This paper analyzes the writings of Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, and Elliott Rodger—three rampage shooters responsible for the Columbine and Isla Vista massacres.Through a multi- method linguistic analysis of their writings, this paper explores how toxic masculinity and mental illness are expressed in the texts. The methods used include a word-level analysis for references to toxic masculinity and mental illness, a close-reading for the use of rhetorical devices shown to be used by violent men, and the application of the Gottschalk-Gleser content analysis method using Psychiatric Content Analysis and Diagnosis (PCAD) software. The paper finds evidence of toxic masculinity in all three shooters’ texts. There is also evidence of abnormal psychological dimensions on the Gottschalk-Gleser scale. Klebold returned the most abnormal results. He was found to be moderately high for the Hostility Outward (Overt) subscale, very high for the Hostility Inward scale—more than three standard deviations above the mean, slightly high on the Social Alienation-Personal Disorganization scale, and slightly low on the Human Relations scale. Harris was slightly high for Social Alienation-Personal Disorganization and slightly low on the Human Relations scale. Rodger was found to be slightly high on the Social Alienation-Personal Disorganization scale. This paper argues for the responsible analysis of the multifactorial causes of rampage school shootings.
Mihika Sapru is pursuing her Masters in Communication, Culture, and Technology at Georgetown University. Her research focuses on the intersection of technology and gender-based violence, and on the ways new media helps us shape and communicate our worldviews. You can reach her at ms4347@ georgetown.edu.
Volume 19, Issue 2 • Spring 2019
The Second Phase will take place on the Day of Retribution itself, just before the climactic massacre. The Second Phase will represent my War on Women. I will punish all females for the crime of depriving me of sex.
– Elliot Rodger, My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodger (2014, 132)
Depending on who you ask, America might have a gun problem, a mental health problem, or a toxic masculinity problem. What we know for certain is that horrifying acts of mass violence grip the nation. School shootings and the people who carry them out dominate news cycles time and time again. Cable news covers the shootings obsessively in the immediate aftermath, think-pieces appear on the internet, and people theorize over motives, solutions, and what went wrong. Given the extensive media coverage, there is a huge demand for information about school shootings and school shooters, but many of these perpetrators turn their guns on themselves during the rampages, or are killed by police—a practice colloquially referred to as “suicide-by-cop.” As a result, there are often many unanswered questions. What drove these men to carry out these horrifying acts of violence? What worldviews were they steeped in that justified their actions? In the aftermath of these attacks, the writings left behind by these perpetrators become a compelling source of answers. We must, however, resist the urge to reduce the motives of these mass murderers to any single cause. Most importantly, we must not focus on the cultural causes of school shootings at the expense of holding perpetrators accountable for making the decision to plan and carry out a mass casualty attack at a school.
Through a multi-method analysis of the writings of three rampage shooters,this paper explores how toxic masculinity and mental disorders—two of the many contributing factors to rampage school shootings—are expressed in the natural language of these killers. The three rampage shooters whose writings I analyze are Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, and Elliot Rodger. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold carried out the Columbine High School shooting in Jefferson County, Colorado on April 20, 1999. Harris was eighteen years old at the time of the attack, and both he and seventeen-year-old Klebold committed suicide in the final moments of the shooting. Elliot Rodger was twenty- two years old when he killed six people and injured fourteen more in Isla Vista, California, near the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) campus on May 23, 2014. Rodger was never a student at UCSB, but instead attended Santa Barbara Community College for a brief period before dropping his classes. He, like Harris and Klebold, turned his gun on himself and committed suicide following his attack.
In the absence of post-attack mental health evaluations and interviews, rendered impossible because the killers did not survive their rampages, this paper seeks answers about the perpetrators’ mental health and attitudes toward masculinity, and examines whether their narrative rationalizations can, in fact, offer us insights that help us understand the magnitude of the influence of toxic masculinity and mental illness on their deadly acts of violence.
The following literature review will first discuss scholarship on toxic masculinity and how this relates to the phenomenon of rampage shootings. Then it will discuss how scholars have applied word-level analysis to the language of men who have used violence against women, as violence against women is the extreme outcome of a misogynist world view that follows the logic of toxic masculinity. The literature review will also consider the discourse of mental health as it applies to school shooters and explore methodologies for determining mental health through textual analysis.
The Good Men Project defines toxic masculinity as:
A narrow, repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly “feminine” traits—which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual—are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away. (O’Malley 2017)
In essence, toxic masculinity is the idea that being a man involves being strong, aggressive, and sexually successful. Strength and power are tied to violence, wealth, and hypersexuality.Weakness is tied to emotional vulnerability and empathy. Leading scholars on the subject of masculinity include Michael Kimmel, who has written extensively about the connection between violence and masculinity. He also applied a gender studies lens to the subject of rampage school shootings. One such paper, co-authored with Rachel Kalish, is entitled “Suicide by Mass Murder: Masculinity, Aggrieved Entitlement, and Rampage School Shootings” (2010). Kalish and Kimmel establish that “aggrieved entitlement” is a gendered attitude shared by school shooters steeped in ideas of toxic masculinity (2010, 454). Feeling “aggrieved, wronged by the world,” is common among adolescents of all genders, but when it is compounded by entitlement, it enables young men to use violence to exact revenge on those they hold responsible for their humiliation (Kalish & Kimmel 2010, 454).
Notably, Kalish and Kimmel propose that humiliation to these men is equivalent to emasculation (2010, 454). This paper attempts to understand how, if at all, Klebold, Harris, and Rodger communicate toxic masculinity in general, and “aggrieved entitlement” in particular, in their writings. Given Elliot Rodger’s detailed writings on his thoughts about women, his perceived entitlement to sex, and his feelings of rejection, much of the media narrative after Rodger’s killing spree focused on his misogyny. During this period, there was some debate over the particular brand of hatred and hostility Rodger felt toward women, and whether misogyny was even the correct term to use. In her book, Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny (2017), Kate Manne explains that there was some dispute around calling Rodger a misogynist, and it came from those who are self-described misogynists (39-40). One argument, espoused by radical “Men’s Rights Activist” Roosh Valizadeh, is that Rodger did not hate women—he actually desired them too much. Valizadeh claimed that Rodger “put pussy on a pedestal” (2014) which actually made him the “first feminist mass murderer” (Manne 2017, 39). Another fact used to reject claims that Rodger was motivated by misogyny is the ratio of men to women he killed—four men to two women. Furthermore, Manne claims that Rodger’s hostility was not directed at all women, just toward “hot” women (2017, 40). These counterarguments, however, reflect the sort of aggrieved entitlement Kalish and Kimmel argue is central to the logic of toxic masculinity.
Rhetorical Devices Used by Violent Men
Adams, Towns, and Gavey, three researchers from the University of Auckland, attempted to define specific characteristics of the rhetoric men use to discuss their violence toward women. They conducted 90-minute interviews with fourteen men who were enrolled in “stopping violence” programs after recently being violent toward women (Adams et al. 1995). The researchers concluded that referencing ambiguity, axiom markers, metaphor, synecdoche, and metonymy were the five salient rhetorical devices used in the rhetoric of violent men (Adams et al. 1995). This paper will focus on two of these five rhetorical devices to see if their use is evident in the corpus: reference ambiguity and axiom markers. Reference ambiguity is the overuse of words that leaves the subject deliberately ambiguous. This is most commonly seen by the overuse of the word “we” by the abusive men interviewed. This “we” can mean “we as a society,” the interviewer and interviewee, the couple involved in the relationship, or men in general (Adams et al. 1995, 392). “We” is left deliberately ambiguous to displace responsibility for certain behaviors. Axiom markers are “global assertions” about how the world is and are used to “[qualify] adjacent statements” (394). For example, if a man says something “is a fact of life,” he conveys that he considers it self-evidently true. Speaking this way is meant to convey dominance and authority by asserting that his belief is commonly held and therefore true (394).
The role of mental health in understanding shooter motivation is a subject of great cultural intrigue following a rampage shooting. While some of this discussion is grounded in psychology, it often manifests in an increased interest in implementing psycho-security measures in schools to identify likely perpetrators (Reiss 2011). This paper considers how language can indicate mental disturbance grounded in psychologically-supported research.
Dr. Peter Langman is an expert in the psychology of school shooters. In 2009, he developed a typology of rampage killers. Ten case studies were considered, and the killers were categorized as either traumatized, psychotic, or psychopathic (Langman 2009). Eric Harris was one of two killers considered psychopathic. Dylan Klebold was considered psychotic. Klebold’s misuse of language was cited as one indication of his disturbed thinking, as it seemed out of character for a young man of his intelligence (Langman 2009, 83). An example of his misuse of language is his use of neologisms—words and expressions he created himself (Langman 2009, 83). Langman used the personal writings of the rampage shooters in his sample as one source of data for his typology.
Another text-based method for determining the state of mental wellness is the Gottschalk- Gleser content analysis method developed in 1969. The technique categorizes words and attitudes used in the natural language of the subject to measure various psychological dimensions (Galor and Hentschel 2009). The Psychiatric Content Analysis and Diagnosis (PCAD) software I use in this study tests for anxiety, hostility, personal disorganization or schizophrenia, depression, hope, hopelessness, human relations, support, health–sickness and quality of life, among other dimensions. An important limitation of the Gottschalk-Gleser Verbal Content Analysis Scales is that they are designed for white males. While two of the subjects of this analysis are white males, Elliot Rodger is biracial with a white father and a Malaysian- born Chinese mother.
This paper uses a multi-method approach to analyze Harris, Klebold, and Rodger’s language for toxic masculinity along with various psychological dimensions. I explore how toxic masculinity and its components, including hypersexuality, entitlement, and power, manifest in the natural language of the shooters through a word-level analysis of their writings. In order to study the language of three rampage shooters, the first step is creating a word-level index of their writings. This required assembling a corpus of primary sources written by the subjects of this analysis. Elliot Rodger wrote and published a 107,000-word manifesto online, called My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodger, which forms part of the corpus. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office collated various journal entries and other writings from both Harris and Klebold during their investigation, which forms the remainder of the corpus. These text files were uploaded to the text-analysis software Atlas.ti, which generated a full list of the words used in the corpus and their frequency of use for each individual and across the sample. Key terms around entitlement and sex that emerge from the word-level index were tagged and become the focus of further analysis. Neologisms were also tagged and analyzed in their original context for meaning.
To consider the mental health and psychological dimensions of the three shooters, I also tagged words related to mental health as they appear in the word- level index for further analysis. For example, any mentions of the word “depressed” would be subject to contextual analysis. Then, the corpus was run through the PCAD software to determine how the subjects fare on the Gottschalk-Gleser Verbal Content Analysis Scales. This helps us understand the mental state of the perpetrators; since all committed suicide during their rampages, a post-attack mental evaluation was not possible.
The Language of Toxic Masculinity
One component of toxic masculinity is hypersexuality. Among the three subjects of this paper, Elliot Rodger was the only one who extensively used the words “sex,” “sexuality,” and “sexy.” This is no surprise, as the focus of his manifesto was how his status as a “kissless virgin” justified his desire for revenge against women (Rodger 2014). He declared that he wanted to “punish all females for the crime of depriving me of sex” (Rodger 2014, 132). He uses the adjective “sexual” often to describe “sexual urges,” “sexual desires,” “sexual starvation,” “sexual attraction,” “sexual experiences,” “sexual lives,” and “sexual impulses.” He believed that “The ultimate evil behind sexuality is the human female. They are the main instigators of sex. They control which men get it and which men don’t” (Rodger 2014,136). In contrast, neither Eric Harris nor Dylan Klebold mention the word sex at all. Klebold mentions pornography and masturbation a few times, but mostly with a sense of shame, “I’m forever sorry, infinitely, about the pornos. My humanity has a foot fetish & bondage extreme liking. I try to thwart it sometimes to no effect. Yet the masturbation has stopped” (Klebold 1999). This seems unexpected in the context of hypersexuality. Harris, on the other hand, wrote, “I want to grab a few different girls in my gym class, take them into a room, pull their pants off and fuck them hard….Call it teenager hormones or call it a crazy fuckin racist rapist” (Harris 1998). This shows the sexual aggression characteristic of toxic masculinity, except to a much more violent degree. Harris also uses the word “flesh” when describing sex with women, a symbol of his dehumanization of women and their bodies. His belief that women are inferior to men is confirmed when he writes, “Women, you will always be under men” (Harris 1999).
Another aspect of toxic masculinity is a deep sense of rejection when a man does not get what he feels entitled to, a reaction Kalish and Kimmel call “aggrieved entitlement” (2010, 454). All three young men appear to embody this. One way this seems to manifest is in the way they compare themselves to other men, as if they are superior and their greatness is misunderstood by society. Dylan Klebold expressed: “I am GOD compared to some of those un-existable brainless zombies” (1997). Harris, too, believed this. He wrote “Ich bin Gott,” which is German for “I am God” (Langman 2009, 84). Rodger also, made this comparison, “Once they see all of their friend’s heads roll onto the street, everyone will fear me as the powerful god I am” (2014, 133). Rodger further laments, “The most beautiful of women choose to mate with the most brutal of men, instead of magnificent gentlemen like myself ” (136). Rodger’s voice in his manifesto attempts to be academic and detached in places, as if he’s dispassionately recalling everything in his life that led to his rampage. The use of the word “mate” is an example of this almost scientific analysis of the dynamic between men and women, an attempt to persuade his audience that his perception of the world is based on fact and not on his own “twisted” interpretations (Rodger 2014). His obsession with sex has one caveat: he does not equate masculinity with indiscriminate sex. He is consumed specifically by the idea of sex with “beautiful women.” He uses this phrase 127 times in his manifesto. Rodger is enraged that he is denied sex by these women and believes they do so because he is half-Asian.
The language of aggrieved entitlement continues in discussions of virginity or the absence of physical affection in their lives. Rodger notoriously refers to himself as a “kissless virgin,” but the word “kissless” is part of a pattern of language used by all three killers. All three men frequently use words that end with the suffix “-less,” which indicates a lack of something they feel entitled to. Examples of such words include “worthless,” “hopeless,” “powerless,” “pointless,” and “helpless.” This is similarly evident with the use of words like “sex- starved” (Rodger 2014). Harris mentions as an aside, “You know what maybe I just need to get laid” (Harris 1998). Their discussions of sex, and feelings of both entitlement to and rejection of sex, align with the definition of toxic masculinity laid out by The Good Men Project. However, toxic masculinity also projects the idea that emotions are a weakness, and that anything feminine is a sign of inferiority. It is noteworthy that Dylan Klebold’s writings are mostly from his personal journal. His use of neologisms that he does not define and his style of writing make it clear that his writings are mostly personal attempts to make sense of the world, and do not constitute a manifesto. Klebold’s journal reveals a side of him that might be considered unexpected; he writes extensively about love, using the word 62 times. He even titles an entry “My 1st Love????” (Klebold 1997). In this entry, he goes on to write, “If soulmates exist, then I think I’ve found mine.” He talks about cuddling—he even writes about happiness: “I want to find a room in the great hall & stay there w my love forever” (1997). This is in stark contrast to the depressive entries in his journal.
One distinct feature of the rhetoric men use to talk about their violence toward women is the use of axiom markers (Adams et al 1995, 393). These are “global assertions” about how the world works or how it should work that are used to justify actions and qualify other statements. Rodger was self-aware of his worldview, writing: “I formed an ideology in my head of how the world should work. I was fueled both by my desire to destroy all of the injustices of the world, and to exact revenge on everyone I envy and hate” (2014, 57). His language fits most neatly into the rhetorical devices Adams et al. discuss. Rodger writes about the struggle of being a non-alpha male in the adult world; “No one had unfair advantages. This was perfect, and this is how life should be” (2014, 13). Klebold’s journal contains more philosophical musings about the afterlife and the nature of human existence rather than assertions about how the world should work. Harris, on the other hand, refers to natural selection as a means to justify shooting people that he deems are unworthy of life: “People that only know stupid facts that aren’t important should be shot, what fucking use are they. NATURAL SELECTION. Kill all retards, people with brain fuck ups, drug addicts” (1998). He believed that society and its institutions were meant to curb an individual’s gift of free-thinking. Harris also states, “The human race sucks. Human nature is smothered out by society, job, and work and school. Instincts are deleted by laws” (1998). He feels no need to substantiate this claim with evidence, instead he states it with the conviction of something he believes to be self-evidently true. This is the function of the use of axiom markers by violent men, to persuade others that their beliefs are valid, objective truths.
There is a stream of media discourse around the Freudian association of guns, sex, and masculinity (Pierre 2018). In this narrative, discussions of mass casualty violence center on the symbolism of guns, and weapons as proxies through which men prove their masculinity. I searched the world-level index for references to weapons, murder, and suicide, and then analyzed them in their original context to see if there was a connection. Dylan Klebold’s obsession with violence seems to be about self-inflicted violence—he talks about suicide more than the other two men combined: “If, by fate’s choice, [redacted] didn’t love me, I’d slit my wrist & blow up Atlanta [the name of a bomb Eric Harris built] strapped to my neck” (Klebold 1998). While Klebold occasionally talks about hurting others, his obsession with violence seems to consider it as an escape. He does, however, reference the plan for their rampage often, referring to it as “the holy April morning of NBK,” which shows how he revered violence and killing (Klebold 1998). NBK is a reference to Natural Born Killers, a film written by Quentin Tarantino, about “two victims of traumatized childhoods [who] become lovers and psychopathic serial murderers irresponsibly glorified by the mass media” (“Natural Born Killers” 2019). Both Harris and Klebold were known to be fans of this movie (Langman 2018, 211). Klebold uses it as a code name for the attack, among other things.
Harris wrote extensively about weapons, usually in a practical sense. He complained about the Brady Bill (Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act), and ruminated over how they would procure the weapons they needed (Harris 1998). He mentioned shotguns, firearms, pipe bombs, bayonets, swords, axes, and other weapons. The connection between these weapons and his own sense of power and masculinity is clear: “I am fucking armed,” he wrote, “I feel more confident, stronger, more God-like” (Harris 1998).
This sentiment is echoed in Rodger’s writing, “After I picked up the handgun, I brought it back to my room and felt a new sense of power. I was now armed. Who’s the alpha male now, bitches?” (2014, 113). Like Harris, Rodger also equated the sense of power he would feel while carrying out his rampage to one of superhuman or god-like strength:
To see them all running from me in fear as I kill them left and right, that would be the ultimate retribution. Only then would I have all the power. They treated me like an insignificant little mouse, but on the Day of Retribution, I would be a God to them.(110)
The killers’ use of words such as power and strength with reference to their possession of guns clearly ties masculinity to aggression, dominance, and violence.
There is substantial evidence of toxic masculinity in Rodger and Harris’s accounts. Klebold’s writing, on the other hand, is saturated with references to his feelings, his longing for love, and his desire to be happy. Toxic masculinity is generally associated with shaming men and boys when they express their emotions. Klebold seemed to write his journals for himself. It is possible he felt these gendered constraints in his daily life, but in his journal he seems to express his feelings freely. In all cases, violence is seen as a countermeasure to powerlessness, and there is a sense of aggrieved entitlement that plays out in their rampages. It can be concluded from this analysis that their writing is rife with toxic masculinity.
That’s where a lot of my hate grows from. The fact that I have practically no self- esteem, especially concerning girls and looks and such. Therefore people make fun of me … constantly … therefore I get no respect and therefore I get fucking PISSED. As of this date I have enough explosions to kill about 100 people, and then if I get a couple bayonets, swords, axes, whatever I’ll be able to kill at least 10 more. And that just isn’t enough! Guns! I need guns! Give me some fucking firearms!
– Eric Harris’ journal (1998).
Mental Health and Language
Diagnosis of mental health disorders are directly addressed in the writings of all three killers. The first line in Klebold’s journal mentions his perceived mental illness, “Fact: People are so unaware…well, Ignorance is bliss I guess… that would explain my depression” (1997). Dylan Klebold was never formally diagnosed as depressed, but he chronicled his struggle with hopelessness and suicidal thoughts in his journal. He wrote, “I don’t fit in here thinking of suicide gives me hope, that I’ll be in my place wherever I go after this life…that I’ll finally not be at war with myself, the world, the universe” (1997).
Elliot Rodger wrote about bouts of depression, but he seemed to approach suicide as something he had to do to avoid arrest. In fact, he only mentions “suicide” and killing himself a total of five times. He wrote, “I didn’t want to die, but I knew that I had to kill myself after I exacted my revenge to avoid getting captured and imprisoned” (Rodger 2014, 118). Rodger wrote about seeing psychiatrists, psychologists, and being prescribed medication. He had concerned parents. It seems from his writing that he was calculating and self-aware. Eric Harris also wrote about being prescribed medication: “My doctor wants to put me on medication to stop thinking about so many things and to stop getting angry” (Harris 1998). He did not seem to have any suicidal ideation or at least did not constantly write about it like Klebold did.
Following the rampages, the mental health of the shooters was widely discussed. Eric Harris was largely reported to be the mastermind of the Columbine shooting. In the media, he was known for his rage, his sadistic tendencies, and his fascination with violence (Cullen 2004). Dylan Klebold, on the other hand, was referred to by Denver journalist Dave Cullen, who wrote the seminal book, “Columbine,” as a “quivering depressive who journaled obsessively about love and attended the Columbine prom three days before opening fire” (History. com 2009). The connection between mental health issues and mass casualty violence perpetrated by young white males often dominates media coverage of such cases. There is a compulsion by the mainstream media to find some kind of mental illness at the root of such atrocities. In an article for Vox, titled “Stop Blaming Mental Illness for Mass Shootings,” Dylan Matthews pushes back against this dominant narrative. This is indicative of how the conversation around mental health has become divorced from medical diagnoses. For example, when Cullen describes Klebold as “depressive” it is unclear whether he is referencing a diagnosis, or if he is invoking it to describe Klebold’s despondent nature. There are cultural definitions of what it means to be mentally disturbed that neglect to consider formal diagnoses. This section will apply rigor to cultural ideas of mental illness by focusing on psychologically supported risk factors as well as the formal mental illness diagnosis tool, the Gottschalk-Gleser Verbal Content Analysis scales.
Psychologists have shown that narcissism is a risk factor for school shooters (Bushman 2017, O’Toole 1999). Bushman in particular concluded that Eric Harris’ writing exhibits narcissistic traits (2017, 234). If this is reflected in the texts, it would manifest as an inability to empathize with others, fame-seeking tendencies, and an obsession with self. All three accounts are intensely personal and subjective.There are over 6,332 mentions of the word “I,” comprising a total of 5.2% of the total words in these writings. It was the most commonly used word in the word-level index, more than the next common word, “the,” which was used 4,957 times. Considered along with associated words like “me,” “my,” and “mine,” these words comprise a staggering 8.8% of the total text. On the other hand, words such as they/them/their comprise a total of 1% of the words used. Instead of other-ing the “enemy,” these killers instead focus on their own experience as the misunderstood or mistreated “other” and respond in intensely personal ways.
In Rampage School Shooters: A Typology, Langman notes that Klebold would use neologisms, or “[distort] actual words into words that do not exist” (2009, 83). This is seen as a suggestion of mental disturbance (Langman 2009, 83). Examples of neologisms in Klebold’s writings include “depressioners,” and “preceivations.” He also created new meanings out of existing words and expressions by using them in unusual ways. Klebold refers to “the everything” ten times in his journal. “The everything” is, according to a fan-site created as a tribute to Dylan Klebold, “Seeing, experiencing, and existing within the expanded frame of consciousness of the all-encompassing, vast multi-verses. The blissful ‘big picture’ true, pure reality that is the universe in its entirety beyond the fake realities/existences that are part of this limited dimension here on earth. Spirit is of The Everything too” (The God of Sadness 2015).
Using the PCAD software, Rodger, Harris, and Klebold’s natural language was evaluated using the Gottschalk-Gleser Verbal Content Analysis scales. The program detects words and attitudes that correspond to anxiety, hostility, depression, hope, hopelessness, human relations, and quality of life, among other dimensions. The analysis produces a series of results for each individual describing where they fall on the Gottschalk-Gleser scales. For Elliot Rodger, the Gottschalk- Gleser method reveals only one abnormal result: he is found to be slightly high on the Social Alienation-Personal Disorganization scale. This scale was intended to measure the tendency for schizophrenic patients to isolate themselves socially, and also a tendency to be inconsistent when it comes to logical coherence (GB Software 2016). This is particularly interesting because Elliot Rodger was in and out of therapy for much of his life, and yet no treatment was successful. However, it is important to remember that the Gottschalk-Gleser method was designed to evaluate the psychology of white males, rendering it possible that it is less effective when measuring non-white men like Rodger. This is because the test was designed in the 1960s with white men as the assumed subjects. The Gottschalk- Gleser analysis of Eric Harris’s language also returned a result of slightly high for Social Alienation-Personal Disorganization. In addition to this result, it also revealed a slightly low result for the Human Relations scale. This is a measurement of a person’s “interest in and capacity for constructive, mutually productive, or satisfying human relationships” (Gottschalk and Gleser 1969, 220). It is unsurprising that this would be slightly low for Eric Harris, who showed little to no interest or capacity to form meaningful human relationships, except with the few people he said he would not shoot, writing “I want to kill everyone except about 5 people” (1998).
The Gottschalk-Gleser results for Dylan Klebold’s writing provides much more insight into his mental health. He is found to be moderately high for the Hostility Outward (Overt) subscale, which involves themes including killing or hurting others, or threatening to, and “adversely criticizing, depreciating, blaming, expressing anger, dislike of other human beings” (Gottschalk and Gleser 1969, 33). He is found very high for the Hostility Inward scale—more than three standard deviations above the mean. This scale measures tendencies toward self-harm, suicide, and criticism of oneself. It includes feelings of worthlessness and deprivation (Gottschalk 1969). Like Eric Harris, he is both slightly high on the Social Alienation-Personal Disorganization scale and slightly low on the Human Relations scale.
It is interesting that Harris and Klebold would be found to be slightly low on the Human Relations scale because Klebold wrote in detail about his desire for love and a meaningful human relationship. However, this scale also measures the individual’s capacity to realize these desires, which is perhaps why Klebold has such a low result. The analysis of Klebold’s writing also returned a result of very low for the Quality of Life scale, which is a composite of other results. This reveals that Klebold was suffering from very poor mental health. His score on the Depression scale was, as expected, very high. This takes into account seven subscales within the broader unit of depression: hopelessness, self-accusation, psychomotor retardation [a slowing down in thinking, feeling, or doing], somatic concerns [hypochondria or changes in physical health], death and mutilation depression, separation depression [feelings of abandonment], and hostility outward (Gottschalk 2001, 226).
These three young men were not socially well-adjusted or mentally healthy. However, given the challenges in posthumously assessing their mental health, conducting language analyses such as the Gottschalk- Gleser method is a reasonable way to evaluate their mental states. Much of the conversation about mental health and rampage killings is around the lack of mental health care available in the United States. However, Rodger was receiving care and still carried out an act of violence. It is also critical to emphasize that while many rampage killers have mental health issues,few people with mental health issues are violent. In fact, mentally ill people are more likely to be the victims of violence than to perpetrate violence themselves (Brekke et al. 2001). This is why it is so critical to understand the particulars of each individual’s mental state, so that any conclusions drawn from that are made responsibly.
We will have our revenge on society, & then be free, to exist in a timeless spaceless place of pure happiness. The purpose of life is to be happy & be with your love who is equally happy. Not much more to say. Goodbye.
-Dylan Klebold’s Journal (1998).
This study shows that the narrative rationalizations of these rampage killers convey the influence of toxic masculinity and mental illness on the killers’ states of mind prior to the attacks. There is a lot to be learned from closely analyzing the writings of three young men who killed a total of nineteen people between them, and non- fatally injured thirty-eight more. Neither the attack on Columbine High School, nor the killings in Isla Vista were spontaneous acts of rage. They were thoroughly planned, vengeful attacks conceived by young men who felt as though the world was unfair to them, and that they were entitled to punish and kill those who had wronged them, whether directly or symbolically. Moreover, all three men had incredibly low self- esteem, and felt victimized because they did not conform to societal norms, particularly around gender. We see clear evidence that Klebold, Harris, and Rodger all subscribed to the idea of toxic masculinity, whether they were aware of it or not. They embodied Kalish and Kimmel’s definition of “aggrieved entitlement,” albeit to different degrees. We also have clear evidence that Klebold, Harris, and Rodger showed abnormal psychological dimensions on the Gottschalk-Gleser scale.
There are countless possibilities for research that uses narrative rationalizations to explore the sociology of school shootings, as well as the individual pathology of violent offenders. Future research could compare word-level indexes of school shooters’ writings to the writings of their non-shooter peers, including those who also display signs of mental illness. Similarly, the writings of school shooters can be compared to the writings of other mass killers, including terrorists with a variety of ideologies—from radical Islamist terrorists to right wing white supremacists.
Finally, these school shooters’ paradoxical personalities—as evidenced by their paradoxical writings—would benefit from further scholarly analysis. For example, while Dylan Klebold was obsessed with his own death, he also believed he would find true love. Eric Harris was violent, obsessed with weapons, and filled with hate, yet he didn’t want his homicidal plans to be blamed on anyone else. He insisted, “It’s MY fault! Not my parents, not my brothers, not my friends, not my favorite bands, not computer games, not the media. IT is MINE! Go shut the fuck up!” (Harris 1998). Elliot Rodger hated beautiful women for having the power to determine a man’s status. He also believed he was superior to some of the men who were romantically involved with these women. He was self-aggrandizing and self- loathing all at once.
As part of a broader effort to prevent these sorts of killings in the future, we need to understand the specific ways gendered attitudes towards violence and power affected these three school shooters. Examining the writings they left behind is just a start. We need to address the inherent paradoxes of toxic masculinity, not least the contradictions between low self-esteem and self-aggrandizement. Moreover, we need to challenge the ease with which violent individuals can successfully obtain weapons and carry out acts of mass violence. Toxic masculinity, mental health issues, and the availability of weapons are just three of the known factors that led to the deaths of almost twenty people at the hands of three young killers—but there could be additional factors that we have yet to uncover. For this reason alone, it is critical to expand on the research outlined in the paper and continue studying the opinions and psychological traits of known school shooters.
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