The small town of Roanoke, somewhere in the US state of Virginia has suddenly had its low-key image forcibly shattered. When its better-known neighbour, Blacksburg, home of Virginia Tech, was shoved into the spotlight by a lethal murder-suicide in 2007, Roanoke had no inkling that it would one day face the same reckless fury. On Wednesday, 26 August, a gunman gave TV viewers a gross spectacle—live killing on television. Sadly, public shootings have become synonymous with gun-toting Americans.
Around 6:45am, as reporter Alison Parker, and cameraman, Adam Ward, filmed a live interview with Vicki Garder, a local chamber of commerce official, Vester Lee Flanagan aka Bryce Williams walked towards them and shot the trio. Only Gardener survived to tell her story. Not done with the spectacle he had shown to viewers, Flanagan then uploaded a video of the shooting on Twitter accompanied by a ranting explanation. The deluded killer also faxed a 23-page suicide note to ABC News. His day ended with his car crashing into an embankment, and a lethal gunshot he gifted to himself.
The fax he sent was a chronicle of accusations against everyone who had ever worked with him. His records show that different employers had fired him on multiple occasions, most recently, WDBJ in 2013. Parker and Ward were employees of the local news channel. Each time he was fired, he complained of discrimination. One employer complained about his “misbehaviour with regards to co-workers”. Poor performance was a common complaint among his employers. Apparently, he felt all the races were against him. He is now dead, along with the innocents whose lives he rudely cut short.
This is not the first shooting to attract public interest. The past decade is dotted with shooting incidents across several cities in America. From the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, to students killed in high schools and campuses, to shootings in cinemas, some individuals have always taken it upon themselves to cause tears. The shooters either have something against the authorities or against themselves, and choose to vent their frustrations on unprotected citizens.
As I read about the Flanagan shooting, I recalled a movie that I watched recently—“Rampage: Capital Punishment”. In the movie, the main character carried out “the deadliest shooting in American history”. After the shooting, he kept a low profile to avoid police detection. Then he executed an elaborate plan at a TV station, which he rigged with homemade explosives. Like Flanagan, he had a message to pass across to the public, a message that he forced the station to broadcast. He also made use of social media to spread his message and upload videos, revelling in the mass of followers that his account garnered.
I would have passed off the movie as just another movie, but the entire movie looked like a compilation of propaganda for public consumption. Hiding behind the veil of a movie production, the producer was spreading what appear to be his personal views. I assume that he has a vendetta against the government and other authority figures. At the end of the movie, a book was taken from a little girl. In its place, she was given a gun, told that books were useless, and that she should shoot her mother.
The movie may seem deceptively innocuous, but I ask, “What is the difference between that movie and Al Qaeda or ISIL’s propagandist recruitment videos”? Is it because it does not have an overtly religious colouration? This movie preaches that all governments are irredeemably bad, and that democracy is bullshit. It encourages citizens to take up arms against perceived ills in the society. The arguments are so convincing that I even agreed with some points raised in the movie.
In the name of freedom of speech and the First Amendment, the American public implicitly allow supercharged movies to indoctrinate their citizens quietly. I am not saying that this movie inspired Flanagan. All I am saying is that this kind of movies engender violence. They teach that violence is a veritable way of venting frustrations regardless of the rightness or wrongness of such frustrations. Instead of seeking help when faced with challenges, these movies preach self-help without regards to people’s right to life. Those, whose minds are easily indoctrinated, are then aided by lax gun-control rules.
The American people have a string of big decisions to take in order to make themselves safer. The utopian illusion that Hollywood has created for those of us outside that country is fast dissolving to show a society on a ledge without a leash. Right now, someone, somewhere in that country is silently brooding and planning his own rampage. Only clear-headed Americans can stop him.