apparently sincere expressions of regret.
." (Shepard 2006b) This is not the first hint towards romantic interest found in the body of evidence. (sic)” Certainly. yet the weakest thing that exists. however. and as previously illustrated is directly contradicted by much of the available evidence. There is no prompting to suggest that Harris is insincerely writing this. page 564. page 502 (“Love is more valuable than anything I know… I hate those who choose to destroy a love. sorry.5 (Sheriff’s Office 2006). Under different circumstances it would've been a lot different. It’s undeniable that Harris took pleasure from this. It is important to question whether or not this conclusion is based on the available evidence or other. (ibid) As part of the fifth Basement Tape. The FBI conclusion. Harris wrote apparently sincere love letters on pages 493-499. The investigation claims that Harris has a “messianic-level superiority complex” (Cullen 2004). and so it can reasonably be assumed that his romantic interests were at least partially sincere. after saying goodbye to his parents. who take it for granted”). Harris’ last sentence. yet I am afraid to tell the society. so it seems more likely that this writing is sincere. On pages 864-865 of the 2006 Columbine Documents (Sheriff’s Office 2006) he writes an essay explaining that he regrets a 1998 arrest related to breaking into a truck. both Harris and Klebold were not normal teenagers. I know that I am different. yet it is so primitive to me. As a whole the evidence does not reflect a mental state of being that is incapable of forming sincere relationships with others. The possible abandonment. There is nothing to suggest that Harris was sexually manipulative or sexual abusive. Psychopaths are noted for the pleasure they receive from duping and deceiving others.
. lawsuits and allegations against pro-gun groups and gun manufacturers and claims that gun availability contributed significantly to the events were commonplace. The film contains a fairly eloquent rebuttal of the idea that gun availability or gun ownership led to Columbine by noting gun ownership in Switzerland. including a Tec-9 handgun from co-worker Mark Manes. (Bartels 1999) Several other weapons were illegally purchased. and several documents found within the release suggested Harris was a member of a gun owner’s rights group in Colorado (ibid). a country with far fewer murders per capita than the United States. He wrote a criticism of the US anti-gun “Brady Bill” on page 624 of the 2006 evidence release (ibid). Klebold and Harris illegally obtained one rifle and two shotguns used for the attack thanks to a straw purchase by friend Robyn Anderson. is mandatory due to mandatory militia conscription. it suggests that the “common-sense” correlation between gun ownership and gun violence may not be valid. (ibid) While this does not discount the factor of gun ownership. (Lindsay 1999) This suggests that the pair were willing to both break the law and go to fairly long lengths to obtain the armament they felt they needed. the main question should not be “What enabled the killers to act?” but in fact “Why did the killers want to kill to begin with?” Harris clearly believed that lax school security would allow an event like Columbine to happen. Contained within the 2006 evidence release (Sheriff’s Office 2006).6
Gun Availability In the wake of Columbine. In Bowling for Columbine (Moore 2002). Harris wrote on pages 861-863 and also 697-698 about the problem of guns in schools and how to stop the issue. Harris was also a lover of guns. Michael Moore examines American violent and gun culture largely in reference to the shootings. It should be noted that regardless of whether or not gun availability affected the total death toll or the ability of the killers to enact their plan. Further.
.how do you think we got ours?" in reference to the planned attacks. 582. fighting an invasion of demonic creatures from Hell. and wrote iD software asking whether or not his scenarios could be included in future versions of the game (Sheriff’s Office 2006: 712). We need to get a chain reaction going here. Tick. tick. Harris.. the game has severe limitations when compared to recent entries in the genre. In the Basement Tape (Shepard 2006b) dated March 15th. If we have a fucking religious war or oil . He then points to some
. Haa! That fucking shotgun (he kisses his gun) straight out of Doom. was obsessed with the game. Both killers were fans of the game. He frequently made custom modifications and his own scenarios for the game.or anything. 1999.after the bombs explode. the only known transcript of the tapes says “The next page Eric discusses is one that appears to be inventories of bombs. so it seems likely that the motivations behind this criticism were political rather than in genuine reaction to Columbine Doom and Violent Media Doom is a seminal computer game released in 1993 by iD Software. Players assume the role of a “Space Marine”. to graphically kill and dismember enemy creatures. it seems likely that gun availability merely expedited the attacks and enabled them. Technologically. including a chainsaw. 1999 Basement Tape (ibid). rather than actually motivating or causing them. It's gonna be like fucking Doom man . Go ahead and change gun laws . Harris says “We need a fucking kick start.7
Based on all available evidence. in particular. and so violence in modern games is significantly more realistic looking. Doom was intensely violent for its time. Players can use a variety of weapons. 567-568. Harris again mentions the game in reference to the shootings. tick. During the April 11th. Harris frequently drew characters from and inspired by the game in his journals (Sheriff’s Office 2006:679-680. He points to the top of the page and says that these are how many bullets they're going to have. tick. 942). Most of the criticism leveled against gun availability in the wake of the tragedy came from sources that had long been opposed to gun availability in the first place. 588.
Reviewing the Basement Tape transcript (Shepard 2006b). This is likely to be false. and says they are "plans for rocket launchers and stuff. many other pop culture fixations were blamed for the attacks. The primary assertion in this case is that Doom desensitizes players to violence and blurs the lines between reality and fiction. a contemporary rock artist. Most will not see the new world. including different types of weapons. but neither have notably violent or obscene lyrics and both groups have condemned the shootings.)“ According to a report by the Rocky Mountain News (Bartels 1999). The film. was primarily intended as a sociological examination and
. (Investigating officer Zimmerman recognized the term as "some of the direction type booklets for the video game Doom*" which the officer took from Eric's room during the search warrant. was accused of inspiring the shooters. it is obvious that both Harris and Klebold understand the ramifications of their actions. and that Doom is certainly violent.8 of the drawings in the back of the book. Besides Doom. The question remains whether or not it contributed to Harris’ actions. On the other hand. Eric showed one-time girlfriend Brenda Parker how to download Doom. He also points out other pages that have different drawings. 1999 Basement tape. “We then talks about "Tier" and calls it "My life's work"." He points out more drawings close to the back. This would suggest that Harris and Klebold were at least partially motivated by an inability to understand their actions. Marilyn Manson. an Oliver Stone motion picture. It is clear that Doom was a huge part of Harris’ life. calling them "Doom drawings with a KMFDM twist to them" (ibid). neither shooter listened to Marilyn Manson. saying they are "Doom drawings" (ibid). The shooters did listen to gothic-industrial music groups KMFDM and Rammstein. This does not fit with the evidence that clearly shows that the killings were planned over a long period and in a very calculated manner. The film Natural Born Killers was also accused as having inspired the attacks. saying he wanted to get it published. Harris also talks about “Tier” (one of his Doom scenarios) on the March 18th. including that they would eventually die during the attacks. there is no evidence in the prolific writings and recordings of either killer that they possessed any lack of awareness of what they were doing. According to the transcript (ibid).
rather than blame. It seems more likely based on available evidence that Harris and Klebold were initially violent and were more attracted to violent media as a result.com (IGN 2006). however. Few sources have blamed either the Klebold family
. The film was frequently criticized on the grounds that it itself was a glamorization of violence (according to movie review aggregation site RottenTomatoes. It seems more likely that the use of NBK as an acronym to refer to their attack plan is Harris and Klebold foreseeing the media spectacle and fascination with their actions they believed would result from their actions. 1999 tape. It seems more likely that these critics are using Columbine as a continued justification for their political approaches to the subject. who are mass murderers. It is inconclusive whether or not violent media made Harris and Klebold violent. which reports that during the March 15th. This is also in line with the transcript of the Basement Tapes (Shepard 2006b).9 critique of the glamorization of violence by the media. This is far from conclusive. Few. as the film depicts the two main characters. Family Life Most of the accusations centered around the family life or parents of the killers are accusations of negligence. Harris and Klebold discuss which director should make the film based on their actions. such as Tipper Gore (CNN 1999a) who reportedly viewed Columbine as “a wake-up call to adults responsible for the violent images in children’s entertainment”. These criticisms have mainly been leveled by individuals who have established records of crusading against violent media and culture. so it is entirely within reason to extrapolate that Harris and Klebold also interpreted the movie this way. if any pieces of evidence support the idea that Harris or Klebold were unaware of the ramifications of their actions. The sole piece of evidence that would actually support this theory is that the killers referred to their plan to attack Columbine High School as “NBK” (Sheriff’s Office 2006). being captured alive whereas both Columbine killers acknowledged that they would be killed during their attack. the film was split near 50-50 between praise and disgusted criticism).
This is certainly a valid point insofar as determining whether or not the parents of the killers should be held legally liable." Dylan: "They gave me my fucking life. Most of the blame focused on the families is in the form of wondering how it would be possible to miss the construction of pipe bombs and the firings of automatics weapons at the houses.
. It's up to me what I do with it. and that their parents will wonder whether or not they could have prevented the actions: Dylan: (Imagining his parents' feelings of regret) "If only we could have reached them sooner." Eric "If only we would have searched their room. If only we would have asked the right questions.10 or the Harris family for the actions of their sons. when Harris complains about his military family upbringing. although he briefly complains about feeling inferior to his brother Byron. or found this tape. In discussing their motivations on the Basement Tapes (Shepard 2006b). bringing him candy and Slim Jims) "I really am sorry about all this." Dylan: (talks about how his parents taught him to be independent and selfreliant) "I appreciate that. There is no specific evidence to indicate that this feeling is grounded in any sort of notable or persistent harassment rather than normal sibling rivalries." The only reference to parenting or home life in a negative way is found in the March 15. There is no evidence to suggest that Harris and Klebold were neglected by their parents. 1999 Basement Tape (ibid). Good wombs hath borne bad sons. There is a sense that he is bitter about having to relocate many times during his childhood and that this has made it impossible for him to network and form social connections." Eric: (shrugs) "My parents might have made some mistakes that they weren't really aware of. but a weak point as it relates to the motivations behind the crimes. Harris rightfully predicts that those trying to analyze their actions will wonder about their parenting. Klebold has nothing negative to say about his parents based on available evidence (ibid). but the resentment appears to be focused more at the situation itself than Wayne Harris." (talks about his mother being thoughtful.
In the absence of evidence to suggest that either the Harris family or the Klebold family did a poor job of raising their children. to the family. since so many conversations are easily taken out of context. I think it's important for mothers and dads to understand that the most important job they'll ever have is raising a child to respect others. the evidence must be examined to determine whether or not there is any clear indication that the killers were motivated by revenge. Let's focus on the behavior.11
Neither family owned guns. Criticism of the families is mainly indirect and does not focus around any particular evidence that neglect on the part of the parents contributed to the actions. and likely in Columbine. it seems likely that these criticisms are political opportunism. On April 21st. Bullying and Social Ostracism By far the most common explanation for the Columbine killings is that the killers were attempting to retaliate against bullies that had tormented them throughout their school years. former Vice President Dan Quayle said "It has to go back to the culture. Indeed." Quayle said. It is difficult to analyze the evidence. This sort of assumption is exactly the sort of “folk knowledge” anthropology seeks to investigate. It is almost impossible
. Bush weighed in on the situation by saying “I wish we could legislate love ."I hope we don't try to use this as an excuse to go and take away guns.. Love happens at home” (CNN 1999a) On the evening of the shooting." (ibid) This sort of criticism of the parents seems to mainly originate from individuals who have established records of criticizing the state of the American family and American family values. and no one in either family had any history of violence or criminality. then-Texas Governor George W. While it is certainly true that bullying is a very real problem in US and international schools. 1999.. There is nothing to suggest either killer was abused as a child. media coverage focused almost exclusively on the image of “Goths” striking back against “popular jocks”. Both were middle class families. in the wake of the events.
(Bartels 1999) While entering Columbine. It seems unlikely that Nazism was an issue. He told Brooks “I like you Brooks… so just get out of here”. The cumulative total of evidence to support this appears to be that Eric had written papers on Nazism (Sheriff’s Department 2006). Eric and Dylan were friends with one of the former members. Other early reports had stated that both boys were part of the neo-Nazi movement. Eric passed by Brooks Brown. Eric had dated several girls. Eric frequently made “hit lists”. and it is certain that even well adjusted teenagers are prone to rash thoughts and words. It is clear that early reports that the pair were members of the “Trenchcoat Mafia” were incorrect. The Basement Tapes clearly show Dylan and Eric threatening peers (Shepard 2006b). (Cullen 2004) The group was a loosely knit clique of friends who had previously graduated from Columbine. It is unknown if any of the students mentioned on the Basement Tapes were amongst those who were hurt. but those who were shot and killed are not easily categorized as the social elite of the school. Eric’s writing and instant message transcripts echo this (Sheriff’s Department 2006). amongst many other things. They show obvious contempt for many of their fellow students. since Eric wrote in his journal that he hated. On the other hand. the killings and shootings themselves were incredibly unfocused. racists (ibid). or that any other student was involved in the killings.12 to tell the sincerity or seriousness of any given statement made by either of the two killers. All accounts by friends of the pair indicate that they were generally introverted and not particularly popular. although none long-term. and that the boys had drawn swastikas.
. Dylan had dated Robyn Anderson briefly before the shootings. (Sheriff’s Office 2004) None of the victims of the attacks (other than the shooters themselves) were socially close to the pair. There is no evidence to suggest that Eric and Dylan were part of any gang.
many people are on antidepressant medication. A strong body of documentation supports the claim that both boys had an intense hatred for pop culture and what they viewed as mainstream society. Harris. In his writings. many people enjoy violent media. Once reaching junior high school. however.13 Testimony by several friends of the pair seems to indicate that both were generally unknown rather than disliked. but was cripplingly shy and never adjusted well. Harris began to embrace violent media likely in order to vent his frustrations. Whether or not the boys were attempting to reshape or attack pop culture is a far more difficult question. and in some senses this sort of motive links well to the alleged superiority complex the FBI concluded Eric had (Cullen 2004). He resented having to climb the social ladder in each new location here went. Dylan Klebold had a healthy family life. Being the son of a military family. Based on the strengths and weaknesses of each individual theory. It is possible that Eric and Dylan felt enraged by the fact that they were ignored. many people are socially ostracized. and is likely one that cannot be answered now that the two are dead. It seems likely that the two were motivated by a fatal combination of all of the suggested factors arranged in the exact way necessary to create two killers. a bright child. Conclusion Every explanation related to Columbine that has been offered has at least one key flaw. Many people have access to guns. Few ever act out in the way that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold did. Eric briefly mentions that he finds “the fabric of society unobtainable” (Sheriff’s Office 2006). the following is a hypothesis about how the two became motivated to kill: Eric Harris was not properly encultured from a young age. the two established a friendship based on the common bond of dislike of their classmates and peers. he frequently moved around and felt estranged from his peers. became involved in gun ownership activism
the two tentatively committed to a shooting rampage in their school. Clearly. when Eric was rejected from joining the United States Military. It is difficult if impossible to discern from the killer’s writings which statements are sincere. As a result of maladaptive personalities. bright minds capable of researching and planning. The final go-ahead for the plan came at the beginning of 1999. The two was involved in many activities typical of rebellious teenagers. While both had potentially bright futures. managed to convince their families that the situation was normal. The final decision to exact vengeance on the culture they held contempt for came six to nine months before the killings. seeds of doubt were present in both minds. which are lies. During the year leading up to the killings. Harris and Klebold decided that it was unlikely that they would ever fit into society at large. At some point. The continued construction of explosives occurred largely due to the fact that neither family had enforced discipline on either child nor investigated odd coincidences that may have lead to the discovery of the operation. and saturation in violent media. and which are fantasies. combined with non-ideal (although common) family conditions. both had friends. Every activist and activism group
. neither was excited or happy about life. and by a mixture of sincere regret and lying. the two initially learned to construct explosive devices to satisfy their curiosity. What started as a fantasy became possible through the pair’s access to weaponry and tactical planning abilities.14 and accumulated gun knowledge using the Internet and books available to him. the one place where he believed he could serve a good cause and make use of his talents. vandalism. Both boys attempted to escape punishment for their bad deeds. Without the ability to interview Klebold or Harris. truancy. Until the very end. but they still felt socially abandoned. The pair began their killings fully aware that they would never have the chance to turn back. interpretations of source material may never be confirmed. and underage smoking. This process is complicated by the tremendous moral impact Columbine had on America. Hypotheses like this one may be the most accurate picture of Columbine possible. including petty theft.
books. and countless hours of analysis. movies. no clear answer as to what caused the mindless aggression and senseless carnage of Columbine may ever be found. may never be released. The last pieces of evidence yet to be released. using spurious scraps of evidence and interviews and anecdotes provided by children and others seeking fame from trauma.
.15 imaginable turned Columbine into justification for their cause celebre. After seven years of thinking. they may ask more questions than they answer. Based on the known content transcribed from the videos (Shepard 2006b). interviews. the Basement Tapes.
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