I recently came across this interview on Alternet (www.alternet.org/) which I found most intriguing. Mark Ames puts forward the idea, in his book Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion: From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond (Soft Skull, 2005) that so-called spree killing are not random acts of violence at all – but part of slow motion rebellion against the ‘American Way’.
Here are some extracts from his interview with Jan Frel:
It's not easy to stare this country square in the face and bear witness to the
pandemic of horror, misery and rape-the-fields viciousness that abounds. I can
do it at the most for 10 minutes at a time... and then find myself drifting back
to my Comfortable Place. It's far harder to sit down and write about what's
really going on in America; there are entire publications -- like Newsweek or
New York Magazine -- that give every sign of making it editorial policy to scour
each article and delete any hint of reference to the scales on our dark underbelly.
So it's a fairly powerful event to find a decent-sized book that does nothing
but articulate a series of truths about the American Life you've hardly read
about or spoken about, but just simply felt. Mark Ames' "Going Postal” is such a book.
Ames takes a systematic look at the scores of rage killings in our public
schools and workplaces that have taken place over the past 25 years. He claims
that instead of being the work of psychopaths, they were carried out by ordinary
people who had suffered repeated humiliation, bullying and inhumane conditions
that find their origins in the "Reagan Revolution." Looking through a carefully
researched historical lens, Ames recasts these rage killings as, essentially,
failed slave rebellions.
What got you interested in American rage murders? Did you have an inkling about
what their underlying cause might be before you started piecing the articles and
background information about them together in a systematic fashion?
Columbine. I had just flown home from Moscow to visit a friend who was dying of
cancer when Columbine happened, and my first, unmediated reaction to the news
was something between sympathy and awe. Officially everyone was horrified, but a
lot of friends I talked to, ranging from artists to yuppies, told me they had
the same reaction, that Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were like heroes, and we
were all surprised it didn't happen sooner. So I started to ask myself why I had
this sympathy, why it was so widespread (and sympathy for the killers is
incredibly common, just highly censored), and that led me to look at the larger
phenomenon of rage murders.
On my next visit there was a massacre at Xerox in Honolulu. At the time I was
trying to cover the start of the 2000 Democratic presidential nomination
campaign, and I felt overwhelmed by the intolerable insanity of the culture, and
that feeling of being crushed, and then I remembered, "This is why I left the US
for Russia in the first place." That was when I finally linked the two,
workplace and school rage murders. These weren't the works of psychopaths --
they were people fighting against something intolerable that many of us know is
there, but hasn't been named yet. There isn't a Marx to give a name to
post-Reagan middle-class pain. How do you fight against something horrible,
oppressive, and debilitating before it even has a name? Especially when
everyone, especially middle-class people, sneer at it and refuse to believe it's
When you're too deep in the culture, you start to think that the most
horrible/mundane aspects are normal and just the way things are. When you're
outside of it for awhile, it's a little easier to see the insanity and brutality
for what it is.
How much blame do you place on Reaganomics for the changes in the workplace that
you argue lead to rage attacks?
Put it this way: rage murders in the workplace never existed anywhere in history
until Reagan came to power. Reagan made it respectable to be a mean, stupid
bastard in this country. He is the patron saint of white suckers. He unleashed
America's Heart of Vileness -- its penchant for hating people who didn't get
rich, and worshipping people who despise them, and this is the essence of
As for the slave tendency in humanity, I think it's a lot stronger in America
than in most other countries in part because no other country on earth has so
successfully crushed every internal rebellion. Slaves in the Caribbean for
example rebelled a lot more because their oppressors weren't as good at
oppressing as Americans were. America has put down every rebellion, brutally,
from the Whiskey Rebellion to the Confederate Rebellion to the proletarian
rebellions, Black Panthers, white militias... you name it. This creates a
powerful slave mentality, a sense that it's pointless to rebel.
And this in turn creates pointless rebellions like modern workplace and school
rebellions, just like our early slave rebellions were carried out in totally
pointless, seemingly random ways.
You demonstrate that there is absolutely zero accuracy in the psychological
profiles that "experts" have assembled to predict what kind of young student
might start another Columbine, and you instead advocate profiling schools that
could prompt a deadly massacre. What are some of the tell-tale signs to look
White kids. Just look for white kids, and you'll have a potential Columbine.
When I said that the school should be profiled rather than the kid (since the
Secret Service and FBI have both concluded no profile of a Columbiner is
possible), I meant something larger than just the school campus -- I meant the
entire culture. Our culture today is completely insane, the disconnect between
how our propaganda says our lives are, and how our lives actually are. And let's
face it, white middle-class kids are far more deeply invested in the dominant
cultural lies, and therefore more easily destroyed by the rupture when those
lies become untenable, than minority urban kids are.
You repeatedly cite how calm the attackers are while the killing is going on,
how they consciously avoid the people who treated them nicely, and how many of
the victims sympathize with the impulses of the rage killers. Were you surprised
at how "rational" -- input leading to output -- these rage attacks look within
No. In fact, I have to admit it pleased me to learn this, because it proved that
these people are not sick freaks like Jeffrey Dahmer and Charles Manson. This is
what makes rage massacres so threatening and unique. They appeared out of
nowhere in the annals of crime, starting up in the mid-1980s, just as
Reaganomics took hold. The rage murderers were often very well-liked at their
offices or schools. They were often seen as harmless. They were middle-class,
trying to get by.
The fact that they were rational in their massacres proved that they weren't out
to kill for pleasure, but rather they were striking against something larger
than just human blood. They wanted to kill the Beast, and many employees or
students represented a part of that Beast, while others clearly did not. That is
to say, their rational behaviour during these massacres proved that they weren't
sick -- quite the opposite, their problem is that they couldn't live by the Lie
I certainly find it a fascinating hypothesis. The idea of people just ‘losing it’ for no reason never really sat well with me and I think that Mark Ames might be on to something here. I have yet to read the book (the paperback isn’t due out here until March 2006) but it’s definitely on my ‘to buy’ list as I’d love to learn more about this interpretation.
So are these people just crazies with guns… Or is there something darker beating at the heart of American (or maybe even Western) Culture. Are spree-killings a result of full throttle free market Capitalism? It’s certainly a scary thought………..