Survivalism, Apocalyptic Aggression, and Violence
Let's look at these elements one-by-one.
Many religions are built around some form of apocalyptic belief and the vast majority of practitioners do not commit violent acts.
In its most generic sense apocalyptic belief is built around a cluster of ideas:
• There is a upcoming confrontation between good and evil
• The clock is ticking and time is running out
• During the confrontation hidden truths will be revealed
• Afterwards the world will be transformed
The words "apocalypse," "prophecy," and "revelation" are all derived from the same basic Greek word which means the unveiling of that which is hidden. Thus in the Bible the Book of Revelation is also called the Apocalypse of John. As it happens most scholars now conclude this John was not the John who was a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth, but a guy who lived in the cave and had visions decades after the events described in the Gospels.
Christianity is built around an apocalyptic belief, and while most Christians do not weave these religious views into conspiracy theories, some do, especially in the United States. Millions of Americans, especially Christian fundamentalists, scan current events for signs of the approaching end times. For some this involves looking for evidence that trusted political and religious leaders have become secret agents of Satan who is plotting a worldwide conflagration pitting godly Christians against the Devil’s disciples. The expected upcoming battle is an apocalyptic event-- and this doomsday battle of Armageddon might result in the end of time or the victory of God who scourges earth free from nonbelievers and establishes a millennium of peace.
Visit a Christian bookstore and you are likely to find many titles explaining in elaborate detail a variety of conflicting end times scenarios. Traditionally among black Christians this Apocalypse reveals the hidden truth that racism is a sin leading white Christians to repent and reuniting the body of Christ to the church into one triumphant religious utopia. The rhetoric of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. reflected this idea of justice being the outcome of the Apocalypse. Over a century ago Frederick Douglass drew from the same biblical sources to construct his rhetoric against slavery.
Today an apocalyptic view surprisingly widespread among white Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals is that the battle of Armageddon will occur in their lifetimes, and that president Obama and his liberal allies are agents of Satan. Hard to believe? A September 2009 poll in New Jersey found that 14% of Republicans believed that President Obama was the Antichrist—Satan’s chief sidekick in the End Times according to one reading of the Bible’s Book of Revelation. Another 15% thought it might be possible. Scholar Robert Fuller calls “naming the Antichrist” an “American Obsession.” Scholar Paul Boyer has studied the confluence of apocalyptic belief and conspiracy theories, and has warned that apocalyptic belief plays a significant yet seldom discussed role in shaping US policies in the Middle East.
Several scholars have studied the political role of conspiracy thinking in the contemporary United States, including Michael Barkun and Robert Alan Goldberg. Scholars Richard Hofstadter and David H. Bennett have penned historic accounts.
Survivalism is an apocalyptic view (with both religious and secular proponents), that advocates gathering and storing large supplies of food, water, and medicine, in anticipation of economic collapse, social unrest, or the Tribulations. Some adherents also purchase gold and other precious metals as a hedge against currency devaluation; and some acquire weapons.
During the administration of President Clinton, at a time of millennial excitement prior to the turn of the calendar for the year 2000, survivalist preparations became a mass phenomenon in the United States. Scholar Philip Lamy studied this, and in 1996 wrote a book on “Millennium Rage: Survivalists, White Supremacists, and the Doomsday Prophecy.” There was a confluence of survivalism, apocalyptic expectation, and conspiracy theories involving liberal subversion and treason. Republican operatives exploited this and helped spread the conspiracy theories into the major corporate media.
Survivalism, often tied to conspiracy theories, became big business and even the History Channel began producing shows speculating about a variety of conspiracies. This continues to this day, and feeds back into the survivalist movement, especially on the website of the Connecticut Survivalist Alliance (CSA). The website of CSA not only stresses survivalism, but also gun ownership and training. The website is awash in racist attacks on President Obama and vile Islamophobic images and text.
People who take their apocalyptic fears seriously can react in three ways:
• Passive: Wait in patience or prayer for the expected confrontation.
• Preparative: Collect supplies and perhaps form groups to resist negative outcomes of the expected confrontation (this is the basis of survivalism).
• Aggressive: Why wait? We must act before it is too late!
The aggressive mode can turn inward, resulting in individual or mass suicides. This is what happened with the Heaven’s Gate group that saw the approaching Hale-Bopp comet as a sign of their apocalyptic transformation into a higher life form. It also was what occurred at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas; but only after US government officials rejected pleas from a number of scholars of apocalyptic thinking that their crude and provocative tactics could lead to many deaths.
Government law enforcement officials have repeatedly misunderstood apocalyptic belief. In Waco and the incident at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, this caused needless deaths. At the same time some government analysts have over-generalized about gun enthusiasts, survivalists, armed militia members, and a variety of right-wing groups in ways that conflate beliefs with methodology and threaten civil liberties -- even using agents provocateurs to encourage illegal planning for violent acts.
Apocalyptic Aggression and Violence
The merger of conspiracism with apocalypticism often generates aggressive forms of dualism.
Apocalyptic Aggression can occur when demonized scapegoats are targeted as enemies of the “common good,” a dynamic that can lead to discrimination and attacks. Apocalyptic fears about impending economic collapse can trigger apocalyptic aggression, although there is not enough information to tie this to the shootings in Connecticut.
The linkages among apocalypticism, masculinist rage, and violence have been studied by scholar Lee Quinby. Scholars Mattia Gardell and Julie Ingersol wrote of this connection in essays on Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, who was found sane enough to be convicted. Scholar Mark Juergensmeyer called Breivik a "Christian Terrorist."
We need to unpack the concepts of "constitutive rhetoric"; the vilification, demonization, and scapegoating of a named "Other," coded rhetorical incitement by demagogues; the relationship between conspiracism and apocalyptic aggression; and the process of scripted violence by which a leader need not directly exhort violence to create a constituency that hears a call to take action against the named enemy. These processes can and do motivate some individuals to adopt a "superhero complex" which justifies their pre-emptive acts of violence or terrorism to "save society" from imminent threats by named enemies "before it is too late."
I wrote about this at length in “Terrorism, Politics, Mental Illness, and Superhero Complex,” after the mass terrorist shootings at the Colorado theater.
"Terrorists embody a “Superhero Complex….” A number of terrorists in the US fall into that pattern. Stressor factors that can create a Superhero Complex that leads to violence can include zealous political goals, anxiety over changing racial, gender, or religious dynamics, a sense of being persecuted, fear and depression over collapsing economic viability, a belief in conspiracy theories of impending attack by dark forces, or other factors. For Salvi, Loughner, and Breivik, stress was focused on targeted scapegoats by right-wing fearmongering from marginal sources and demonization of liberal ideas.
What really happened?
We don't know. We may never know.
We hear from television pundits (with no evidence except the power of their own ego and their delight from basking in their 20 minutes of fame) that Adam may have been motivated by some neo-Freudian Oedipal rage to kill his mother; and then he killed the children in the school because early reports linked her to the school as maybe a substitute teacher. This claim of a tie to the school turned out not to be true.
Can we speculate? Sure. Speculation is protected by the First Amendment. I’m not saying any of this is true. Trust me.
Maybe Adam heard voices from God, a space alien, or other vocal interior commander instructing him to kill his mother and as many students as he could shoot.
Maybe Adam was sparing his mother and the students from the horrors and tortures of Satan's end times attack described in delicious detail by dozens of Christian right conspiracy authors. Maybe it wasn't Satan but Obama ordering jackbooted UN troops to impose tyranny and enslave America-- a theory popular during the militia movement of the 1990s—and carried on today by right-wing (and some left wing) conspiracy cranks. Maybe it was the fear that radical Muslims were about to impose Sharia Law, a bigoted conspiracy spread by Newt Gingrich whose appearance on network television as a commentator is stark evidence of the triumph of commercialism and sensationalism over morality.
Maybe Adam was motivated by the sense of emasculation peddled daily by right-wing television, radio, and Internet celebrities who tell men they have been politically castrated by feminists, and that liberalism is directed by a cadre of Marxist lesbians who have taken over the nation's universities. Is it a coincidence that these superhero complex terrorists are all men?
It is clear that as the television networks gain viewers by broadcasting tragedy porn from outside the school in Connecticut, there is already an attempt to spin the story as a case of mental illness that negates any call for a national conversation on gun control.
We need such a conversation. Just as we need conversations about gender panic and male identity, an issue that has long been with us but which accelerated after the United States lost the war in Vietnam. See, for example, Scholar James William Gibson's "Warrior Dreams: Violence and Manhood in Post-Vietnam America." Scholar Jerry Lembcke has written three volumes about this issue. Both belong on television talking about this tragedy along with the other scholars mentioned in this essay, with their expertise on apocalyptic thinking, conspiracy theories, gender, and violence.
In this season when so many religions contemplate peace along with all people of good conscience let us step back and look at some of these larger issues. And let us remember that families and friends who lost loved ones whose names are listed below.
• Allison N. Wyatt, 6 • Ana Marquez-Greene, 6 • Anne Marie Murphy, 52, teacher • Avielle Richman, 6 • Benjamin Wheeler, 6 • Caroline Previdi, 6 • Catherine Violet Hubbard, 6 • Charlotte Bacon, 6 • Chase Kowalski, 7 • Daniel Barden, 7 • Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, 47, principal • Dylan Hockley, 6 • Emilie Parker, 6 • Grace McDonnell, 6 • Jack Pinto, 6 • James Mattioli, 6 • Jesse Lewis, 6 • Jessica Rekos, 6 • Josephine Gay, 7 • Lauren Rousseau, 30, teacher • Madeline F. Hsu, 6 • Mary Sherlach, 56, school psychologist • Nancy Lanza, 52, perpetrator's mother • Noah Pozner, 6 • Olivia Engel, 6 • Rachel Davino, 29, teacher • Victoria Soto, 27, teacher
Survivalism, Apocalyptic Aggression, and Violence | 13 comments (13 topical, 0 hidden)
Survivalism, Apocalyptic Aggression, and Violence | 13 comments (13 topical, 0 hidden)