Portraying Violent White Men As Lone Wolves Ignores the Real Issues
Painting white boys and men as lone wolves has become a tradition of its own. Men don’t want to be seen as violent or toxic, and they don’t want to address sexism and misogyny.
“I knew he had to be Black. I said it: You can tell this is a [redacted] because ain’t no rhyme or reason to none of these attacks.” Said my grandmother, circa October 2012, about the DC Sniper.
Apparently because the shootings seemed random, instead of calculated (at the time) was proof of Black deficiency, of intellectual inferiority. A white mass murderer would have planned, calculated, deduced. This was one of my earliest memories of terror—distant terror because I lived in the Midwest. But terror all the same. I was twelve, and this was obviously right after 9/11. The DC Sniper’s name was Muhammad. That was enough for him to be labeled a terrorist without mens rea. (I learned that term from Legally Blonde, by the way.)
In actuality, according to this research, the amount of mass shootings committed by white men, Black men, etc. is directly proportionate to the population. The main common denominator, if we exclude military/imperialism, seems to be gender: men are more likely to commit murder or violence period, though the reasons why are oft-disputed. However, it seems that, while “terrorism” is the go-to name for Black and brown perpetrators of violence, there is a certain hesitation people have when the accused is white. Also, equally suspect is the fact that the definition of domestic terrorism was amended—not, it seems, to stop violence but for the US to be able to target activists, organizers, and protesters.
I’m about to go on a slight tangent.
In order to prepare for this article I marathon watched the entire second season of Veronica Mars. If you don’t want spoilers, stop here because I’m about to ruin it for you. So, the second season of Veronica Mars was about a bus crash—not quite the same as a mass shooting but still a massacre, so I decided to watch it. Veronica Mars is full of casual racism and male violence and SWERFY/TERFY white feminism, but I live for a good mystery and the sordid affairs of fictional rich people. The perpetrators in VM are usually well-off or middle class white boys and men, and they are almost always able to get away with their crimes for an extended period of time, especially if they are wealthy because white men are always afforded reasonable doubt.
Beyond that American justice isn’t really about the truth—it’s about who can tell the best story. VM’s writers did their best to present Cassidy “Beaver” Casablancas as a “lone wolf.” An anomaly. Different. A geeky, precocious loner. He was bullied by his older, simpler brother. Molested by his little league coach. His dad was a busy, wealthy, distant father (who was able to con a bunch of people into investing into his real estate pyramid scheme because white men are assumed competent and trustworthy). Beaver blowing up a bus full of kids, raping an intoxicated teenage girl, and numerous other acts of cruelty are attributed to these things.
Even while murdering multiple students, friends and associates and executing a pre-meditated plan, Beaver is afforded a level of understanding and humanity that many other boys and men of color are rarely given. Everything Beaver does is presented to us as “other.” Something any “normal” boy would never do. He is even given the trope of not being able to have healthy sex with fully conscious girls his own age—following the sister stigma to the “lone wolf” stereotype: The creepy basement-dwelling loser who can’t “get any” like a “real man.”
Painting white boys and men as “lone wolves” has become a tradition of its own. Men don’t want to be seen as violent or toxic, and they don’t want to address sexism and misogyny, because they don’t want to be implicated. It’s more comfortable to ignore it, or frame it as “the worst ever,” and wait for it to blow over in the media until the next big crisis. That’s why when people bring up the fact that most murders are committed by men, men will try to attribute it to other external factors, such as emotional repression and likelihood of owning a gun—both of which can be traced to toxic masculinity, power dynamics, and other social issues.
When we other men and their violent actions in this way, when we make the terror/abuse they perpetuate something that only “strange, “psychotic,” or “other” men do, we distance these acts from their roots. We create a loophole for boys and men to conclude that if they do not fit that “lone wolf” profile, they are exceptions. Especially white boys. While we will most certainly condemn their violence when it comes to light, white boys and men are humanized by the media. Their mental illness and medical histories will be brought up and dissected, there will be character witnesses and affirmations of how lonely these boys were, how fatherless and ill-adjusted. Or that they were “such nice boys.”
Meanwhile, Black and brown boys and men will almost certainly have their criminal background thoroughly investigated—not to prove they are anomalies as with most white men—but to support the narrative that they are representative of a larger Black or brown problem. In other words, while white [male] violence is construed as an individual problem, Black and brown violence becomes a community problem. Or terrorism.
Focusing on violent men instead of systemic male violence is a problem. Note how this plays out in TV series Bones as well. It becomes an effort of focusing on pruning away the bad seeds, rather than killing it at the root. When we place our focus on the individual act, the individual man, we forget about addressing the system, or we obscure it, as with the “lone wolf” stereotype.
We love to categorize horrific acts committed by men as grotesque Bradbury-esque anomalies instead of what they truly are: An extension of patriarchal systems of oppression. The “lone wolf” trope is just another way of preserving an broken, biased system.
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