Yesterday morning, a man wearing a military helmet and a Darth Vader mask entered a school in Trollhattan, Sweden, carrying a sword. After posing for a picture with two students who thought his outfit was a Halloween costume, he stabbed a teacher with his sword and began attacking other students. He killed two and seriously injured several others before being shot by police.
Those looking for a conventional answer as to why he did it don’t have to look too far: The killer, identified in the media as 21-year-old Anton Lundin-Pettersson, seems pretty clearly to have been motivated by racist and religious hatred towards Muslim immigrants. The school he picked for his violent rampage is overwhelmingly populated by immigrants; surveillance footage of his rampage reportedly shows that he deliberately targeted people of color.
A suicide note he left behind reportedly railed against immigrants. He was apparently also a supporter of a proposed anti-immigrant referendum, and a YouTube account identified as his followed several YouTubers known for railing against Muslims, including Howard Bloom, an eccentric author whose latest book, the self-published “The Mohammed Code,” purports to show how Mohammed sought to use violence to take over “the entire world.”
But Lundin-Pettersson’s rampage, while clearly driven by hate, was hardly a conventional hate crime. There is his bizarre outfit: in addition to wearing a Darth Vader mask (and a Nazi-era German army helmet) he reportedly shouted out Vader’s famous line “I am your father” as he launched his attack. And he apparently provided his own soundtrack for the rampage, playing what one witness described as “terrifying” Halloween music as he stalked the halls of the school, as if he were re-enacting a favorite scene from a movie or a hack-and-slash video game.
He may also have announced his planned rampage on 4chan the day before, in the creepy tradition of the Umpqua Community College less than a month ago. According to a screenshot now circulating on the internet — I haven’t been able to confirm it — he warned the denizens of 4chan’s r9k forum, in a post deliberately echoing the words of the earlier killer, to skip “school tomorrow if you live in Sweden,” adding a Trollface graphic along with his note and telling his readers that “my image will be of relevance.”
If the 4chan screenshot is real, it suggests that the Trollhattan killer was deeply enmeshed in “troll culture” online, a world in which violence and even mass murder can be reduced to an assortment of memes, where someone like mass murderer Elliot Rodger can be hailed, only partly ironically, as the “supreme gentleman” he famously declared himself to be.
Invariably, when people on 4chan or YouTube — or some other cesspit of the internet — start making jokes about mass killers, or even hailing them as heroes of sorts, we’re told that none of their comments really count; they’re just trolls, doing what trolls do.
But scratch a troll posting racist memes, and you will almost certainly find a real racist; scratch a troll posting misogynistic attacks on Anita Sarkeesian, and you will find a real misogynist. When trolls send rape and death threats to those they genuinely hate, their recipients need to take them as seriously as more obviously “serious” threats.
The world of the trolls is a nasty, hateful world, and those who soak in it too long may end up lashing out at the world in violent ways.
Indeed, it’s telling that the Trollhattan killer’s favorite YouTuber (if the account attributed to him is really his) was the noxious rager who calls himself TheAmazingAtheist. Lundin-Pettersson subscribed not only to TAA’s main channel but to his personal channel as well, and he favorited dozens if not hundreds of TAA’s videos (I stopped counting). Unlike some atheist activists, TAA doesn’t devote much time to trashing Islam; he’s far more interested in bashing Anita Sarkeesian and other supposed SJWs.
But TAA affects a hyperbolic “mad as hell” persona that, despite its obvious theatricality, seems to be rooted in a good deal of real anger. I can barely make it through a single video of his, and can only imagine the corrosive effect that watching dozens of his rage-filled videos would have on someone’s soul.
Naturally, YouTube comments being the cesspool that they are, the Trollhattan killer is receiving a good deal of posthumous support from racists, trolls, and racist trolls. An assortment:
There are critics, of course. And a few commenters who feel that he hadn’t killed enough people to deserve all this adulation.
A reminder: these are from YouTube, not 4chan; I honestly don’t have the stomach to wade into the assorted 4chan threads devoted to the killer.
At this point, I think it’s become clear that websites that permit the posting of this sort of unregulated hate speech — from 4chan to Reddit to YouTube — are enabling the hateful troll culture that seems to have turned Lundin-Pettersson into the monstrous “troll” murderer who took two lives yesterday.