Anonymizing The Shooters

New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, staked out a firm — and interesting — position after a terrorist attack by a white supremacist on two New Zealand mosques killed dozens of people last month.  “[Y]ou will never hear me mention his name,” said Ardern. “He is a terrorist, he is a criminal, he is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless.”  She added: “He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing. Not even his name.”

anongiftsPrime Minister Ardern is the latest figure to argue that the individuals who commit mass shootings should be anonymized, and that news reports of such crimes should not name the killers.

The anonymity effort traces its roots back to the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School, which produced massive coverage of the American teenagers who did the killing.  The Columbine shootings are believed to have motivated many other mass shootings, both in the United States and around the world, and some observers argue that giving the Columbine shooters publicity and celebrity-style coverage only encourages future attacks.  The New Zealand shooter, for example, was supposedly inspired by a 2015 mass shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

As one criminologist, Adam Lankford, has put it:  “A lot of these shooters want to be treated like celebrities. They want to be famous. So the key is to not give them that treatment.”  Detailed news coverage of shootings can also be used as a guide to would-be shooters who are planning their own mass attacks, and can motivate future killers to try to outdo the death tolls in prior shootings.  It’s apparently a sad, sick reality of our modern world that some people are so obsessed with becoming famous that they will commit heinous crimes against innocent strangers to obtain the publicity they crave.

Should the terrorists and criminals who commit mass shootings be named, or should the news media refrain from identifying shooters while otherwise providing the news about such killings?  There’s no doubt that the names of criminals are part of the news.  Every new reporter learns about the “5 Ws and an H” — who, what, where, when, why, and how — that should elements of any news story.  But members of the news media also are part of society and have always accepted some element of social responsibility in their news coverage — by not publishing ultra-bloody or violent images, for example.  Withholding the names of mass shooters who hope for notoriety is just one additional step down that same path.

I don’t know whether anonymizing mass shooters will help to discourage future tragedies, but I do know that what has been done to date hasn’t worked.  I applaud the stance of Prime Minister Ardern and hope that reporters and editors will start to recognize that providing publicity to such shooters simply makes the new media a pawn in their sick and twisted effort to become famous.

April Showers Bring Mass Murder

Gentle April — when the earth thaws and spring flowers bloom!  April, which moved Shakespeare to write:  “As oft ‘twixt May and April is to see, When winds breathe sweet, untidy though they be.”  April, when the optimistic promise of spring is finally realized and the month ends with sunshine and warming breezes on our faces!

So why has April become the month that violence and domestic terrorism experts are calling the start of “the killing season”?

Let’s face it:  April’s recent track record really sucks.  From the Oklahoma City bombing to the Columbine killings to the Virginia Tech mass murders to the Boston Marathon attack, April has a history as bloody as a Quentin Tarantino film.  It’s painfully apparent, and not just for people like me who have April birthdays and notice the awful things that seem to happen, with distressing regularity, during my natal month.  Experts are wondering why.

ahitlerThey think it may have all started with Adolf Hitler.  He and I share the same April 20 birthday, and his legacy is so bloody and terrible, with its toxic mixture of racial purity and brown-shirted fascism and institutionalized genocide, that it has attracted wackos and racists and nutjobs eager to make a name for themselves long after Hitler killed himself.  It wasn’t coincidence that the Columbine shootings also occurred on April 20 — just one of the many bad things that happened on that date, so much so that some people say it’s the worst day of the year.  One of the Columbine shooters was obsessed with Hitler and planned the attack to occur on his birthday.

Unfortunately, the experts say, the crazies among us apparently pay attention to such anniversaries.  Timothy McVeigh specifically planned the Oklahoma City bombings for April 19, which was the same day that the FBI stormed the Branch Davidian compound in Waco and 76 people were killed.  More recently, other killers have planned their attacks to recognize or emulate McVeigh, or the Columbine shooters, or one of the other lunatics who have turned the April calendar into a horror show of evil and carnage.

So keep your eyes open.  If recent years are any indication, something really, really bad is going to happen this month.

Poor April.  It really deserves better.