You Can Almost Count on Each New Mass Shooter Being a Veteran

| Educate!

“He enlisted in the Virginia National Guard in April 1996, according to spokesman A.A. Puryear. He was assigned to the Norfolk-based 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team as a 13B cannon crew member. He was discharged in April 2002 and held the rank of specialist at the time, the spokesman said. His records did not indicate overseas deployments.” —CNN on latest mass shooter

We’re supposed to overlook this bit of information. We’re supposed to focus on mental health questions or the inscrutable incomprehensible mystery of the inevitable human tragedy of mass shootings, which bizarrely and unfairly are inflicted by the universe on this particular 4 percent of humanity living in the United States, which quite irrelevantly has been glorifying violence through endless wars for many years.

Is it relevant that Virginia and the United States bestow greater rights on guns than on human beings? Of course it is. In Charlottesville two years ago, the city refused to ban any weapons as armed fascists came to town, but a year later banned all weapons other than guns.

If I could speak perfectly honestly, I’d probably blurt out something like this: Ban the damn guns. All of them. Everywhere. Do it now, you fucking idiots!

But that would be inappropriate.

Is it relevant that every mass shooter is male? Well, sort of. We can’t exactly ban males, but we could develop a culture that viewed proper manhood as opposing rather than celebrating violence.

Is it relevant that you can just about count on each mass shooter having been trained in mass shooting at public expense by the U.S. military?

Hell no! If they hadn’t been trained by the world’s most far-reaching and expensive ever killing machine, they might have learned their shooting skills somewhere else — like from video games funded by the U.S. military. If they hadn’t been praised for that training, and in many cases for actually engaging in mass killing (of the right people), they might have imagined such praise (by picturing themselves in movies funded by the U.S. military).

Last November, U.S. Marine Ian David Long failed to stop doing his job. He had been employed by the U.S. government to fire a machine gun at people. That had been his job for years, and part of that time he had participated in the war on Afghanistan. He had been given awards for the fine job he’d done in combat. Nobody had been outraged. Nobody had called him names or questioned his sanity.

CNN’s inaccurate headline, “Thousand Oaks gunman went from Marine vet to mass shooter. Investigators want to know why,” created a mystery where none existed. The question is not how he became a mass shooter but how so many others have managed to cease being mass shooters.

While you can almost count on each new mass shooter being a veteran, you can of course by no means count on each new veteran being a mass shooter. Most veterans are no such thing. How that happens is where the investigators should focus.

Ian David Long died in the most common manner for participants in recent U.S. wars, namely by suicide. The difference is that he killed a lot of other people-who-matter first. But this, too, is not as unusual as we might wish. At least 35% (probably much more, and it seems to have been rising steeply since I made that calculation) of U.S. mass shooters were trained by the U.S. military.

Imagine if 35% of U.S. mass shooters were . . . anything at all: black, Asian, Muslim, atheist, female, wealthy, foreign, red-haired, Latino, gay . . . can you imagine? It would be the leading news story for weeks. There would be chairs endowed at universities to study it. But the fact that so many of the killers are men who were trained to kill by the world’s leading killing institution is not only unworthy of mention but is depicted in each isolated instance as a mystery to be explained in some other terms.

Imagine if the mounting death count from all of these shootings included not just the hundreds killed within the U.S. but also the hundreds of thousands killed outside it. Imagine treating the vast majority of the victims as if they mattered.

A public debate over how to tackle a mass murderer is as insane as a public discussion of how to build a stronger house on the beach. If you won’t address the training of murderers, and you won’t ban guns, and you won’t stop destroying the earth’s climate, what’s left is madness.

Often the madness takes the form of repeating the evil that goes unmentioned. Stick an armed security guard in front of every building. In November that policy simply determined the name of the first victim. It may even (one can only speculate) have presented the killer with an inviting or rationalizing sense, a familiar sense, of taking on an “enemy.” The solution is not even more armed guards.

The solution in the war on Afghanistan is not even more armed killers. The war on Afghanistan came “home” to California, but how many people know that? How many people know the war is still raging? How many know that Obama promised to escalate it and did so and that Trump promised to end it and escalated it (albeit on a smaller scale)? How many were outraged when Ian David Long was killing mere Afghans? How many are outraged that thousands of U.S. and NATO troops are still over there making Afghanistan worse and bringing the war back with them?

The most passionate supporters of current wars call them premeditated murder and themselves premeditated murderers, but not like it’s a bad thing — like it’s perfectly acceptable.

How many can put 2 and 2 together and recognize that all the just-retired U.S. commanders in Afghanistan who have said the war is counter-productive have been right, that it endangers the very people who think the sound of fighter jets ruining their vacation at Virginia Beach has something to do with “freedom.”

  • Infarction

    This is an excerpt from a piece I wrote about Operation Condor, the transnational organization that was created by Latin American nations with backing from the CIA to extirpate communism during the 1970s-1990s.

    How Nations Develop an Army of Torturers

    Various studies show that torturers can be otherwise ordinary individuals regardless of any specific emotional, psychological or personality pathology. Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, known for his theory of “thought reform,” i.e. brainwashing, reported that ordinary individuals can be adapted to committing atrocities as long as their indoctrination carefully avoids naming their behaviors as atrocities. They must be imbued with the idea that the acts they commit are for a greater good; that they improve the world morally, spiritually or politically. The claim of a virtuous cause is required for one who kills large numbers of people in the name of a government, religion or other societal institution.

    Stanley Milgram illustrated that obedience to authority is ingrained in social behavior. His famous experiments included a man who wore a white lab-coat would order the subject of the experiment to deliver what the subject believed to be a painful “electric shock” to another person for answering a test question incorrectly. Whenever, the subject hesitated to employ the “shock” amid the screams of the “victim,” the man in the white coat would calmly say, “The experiment must continue.” In most cases the subject of the experiment would comply, even as he believed the “shock” was at a level to cause death.

    Other studies show that specific personality types are more prone to become torturers through their own personal choices or by the institutions, e.g. military, intelligence services, law enforcement or organized crime, that recruit them. Repressive governments or other institutions look for people who display a certain proclivity for ferocity and callousness. Other torturers have a need for personal power and a tendency toward violence that might be satisfied by joining groups that seek to utilize and exploit such individuals.

    However, most individuals reject the idea of inflicting pain on others; for them a specialized system of institutional training is required to mold them into torturers and killers. Future torturers and assassins in the military, intelligence services or police departments must go through a desensitization and dehumanization process, even enduring torture themselves. They are told that torture proves their virility and commitment to the organization and their belief in the “mission.” They are told that if they feel empathy, then they are weak. They are shown films of torture; they also practice torture on prisoners. Their mental conditioning includes indoctrination that their victims are subhuman, dangerous killers and a threat to society, therefore, they deserve the torture. The members of the military, intelligence services and police departments are told repeatedly by the superiors that they are a member of the elite force that cleanses evil and purifies society.

    Sarcasm, scorn, laughter and cruelty are merged to facilitate dehumanization of the torturer’s victims. Mocking and laughing at their victims as the torturer inflicts pain is part of the process. The recruits are conditioned to a system that relieves them of feelings of empathy and remorse that would inhibit their ability to inflict pain or death on others.
    The larger importance of the state institutions cannot be overemphasized. The institutions provide the structure and encouragement of behaviors of the officers and the rank and file. The institutions produce the professional torturers; they are trained to get information without killing the victim. The torturers are instructed in the human anatomy to ensure their goals of gathering intelligence from the victims. Torture is more likely if the prisoners are held for long periods and the facility is shrouded in secrecy.
    ng by the CIA to extirpate communism.


    McSherry, J. Patrice. 2005. Predatory States: Operation Condor and Covert War in Latin America. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc.

  • Schoolteacher

    Excellent frame from David Swanson, one of our best activists. His book War is a Lie is highly recommended. Also, how many of our police and border patrol are vets?

  • mwildfire

    Interesting information. I do want to point out one thing, though, based on Zimbardo’s book, the Lucifer Effect (Phillip Zimbardo did the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, and knew Stanley Milgram). He says variations of the Milgram experiment have been carried out I think HUNDREDS of times in varying conditions, and always a majority shock (or think they do) their victims up to the end. The first variation was to reduce the Authority factor by having the Experimenter wearing ordinary street clothes rather than a lab coat, and not be associated with Yale. Other experiments, sometimes without a moral component, show that people are just as likely to be influenced by peers as authority figures. For example, you’re sitting in a chair waiting for the experimenter to show up for the “sociology study” you signed up for, beside two other volunteers, when smoke begins issuing from under a nearby door, or screaming from behind it. What do you do? If alone, you jump up and investigate. But if the other two “volunteer”s–really confederates of the researcher–act unconcerned, most people sweat a bit, look worried, but do nothing. These studies also showed that if ONE person acted appropriately, the odds of the real experimental subject refusing to participate in harmful action, or say that the shorter line was longer, jumped dramatically. Even if others present made the wrong choice.