On December 14, 1992, 18-year-old Wayne Lo shot six people at Simon's Rock College in Great Barrington, Massachussetts, killing two. It was a shocking crime that sparked a national debate over the links between violent speech and violent action. But unlike alleged Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner, Lo wasn't a follower of conspiracy theories or a bewitched reader of The Communist Manifesto—he was a fan of the aggressive and confrontational music known as hardcore punk. Naturally, commentators at the time rushed to blame the music for Lo's foul deeds. Here's how The New York Times' Anthony DePalma "reported" the story on the paper's front-page:
When his music changed, Wayne Lo changed, and in time two people lay dead, four others were wounded and a sheltering place had become a killing field.
As he sits in the Berkshire County House of Corrections in Massachusetts, charged with murder and assault with a deadly weapon in connection with a 20-minute rampage at Simon's Rock College in Great Barrington, Mass., only Mr. Lo knows what led him to turn away from the classical music he once loved and instead embrace the violent, discordant music known as hardcore, and a surly group of students who were equally entranced by it.
Here's DePalma again:
Several students agreed that his music, and the friends who went with it, offered the greatest insight into Wayne Lo.
His new circle of friends, the ones he increasingly spent time with over the past year, were known as the "hardcore group" because they listened to that type of music, a blend of heavy metal and punk rock. These students described as Mr. Lo's friends were on winter break and could not be reached, but others from the campus said they talked tough and sat apart from others.
The day after the attack, Lo arrived in court wearing a sweatshirt bearing the name of the New York band Sick Of It All, or as DiPalma put it, "four words that are the name of a hardcore band whose songs had replaced Vivaldi's compositions in Mr. Lo's life." So there you have it. One of the country's most respected newspapers took the lead in smearing a rock band and its music for the violent actions of a deranged individual.
It's worth remembering that nasty episode as today's bloggers and political opportunists race to blame their various opponents for Saturday's horrible shooting in Tucson. (As Brian Doherty noted earlier, Salon's Sarah Hepola has even tried to blame a heavy metal song.) The truth is that only one person pulled that trigger in Tucson, just as Wayne Lo was the only one who pulled the trigger in 1992. Blaming anybody else for their crimes is political grandstanding at its shameless worst.