In the aftermath of the right-wing terror attack aimed at Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, a familiar talking point has already begun to poke its head out: The shooter was bullied, you guys. Everyone focus on that, and not the rising tide of white nationalists who are feeling increasingly emboldened in the United States and elsewhere thanks to the toilet nature of social media. Shit, one of them even became president. What a time to be alive!
To be clear, I don’t want to minimize bullying. It is by every measure the fucking worst. I was a shy, skinny dork who wore glasses from 1988 to 1995, so I was practically served on a golden platter every day for recess. On top of that, I was absolutely terrified of getting in trouble at school for fighting because that could very easily result in me getting beat twice that day, only this time by a grown man. And that’s just the violent bullying I experienced. The psychological kind? Goddammit.
Anyway, bullying is obviously a serious issue that requires way more care and diligence than the zero fucks given in the past, and for the most part, schools have been stepping up. Are things perfect now? Of course not. But there is an effort that’s in stark contrast to “the good ol’ days,” which conservatives are always very keen to go back to. Just look how often Republicans oppose anti-bullying legislation. It’s right up there with participation trophies to these assholes. So it’s always neat to see conservatives trip over themselves to condemn bullying when it’s a convenient distraction from the two bedrocks of the GOP base that also drop bodies at a horrifying rate: Guns and racism.
Which brings us to this viral tweet by Casey Explosion that surprised a lot of people by highlighting an ugly truth about Columbine:
A reminder that the Columbine shooters were white supremacists who scribbled their journals with swastikas and SS symbols, praised the nazis, and committed their murder spree Hitler's birthday.— Casey Eggsplosion 🥚 (@CaseyExplosion) March 18, 2019
Media bent over backwards to blame everything but white supremacy for their actions. pic.twitter.com/ypKtA7hahQ
Over the years, I’ve done some digging into the Columbine shooting, for reasons I’ll get to, but even knowing that the bullying angle was a myth, it never once occurred to me that bullying was being used to wave off more than just gun control, which sadly worked because the party of Pro-Life Christians is very okay with sacrificing a few schoolkids if it protects their right to hopefully shoot a brown person who steps on their property.
They blamed music, videogames, movies, they blamed social isolation and bullying, they blamed everything they could point a finger at, except white supremacy. That elephant in the room set the tone for coverage of terrorist mass shooters for decades to come.— Casey Eggsplosion 🥚 (@CaseyExplosion) March 18, 2019
Granted, Columbine occurred while I was in college and just starting to crawl out of the wreckage of my evangelical upbringing, but I still had friends and family who were deeply ensconced in that world, which afforded me front row seats for some bullshit. In this case, the martyrdom of Cassie Bernall. Now, this should go without saying, Cassie is blameless for everything that transpired after she was murdered by Eric Harris. The poor kid got a raw deal coming and going. She was failed by grown-ups who could’ve prevented Columbine from happening in the first place, and she was failed again by grown-ups who used her death as a gross prop to say, “Ah, but you see, the real target was Christians as it always is. Case closed. Amen.”
According to the myth that still exists to this day, Cassie was asked by one of the shooters if she believed in God. When she answered yes, she was shot dead. This did not happen. What actually happened is that while hiding under a table, Cassie was indiscriminately murdered by Eric Harris. However, Cassie’s myth arose because, in the aftermath, a traumatized student made an honest mistake and confused her with another student. You see, Dylan Klebold actually did ask a girl if she believed in God when he found her praying, only it was Valeen Schnurr who answered “yes” and was left to live after Dylan became distracted. Multiple eyewitnesses not only corroborated Schnurr’s encounter, but that Cassie had been coldly and randomly murdered by Harris with no interaction.
Here’s the thing. This information was available almost immediately after the Columbine shooting, but it didn’t stop Cassie’s mom from writing the Christian bestseller She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall, and the response from the Bernall’s church was some holy shit.
Via The New Republic:
But something interesting happened once the truth came to light. Cassie’s church didn’t back down. Hanna Rosin did a wonderfully thorough dissection of the rise and fall of the myth in the Washington Post. Reverend Dave McPherson, Youth Pastor at Cassie’s congregation at West Bowles Community Church, told Hanna, “You will never change the story of Cassie…. The church is going to stick to the martyr story. You can say it didn’t happen that way, but the church won’t accept it.”
He didn’t mean just his church; he meant the worldwide evangelical community. And to a large extent, he was right: this widespread debunking was met with widespread denial. She Said Yes was reissued in several formats and sold over a million copies. A vast array of websites sprang up to defend the erroneous story. Too many people had found too much value—spiritually or financially—in the myth to simply let it die.
So if you’re wondering how a blatantly white supremacist shooting in New Zealand can somehow be spun into a referendum on bullying, Columbine showed how easy it is to deflect from the real truth:
Guns and white nationalism are killing us all.
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