The alleged Highland Park shooter left a digital trail that scholars say points to a pattern among mass shooters who are becoming radicalized in what Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, described as “dark corners of the Internet” that attract angry or violence-prone people.
“And it glorifies and amplifies and directs where it (anger) should go,” Levin said. “And it’s a constellation. We often look at it through an ideological or partisan bent, that “oh this group is more violent, or this group is immoral”. But what I’m telling you is that anger tactics have their own identity in a very dysfunctional online world.
At a hearing on Wednesday, prosecutors said Robert Crimo III confessed to the July 4 parade killings.
Crimo allegedly tried to break into a local synagogue and photographs of him surfaced at rallies for President Donald Trump, but Middlebury’s Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism deputy director Alex Newhouse said the general lack Crimo’s activity on these topics indicates that the primary motivation for the attack was not ideological, anti-Semitic or otherwise political.
“That doesn’t mean he tries to enter a synagogue or uses anti-Semitic language on occasion isn’t important. This means that anti-Semitism is what you might consider background radiation within the internet communities of which it was a part. It’s just part of the facade,” Newhouse said. “It is deeply depressing and tragic that this is the cast, but anti-Semitism and racism are only part of the landscape of these internet cultures. main for shooters like this.
It’s different from the markers left by the alleged shooter in the May shooting at a grocery store in a black Buffalo neighborhood, which was explicitly racist.
“When you have someone this unstable and angry and they slip down the rabbit hole, they cling to a variety of antisocial and dysfunctional themes, memes and symbols,” Levin said.
Newhouse points out that Crimo wore a Waldo costume to the Trump rally, a sign that he was “meant to be satirical, ironic. It’s supposed to be internet trolling coming to life, basically “in line with” what we expect from people who are immersed in the cultures of internet platforms like 4Chan. They treat politics like a joke.
In this way, the intention is to “undermine the power of politics”.
Newhouse is careful to avoid details about specific platforms and websites and Crimo’s online activities.
He said these dark corners of the internet use their version of fishing nets to attract people who may not be intentionally looking for such a site.
You may think of it as shopping online, when a search in a browser brings up a new store and you suddenly have a full shopping cart, you’re on a new company’s mailing list and you become a loyal customer.
It’s much more sinister and violent.
Newhouse said the alleged Highland Park shooter fits a pattern of mass shooters and violent people who spend their time online in this way.
“For example, the shooter was heavily immersed in communities obsessed with gore and hyper-graphic depictions of the deconstruction and damage of human anatomy,” Newhouse said. “That style of, that kind of community, is one of the indicators that we’ve identified with this shooter model.”
There is often an obsession with mass shooters, even writing love letters to long-deceased Columbine shooters.
The suspect was also part of a kind of collaborative storytelling that includes alternative real estate communities; these are not video games. Newhouse describes them as systems and programs for creating fiction and solving puzzles.
“What they often show is a sort of incipient inability to distinguish between history and fiction, and reality. And they will even talk about it. They will talk about making history real. They will talk about the fact that reality no longer really exists for them, or that time has somehow been destroyed for their mental state,” he said.
Users may become so engrossed that not only does the physical world not matter, but they believe it should be destroyed, and embodiment may be trying to make fiction real.
“It’s this very, very complicated and very marginal way of interacting with communities and oneself and we’re just at the very beginning of understanding it, but this shooter – the Highland Park shooter – presents these trends to a T,” Newhouse said.
For example, Crimo reportedly went through a period of alienation and isolation in his real life about two years before Monday’s massacre.
It hasn’t just found refuge in the darkest corners of the web. Some content was intended for the public.
As an aspiring rapper who went by the name “Awake”, he also had a very successful Spotify and Soundcloud channel; Newhouse said his music took a telling turn from hip hop to “incoherent” noise. In a YouTube video, removed from the platform since Monday, the self-proclaimed shooter wore tactical gear and showed sketchy drawings of a mass shooting and a bleeding cartoon victim.
There are plenty of aggressive videos and popular song lyrics in modern culture that don’t predict violence, but Newhouse says Crimo’s posts had those aesthetic and stylistic cues that investigators may be looking for.
He also said that researchers are trying to educate tech platforms to focus not on individuals, but on community dynamics, social networks and the evolution of content.
“These are techniques that are already used in technology companies. It just requires an educational effort to understand how this style of violence differs from far right white supremacist violence, it will take some time to get there, but we already have the toolkit to do it from perspective of a tech company and policy maker.”
Family, friends, classmates, and others who observe online obsessions, behavioral changes, and violent messages should also take the warning signs seriously.
“From a public perspective, just being aware of, like: there are people who revere mass shooters. Be aware of this. If you start to see people fixating on Columbine, for example, that’s something…if you doubt that, that’s a red flag to be concerned about,” Newhouse said.
Levin, a former police officer, also says gun control must be part of the solution, whether it’s banning so-called assault weapons or keeping guns away from those who are clearly dangerous.
“These weapons used in these attacks, in some of the deadliest attacks of the last decade, were acquired shortly before the massacre and often they were young people. So we really have to look at the boundaries as to who, what, when and where when it comes to arms supply,” Levin said. “And that’s something we need to have a collective agreement on as a country. Because like in Illinois, here in California guns cross state lines.
Levin said the rise in homicides, including mass shootings, is “what you have in a society that fetishizes violence as well as guns.”
While mass shooters still make up a very small percentage of crime, Newhouse said he expects something like what happened in the suburb of Highland Park on Independence Day to happen. reproduce.
He recommends if you observe violent activity or behavior online that you contact technology platforms and the FBI. Newhouse also said it was important to push this back by addressing the root causes of radical and extreme nihilistic behavior – this sense of isolation.
This may mean getting in touch with a young person, a teenager or often a younger man with a psychiatrist or other help.
Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @amandavinicky