Malvern, Pa. (CBS CONNECTICUT) — Potential mass shooters exhibit similar psychological and behavioral traits that include identification with “dark knight” popular culture figures, “costuming” in military or all-black attire and misogynistic views towards women.
In the article, “Costuming, Misogyny, and Objectification as Risk Factors in Targeted Violence,” Brian Van Brunt, EdD and W. Scott Lewis, The NCHERM Group, LLC, suggest reasons why persons who commit premeditated mass shootings are drawn to dark popular culture imagery and misogynistic views toward women. The authors propose several factors in behavior and dress that can assist criminal investigators in identifying potential mass shooters.
“We have explored several risk factors in this article that should be considered when identifying potential violence—costuming, misogyny, and objectification,” write the authors. “It should fall to our law enforcement and behavioral international teams in educational settings to attend to individuals who seek to acquire tactical clothing and accessories, or engage in other behaviors that support (or begin to support) an image of themselves as a dark warrior.”
Risk factors associated with past and potential shooters linked the perpetrators’ fascination with antihero characters and other “dark-knight” personas in popular culture such as Neo in “The Matrix,” Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” and Batman from the “Dark Knight.”
The authors also suggest that “costuming” allows shooters to live out their violent fantasy by dressing in military fatigues, body armor, or all-black clothing while they commit violent acts.
The Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting suspect, James Holmes, chose to dress as the Joker character from the “Dark Knight” movie that was playing as he killed 12 people and injured 70 others in July 2012. The authors cite military attire and law enforcement paraphernalia as both a tactical advantage and a method of distancing themselves from their victims and identifying themselves as “martyrs” or “antiheroes.”
The authors note Norway shooter Anders Breivik’s assembling of an intricate but fictitious military dress uniform complete with medals and a weapon named for a mythological Norse figure of war and death. Sandy Hook Elementary shooter Adam Lanza and Columbine High School shooters Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris wore similar military attire to commit their premeditated mass shootings.
“‘Objectification’ of victims and ‘costuming’ are specific offender behaviors that will give threat assessment teams throughout the world greater insights into the motivation of mass shooters and just how ceremonial their preparations are,” said Mary Ellen O’Toole, PhD, Editor-in-Chief of Violence and Gender and Senior FBI Profiler/Criminal Investigative Analyst (ret.), in a statement.
“The value of this information in being able to identify these offenders beforehand based on their behavior so that we can prevent future acts of mass murder is very significant.”
A February report from Violence and Gender observed that shooters are “generally white males between fifteen and thirty years of age,” with the most relevant contributing factors to their violent acts stemming from “chronic conflict” and “intolerance to separation or rejection.”
The report also includes the objectification of women and other misogynistic attitudes as possible “red flags” in identifying potential shooters who are looking to tip the power balance back from “failed romantic advances” or an “inability to establish an intimate relationship.”
“The use of objectifying or misogynic language should draw our attention and demand further exploration by those responsible for preventing violence,” write the authors. “Those who commit these horrific events often feel disempowered, a state over which they are attempting to regain control. Objectification of women is one means to that end.”
The report was published in the journal Violence and Gender, a peer-reviewed journal that focuses on the “understanding, prediction and prevention of acts of violence.”