What Drives Some Men to Massacre? Part 1

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When a tragedy like the devastating shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut takes place, two things happen:

1. Everyone wants answers.
2. Few want to discuss causes.


The press swarm and share details like rations to a starved public: the weapons used, the clothes the murderer wore, the guaranteed quotes from shooter’s neighbors on how “he was so quiet” 3D maps of the crime scene, comments on how something like this could happen in such a quiet town, relationship of the murderer to the victim, etc.

Folks have been trying to put the puzzle pieces together around massacre shootings for decades, but the one piece always ignored is what leads some men to commit these extremely violent massacres?  Whether it is a massacre of dozens or a massacre of some or one, it is men with the closed fist or the hand on the weapon. Someone will always say now is not the time to talk about action, about change…it is time.

Some of us have been singing this song for a while now


The reason I feel such a strong sense of urgency regarding the work that we do at White Ribbon, as well as folks like Byron Hurt, Jackson Katz, Carlos Andrés Gómezis that we understand what it at stake here.  We need to openly explore what it means to be a man, and how that in turn makes some men violent.

“He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built”- Luke 6:48

Fear of vulnerability, the disconnect, running from working towards healing and burying the depression & sadness, leads to some men & young men speaking in a language of violence. It is not just about the tools or medium of violent expression…we need to be pro-active in exploring the question why men who are hurting, are hurting others. Why are these hurting men violent towards women, violent towards children, and violent towards other men?

If you react defensively while reading this, feel I am blaming all men, or want to distill this into a more general discussion of violence…you are not helping us get toward healing. Let’s focus on THIS conversation too: while many men are indeed good men who never have acted out in violence or will commit an act of extreme violence, some men are violent.

There have been over 60 mass shootings in the US in the last 30 years, and 61 of them were committed by men, according to Mother Jones 

A Guide to Mass Shootings in America - Mother Jones

Katz said after the 1999 Columbine shootings that “accessibility of guns, the lack of parental supervision, the culture of peer-group exclusion, or the prevalence of media violence, all of these factors are of course relevant, but if they were the primary answers, then why are girls, who live in the same environment, not responding in the same way?

The longer we dance around this conversation, the more tragedies we will have to endure. This issue is too urgent, too overwhelming to ignore. The question we urgently need to ask ourselves is: for our young men & boys today, is growing up an ascent or decent into Manhood? 

The costs for carving out these warped ideas of manhood are internal break-downs with men becoming shut-in’s or walking time-bombs.


This world rejects me/This world threw me away/This world never gave me a chance/This world’s gonna have to pay/Something inside of me has opened up its eyes/Why did you put it there did you not realize/This thing inside of me it screams the loudest sound/Sometimes I think I could/I’m gonna burn this whole world down

…and then we sit there numb, surprised and shocked when these acts of violence constantly happen all around us.

“Time and time again we hear on our national news about the seemingly kind, quiet young male whose violent underpinnings are suddenly revealed. Boys are encouraged by patriarchal thinking to claim rage as the easiest path to manliness. It should come to no surprise, then, that beneath the surface there is a seething anger in boys, a rage waiting for moments to be heard.

– bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love.

We have written pieces here at Higher Unlearning on how men can be like islands disconnected from others, and explored how some men speak in a language of violence. Join us and start more discussion and reflection on this piece of the puzzle.

“Tragically, we are witnessing a resurgence of harmful misogynist assumptions that boys “benefit” from patriarchal militaristic notions of masculinity which emphasize discipline and obedience to authority. Boys need healthy self-esteem. They need love. Patriarchy will not heal them. If that were so they would all be well.”

 — bell hooks


“He doesn’t recognize that it’s his submersion in the imbalanced warrior culture, where violence is the means of getting respect and power…Power and control will NEVER out weigh love. May we all find our way.”

– Jada Pinkett-Smith

puzzle mind

“Many men are raised to be the wrong kind of strong and don’t seek or ask for help. If we are not raising men to value their health, and in turn value themselves, how then can we expect men to extend respect to the earth, to fellow sisters and ever fellow brothers? They say the size of your actual heart is the size of your clenched fist. To open your heart is to open the clenched fist. Open up. Let go. – Fist-of-Cuffs

The missing piece in the puzzle of violence is our harmful ideas of masculinity.
We need to plant the seeds for change. Now.



“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

– Jack Layton

It is time.
Right now.
RIP to the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School.

It is time to have that conversation.


**Click Here to read Part 2 of ‘The Conversation We Aren’t Having: What Drives Some Men to Massacre?’



  1. Your stats (sorry, Mother Jones’ stats) are wrong. Here’s 3 more with women that it didn’t take me long to find. Two school shootings, one post-office.




    The woman who went “postal”, Jennifer Marco, she has killed more than any of the men who went “postal”.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Going_postal

  2. this is a very powerful article but I think you are missing some things in your search for causes

    In Mark Ames excellent book ‘going postal’ he states that efforts to build a profile of ‘rage killers’ have proved fruitless because these cases are too diverse to profile, almost every personality type has been involved. But you can profile the institutions in which these things happen, schools, colleges and workplaces.
    Bullying, long hours, high pressure, rank moral hypocrisy, tyrannical manager/employee or student/student relations and even anti-septic strip lighting are all common factors.
    Also, the socio-economic context in which the phenomenon arose, 80’s Reganite America and the dismantling of the US’ social democratic system in workplaces and later schools, the link between the ‘going postal’ massacres and US post office labour practices has been well articulated.
    Ames also states that for some, it is a kind of political act in the manner of (he compares it to) a slave revolt or a riot. It is interesting that these types of mass murder dovetail fairly well with the end of political assassinations in the US.
    an interview with him
    there is a radio interview here (begins around 25:36)
    [audio src="http://shout.lbo-talk.org/lbo/RadioArchive/2012/12_12_20.mp3" /]
    a review by Richard Seymour

    It is somewhat of a separate issue I feel from violence, but I think that the type of modern masculinity you talk about is more of a response to the environment that these men live in than anything else.
    If you go to /r9k/ and /fit/ or r/seddit or any number of forums etc (even accounting for internet hyperbole) you will find men who are mostly nerdish, unassuming, sensitive, quiet and/or not athletic etc, attempting to obliterate these qualities in themselves because they feel this is the way to a a better life, a more authentic sense of self and romantic success.
    Your message would have more weight I reckon, if you acknowledged that there can be substantial negative consequences for abandoning traditional ‘patriarchal’ masculinity; it would also do to admit that it is reproduced not just by ‘messages in the media’ or between men but by schools, workplaces and female desire among a host of other things,
    many of the quotes you use seem like an exercise in treating the symptoms.

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