Scott Lively on Columbine

Ten years ago today, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and a teacher, as well as wounding 23 others before killing themselves at Columbine High School near Denver, CO. Immediately and since then, mental health professionals, journalists and numerous others have searched through the writings of Harris and Klebold, and interviewed their classmates looking for the motives behind the shootings. Immediately after the tragedy, the media reported various theories based largely upon the accounts of classmates and acquaintances. Many of those theories have been discounted by later systematic investigations.
Scott Lively spoke recently to a Republican group in Temecula, CA and, as an aside, told the crowd his version of Columbine. While talking about the influence of the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche on the Nazis, Lively tied Hitler, Nietzsche and homosexuality together as the culprit behind the Columbine shootings. At about 1:33 into Part 7 of his speech before the GOP group, Lively said,

They [the Nazis] had Hitler youth meetings around Nietzsche’s writings. You know the kids that killed, who was it, one of the school killers, one of the first ones. He was reading Thus Spake Zarathustra [by Nietzsche] when he committed those murders and he did it…didn’t he do it on Adolf Hitler’s birthday? April 20th, right? Yeah, the Columbine shooting, that was the same spirit that existed in Germany. It was Nietzsche’s writings, and it was Hitler’s birthday and it was associated with homosexuality. That was one of the first stories that came out, it got suppressed immediately that the guys that did this were involved in some kind of homosexual connection. That got squelched. As all this stuff gets squelched.

I asked Mr. Lively for a source for these claims and he had no exact reference, although he thought it might have come from a documentary he saw. I searched for any references connecting Klebold and/or Harris to Thus Spake Zarathustra but found nothing specific. Journals and writings of Eric Harris did have a very Nietzschean quality and according to Langman, Harris did a school report on Nietzsche. However, it is not clear to school violence expert, Dr. Peter Langman that Harris ever read Thus Spake Zarathustra. In his paper, “Influences on the Ideology of Eric Harris,” Dr. Langman said

This article explores the parallels between Eric Harris’s ideas and those of people he admired: Adolf Hitler, Friedrich Nietzsche, Thomas Hobbes, and probably Charles Manson. We know that Hitler fascinated Eric from his choosing to write about him for a school research paper, the references to Hitler and the Nazis in Eric’s journal (along with swastikas and SS insignia), and the testimony of Eric’s friends that he idolized or worshipped Hitler.
We know nothing specific about Eric’s interest in Hobbes and Nietzsche. All we have is his statement, “I just love Hobbes and Nietzsche.” What he read of their works remains unknown. Eric did take a philosophy class at school that may have introduced him to Hobbes and Nietzsche. He may also have done significant reading on his own. Whether or not Eric had an accurate understanding of Hobbes and Nietzsche is not relevant here. Eric would have read these philosophers from his own perspective, perhaps already knowing that he would commit mass murder, and looking for justification or validation of his worldview and intentions.

In any event, I could find no evidence that Harris was reading it just before or when he was shooting his peers.
The homosexuality connection is even more tortured. It is true that very quickly after the shootings, some classmates noted that gay slurs had been made toward both Klebold and Harris. However, no credible source has found any verification of the hunch. Langman deals with this rumor in some detail:

More significantly, there were rumors that Eric and Dylan, along with members of the Trench Coat Mafia, were gay. When reporter Dave Cullen investigated this, however, he found that “the stories were generally vague, secondhand, and never from students who personally knew members of the group.”16 A student stated that Eric and Dylan “would touch each other in school. People have seen them. One of them went up to a kid I know and did that” (he demonstrated grabbing his crotch). When asked if that were Eric or Dylan, the student said, “I don’t know,” adding that it was “people in the group.” Thus, behavior that was engaged in by members of the Trench Coat Mafia was attributed to Eric and Dylan because they wore trench coats.
There are, in fact, reports in the JCSO material of Trench Coat Mafia members grabbing crotches in front of people, and of males kissing each other publicly, but none that Eric or Dylan engaged in such behavior. Just to add to the confusion, one of the boys in the Trench Coat Mafia who engaged in this provocative sexual behavior was named Eric. This may be the source of some of the confusion – there were two boys named Eric who wore trench coats. One of them engaged in public homosexual behavior. The other one – Eric Harris – did not.
The same student who was just quoted also said that the Trench Coat Mafia kids were made fun of, and lumped Eric and Dylan in with the TCM: “They [Eric and Dylan] were in the Trench Coat Mafia, and that’s something around our school that we consider freaks.” He said that as a result, Eric and Dylan were picked on. Yet, Eric and Dylan were not in the Trench Coat Mafia, and this student could not talk about them apart from that identification. He said Eric and Dylan were gay and that they were picked on for being in the TCM, but when pushed on the issue, could not be sure he even knew which kids he was talking about.
Similarly, Time Magazine reported the following:

“Columbine is a clean, good place except for those rejects,” Todd says of Klebold and Harris and their friends. “Most kids didn’t want them there. They were into witchcraft. They were into voodoo dolls. Sure, we teased them. But what do you expect with kids who come to school with weird hairdos and horns on their hats? … They’re a bunch of homos, grabbing each other’s private parts. If you want to get rid of someone, usually you tease ’em. So the whole school would call them homos.”19

This passage could easily be used to support the idea that Eric and Dylan were persecuted, but that would be a mistake. Who is this student talking about? The reporters’ comment says he was talking about “Klebold and Harris and their friends,” but nothing that the student said applied to Eric and Dylan. They were not into witchcraft. They were not into voodoo. They did not have weird hairdos. They did not wear horns on their hats. They did not grab each other’s crotches. There were kids at Columbine who did these things, but Eric and Dylan were not among them. Thus, we again see a student apparently talking about Eric and Dylan, but confusing them with all the students who were considered misfits, outcasts, or members of the Trench Coat Mafia.

I reproduced that long section because the context is necessary to understand why the hypothetical connection of homosexuality (or the spirit of it) to the Columbine tragedy is spurious. There is also doubt about the relevance of Hitler’s birthday; April 19th may have been the original date. Nietzsche’s sexuality is in doubt as well. However, even if every component of the conspiracy theory about Klebold and Harris was accurate, it would not prove that they were linked in some manner.
In any case, there is no credible evidence that either Harris or Klebold were homosexual. The best evidence points to mental illness being behind the violence at Columbine. The stories about homosexuality have been squelched, not because they would betray a dark secret about homosexuality and fascism, but because investigation finds no basis for them.

15 thoughts on “Scott Lively on Columbine”

  1. David Blakeslee –
    I was wondering if determining their mental health status doesn’t come too late in the process of prevention. Also if their problems stemmed from inadaptation to social environment, how they had been treated in that environment played a role. There are more causes to mental health problems, of course, but this factor could be addressed better in education to reduce tensions. It seems that affect dysregulation plays an important role in youth violence and maybe getting psychology involved in early education could help moderate that. Check out this recent thesis which deals with the subject (large document!).
    Even if school teasing and bullying may not directly or solely cause the mental problems, they can trigger a disproportionate response, like you said. So, do you think that raising awareness about this among educators and peers and getting professionals involved in the education act could make a significant difference? As opposed to singling out a few and referring them to mental health profs?
    PS. This is an idea I thought about some time ago, unrelated to this subject, that part of the emotional problems with teens and adults may come from two sources: a general one (social normativity), and a particular one – that education systems largely favour developing and exercising the rational part of cognition, to the detriment of dealing with the emotional side.

  2. There are different kinds of “rampages”…one local here (Kip Kinkle was clearly mental health influenced…he was referred to a local psychologist, put on anti-depressants, encouraged by his parents and his teachers. He improved, but later went off the meds. He started purchasing guns well in advance of the attack. He murdered both his parents. Went to the school and shot a bunch of kids, was subdued and became weeks later, morbidly depressed. Later, a battery of psychological tests confirmed severe depression, but with auditory, command hallucinations.
    In prison and on meds, he clearly grieves for the loss of his family and his school members.
    The key component for me here is prior documented mental illness and that the homicides are not followed by his own suicide (an attempt to escape punishment).
    Columbine and many other white mass murders lack attempts to seek mental health treatment (they are forced referrals) and end in the suicide of the perpetrator. This is often true in cases of male spousal abuse and domestic violence.
    The key component seems to be the wish to punish (through murder) and the wish to avoid accountability (through suicide)…

  3. David Blakeslee said: The defect in empathy during such rampages is so profound. ..Grossly disproportionate to any hurt they have suffered.
    I agree with that. And I think that there should be open debate that should consider all possible causes, not just the obvious human factor of individual inadaptation.
    Actually I would be more concerned with the fact that psychiatrists and psychologists like the ones quoted in the link provided by Warren find it expedient to lay the blame on the mental health status of those two kids. It’s like telling the community ‘It’s OK, you don’t have to do anything to prevent it. They were sick. Continue as you are.’ Instead of doing that, it would be more responsible for them as professionals to seek ways to promote more inclusiveness in social groups and nip such acts in the bud. I think that both parents and educators have a silent culpability in how these kids turned out.
    Two 17 and 18-year-old kids taking a whole year scrupulously preparing themselves for a massacre in their school sounds hard to believe. WHat happened to all the crazy stuff that people do when we’re in high school, like smoking, going to parties and stuff.
    It seems to me that their paths have been blocked somewhere, which made them develop into depressive and deeply resentful individuals. Some people commit murders out of impulse, making a state-dependent mistake that they later regret. This type of school shooters appears to be remorseless, which points to a deterioration of mental health that takes place in time and which should have been noticed by parents and other people around them. If they failed to notice it, then the defect in empathy worked on both sides and professionals should play a role in fixing that. I don’t agree with laying public blame only on the shooters, because the preventive smart thing to do is to defuse any future intention in other people by recognising the problems that lead to that build-up of motivation, in the first place.
    Maybe educators in the developed world, where most of these events take place (USA, Germany, Finland), should start considering changing the aims of education in schools from this 19th century old paradigm of acquiring language, forming concepts, exercising memory, problem solving, etc, to a new way of dealing with the person in its entirety, to include emotional cognition too. This is where professionals must step in and do some preventive work, IMO.

  4. He wasn’t sure but he thought he’d seen a documentary (which he couldn’t name) but now it’s all surpressed. But he has no hesitation in repeating it. In the name of Christ.
    Please, please, please, Mr. Lively, convert to some other religion so I don’t have to feel so ashamed of being a Christian.

  5. Thanks Warren…I think “mental Illness is way too global.”
    The defect in empathy during such rampages is so profound.
    The fact that these are often white men.
    It is also cowardice and hatred, rolled into one.
    Grossly disproportionate to any hurt they have suffered.

  6. Well, there are many causes apparently for various shootings.
    Yes, and the cause is only a part of why it happens – it is usually the inability or unwillingness to reason thoughts and feelings out to a constructive resolve instead of reacting to them with irrational actions.

  7. David – Well, there are many causes apparently for various shootings. It may be an overgeneralization to point to mental illness as the main factor. However, I do think the evidence points to a real problem that our society has in figuring out how to help those who are obviously in trouble before they offend (e.g., Virginia Tech, the guy in Binghampton, etc.)

  8. Good point, if you look into it any more, report what you find. One example is the Hope 2 Hate video I posted a couple of days ago.

  9. Has S.L. tied gay relationships to the white supremist (sp?) groups and leaders? What does he have to say about that since they hate gays too. Has anyone confronted him on the illogic of that?

  10. Funny how we have not tied all the other school shootings to gays?? Now let’s put this in ratios. ALL school shootings. Two were gay (maybe – but definitely by S.L. descriptions of things.) Hmmmmm. Definitely all this violence is caused by gays (sarcasm – in case that was not inferred loud enough)

  11. And even if they were gay, what would it matter except that they might have been verbally bullied for their sexuality.

Comments are closed.