64. In the Abyss

22 July, 2011

Island of Utøya — Buskerud, Norway

It was a tiny, green island, shaped like a heart, in the middle of a cold, blue lake. There was a summer camp being held there that week, for the Workers’ Youth League — some of Norway’s most politically ambitious teens and young adults. Everything had been going wonderfully, until just that morning, when some of the campers heard the news: there had been a terrorist attack back on the mainland, in Oslo. Someone had detonated a car bomb outside the Prime Minister’s office.

Many of the young people attending the camp had parents and family members in government, and they were concerned. They wanted updates, desperately. So, none of them were surprised when they saw a motorboat approaching the island from the lake shore, with what looked like a policeman aboard.

The uniformed man tied up his boat and stepped onto the dock. He had a rifle in a sling over his shoulder, a pistol on his hip, and a badge on his chest. He waved for all of the students within earshot to come to him, for some news on the situation in Oslo.

As they got close, some of them noticed something strange — it was his police uniform. It was a bit off. It looked like a Halloween costume. But by then, it was too late; he brought the rifle to his shoulder, aimed into the crowd, and opened fire.

There was nowhere to run. He attacked them for more than an hour, chasing them all over the island. Finally, the SWAT team arrived, on shore and by helicopter, and almost the second that they did, the shooter surrendered.

* * *

Earlier that morning, a document had appeared online: 2083: A European Declaration of Independence. It was over 1,500 pages long, and it — very, very clearly — explained the gunman’s motives: he wanted to stop the spread of Islam in Europe, and he blamed Norway’s liberal immigration policies for enabling the country’s cultural shift. So he targeted his nation’s liberal political party, at a camp for its most valuable future members.

But the attack itself was secondary, he would say in court; spreading 2083 was his true goal. And that voice wouldn’t go away when they locked him in a cell; the shooter/bomber reasoned that with the way the internet had grown, anyone could go read his “manifesto,” whenever they wanted. And indeed, they could. Probably forever.

In the text, he had documented each step he took, even explaining how he legally acquired his guns without raising suspicion: “I have now sent an application for a Ruger Mini 14 semi-automatic rifle… It is the most ‘army like’ rifle allowed in Norway, although it is considered a ‘poor man’s’ AR-15. I envy our European American brothers as the gun laws in Europe sucks ass in comparison.”

In another section, he showed exactly how to make the explosives for the car-bomb.

Nearly every bit of instruction came with a link to where he had learned it online (usually, a YouTube video, demonstrating some benign-by-itself step in a complex process). It was exactly the sort of document that Ted Kaczynski’s brother was dreading when the internet was still blinking to life back in the 1990s: a bomb-making manual that would allow “every troubled kid out there to become the next Tim McVeigh.”

In fact, David Kaczynski’s notorious brother was quoted extensively by the Norway shooter: 2083 was actually a “compendium,” with large portions of the text adapted from other authors. Industrial Society and its Future was in there, with just some simple word-replacement changes: “leftism” was replaced with “multiculturalism,” while “Modern Leftist” became “cultural Marxist.”

Just before the bomb went off in Oslo, the shooter-bomber had emailed the compendium to 1,000 of his “patriotic Facebook friends,” along with a link to his YouTube channel — where he had produced a 10-minute video summary, focusing on how to become a “Justiciar Knight,” exactly the transformation he had undergone himself in order to pull off his attack. He said that by absorbing 2083’s lessons, one could “function as a soldier is supposed to function: Without mercy, without hesitation, without compassion and without remorse. All war depends upon it. Fear is poison in combat, something everyone feels, but try to suppress it. If you allow fear to paralyze you, you will fail.”

August 10, 2011

36 Yogananda — Sandy Hook, Connecticut

The door at the top of the stairs was closed.

He had stopped updating the spreadsheet months ago. But surely, if only mentally, he saw a new row inserted. Right at the top.

The attack in Norway was not just the deadliest mass shooting in Norwegian history, or even European history. It was the worst mass shooting by a single gunman anywhere, ever. The berserk policeman from Korea in 1982 had finally been dethroned.

It was enough to make Smiggles come back to the Columbine forum. There was already a thread about the Norway gunman, of course, and in it, one user was saying that while they didn’t endorse the attack, they couldn’t help but be impressed by its scale. They said it was an achievement.

He knew just what they meant. He had been reading 2083: A European Declaration of Independence for days now — and in his reply, also confirmed that by then, he had already been studying the Unabomber for some time:

Smiggles: I’m normally not interested in non-Kaczinsky bombers, but the format and organization of everything involved was such an impressive instance of mass murder self-actualization that it seemed fictional. I wouldn’t call it encouraging, but it seemed motivational enough in some sense that it was the kind of thing you would find in a particularly macabre self-improvement book. Probably owing to watching too many mass murder movies, reading excerpts like [a journal entry where the Norway bomber thought his farm was going to be raided by police] almost had me at the edge of my seat in anticipation…

* * *

He checked in on some of the conversations he had fallen behind on. There was a long-running thread about “Columbine movies.” He made an obscure recommendation — one that also highlighted just how long he’d been reading the forum:

Smiggles: For anyone who doesn’t know, Sabratha (a member who used to post here) was part of a group which created an excellent school shooting movie… More of you really should see it.

He included the YouTube link to the movie, Bullet Time. This was a zero-budget student film, in Polish (with subtitles), and its style was like a found-footage pseudo-documentary, but in the spirit of the Columbine “Basement Tapes”: two shooters prepping for Judgment Day, in between classes at the University of Warsaw.

As Smiggles had mentioned, the forum user “Sabratha” had been a member of the artists’ collective that made the film. (It so happens that they were also studying psychology at the university at the time; the film’s production had been part of their research into how the Columbine phenomenon seemed to be spreading internationally.) Bullet Time even featured a scene where the shooters browsed the real-life Columbine forum from their dorm room, and encouraged the viewer to create an account. “You are not yourselves. This is the Internet. Anonymity reigns, so… log in through a proxy, install a firewall, and create a new persona for yourselves.” (This may even have been where the person behind Smiggles got the motivation to do just that, and finally register their own profile — but he never indicated so.)

Later in Bullet Time, the film’s shooter-characters go out for a night of clubbing, and one of them sports a white t-shirt with “NATURAL SELECTION” across the front. He explains that this sort of brazen display of Columbine fandom must be done with great care: “I understand, sometimes it’s worthwhile to…how should I put this… add something interesting. Exceed, stand on that edge. Just remember that in each country that edge is placed somewhat differently. Don’t wear this in the States and in Canada, in countries where some kind of operational history for this kind of entertainment exists. There, just don’t do anything stupid.”

The user at 36 Yogananda liked that scene. When he saw a thread “Halloween Costumes,” in which users were boasting about dressing up like the Columbine shooters, he left a link to it, as if to remind them: You’re drawing attention to yourselves.

* * *

He had another YouTube clip he wanted to share. He started a new thread: “Excellent mid/late-’90s mass murderer documentary.”

It was footage dubbed from someone’s dusty old VHS tape, one that had been in the VCR on an evening in 1996 when they recorded an episode of the TV documentary series The 20th Century with Mike Wallace off of A&E. This episode focused on mass murderers. “One individual killing another is almost as old as mankind itself,” Wallace opened the show. “But in the late 20th century a new phenomenon appeared: attacks, without warning, by men intent on killing as many people as they could.”

Like The Killing of America before it, the Mike Wallace episode identified the rise of mass violence in America as beginning in the mid-to-late 1960s — when the homicide rate started to increase at an alarming rate, coinciding a series of high-profile political assassinations. And both productions identified the first modern mass shooter as one who appeared on August 1, 1966, in Texas: a 24-year-old former Marine, sniping with a hunting rifle from the observation tower at the University of Texas, in Austin.

The user at 36 Yogananda had liked The Killing of America, a lot. But it had one major shortcoming: since it was released in 1982, it didn’t have anything about the McDonald’s shooter from San Ysidro, in 1984. It ended right when things were about to go over the edge. This more-recent production filled in the gap.

* * *

The gunman in 1984 had been a 41-year-old security guard. He had called his local Community Mental Health Center the day before the attack, seeking to make an appointment for an “unexplained problem.” They ran him through the typical triage questions, determined he was not an immediate danger, and said someone would call him back within 72 hours — apparently, this was not soon enough.

The next morning, he took his family to the zoo. As he stared out at the animals in their cages, his wife heard him say, “Society had their chance.” Later that afternoon, she saw him one last time, on his way out the door in a black t-shirt and camouflage pants, with guns strapped all over his body. She asked where he was going; he replied, “I’m hunting humans.”

* * *

The recording from the VHS tape rolled on, chronicling many of the tragedies that had unfolded since then, crime scenes that the user at 36 Yogananda had studied, and imagined, over and over. It showed the Stockton shooter’s Norinco rifle from 1989, lying on the pavement outside Cleveland Elementary School, with “FREEDOM” painted on its expanded magazine.

Smiggles: It even shows some of [the Stockton shooter’s] fabled army men!

There was a segment on the Long Island train shooter from 1993, the one that claimed a nurse’s husband. (Dr. Park Dietz, the doctor from the trial of Reagan’s almost-assassin, told the viewers that the train gunman “blamed other people for his becoming a failure.”) There was Luby’s Cafeteria, with the gaping hole in the front window, and the sparking blue pickup truck parked in the dining area. Then a white van, parked next to a phone pole outside of a primary school in Dunblane, Scotland; in file photos, fading over each other in sequence, the Scoutmaster’s face stared back from the computer screen, illuminating the walls of the black plastic cave.

September 2011

Office of Dr. Paul Fox, MD — Brookfield, Connecticut

Dr. Fox knew that there were rumors circulating, by then. About him and his Patient. “I can anticipate conversations with peers that would be overt declarations of condemnation sprinkled with insulting metaphors describing this writer as pedophile,” he wrote to her in one email. The rumors hadn’t yet made it to his wife, but it seemed inevitable. “As I search my emotional consciousness I find a surprising absence of guilt, anxiety, or regret. Even though I would hurt the ones I love so profoundly… My wife has stated multiple times in our quarter of a century of life together that she would be devastated if I cheated on her… you deal with these facts by not thinking about them.”

The transition to being “friends” had not gone smoothly. They kept swearing off intimacy, but then Dr. Fox would schedule her for another session. The cycle started over again. There was only one threshold they hadn’t crossed.

Then, one evening, he invited her out on his sailboat.

He sent her a message, afterward. “I am still merged with you. I am feeling strange things and having some strange comprehensions…” He knew that she had been depressed lately. And now he was, too. “We are so connected even when you are in the abyss.”

* * *

The Patient would later write about what happened with her and Dr. Fox, one day in that fall of 2011: “I went back to his office for another session. We were touching and kissing and I remember being in a vulnerable, strange and almost psychotic state of mind.” Suddenly, she asked him, “If you love me, why don’t you tell your wife about me?”

He replied that his wife “didn’t deserve that pain.”

“But you’re causing me pain.”

She got up and ran out of the office, past the sycamore trees, and into traffic — “having a complete emotional and psychotic breakdown.” Cars screeched to a halt all around, and Dr. Fox ran after her. “He grabbed me out of the street. After I calmed down, we told each other we loved each other, kissed and drove away. That was the last time I saw him.”

The next day, outside her dorm building, she tried to run into traffic again. The campus police took her to the Danbury ER. Soon after, she dropped out of WCSU, and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in New York.

“My Place” Restaurant — Newtown, Connecticut

Nancy was out at the bar late one night, when she saw Jackie come in — the young woman who used to cut her sons’ hair for all those years. Jackie had changed salons awhile back, and Nancy hadn’t seen her since; Nancy ran up and gave her a big hug.

Jackie could tell Nancy was pretty loaded. But she knew she meant well. Jackie asked her about her sons; she noticed Nancy only gave half an answer. She only talked about Ryan.

Nancy asked Jackie what she’d been up to. It turned out that her new salon was right next door to My Place; she would end up crossing paths with Nancy on many evenings, after a shift. She remembers Nancy would always be sitting on the same stool — her spot — at the bar with the other regulars, usually until midnight or so.

Jackie liked Nancy, and liked talking to her. She had a dry sense of humor, and she was generous. But Jackie also got the feeling Nancy rubbed some people the wrong way; she could sometimes come off as “snooty.” Luxury had a downside.

36 Yogananda — Sandy Hook, Connecticut

The door was still closed.

Someone had started a new thread on the forum: “Guns and you.” They asked “does anyone have any experience with guns? Do you or your family own a gun, or did you in the past?”

He gave a joking reply.

Smiggles: Guns? I’ve got all the guns I need. *Flexes 9″ biceps*

Someone posted a comment, arguing that gun laws were pointless, because they can’t prevent mass shootings anyway. He mocked them for it.

Smiggles: “But if you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns!”

Conservatives really piss me off. Actually, everyone does.

The fall of 2011 appears to have been his most active period on the forum; perhaps the months away had left his thoughts bottled up. He posted nearly every day, on a variety of topics.

There was a thread “Are you a virgin?” He clicked it, and found that several users were expressing disinterest in ever having a sexual experience of any kind.

Smiggles: Are you underweight? I used to think that I was asexual, but the primary reason why I thought that was because my BMI was 14.

There was a thread “If you could change any word…

Smiggles: All of them… I hate every facet of language, along with the entire concept of aesthetics.

In a thread “Friendless virgin,” one user was saying he or she was depressed, and they were soliciting advice for what they should do. Some responses suggested medication. Others endorsed seeing a therapist. The user from 36 Yogananda took issue with that — even with the word itself:

Smiggles: TheRapists!…Therapists are secular priests who assert that they have some “truth”, and if your values deviate, then you are “wrong”. Hence, TheRapist. They impose their values onto you through their mindfucking.

Then, a thread about family, and marriage. Someone was arguing against gay unions, saying they weren’t “natural.”

Smiggles: Eek, marriage and natural in the same sentence makes me cringe… Marriage is a mutually destructive cultural delusion.

Years before, the child psychology nurse from Yale had asked him his thoughts on the same subject face-to-face, as it pertained to his own parents. He was less inclined to communicate then, but her notes shows that the 14-year-old “attributed his parents’ divorce to the fact that they must have ‘irritated’ each other as much as they irritated him.”

Many of his comments on the forum likely reflected trains of thought that he had already pursued to their end point, having typed them out in private writings around this time, as he had with with the pedophilia essay. Also among these files on the external drive were (as summarized by the Connecticut State Police) “Selfish – Word document explaining why females are selfish” and “umm – Word document detailing how marriage is abusive and negative to people in a relationship.”

* * *

If there was one file that stood apart from all the other texts in his “Writing” folder, it was the one titled “Lovebound.” The document itself explained where the name came from:

“Love by any other name”

LBAON

Lovebound

Or, what about “Boundless Love”, to mean that their love is not restrictively bound by relationships (like what marriage does)?

The beauty in the romantic relationship between a ten-year-old-boy and a thirty-year-old-man.

It was the outline of a script for a movie, one that would primarily tell its story through the eyes of the ten-year-old boy, and his friends. He rattled off a list of ideas for scenes:

10-year-old hears about his friend who ran away. The kid tried doing something that an adult would have done, but was unable to because he was a kid. Eventually, the kid is found frozen to death, or something like that. Kids are playing together in some place.

Kid either goes to place where pedophile is, or happens to come across him in public. Scenes where the kid talks to the pedo many times about his life. The pedo helps him. The pedophile either gets killed or goes to prison.

Kid with the pistol laying back on his bed while cocking and clicking his pistol while listening to his father yelling condemning his sister who’s in a relationship with a boy. Scene where the kid finds out about a familicide.

What if the child has a “loving” family instead of an abusive one, but that still means that he’s being abused?

He didn’t have an ending yet, but felt, “It’s contrived for the ending to be filled with death. The ending should end on a perfunctory note. That’s infinitely more depressing than death.”

Included in the document were guidelines on how the movie would have to be produced. It described as sparse an aesthetic as one could get. “My script is a slow downbeat drama with a genuine social commentary,” and so “it would be very inexpensive to produce.” He wanted no music, and no text on the screen at any time. Everything was one-note. “There will be no humor. This should be completely solemn.”

He did have some concept of how the idea would be received, if he ever sent the message. “No, it’s not at all pornographic,” he emphasized. “And it isn’t satirical. Nor metaphorical. Take it for what it is.”

The document also cited the life story of an Austrian psychoanalyst, Heinz Kohut, who had something of an intellectual-mentor relationship with his adult tutor when he was about ten years old, which included romantic elements — a relationship that the psychoanalyst would insist long into adulthood was healthy, despite the sexual contact between child and adult.

Saved in the same folder as the “Lovebound” outline was a video file containing the 1992 Dutch film Voor Een Verloren Soldaat (“For a Lost Soldier”) — portraying a real-life relationship between a 12-year-old boy, and an adult soldier during World War II. It was based on an autobiographical novel, written by the boy after he grew up; another historical analogue for “Lovebound.”

One paragraph in the document, apparently explaining the philosophy that was to be expressed in the film, can be heard as an echo of a communication that the author from 36 Yogananda had once written to his mother, three years before — telling her not to dwell on the things she regrets, and to instead focus on “what you want to do”:

Real Rebellion involves eliminating the notion of identity: you don’t bind yourself by an identity. You do what you want when you want to do it at that time, independent of whatever you’ve thought in the past.

All of his writings on the theme of pedophilia — the “pedobear” essay, the private message exchanges, the compiling of historical analogues, all of it — may indeed have represented what he wanted, on some level, to do; but even if so, it is unknown which role in the “Lovebound” relationship he envisioned for himself. He was, after all, closer in age to the ten-year-old than he was the thirty-year-old. And he’d been having such thoughts for years.

* * *

As always, most of the things he said online — the signals that actually escaped the cave — had nothing to do with himself. More often, he talked about shooters: school shooters, church shooters, workplace shooters, mall shooters… everything in between. He seemed to know every single detail, about every single one: a massacre in the village of Aramoana, New Zealand in 1990. Another at a night club in Brazil, in 1997. Another at a mall in upstate New York, in 2005. Most were events that nobody outside of the place where they happened would have any clue about, even a few days after… but he had gone back and documented every detail. And he knew the numbers, too, from every conceivable angle:

Smiggles: …according to the best information that I have available, around 75% of American <25-year-old mass shooters used firearms which they didn’t legally own, compared to around 25% of American >24-year-old mass shooters.

…Females generally kill in a more personal context than males do… There have been a lot of mass murders committed by females, but they almost always take the form of familicide. At least 98% of indiscriminate rampage killers are male.

A user asked if anyone had ever heard of Dunblane.

He responded with a link to the full transcript of the Cullen Inquiry’s proceedings — calling it “Dunblane’s 11k”, after the internet’s name for the Columbine investigation file. (He had copies of both, of course, on his hard drive.)

Another user replied, having just now read about the Scoutmaster for the first time: “Everyone thought he was a creepy pedophile and that’s why he kept getting fired/losing his business. So he shot up a bunch of little kids because he was tired of being punished for acting like a creepy pedophile. That has to be the biggest bullshit excuse for a mass-murder spree I’ve ever read.”

“I’ve heard of stranger scenarios,” Smiggles replied, and gave the example of a schizophrenic gunman who attacked a restaurant in Berkeley in 1990 “because the ‘government owed him $16 trillion for mental telepathy work and this was his way of getting it back.'” He added links to several other shooter-candidates too, all of them quite obscure.

His spreadsheet was very, very long by the time he finished adding to it. But that was probably the only thing that made it special — there were lists just like it, all over the internet. It was 2011. The modern phenomenon of the mass shooting had become impossible to ignore — and the data would reflect the same truths, to anyone who looked closely enough.