Schroedinger's Hate Crime
Stop competing to weaponise an atrocity
Three days ago, a gunman opened fire at a gay club in Colorado Springs, killing at least five people and injuring some 25 more. After this horrific incident, the usual voices moved swiftly to point the finger at the Right. The SPLC specifically extended responsibility to ‘far-right influencers’ for ‘making LGBTQ people targets’, naming Matt Walsh, Candace Owens and the Libs of TikTok creator Chaya Raichik, calling their content "stochastic terrorism," which is to say “hateful rhetoric […] calculated to promote violence in some proportion of her followers.”
The only hitch: today court papers for Anderson Lee Aldrich, the party arrested in connection with the shooting, reveal that he identifies as non-binary. Referred to in the court papers as Mx. Aldrich, he uses they/them pronouns. I won’t indulge anyone who commits mass murder with special pronouns, so I’ll go on calling him ‘him’. Even so, it’s clear enough that the shooting was done not by a stated enemy of ‘the LGBTQ community’ but a member of that community: specifically, a trans-identified male, on Transgender Day of Remembrance. As a result, no doubt, others will be as keen to exploit this information to suggest that gay or trans people are all violent murderers, just as the SPLC et al were keen to suggest that this is the case for the Right.
But if we’re to step even briefly out of this opportunistic tug-of-war over a horrific shooting spree, we should consider the possibility that it may have been a matter of serendipity that Aldrich ended up in gender-extremist online circles, rather than far-right ones.
Indeed there is considerable traffic back and forth between the two subcultures: so much so that transitioning in the hope of being more sexually attractive as the opposite gender is known in the incel subculture as ‘trannymaxxing’, and trans-identified males giggle about the fun they had harassing feminists during Gamergate. As I was composing this article, I asked internet historian Katherine Dee what she thought; she told me “They all watch the same porn”, and quoted a far-right contact who reports that of some “personality types” it’s a matter of luck: “depending on what internet hole they fall down will manifest themselves as Nazis or troons [trans-identified] and there’s an unspoken understanding between the two that they share a kinship of internet poisoning.”
It’s possible, in other words, that the internet’s extreme ideologies aren’t nearly as polarised as it might appear from the outside. And the precipitating factors that led Aldrich to mass murder may have been not far-right ideology as such, but something bleaker, more complex, and more structural. Nearly all mass shooters are male; most are alienated loners; 75% of them are fatherless. And perhaps it’s less a matter of which variety of “internet poisoning” sent Aldrich over the edge than the fact that his mental furniture was provided by this online world’s squalid hinterlands.
Aldrich was clearly deeply disturbed, and from a deeply disturbed family. Sky reports that he initially changed his name in 2016 to protect himself from being contacted by his violent father, who also subjected Aldrich’s mother to domestic violence. He was first arrested last year for threatening his mother with a fake bomb. This is of course not to make excuses for violence; but add ‘internet poisoning’ of any kind to an already-cracked vessel and we shouldn’t be surprised if some end up shattering, and shattering others’ lives too.
Rates of mass shooting have rocketed in the US since the arrival of mass mobile internet circa 2007. And while correlation isn’t causation, and no doubt there are many other factors at play, too, we should beware of blaming such violence on just one variety of ‘internet poisoning’, if in turn that blinds us to the possibility that the medium in its entirety is a factor. And instead of playing tug-of-war over who gets to weaponise this atrocity, we might reflect on the broader picture of social, economic and technological risk factors that seems now, at an accelerating rate, to be turning alienated young men into mass murderers.
May the souls of his victims rest in peace.
Domestic violence should have been a red flag. See Joan Smith's "Home Grown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists"
Excellent thoughtful article.