When on September 26 a gunman wearing a swastika on his T-shirt and a black balaclava broke into school No. 88 in the Russian city of Izhevsk, children as young as seven fled in panic down the hallways and stairwells or crowded into classrooms. The gunman killed 17 people – including 11 children – and injured 24 before killing himself.
It is unfortunately the same old story that is so familiar in our own country. And when police finally got to the gunman’s body, they found another recognizable type of school shooting everywhere: a direct reference to the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colorado, 23 years earlier.
This time they found braided cords with the inscription “Dylan” and “Eric” attached to two pistols of the Izhevsk attacker.
Nicholas Goldberg was the editorial page editor for 11 years and is a former editor of the Op-Ed page and the Sunday Opinion column.
These names must have been immediately recognizable even to the Russian police. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were the trench-coated Columbine elders who shot dead 13 people and injured 24 others in 1999 before killing themselves in the infamous attack that made them role models and glamorized anti-heroes to far too many concerned young people.
Her cultural staying power was extraordinary. The “Columbine Effect,” as the wave of subsequent copycat attacks is called, was noted shortly after 1999. Like most people, I had heard about it, and was aware that Klebold and Harris had reached macabre folk hero status with some potential imitators.
But I wasn’t aware of how many attacks were directly impacted by the two, or how far they’ve spread globally. Columbine has been cited or investigated by assassins and conspirators in Canada, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Finland, among others.
In February, the Russian state news agency Tass reported that the Russian Supreme Court had labeled the so-called “Columbine Movement” a terrorist organization. According to the New York Times, Russia’s attorney general described them as a decentralized group of gunmen “coordinated using the power of the internet.” It has been banned.
Russian authorities linked two attacks to the movement, including a school shooting that killed nine people in Kazan in May 2021 and a shooting at a university in Perm in September 2021 that killed six people.
Of course, these attacks cannot be fully blamed on Columbine. The copycat phenomenon is only part of a complex equation. School shootings can be linked to bullying and harassment. They may have their roots in violent media consumption. In toxic, hyper-masculinity. In the availability of weapons. For childhood trauma. In mental illness, often undiagnosed.
But there’s no question Columbine has been inspiring shooters for nearly 25 years.
Take Sebastian Bosse, who attacked his former school in Emsdetten in 2006 wearing a long black coat and armed with two rifles, a pistol and homemade bombs. He wrote in his diary: “Eric Harris is God!”
Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007, called Harris and Klebold “martyrs” and submitted an English paper saying he wanted to “redo Columbine.”
Adam Lanza, who killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, was obsessed with Columbine and kept hundreds of documents and videos about it, according to Connecticut investigators.
Kylian Barbey, 17, who injured eight people when he opened fire at a high school in the southern French city of Grasse in 2017, had watched videos of the Columbine murders shortly before his attack.
These are just a few examples. By the 20th anniversary of Columbine in 2019, it had directly influenced dozens of conspiracies and attacks around the world.
How did it become a role model? Harris and Klebold were not the first school shooters, nor the last, nor the deadliest. So what is it?
E. Fuller Torrey, founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center in Virginia, says that Columbine was the first school shooting that became a huge 24-hour newscast and therefore served as a historical marker for those that followed. It was well documented through videos and writings by the perpetrators that became available on the internet. Additionally, Torrey said, Harris and Klebold did not present themselves as psychopaths, but they did have the power of life and death over their schoolmates, including those who had taunted and bullied them, refused to date them, or excluded them.
“They appealed to the losers in the world,” Torrey told me.
Ralph Larkin, a sociology professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, says Klebold and Harris presented themselves in their manifestos as “defenders of disfellowshipped students.” They had been bullied and humiliated – accused of being gay, doused in ketchup and the like. They posted that they wanted to start a student revolution to rise up against their tormentors, something that concerned students might identify with.
“Harris and Klebold wrote the cultural script,” says Larkin. “They created a paradigm that is still being pursued today.”
Many people also blame the media, which for weeks relentlessly reported on Columbine and made the killers famous. Some people say that news organizations shouldn’t even report the names of mass murderers because it encourages copycats.
Today, in the US at least, we live in a world of active shooter practices, school escape routes, locked classroom doors, and bottleneck entrances. Teachers, classmates, and parents should be on the lookout for bullying and stress that could feed another Sagittarius.
But the attacks continue. The Washington Post says 2021 saw more school shootings than any year since 1999, when it began keeping track.
My heart beats for the people of Ischewsk. The death of her children barely made our front pages last week, although the shooter was inspired, at least in part, by our own twisted, insane example.
The Columbine culture script still endangers us all today, here and abroad.
https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-10-06/columbine-eric-harris-dylan-klebold-russia-school-shooting Nicholas Goldberg: Did the 23-year-old Columbine attack inspire last week’s school shooting in Russia?