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Santa Fe High School Shooting: an Incel Killing?

Photo by Tom Driggers | CC BY 2.0

On Friday, May 18th, the U.S. was witness to its 22nd school shooting of the year.  This one took place at the Santa Fe High School at which 10 people (8 students and two adults) were killed and 13 wounded.  (Santa Fe is 36 miles southeast of Houston.)

The alleged perpetrator is Dimitrios [Dimitri] Pagourtzis, 17-year-old and son of Greek immigrants. He was junior and an honor-roll student whobrought to school his father’s shotgun, a .38-caliber revolver and two nonfunctional“improvised explosive devices” (IEDs).  Fellow students considered himaquiet, shy kid who reportedly wore a black trench coat almost every day even when temperatures hit over 100°.  He played on the school’s junior-varsity football team and was apparently repeatedly bullied.  He was also a member of a local Greek Orthodox church’s dance squad.  According to some media reports, “he did not shoot students he did like so he could have his story told.”

The Daily Beast reports that Pagourtzis posted photos online of neo-Nazi iconography.  He posted photos of a T-shirt with the words “Born to kill” on it as well as a jacket “emblazoned with a variety of symbols including the Iron Cross, a German military award last given by the Nazis, and other pins. He said he equated the Iron Cross with “bravery.”  It claims that “Pagourtzis said a hammer and sickle meant ‘rebellion,’ a rising sun meant ‘kamikaze tactics,’ and a baphomet meant ‘evil.’”  [Baphomet is a Knights Templar occult deity.]  In addition,as the Associated Press reports, he apparently studied previous mass shootings and used aspects of those attacks in his own shooting.  (Some media reports claim he wore a T-shirt with “Born to Kill” on it under his trench coat.)

Perhaps the saddest aspect of this sad story involves Pagourtzis’ apparent first victim, Shana Fisher.  According to Fisher’s mother, Sadie Rodriguez, the girl “had 4 months of problems from this boy …. He kept making advances on her and she repeatedly told him no.”  Rodriguez says that Pagourtzis continued to get more aggressive and her daughter finally stood up to him, embarrassing him in class. “A week later he opens fire on everyone he didn’t like.” She claims, “Shana being the first one.”

CNN’s list of the 22nd school shootings so far in 2018 is revealing.  First, “school” is used in the broadest sense, coving middle and high school as well as colleges/universities.  Not surprising, most of this year’s school shootings have taken place at a high school (12), then a college (7) and finally a middle school (3).  Looking at the 22 incidents in terms of the resulting violence, the following is revealing: killings (5), woundings (15), accidental discharges (2) and only in two incidents was the shooter killed/committed suicide. (Some incidents had multiple outcomes.)

Of the 22 shootings, only three can be considered a “mass shooting,” involving more than 10 victims.  In addition to Santa Fe, many remember the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland (FL) in February where 17 were killed (14 students and 3 staff) and 17 wounded; often overlooked is the shooting at the Marshall County High School in Benton (KY) in January where a 15-year-old student killed two and wounded 14 others.

One the shadows hovering over the Santa Fe shootings is whether Pagourtzis should be considered part of the so-called online world of “incels,” involuntary celibates.  Male incels are part of a peripheral online community known as pick-up artists (PUA), sexually frustrated men who blame women for their misery – and virginity – and often advocate for violence against them. According to Vice, PUA is “a manipulative craft largely developed by Neil Strauss’s The Game, a book that provides its readers with techniques like ‘negging,’ which teach men to insult women in order to charm them into bed.”

Incels are distinguished by a particular rage against women, often expressed in targeted killings of women. Marc Lépine, 25, is considered by some to be the first incel killer.  In 1989, he stormedthe Montreal’s École Polytechnique, where he had been denied admission, and singled-out women for killing — murdering 14 women and wounding 14 others (10 women and four men).  He was apparently enraged by the rejection, often ranting that women were taking the traditionally jobs occupied by men. Before he opened fire, Lépine shouted: “You’re all a bunch of feminists, and I hate feminists!” One student, Nathalie Provost, protested: “I’m not feminist, I have never fought against men.” Lépine shot her anyway.

In 2009, George Sodini, 48, walked into a Colliar, PA, gym and killed three women and wounded nine others before shooting himself.

However, the most well-known incel character is Elliot Rodger. In May 2014, he was a lonely, troubled 22-year-old who killed six people (including his three roommates) and wounded 14 others near the campus of UC Santa Barbara, in Isla Vista, CA. He then killed himself. He saw himself as a “supreme gentleman” who couldn’t get a date, let alone end his virginity. He went online to rage about attractive women who, according to The Cut, “he believed had unfairly rejected him and about men who were more successful at dating.”

In late April, Alek Minassian, a 25-year-old man, was accused of plowing a van into a crowded Toronto sidewalk that left 10 dead and 13 seriously injured. On his Facebook post, he proclaimed: “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”  Rodger’s supporters proclaim on 4chan and Reddit that May 23rdis “Saint Elliot Day,” a day of celebration, the anniversary of his shooting spree.

Pagourtzis may well have had incel “tendencies,” an apprehension (if not fear) of females, that contributed to the people he killed.  Of the 10 people he killed, 7 were female (5 students, 2 teachers) and three were male students.  Most disturbing was that white nationalist paraphernalia he displayed on line – a “Born to kill” T-shirt, a Nazi Iron Cross, a Communist hammer-and-sickle, a kamikaze rising sun and Knights Templaridol.  What this confusing assortment of symbols meant to the Sante Fe shooter is anyone’s guess.  Sadly 10 people paid with their lives as Pagourtzis lived out its incoherent meaning.

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David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.

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