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You Are Here:  Hell On Earth  >  Heresies  >  The Devil Made Them Do It

The Devil Made Them Do It

Deconstructing Littleton

Both traditional and "new" media are overflowing with articles about the events that transpired on April 20, 1999 near Denver. There is a lot of talk about the lessons to be learned from this recent "tragedy."

More and more, the discussion revolves around the question who is to blame for turning two teenagers into killers: "What were these boys thinking?" Never mind that Eric Harris was of voting age.

At the same time, the media come under scrutiny. On the WWW, equal time is given to the events and to the discussion about the media's way of handling the reporting: "What were these journalists thinking?"

When one strips away the conjectures and the theories, the following facts remain: At Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, two teenagers aged 17 and 18 opened fire on their fellow students and teachers, killing thirteen and wounding about twice that number. In the process, they damaged a lot of school property and eventually took their own lives. [1]

Beyond these bare bones, there is little information which hasn't stirred controversy. Most details have been tainted by malinformed, biased or just plain bad reporting.

Some examples: Allegedly, the killers were members of a group of ostracized students who called themselves the Trench Coat Mafia. Consequently, across the country, teenagers, parents and teachers became quite paranoid about any teenagers wearing trenchcoats. Later, however, the Denver Post published a story which explained that actually, the killer team were not members of the Trench Coat Mafia after all -- apparently, not even the school's outcasts wanted to accept them into their ranks. [2]

Much was made of the "boys" listening to the music of Marilyn Manson, who is no more controversial than Alice Cooper was two generations back. Cooper, like Manson, was a male artist with a female stage name and no singing voice, shocking his public and the media with provocative stage antics and shocker lyrics. Manson eventually saw himself forced to postpone the remainder of his US tour because of all the publicity he was generating. Soon afterwards, of course, it was revealed that only one of the teens listened to Manson at all and, from one account, they also seemed to empathize with Pop Will Eat Itself's "Ich Bin Ein Ausländer" - a song about alienation from the victim's point of view. [3]

Of course, this kind of sloppy reporting makes one rather paranoid not only about teenagers in trenchcoats, but about the truthfulness of any kind of media reports. If the American media repeatedly and consistently got a story wrong which took place in their own back yard, as it were, how much can listeners, viewers and readers trust reports about the Kosovo and other critical news?

Obviously, with convoluted and secretive subjects, reports must be corrected as time goes on. In the case of Littleton, however, there were not many hidden facts to uncover, not many secrets to reveal.

Most factual errors in this matter were due to shoddy reporting and foregone conclusion. Facts: The killers wore trenchcoats. There is a sub-group at the school dubbed the "Trench Coat Mafia". These separate facts were enough for journalists to leap to the foregone assumption that the kids were, obviously, part of a school gang called the Trench Coat Mafia.

Thus, the Media started playing their now traditional blame game, first targeting Marilyn Manson, then all Goths and finally, all geeks and disenfranchised teenagers. Finally, they descended on the movie and video game industry. [4]

As the media were searching high and low for whatever might have motivated the teenager killers, they kept going for the long shots, ignoring the evidence right in front of their noses. The Rocky Mountain News of Denver printed Eric Harris' suicide note shortly (later re-printed by "The Stranger"), which spelled out the teens' motivation quite clearly. [5]

Besides laying the blame on their rampage on society and especially the social conditions of their school, the suicide note illustrates their motives and the fact that they were quite mad.

Scarier than Harris' suicide note were the "Voices From The Hellmouth" published by self-styled geek advocate Jon Katz, writing for slashdot.org. In three articles, Katz went on to publish the comments from self-described teenage geeks sharing their anxieties. Some went as far as to state that they could relate to the killers' motivation; others went further and said they could felt the same way. [6]

Time for a personal statement: In school people picked on me all the time, kicked me and beat me up. they called me names, wouldn't let me participate in many areas and would generally make my life a living hell from age 12 to 18. Consequently, I hated both the school and my classmates.

At the time, I lived in a country infinitely more violent than the US. Gun control legislation such as the Brady Law would never find a consensus. In 1986, a newspaper reported that you could hire a hit man (yes, a paid assasin) for less than two hundred US Dollars.

Let me repeat that: In that country, the life of a fellow human was worth less than 200 bucks, because that was the amount for which you could hire somebody to kill him. From what I hear and read, the situation has gotten even worse since then.

Nonetheless: Even though I was living in an environment where violence permeated society to a much higher degree than in the USA, where getting a gun meant even less of an effort, where murderers could be hired at bargain prices, I never even once got the idea that I might want to shoot anybody.

Obviously, it's not enough to suffer constant humilliation and "injustice", live in a society saturated with violence and resent one's peers to be transformed into a pipe-bomb-building maniac who plans to blow up his school.

So, whom do we blame? What's lesson can be gained from this?

Let's try to blame the movie industry for glorifying violence. However... Hands up everybody who doesn't think that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Patrick were the epitomes of cool as unfeeling killing machines in the Terminator movies.

Let's try to blame the computer game industry. However... Have you played Doom? Did you ever equate a level boss with your real-life boss? Did you ever thought you could murder your boss based on your "training rounds" in the virtual world?

Let's try to blame the parents. Of course they should have paid more attention to what their sons were up to, however... Remember when you were young and fiercely protective of what little personal space you seemed to have? Remember that in the 60's and 70's child psychologists told parents that children are people too, and thus they should respect the kids' privacy? [7]

Let's try to blame the media. They glamorize violence, you say. However... Have you looked into the Bible lately; especially the Old Testament, where Good Ole God sends deadly plagues on the oppressors of His people?

Let's try to blame the US government. Let's place the tail on Clinton the donkey, preaching peace and waging war at the same time. But consider... there's only so much your country can do for you.

Let's try to blame the school. They should've seen the signs. They should have reacted to the daily injustice taking place on their campus. But consider that presently American high schools already fail to teach their students to spell and differentiate between it's and its.

Finally, let's reflect on our miserable little lives. It's easier to stomp a spider dead than to catch it, take it out into the garden and set it free. It's easier to slap a child instead of discussing what it's doing and why. It's easier to be sarcastic and offensive when somebody makes a mistake than to ask what one can do to help.

And of course it's much easier to place the blame on parties who can't readily defend themselves than to accept we're living in a huge, chaotic and complex environment which doesn't provide one single explanation for two teenagers walking into their school with the intention of killing their perceived enemies and blowing the place up.

If you must look for a single reason, why not go back to the basics and lay all blame on the Horned One, whom Eric Harris sketched, scanned and placed onto his web site for all to see [8]: It was the Devil made them do it. You can be sure he won't shirk away from taking full responsibility for this one.


[1] The Denver Post archive: Littleton, Tragedy & Recovery

[2] Harris and Kleybold weren't Trench Coat Mafia members (Denver Post)
Trench Coat Mafia membership claims refuted (Village Voice)
Mainstream Media don't take notice (Washington Post)

[3] Alleged Eric Harris homepage with reference to "Ich bin ein Ausländer" (MSNBC)

[4] Movies to blame (Time)
Games are to blame
http://www.salonmagazine.com/tech/feature/1999/04/23/gamers/index.html (Salon)
http://cgi.pathfinder.com/time/magazine/articles/0,3266,23901,00.html (Time)
Games and the Web are to blame (Time)
http://cgi.pathfinder.com/time/magazine/articles/0,3266,23529,00.html (Time)

[5] Eric Harris' suicide note written on April 19, 1999 (Rocky Mountain News)
Reprint of suicide note and analysis of media coverage (The Stranger)

[6] Jon Katz columns
Why Kids Kill: http://www.freedomforum.org/technology/1999/4/23katz.asp (Freedom Forum) or http://slashdot.org/articles/99/04/22/2136230.shtml (Slashdot.org)
Voices From The Hellmouth: http://www.freedomforum.org/technology/1999/4/26katz.asp (Freedom Forum) or http://slashdot.org/articles/99/04/25/1438249.shtml (Slashdot.org)
More From The Hellmouth: http://www.freedomforum.org/technology/1999/4/28katz.asp (Freedom Forum) or http://slashdot.org/features/99/04/27/0310247.shtml (Slashdot.org)

[7] Blaming the Harris and Klebold parents
http://www.denverpost.com/news/shot0426h.htm (Denver Post)

[8] Alleged "Doom"-inspired drawings from Eric Harris
Additional files Harris supposedly kept on his web page
http://members.tripod.com/chsmemorial/ (Tripod Mirror)

Additional links

Survivors' account of events at Columbine High School library

Support for ostracised teenagers

Canadian copycat killer

Professor Jenkins, a voice of reason

This Thought: © MOATMAI (May 1999)

Previous heretic thought: Hating The Pet Shop Boys
More heretic thoughts: Heresies Index

More Heresies

No Afterlife for me, please: Against Life After Death

Don't ask how I'm doing; you don't want to know: Too Much Honesty

It's all Steven Spielberg's fault: Grow Up, Already

A true, if indiscreet, story: Christmas In A Tree

A musical obsession: Hating the Pet Shop Boys

Yet another opinion about Littleton: The Devil Made Them Do It

Spider-Man, The Early Years: Everything A Spider Can

Babies in Airplanes, Oh My: The Screamer

About the Terrorist Attack on New York and Washington: Terrorizing People

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