According to the editorial page of the city’s only daily newspaper, the new mayor of Dallas failed to strike the proper tone Monday after a masked gunman attacked the federal building in downtown Dallas. “Leadership is usually defined in moments of crisis,” the newspaper said, giving Eric Johnson a sort of wet-noodle wrist-slap for not talking about the gun attack in his inaugural speech Monday.
To say what? Damn? Another one? What the hell? Anybody got an answer?
Glad nobody else got shot. Thank you, law enforcement and, by the way, thank you Dallas Morning News photographer Tom Fox for risking your life to give us a picture of Brian Isaack Clyde, 22, the shooter. But after that, what?
The paper said, “We wish that the new mayor had veered from his prepared remarks to mark, even briefly, the fear, terror and bravery on display at the Earle Cabell Federal Courthouse.”
Veered, why? Did the editorial page want him to give us one of those stupid speeches about, “This city will not tolerate…?” That stuff doesn’t make me feel any better. Does it make you feel better?
Yes, we will too tolerate more of this stuff, in the sense that we will continue to live with it, because we have no choice. We have not one inkling what to do about it, and so we can do nothing, and so it will continue to plague us until we figure something out.
About the best we’ve come up with so far is teaching kids to hide under their desks, the same solution society came up with in the 1950s for nuclear holocaust. I assume the eventual effect on the children of today will be roughly the same it was on us: About the time my generation began to approach adulthood in the 1960s, we were overwhelmed by a sense that the society that had taught us to “duck and cover” was an idiot.
Maybe that’s why, unlike the editorial writers at The Dallas Morning News, I do not have a yen for bluster from the new mayor about how he’s going to protect me from active shooters. That would be a lie.
This same thing happened 27 times in 2018 in America, with far more horrible outcomes in many instances than in this new one in Dallas. At least this time, the only person who paid a physical price was the gunman.
An FBI summary of last year’s 27 “active shooter cases” in 16 states found no pattern of motivation and no consistent link with mental illness. The gunpersons in those 27 cases caused 213 casualties including 85 deaths. Of the deaths, 15 were of the shooters themselves, 10 by suicide, four by police, one by armed citizens. Two law enforcement officers and one unarmed security officer were killed, and six law enforcement officers were injured.
I don’t mean to diminish the action of the law enforcement officers who risked their lives to stop this latest person from carrying out a slaughter. We are all fortunate that brave persons like these exist among us. But I also want to talk about the importance of the risk Tom Fox took by taking a photograph of this guy while the gunman was still actively stalking. Somewhere deep in that photo may be some of the very elusive answers that we are not going to get from bluster.
FBI analyses of active shooter incidents necessarily look at FBI stuff — hard information, factual links and ties that would be hallmarks of a conspiracy, a psychological syndrome, a political theme, a legal issue like gun theft. The FBI has to look for anything that would provide handles, a way to grab hold of the phenomenon and pull it to the ground for good. The problem is that none of those exist so far.
I have my own two-bit suspicion when I look at that pathetic Facebook twerp in Fox’s photo, peering around the corner at me in his Armageddon suit with his big black rifle and his belt full of ammo that he can’t keep from dropping, ready to splash my guts all over the walls of the federal building. I suspect the answers are going to be found deeper than mere fact, down in the murky, mystical depths of human identity.
The most important recent story on active shooter incidents may be the one about the possibility that Jefferson County Public Schools in Littleton, Colorado, may have to tear down Columbine High School in order to deter the international cult of copycats seeking to reenact the horror that took 13 lives there 20 years ago. Mother Jones magazine reported last April it found 100 copycat plots and actual incidents inspired by the 1999 Columbine killings.
They copy it to the level of detail. Some of it’s the guns. Sometimes it’s even the clothing. And always there is the intense fascination and preparation based on previous incidents. That was the closest thing to a connective tissue that the FBI found in its analyses: these active shooters' attacks are not spontaneous. They almost never are a case of someone “snapping” or suddenly going over the edge — more like a gradual addiction or surrender to seduction.
When we start looking for those looser, less factual, muddier factors, we don’t have to look far. I think immediately of Dana Loesch, the attractive spokesperson for the National Rifle Association. Her angry pop-up ads on Facebook fiendishly mix angry politics with sensuality:
(Scary tinkle music in the background) “They use their media to assassinate real news. They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler, make them scream racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia, to smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law abiding. The only way we stop this, the only way we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.”
Also a good way to sell guns.
Reporting based on social media posts made by the federal building shooter in the weeks before Monday’s attack depict a guy troubled by the sorts of things that trouble many young men, prominent among them anxiety over sexual prowess. I’m not sure that makes him the Lone Ranger. It may or may not even be significant. But somehow when I look at that Tom Fox photo — this guy in a movie costume bent on ending other people’s time on Earth — I can’t help suspecting that all of this has to do with identities threatened at a level that is fundamental, not argumentative, even if these people are not technically nuts.
And while we’re looking for causes at the level of spooky, why wouldn’t we take a hard look at us, the media? How do we think the Columbine cult knows what to imitate? Those images and gut-level sensations have to be communicated somehow.
Is the dissemination and recruitment accomplished mainly by means of the big hot story on mainstream media? Or does it all get handed out over the interwebs, through dark online communities like the “incels” (young males who are involuntarily celibate)? I sure don’t know. But I think it would be good to know.
If it’s us, the media, I have no idea what to do about it. We have to tell the news. I wince when CNN tells me after one of these things that it’s not going to name the shooter, because it doesn’t want to glorify him or her. I always think, “Oh, shut up, and give me the damn name.” It just feels like one of those super-phony feel-good things that people do to make themselves look good, like telling me that the person who ruled over the German Third Reich was a Mr. “A.H.” Just spit it out and get it over with, will you?
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The name is useful. The casualties, the place, the date, the time: we citizens need all of that. We have a right to it, and we’re going to get our hands on it anyway. But maybe there is some other information, some vibe or theme that we in the mainstream media convey stupidly, unwittingly because we’re not geniuses. If there is such a thing, I’d at least like to know what it is.
I’m already beginning to question some of the other shibboleths and assumptions of my trade, like believing that what is said is deep and important and must be closely considered if it comes from a ceremonially important place like the White House. Interestingly, much of what the current occupant says is already working its way down toward the bottom of the newscast according to some natural gravitational force. So do we make a mistake by leading with the shooter?
I do know that a stirring speech in which a politician lays claim to some kind of solution or useful strategy would only be useful if it were true. And if true, well that really would be news. Stop the presses!
That’s why the whole business about the News tasking the new mayor on this is so irritating. What do they want? They seem to want a mommy or a daddy to put us all back to bed, tell us it’s all over now, we’re going to be safe forever and they won’t let anybody hurt us. If I were a little kid and I got a speech like that, I would ask, “So can I have a Coke now?”