Today columns|Opeds|Boston.com blog|Media|Other Publications|
Media amplifies New Zealand shooting suspect's 'manifesto,' giving mass killers
JameJames Alan Fox, Opinion columnist
Published 4:38 p.m. ET March 15,
2019 | Updated 6:56 p.m. ET March 15, 2019
A mass killer doesn't want
to be remembered as just some nut. Coverage of their personal writings and
so-called 'manifestos' indulge that delusion.
Many of the details
surrounding the hideous slaughter of dozens of innocent victims at a pair of
New Zealand mosques are still unclear. However, one key element " the
underlying motivation for the attack " is distressingly obvious, outlined in
a lengthy diatribe filled with hatred for minorities and immigrants as well
as those who endeavor to assist and protect them.
I have only skimmed
the online document by the alleged gunman, identified as 28-year-old Brenton
Tarrant. Despite the vague title, "The Great Replacement,v it doesn't take
very long to become sickened by this man's ugly ideas and explicit
directives for like-minded white supremacists to execute specific
politicians on the left.
It has become fairly common for mass
killers, both the political and pathological, to post online or by mail an
explanation for their crimes. Through letters, manuscripts, or videos, they
want us to know that they have a bonafide reason for murder " by their way
of thinking, it is justifiable homicide. They do not wish to be seen or
remembered, if deceased, as just some nut who killed innocent strangers for
no good reason.
Besides my abhorrence for the substance, it is hardly
worth my time to read "The Great Replacement" from cover to cover. I get it,
the author feels marginalized and wronged because he is being denied
advantages supposedly promised by virtue of his race.
gives killers a platform
Various social media have taken appropriate
steps to remove the hater's online footprint. Unfortunately, the
conventional media is giving this undeserving hate monger a platform and a
wide audience by quoting from sections of the document. Thanks to telling
excerpts, millions around the world are now aware of this man's apparent
point of view, far more than the limited readership of his vitriol posted
online in advance of the killing spree.
It is also inappropriate to
label documents like this as a "manifesto." It is a term typically used with
regard to an important political statement crafted by a public official or a
person of prominence, not a mass murderer.
This practice started
when the Washington Post and New York Times published, under coercion,
Theodore Kaczynski's 35,000 word thesis, which actually was titled, "The
Unabomber Manifesto." Since then, the term has been regularly misapplied to
Charleston, South Carolina, mass killer Dylann
Roof himself indicated that the media should stop characterizing his
writings as a manifesto. As for "The Great Replacement," the word
"manifesto" appears just once in the entire document, but not in the context
of describing the work.
Don't overplay a killer's biography
have long insisted that the news media should indeed publicize the names and
images of mass killers, a position contrary to a large number of my
colleagues in criminology. That limited information hardly promotes
celebrity. However, following up with excessive details about the killer's
lifestyle and belief system tends to humanize the assailant and can
invigorate others of like minds.
In addition to downplaying the words
of a hate monger, we shouldn't overstate the notion that the alleged New
Zealand gunman was "inspired" by Dylann Roof or even Norway's Anders
Breivik. He may have endorsed their ideas and respected their violent acts
that were designed to eliminate a hated minority group. But he certainly
didn't need them to establish his own murderous plan. The concept of killing
a perceived threat or enemy is hardly a modern-day creation.
coming days, we should hear heart-wrenching stories about the victims " what
they believed in and what they meant to family and fellow worshipers. We
already understand the detestable ideology that prompted this hate crime. We
need not know more about the assailant's biography, as that would serve no
real purpose and literally add insult to injury.James Alan Fox is the Lipman
Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern University
and a member of the USA TODAY Board of Contributors. He is co-author of
Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder. Follow him on
You can read diverse opinions from our
Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on
Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to
a column, submit a comment to firstname.lastname@example.org