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Oct. 21 2009 - 7:04 pm | 26,016 views | 3 recommendations | 11 comments

Bullying is behind foiled Columbine-style school massacre

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold

A 15-year-old boy accused of stockpiling gasoline, propane and a machete for a planned school attack on the anniversary of the Columbine school massacre burst into tears and admitted to police he was upset about being bullied, according to the detective who interviewed him.

via Monroe-Woodbury High School Plot: Charges Expected In Planned Columbine Anniversary School Attack In Upstate New York

In our culture of Zero Tolerance, it’s considered appropriate for children as young as six-years-old to be treated as suspects for bringing a Swiss Army knife to school, but school administrators rarely consider acting preemptively to stop school massacres’ primary catalyst: bullying. States allocate resources to metal detectors, undercover cops, locker searches, bag inspections, snitching programs, and every other imaginable police state accessory designed to create an oppressive, stressful environment, which is just a super influence on teenagers, nature’s volcanoes with legs.

Bullying is still widely ignored by schools despite the fact that it is consistently listed as the central motivating factor behind some of the most brutal high school massacres of the past decade. After the Columbine shootings, the media (as usual) raced for the bottom in a hapless quest to blame anything and everything for making Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold snap. It was Marilyn Manson! No, bad parenting!

What no one seemed ready to admit was that their classmates had mercilessly teased Eric and Dylan, and Columbine high school was famous for rampant bullying, which was either ignored or secretly celebrated by teachers and administrators. (This may seem like a cold summation, but you’d be amazed how pathetically sycophantic many adults behave around the popular kids in high school.)

Of course, the Columbine shooting had nothing to do with Eric and Dylan’s music or parents. Millions of youth listen to Marilyn Manson, and a vast majority don’t shoot their classmates, so that was a red herring from the start. Additionally, boys both came from two-parent homes, and they both declared their devotion and endless love to their parents before the massacre. In fact, as Mark Ames writes in Going Postal, their only regret was that the planned massacre would hurt their parents.

“Eric Harris, considered by many to be the more “evil” of the two, said, ‘My parents are the best fucking parents I have ever known. My dad is great. I wish I was a fucking sociopath so I don’t have any remorse, but I do. This is going to tear them apart. They will never forget it.’”

Eric and Dylan’s primary motivation was — surprise! — bullying. An article in the Rocky Mountain News described the video diaries of Eric and Dylan:

“They explain over and over why they want to kill as many people as they can. Kids taunted them in elementary school, in middle school, in high school. Adults wouldn’t let them strike back and fight their tormenters, the way such disputes were once settled in schoolyards. So they gritted their teeth. And their rage grew.”

And now we have this new 15-year-old “mastermind,” who burst into tears the moment an adult showed the slightest interest in him and asked why he was so depressed and rage-filled.

“It was obvious that he was depressed and as we were talking, he had no problem explaining to me everything he was planning on doing,” said police Detective David Conklin, who interviewed the boy for about 45 minutes. Conklin said the boy cried as he explained he was picked on and bullied, and why he wanted to take revenge.

The boy had transferred out of Monroe-Woodbury, a school of about 2,500 students, but harbored grudges against former classmates, police said. It appears he was going to act alone.

So great was this kid’s rage that even though he had transferred out of his old school, he felt compelled to go back and punish his former oppressors. That’s not a normal schoolyard tiff. This is the result of systemic bullying — the kind ignored by teachers and unpunished by administrators.

Many teachers and administrators ignore bullying because it seems like a minor problem, the kind liberal parents harp on because their Timothy is just so darn sensitive. In a machismo culture like America, children are taught to suck up their problems, quit whining, and carry on.

Counterintuitively, there is a new Zero Tolerance approach to what was formerly considered “normal” venting like play yard fist fights or shit-talking. The result is a horrible amalgamation of neglect during the critical “early period” of bully trauma, an oppressive police state constantly raising the overall panic level of students, and Zero Tolerance guidelines in all the wrong places.

Unable or unwilling to cope with bullying, some schools now rely on snitching propaganda campaigns, the genius idea of having hormone-laden fury balls rat on each other for, oh, whatever reason the day inspires. Eric and Dylan were victims of such a snitching program, and the pair were once pulled from class in front of everyone and searched thoroughly, only to be released later when it was discovered that the accusation the boys were carrying drugs was false.

This was only one kind of many forms of bullying Eric and Dylan endured, including being called “faggots” by the cool Columbine kids, the types of children teachers hate to punish because they’re sadly trying to live out some unfulfilled fantasy of being included in the cool clique.

Snitching programs are just another way for lazy administrators to pass the burden of keeping order to the students, effectively robbing children of possibly one of the only perks of high school, the meager solidarity youth share within their cliques. Without solidarity, and the knowledge they can trust their friends and peers not to betray them to authorities, the already lonely process of adolescence is magnified exponentially.

Suddenly, the normal aloneness of high school becomes a horrific dungeon of despair where “live together, die alone,” becomes “live alone, die alone.” It’s no wonder bullied students have reached such a frenzy that shooting up their peers seems like a rational response to their oppressive lives.

This is probably why Eric and Dylan so desperately clung to each other. Imagine if you really believed there was only one person who really understood you. You’d go to the ends of the earth to be with that person. After a while, your thinking would get a little warped, and unfortunately for everyone, that was Eric and Dylan’s fate. They thought it was the two of them against the world, and because that was their vision, twelve students and one teacher died.

There have been so many of these Columbine-style massacres (many, thankfully, foiled) that it’s impossible to label each of the perpetrators as sociopaths. There have to be other motivating factors at play, and the one that consistently appears is bullying. It may be an unpopular stance to take in a cutthroat corporate culture like America, but it’s time to teach the kids to play nice.

Zero Tolerance shouldn’t just apply to the child who brings a Swiss Army knife to school. It should apply to the captain of the football team, who thinks the theater kids are “faggots,” and loudly offers his opinions in the cafeteria. Zero Tolerance shouldn’t be a way to have students rat on each other, and suppress already disenfranchised and lonely outcasts.

In order to prevent these kinds of horrific massacres, a Zero Tolerance program should be preemptive with emphasis placed on bullying prevention. If teachers make it clear that it’s not okay to pick on the skinny, pock-faced outsider, then at least a lonely, desperate kid will know he has one friend to turn to when he starts fantasizing about shooting the football team.


11 Total Comments
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  1. collapse expand

    I’m sorry, but don’t you realize that we live in AMERICA? This is the land where we blame the poor for being poor, the sick for being sick, and the murdered for getting murdered.

    Rich people are clearly superior to the poor morally, because God favors them. God must HATE poor people. Ignore all that shit Jesus said about the meek inheriting the earth, rich people not getting into heaven, blah blah blah.

    The fact that kids massacre the kids who bully them is simply Darwinism. Society is incapable of producing people who treat one another like people, so the kids who get beat up and shit on bring guns to school and kill the kids who beat them up and shit on them.

    Why not just let the free-market do its work?

  2. collapse expand

    How many people know what it is like to be bullied? Not picked on, but truly BULLIED. How many people know what it is like to be afraid to go to your own school, a place that is supposed to be SAFE? How many people know what it is like to be obligated to go to school everyday where you are supposed to be EDUCATED in areas such as math, science, language arts, and yet the most vivid lessons learned are those of how to survive physical, mental, psychological, and emotional torture and abuse?

    Almost everyone can remember their school years and remember the kids that bullies like to target: the geeky kid, the fat kid, the ugly kid, the smelly kid, the poor kid, the clumsy kid, etc. I was “picked on” more than the archetypical fat kid, ugly kid, and smelly kid COMBINED. Dylan Klebold and Erik Harris at least had each other. I had NO ONE. Not one single friend. I had a few “secret” friends, friends that would not admit their friendship with me to ANYONE else, who threatened severe bodily harm and vehement denials if I revealed the friendship, and who only had time to “hang out” if ALL of their REAL friends were busy doing other things. That was the CLOSEST I ever gotr to having a friend, from the time I was in Kindergarten to the time I graduated 6th grade.

    The teachers KNEW the torment I lived with daily. They heard the evil, vile things my “peers” called me, said to me. They SAW the twisted and sick things my so called peers did to me or made me do. When I reached out to my teachers, who I saw as adults that had authority over ALL the kids in the class and held an OBLIGATION and DUTY to keep the classroom safe and the classmates in good behaviour, I was told that if I simply ignored THEIR behaviour, it would stop. I was told that they were only doing these things to get a rise out of me, so if I stopped reacting to their taunts, they would get bored and stop.

    Does anyone see the flaw in this logic? If I stopped having a (normal) reaction to someone else’s taunting (ie: inappropraite and abusive) behavior, then the behaviour that is inappropriate to begin with will STOP??? Why not address the inappropriate behaviour instead of targeting the natural reaction of shock and fear? I never understood this logic.

    If a group of adults ganged up and tormented a co-worker with the SAME behaviour my so called peers subjected me to in grade school, the co-worker could file a POLICE COMPLAINT and charge them with assault, harrassment, battery, terroristic threats, harassment, hostile work environment, and discrimination.

    But when CHILDREN commit these offenses against each other, we rarely discipline the aggressors. Instead, we convince the victim that they need to be stronger, have a thicker skin, stop being so sensitive, ignore the behaviours and feelings of inferiority so that the aggressors will stop; that they (the victims) need to lighten up or stop being a cry baby, to try a little harder to be likable.

    I moved to a different school district in 7th grade, and I was AMAZED by the changes in my life. Initially I kept to myself, fearing that these total strangers would treat me the same as my classmate had for 7 years. I feared this because the school administration had me convinced that the reason I was tormented was because of MY weaknesses and shortcomings, and lack of self control (in other words I wasn’t strong enough to IGNORE the behaviour, and couldn’t control my NATURAL AND REASONABLE hurt and anguish, which is why the behaviours continued.)

    But this school was different. Other children sought ME out, and made an effort to get to KNOW me as a person, not as a TARGET. I (fearfully and reluctantly) began making REAL friends. I never breathed a word about what I had endured from K-6, and never voiced my trust issues. For the first time in my life, I looked forward to school each day with optimism and excitement, not fear and dread.

    After 7th grade, my family moved back to our old house, and I was back with the same kids that had tortured me for so long. But this was Jr. High now, and there were 5 other elementary schools combined into the Jr High. I still got bullied just as much by my old classmates, but I had learned that I DESERVED to have friends, that I could make other friends. There were still really bad days, but I still had my new friends from the other school. So I figured I would be ok.

    When I say I understand Dylan and Erik’s pain and anguish, I honestly DO understand. But at the same time, their pain and anguish should never have reached the depths that they reached. These boys should not have been left to see such a violent act as their only escape. And all these “bullying rampages” that have followed should not be happening.

    Schools have become INSTITUTIONS, much like prisons. Many schools have Security Guards, Metal Detectors, Zero Tolerance for Weapons and Violence, and a daily schedule that must be adhered to without question. The classrooms are overcrowded, the teachers and staff underpaid and overworked, and many schools are falling apart due to budget cuts. Visitors must me searched, have documents to identify them and their reason for being there, have their visit properly recorded, and must be escorted while on school grounds. Our children are PRISONERS in their schools, because the world missed the message that Dylan and Erik sent.

    I DO NOT condone the actions of Dylan and Erik at Columbine, or any other school rampages that followed. My point is that we as a society have missed the lesson to be learned. We need to RAISE OUR CHILDREN with the sense of RESPECT and RESPONSIBILITY. Respect for themselves and each other, responsibility over their words and actions. We need to find an appropriate disciplinary system to punish bullying. I’m not saying we need to formally charge children with verbal assault, harrassment, and the like. If an adult can be sentenced to incarceration, community service, or probation for these crimes against a peer, we need to find age appropriate punishments for children who commit these crimes against each other.

    This is not a problem of kids being kids anymore. This is a problem of children testing the boundries of human interaction with no penalties to show them what is right. This is a problem of children being tortured at the hands of their peers and no one is advocating for them. No one is protecting them from each other.

  3. collapse expand

    You should read Dave Cullins’ excellent non-fiction book, out this year, called Columbine. In it, he pulls apart the ‘Klebold and Harris were bullied’ theory fact by fact. Cullins is a great journalist and the book is based on hundreds of hours of tapes and interviews as well as on facts unearthed by other journalists.
    I worked in a school for many years, and YES bullying is a huge problem – it can be incredibly painful for the bullied, and have lasting effects well into adulthood.
    But I’m quite certain, after reading Cullins book, that it was not the catalyst for the Columbine massacre.

  4. collapse expand

    Not to totally discredit your article, but bullying wasn’t a factor in the Columbine school shooting. If you had read Dave Cullen’s brilliant piece of journalism, 10-years in the making, his book Columbine which came out in April, you’d know that bullying was only what the media blamed for the school shooting. Cullen uses information from the lead detective on the case to explain that each boy was actually a psychopath. The motive wasn’t revenge, it was pure enjoyment.

  5. collapse expand

    Are you kidding me?

    Dave Cullen is not the be-all-end-all authority on Columbine or any school shooting, for that matter. He is a journalist. I have absolutely no idea why he is so widely accepted as the go-to source for this subject, except for perhaps the fact that it is far more comfortable to accept Sociopathy as the reason for this -reoccuring- phenomena than bullying, as acknowledgement of bullying as a catalyst would require massive, sweeping, -expensive- change in our school systems, let alone our morality, as it would leave us as a Nation partially responsible. The media didn’t blame bullying after Columbine. It blamed everything but bullying.

    With all due respect to Dave Cullen, I don’t give a damn about his “expert” opinion, 10 years in the making or not. I care about studies. Statistics. Facts, such as the fact that bullied students are 5 times more likely to be depressed, and, depending on gender, 5 to 9 times more likely to be suicidal than their non-bullied peers. Studies (try Langdon and Preble, Fleming and Jacobsen, Schettini and Frank, Seals and Young, or any other number of the huge amount of literature on this subject)have shown that bullying causes a myriad of mental health disorders, from severe social anxiety to post traumatic stress disorder, not to mention extraordinarily high levels of suicidal ideation. It is absolutely irresponsible to wave off bullying as the cause of school violence, Columbine or otherwise.

    After the Columbine shootings, the U.S. Secret Service did its own investigation on school violence, and found that 3/4 of all shooters had been chronically bullied, some to degrees that, in an environment other than school, would constitute harassment and/or assault. (http://www.secretservice.gov/ntac/ssi_final_report.pdf)

    I find it incredible that we can still dismiss bullying as a reason for school shootings. One could argue that correlation does not prove causation, except that the shooters nearly always express the illustrious WHY we always seem to be asking.

    “I do this on behalf of all kids who have been mistreated.” –Luke Woodham, Pearl High School Shooter.

    “Your children who have ridiculed me, who have chosen not to accept me, who have treated me like I am not worth their time are dead…. Teachers, parents, let this massacre be on your shoulders until the day you die.”–Eric Harris, Columbine High School Shooter

    “I figured since the principal and the dean weren’t doing anything that was making any impression, that I was gonna have to do something, or else I was gonna keep on getting picked on.”–Evan Ramsey, Bethel High School Shooter

    “Do you know what it feels to be spit on your face and to have trash shoved down your throat?… You have never felt a single ounce of pain your whole life. Did you want to inject as much misery in our lives as you can just because you can?”–Cho Seung-Hui, Virginia Tech School Shooter

    Bullying is certainly not an -excuse- for this violence, EVER, but it is a -reason-, and we are astoundingly blind if we deny that.

    I am absolutely disgusted with America’s steadfast devotion to Rite-of-Passage culture. These are your children. These are your -children-. If you want an expert on bullying and school violence, read Bullying in Schools, by Dan Olweus. He has created a program that has cut bullying rates in Europe by 50 percent, and it is not through the police-state-antics that Zero Tolerance insists on. He is DOING SOMETHING about it, unlike glorified experts such as Dave Cullen, who simply reassure us that ONCE AGAIN, Columbine was an isolated incident, and everything will be okay.

    I think our youth are important enough for us to re-evaluate bullying instead of dismissing it…. don’t you?

  6. collapse expand

    What I would like to know is how anyone can say that they know why Eric and Dylan did what they did? No one took the time when they were alive to hear their story and now that they have done something like this people automatically believe that these kids were sociopaths. Ok, just because teachers and administrators didn’t do their job doesnt mean that Eric and Dylan were crazy or did it for the enjoyment. It just means that these kids had been pushed to their limits and couldnt take the bullying any longer and when the adults around them were to damn busy caring about what the popular kids thought and didnt do anything about it, they took matters into their own hands. I dont accept what they did because it was wrong but people have no right to accuse these kids of being sociopaths. I think that the popular kids should be punished for bullying because shit like that can cause a kid to snap. What really pisses me off is that the kid that snaps and does something wrong and stupid is always blamed. Heaven forbid the popular kid who bullied them get punished or blamed. With the new Zero-Tolerance rules, bullying should be one of the things that is not accepted and punished if a kid inflicts on someone else. If the teachers and administrators would stop caring about the freckin popular kids and start treating them like everyone else then shit like this wouldnt happen because the tormented kids would feel like they have someone to talk to.

  7. collapse expand

    Children have be informed about ORGANISATION PSYCHOLOGy at a very young age. I know this sound a little off but iam amazed that nobody forced teaching about group dynamics into schools yet in the USA or the west and middle europe.

    In europe we have the very same problems with bullying in schools. We are simply put exactly as bad as american schools in this regard. The only difference is that you don´t get so easy access to guns but it´s managaeble.

    Children have to learn about what happens when more than two people have to work together. A group emerges. Dynamics kick in. Faster then you can wtf?! you´re suddenly an outcast. And then conflict is added in: Frustration stems from repressing the urge to say STOP! I can´t take it anymore.

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    About Me

    I co-host Citizen Radio, the alternative political radio show. I am a contributing reporter to Huffington Post, Alternet.org, and The Nation.

    My essay "Youth Surviving Subprime" appears in The Nation's new book, Meltdown: How Greed and Corruption Shattered Our Financial System and How We Can Recover beside esssays by Ralph Nader, Joseph Stiglitz, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Naomi Klein, who I'm told are all important people.

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