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Euhemerism and the Cult of Active Shooters

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Ygnacio Flores, Don Mason & Tracy Rickman
July 8, 2022

© Photo by Y. Flores of Active Shooter Drill at Rio Hondo College 2013

The recent attack by Salvador Ramos at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on May 24, 2022, reinforces the growth in active shooting incidents in society. This not only serves as a reminder of how extreme violence is becoming ordinary; it also supports the cult of active shooting through the euhemerist deification of past criminals acting against society. The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that 2021 saw a 52.5 percent increase in active shooting events in the United States. Sadly, many targets of active shooters are the most vulnerable in our communities. Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012 in Newton, Connecticut there have been more than 900 incidents where guns were used in the K-12 Environment. One hundred and sixty-nine students have died in active shooter events in schools since the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado in April 1999.

Surprisingly, in the wake of active shooting events, perpetrators of this extreme violence are held up as models of antisocial behavior. In the practice of euhemerism, active shooters are deified as a cult grows around the exploits of these criminals. Extremely powerful in euhemerist beliefs are the dead heroes that grow in stature as exaggerated myths develop around those people distinguished in their actions and deeds. Similarly, active shooters, especially those with a high count of victims, attract a following that views the shooter as a hero by those that also seek to do harm to a large section of society.     

Many active shooters study past active shooting events in the hopes of mimicking and surpassing the exploits of those they view as heroes. Standing out among active shooters are Eric Harris (18) and Dylan Klebold (17) who set the contemporary standard for mass killings by murdering 13 people and wounding 20 others before killing themselves at Columbine High School. Others mass killers, like Seung-Hui Cho who killed 32 innocent people at the Virginia Tech campus in 2007, left a video in which he euhemerizes Harris and Kelbold.

Following Columbine, Adam Lanza (20) killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Twenty of those killed were children between six and seven years old. Adam planned his attack with careful detail. He also kept a spreadsheet where he also euhemerized famous killers. Adam was also a regular contributor to an online forum that lionized Harris and Klebold from Columbine.

In 2014, Elliot Rodger (22), sought to kill students at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Using a knife and gun he killed six people before killing himself. His video, Elliot Rodger’s Retribution, was uploaded to YouTube where he outlined his misogynistic attacks. Today Rodger serves as the poster child for many in the incel—involuntary celibate—movement where he has been canonized by his followers through euhemeristic ardor.  

Our educational institutions are part of the nation’s critical infrastructure. As part of the Education Facilities Subsector to the Government Facilities Sector plan, the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency provides valuable information on school safety and security. Security of our nation’s schools is not solely a government responsibility. It takes a whole of community effort to protect our most valuable national resources—the students, teachers and staff in the educational sector.

Usually in hindsight, when reflecting on the shooters’ past behaviors and activities, we find that people that commit acts of violence in our society were seen as threats to society. There is a fine line between constitutional protections and proactive investigations. What cannot be ignored is the knowledge that a potential active shooter might be identified through their practice of euhemeristic devotion to their heroes of violent deeds. Coupling this devotion with overt acts of planning for an attack, obtaining weapons and ammunition and posting violence-supporting discourse on social media can prevent another active shooting event from occurring.

Moving forward, leaders need to contemplate the best solutions to prevent and mitigate attacks. Knee-jerk reactions, especially those that look at changing constitutional amendments, need to be aware that once an amendment is changed, it provides a means to change other amendments. Changes to the laws of the land need to be done so that proposed regulatory actions are instrumental in nature and not cosmetic. Too many laws passed in the wake of significant events turn out to sound effective but prove to be inadequate in fixing the issues targeted.

Gun control and mental health support programs need to be part of the solution in mitigating future active shooting events. Caution should also be exercised in arming school staff as a means of creating a sense of a more secure school environment. Physical security of places where people gather must be taken seriously on a sustained basis. Too often, after a few months people regress to a need for convenience over security. The ordinary will not be the norm and the consequences of doing nothing will result in more unspeakable incidents like that witnessed in Uvalde, Texas. Society must come together to seek meaningful action to reduce the number of children and other innocent people being murdered by extreme violence. A civilized society must act in a unified voice.

Authors: Dr. Ygnacio “Nash” Flores and Don Mason are faculty at Rio Hondo College. Dr. Tracy Rickman is faculty at Tarleton State University.

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