This week, young Salvador Rolando Ramos, aged 18, shot dead children and two adults at an elementary school in Uvalde, a city in Texas about 100 kilometers away from the border with Mexico, where some of the victims and their own family came from. Salvador, who perhaps shot at his reflected image as in a mirror. Just ten days earlier, Payton Gendron, also 18 years old, got out of a car in Buffalo, New York, and killed ten people in a supermarket. Payton streamed the slaughter online and live and strove to leave no doubt about his racist rage motivations. This year, mass shootings have already been recorded in the United States. The killing in Uvalde is the 27 th case in a school. It is a true American tragedy. But what tragedy should we be talking about?
The mass shootings in the United States offer us some lessons that are overshadowed by the role that guns play in the debate. It is superficial and incorrect to attribute the cause of the tragedy to the ease of acquiring weapons in the United States. Of course, having an assault rifle makes the job easier and increases the lethality of snipers. But is it the guns fault? A simple comparison: it would be like saying that cars kill, to define violence in traffic, which is a serious problem in Brazil and is growing in the United States.
But the central issue is not the grotesquely parallel intentionally with vehicles. Common sense, which pushes us to blame the guns, takes us away from the fundamentals. The American disease is human.
Snipers are the key, but they are not treated as such. In the United States, the definition of mass shooting boils down to cases where there are at least four people shot, excluding the shooter. Thus, the list includes gang fights, settling scores between criminals and every type of crime that could involve the use of firearms.
Weeks before Salvador and Payton horrified the world in these recent events, another boy wounded three people when he fired dozens of shots at a school in the capital Washington, D.C. Because it does not fit the concept of four victims, the case does not enter the statistics, but it is fundamental to understand a common trait among the shooters. .
Like Payton, who streamed the Buffalo supermarket shooting, the Washington shooter also used online gaming platforms to show the world the action. Both were young people disturbed by loneliness, by the inability to nurture affective relationships with the opposite sex and lived in the internet forums known as “Chans” – a digital territory created for the exercise of full freedom of expression and the enjoyment of anonymity, which turned into a breeding ground for conspiracy theories, pornography and distillation of the traumas and hatreds so carried by these types.
The real weapon that is in use against children in American schools is madness.
There is a high level of resentment and illness bottled up in these online environments where most shooters spring. Between them, there is an interaction that validates their hatred, sadness and distorted visions of a world in which they see themselves as the great victims.
Salvador was a stutterer. His difficulty was the object of bullying in childhood. But bullying was only able to definitively mark him because he grew up in an environment incapable of offering him instruments of resistance. On the contrary, he deepened his traumas. Broken family, drugs and violence. It is still unclear whether Salvador used to frequent the online forums or if he was part of the typical fauna of that environment that are the involuntary celibate people – teenagers and men unable to relate to the opposite sex and who blame women, who would be cruel, abusive and unfair in not having a sexual relationship with them. But Salvador seems to have some typical traits. Before killing and dying, he posted on his networks that he would attack the school. He wanted to be recognized.
Payton, the white supremacist, discovered 4Chan in the pandemic. He felt lonely and bored and went to seek solace precisely where his frustrations would be the trigger. Raymond Spencer, who happens to be the Washington gunman, was also an online forum user and appears to have acted out of racial motivation. But in Spencer’s case, the signs can be switched. The clue is in a painting hanging in his room with the image of a legendary being that supporters of black supremacy believe is responsible for the distortion of the original race, by “creating the whites”. A madness that conquered black activists in the years of 1960 and still inhabits the minds of many people – even more so in the crazy nursery that is the digital forums.
The cases of mass shootings that occurred in Brazil have the same nature. From Realengo, in 2011, to Suzano, in 2019, the shooters had in common the traits of psychological illness and the relationship with virtual forums. Misogyny, racism and all kinds of deviations could be identified in other members who – although they did not reach the limit of committing murders – made death threats and even attacks.
A thousand and one years ago enough evidence that these spaces are the ideal breeding ground for the emergence of shooters and there is even more evidence that in these forums there are those who manipulate them.
It would be absurd to think that there are people dedicated to the work of taking advantage of the labor of lunatics to erode the fractures of society as instruments of social destabilization? Nothing is more evident than the case of the QAnon conspiracy theories. The super insider who knew all about the deep state in America fed the troubled minds and gave robustness to the scenario that would hold the tragedy that was the invasion of the Capitol.
A series of serious works found the fingerprints of Russia, China and Iran inflating madness among the regulars of the “Chan” forums.
It would really be crazy to think that the same external actors could be throwing gasoline on the fire. Feeding traumas and embedding messages specially constructed from real dilemmas and amplifying them into a crisis of security and self-esteem?
The United States is constantly being challenged in the face of its own image. Which isn’t really the prettiest of them all, but it’s not terrifying like most people want it to be either. Racism and the supremacy of this and that, immigrants on the margins of society and right-wing radicals seem to be part of the patchwork that serves as a backdrop for a phenomenon whose image seems to be intentionally blurred.
Maybe , the best approach to the crisis is not just the urgency of modernizing the requirements for the sale of arms in the United States. I open parenthesis here to say that I don’t like them, but I’m not part of the team that thinks they should be banned. The question is who can afford them. And more than anything: where do snipers come from? Who are they? How does radicalization take place? Who is using madness as a weapon?