Sometimes You Need to Say the Killer's Name

The case for talking about murderers


Charles Cooke reacts to this morning's murders in Roanoke:

Portrait of a killer

I have long argued that the best thing that Americans can do in such circumstances is to decline to indulge these people. Don't name them. Don't watch or read their output. Unless there is an active search ongoing, don't show their picture. Mass murderers tend to plan ahead. Usually, they think in detail about how their acts will be perceived. Watching as other killers are plastered all over the news—often for weeks on end—only encourages them further.

We now live in a world in which it is possible to kill a person and then to post a high-definition film of the murder a few moments later. Because Twitter and Facebook are effectively "on demand," anybody who wishes to can implicate themselves in the game. Good people have some responsibility to refuse to do so. We are now in the age of social media. Walter Cronkite isn't deciding for you any more. You are.

While I don't ultimately agree with Cooke here, I appreciate what he's saying. I don't doubt that there are people who kill out of a desire for notoriety, and it is possible that they'll feel encouraged if they see a crime like this go viral. And in any event, the fact that a video of a murder exists does not oblige you to watch it or to share it with your friends. The consumption of snuff films is not compulsory.

But is there really any plausible scenario where people don't talk about this killer? I mean, I'd love to live in a world where crime coverage stresses the ordinary over the unusual, one where people aren't trained to confuse the country's most grotesque events with threats they're at a real risk of encountering. I'd love to live in a world where cruelty isn't rewarded with fame, one where reporters can explore what makes a killer tick without turning him into a celebrity in the process. But I know damn well that the grotesque stuff is interesting, that it frequently speaks to larger concerns, and that people—including me—are bound to discuss it.

In this case, the murderer's manifesto describes his assault as revenge for the Charleston church massacre, and that makes this a development in a larger story people are already discussing. And even if the Charleston angle turns out to be a ripped-from-the-headlines excuse tacked onto a grudge-driven workplace slaying, the fact will remain that these murders happened live on television and were also recorded by the shooter himself, who then posted his footage to Facebook and Twitter while he was on the run. Elements of that have happened before—we've had violent deaths on TV, we've had criminals taping their misdeeds—but the full package is new, and it feels like a psychotic science-fiction story. That alone guarantees that people are going to talk about this.

And people should talk about it, because it's wrapped up with genuinely important issues. (To offer a small but not trivial example: Twitter and Facebook are surely reviewing their decision to adopt autostarting videos, now that many people found themselves unexpectedly watching graphic crime footage. Apparently, sometimes a snuff film is compulsory.) It's hard to imagine a world where those conversations do not cover the killer's life and grievances.

Can you do all that without saying the killer's name? Well, I've avoided mentioning it here. But in the larger media universe, as opposed to a narrow blog post, it's better to have more information available, not less. It's hard to have an informed discussion of what happened if you don't know who the murderer is, what his motives were, and how he carried out his crime; and it's hard for anyone to add important information to what we already know if the most basic identifying info isn't there. When you share that data, you haven't decided to "indulge these people." You've decided to inform the public.

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  1. The media needs to do a better job of not reporting all the facts.

    Is that what Cooke is arguing?

    1. He doesn’t want to cater to the voyeur-gone-bad guy. And he doesn’t want YOU to do it either.

      THAT is what Cooke is saing

    2. The LSM already does a good job of that and twisting the facts they do report.

  2. Yeah. I can understand the impulse to say that these killers should be ignored and not given publicity. But realistically that just isn’t going to happen. And I don’t give a shit what the killers wanted. I’m curious and want to know.
    Trying to keep information from getting out is always going to fail and it’s silly to insist on it in cases like this.

    1. Cooke’s argument seems to be more wishful thinking than anything else. “If only people wouldn’t talk about those who commit horrible murders, then…maybe…uh…something encouragement something.”

      He wants to say that not talking about it will cause it to happen less, but he can’t, because…that’s not true. And even if it were, it’s flat out impossible that no one would talk about it. So this is really just an emotional appeal that has no rational basis.

      1. He’s essentially pining for a time when Walter Cronkite was in charge.

        1. Aren’t we all….really?

          *wipes tear from cheek*

        2. What a waste.

        3. “He’s essentially pining for a time when Walter Cronkite was in charge.”

          Or Dan Rather.

      2. Cooke doesn’t seem to understand human nature very well.

        I get his drift, but to suggest that people don’t talk about something sensational is like me telling you to not think about elephants.

        1. not think about elephants

          AHA! So you’re a TRUMP supporter!

          /utterly off base

        2. Thank you for the mind worm.

      3. The logic is correct that if a significant number of people didn’t publicize and talk about it, then there would be fewer of these types of events. Perhaps not alot fewer. But it is a reasonable argument. I think the premise is flawed in that I don’t know how it could be done to stop people consistent with a free society.

      4. Me thinks Cooke is a closet Twitter despot.

        1. Finally! You know who else a despot?

          1. The Home?

  3. In all fairness, Cooke is generally a conservatarian rather than a pure “law and order” guy. And I thought he was arguing that people shouldn’t indulge the killers, NOT news people shouldn’t be allowed to. In other words, I think Cooke was saying something along the same lines as Sullum.

    On a related topic, I can’t stand that the newsies will include the killer if he kills himself in the number of people killed. The number of other people he killed should stand alone.

    1. I thought he was arguing that people shouldn’t indulge the killers, NOT news people shouldn’t be allowed to.

      Oh, I don’t think for a moment that he’s proposing censorship. He’s calling for self-restraint.

      1. He’s calling for YOU to be restrained. It’s not enough that he restrains himself. We already had a little verbal to-do this morning.

        His tone brings up the rebellious 2-year old in me. For the record.


        1. Please restrain yourself, Bodica.

          1. Ha! NEVER!

  4. We are now in the age of social media. Walter Cronkite isn’t deciding for you any more. You are.

    He is 100% correct on this last point. 100%.

    1. Uh, 99%, maybe – Walter Cronkite still decides for ME. Fuck off, slaver!

      1. If both Cronkite and LBJ were permitted to leave HELL for thirty seconds, they would agree that it was Cronkite who decided that Johnson “[would] not seek, and [would] not accept, the nomination of [his] party for another term as [our] President.”

  5. So what you saying is that we shouldn’t encourage Trump by paying attention to him?

    1. Finally! Someone who gets it!


  6. Watching as other killers are plastered all over the news?often for weeks on end?only encourages them further.

    I hear this line all the time, but I’ve never seen any evidence that it’s anything other than wishful thinking.

    1. I read some report somewhere that the Colorado shooter, or maybe the Connecticut shooter, kept clippings of other shootings and wanted to kill more than the others.

      Problem is, sick fucks are sick fucks. They’d find any excuse they needed, somewhere. They don’t stop and say “Gosh, I don’t know how many the other shooters killed, so I will grow tomatoes instead.”

      1. It’s hard to beat The King.

    2. Natural Born Killers says otherwise, Jordan. Do not doubt Oliver Stone.

  7. In any case, the internet is banging on my brain. I don’t really see the sun today.

  8. This story is so bizarre…how can you not talk about it? Or him?

    1. Yes. This guy had no real agenda. Who is going to copycat him?

      1. Not sure if serious.

    2. I read a story a few years ago about an evil sorcerer who killed a bunch of people, including some infant’s parents, although the infant somehow survived, but with a weird scar. People were afraid to say his name, referring to him as “He who must not be named” and “You know who” and the like. As the years passed, fear of him increased, as did interest to learn more about him–within certain segments of society, at least….

      I think it was called “The Bus that Couldn’t Slow Down.”

    3. It’s our Twitter too!

  9. You really should say his name. All the other national killers had their name announced loud and proud as soon as they where known. It just looks like your playing favorites if you don’t mention this guy.

    Also, I personally vote for pulling up the most embarrassing info on them we can. Human nature means we are going to want to know more, but we can fulfill that need by making the guy a laughing stock too.

    1. I do like this suggestion. Have a ceremonial moment of shame, in which you list whatever embarrassing information you have, no matter how superficial. Or not even facts, just intimate things. Make it clear that your image will be laughed at, and not lauded or feared or anything. This seems like a goldmine for a future Jon Stewart.

      1. Any suggestions on where such info could be gathered?

        1. Could always start a wikipedia article on him… or a based on a wikipedia format.

    2. I agree with this. I recall reading about a similar tactic done against the KKK some decades back. Treating people like this with fear awe and fear does more to empower them. I say humiliate the crap out of them.

      1. Not really. Three things killed the KKK more than mockery.

        1) Members slowly giving up when it was clear the civil rights laws beat them.

        2) Getting paranoid after the Greensboro communist killings in the late 70s after it was revealed FBI informants had infiltrated them. So they started accusing everybody of being FBI which caused chaos.

        3) SPLC tying them up in various lawsuits in the 80s to where they ran out of money on lawyers fees. Nobody wants to be aligned with a group that’s bleeding money, they go and cut ties for a new group.

        1. I’ve read and reread my comment a few times now, and I don’t see any point where I claimed that mockery killed the KKK, much less that it did so single-handedly.

  10. There is a difference between reporting the facts and sensationalizing a story.

  11. Can you do all that without saying the killer’s name?

    Which one?

  12. I’ve never subscribed to the theory of “don’t give them the notoriety they crave” – it is only natural that people want to understand what makes a monster like this.

    And when they’re usually dead by the time it even becomes a consideration – who cares at that point?

    1. You know who else said that death would come before any long-term considerations came to fruition?

      1. John Maynard Keynes?

      2. Charlton Heston?

      3. T-Rex, as the skies suddenly darkened?

      4. Book of Revelations?

      5. Harvey Milk (that fruit)?

  13. from the link about the serial killer:

    Travis managed to hang himself in the back corner, using a thin rope he had braided from a torn-up sheet. He had also bound his own hands behind his back.

    1. Yup that is pure bullshit right there.

    2. The Reverse Houdini.

  14. Of course they feed on publicity. Most of these mass murderers would just commit suicide, but we offer them the opportunity to do it “BIG.” We make them famous. We immortalize their names. We let them shock us and we eagerly display our awe at their actions.

    Bottom line: If we weren’t a society of woosies. if we weren’t the perfect audience, if we weren’t so predictably manipulated, then yeah, there’d probably be far fewer suicidal attention whores pulling our puppet strings.

    All that said; nothing is going to change. People want to hear about monsters, and other people make their living telling all about them. The rest of us are just stuck in the middle of it all.

  15. The only thing I have learned from this is that “Stormfront or SJW” is a game best played with stupid, hateful quotes, not with guns. Unless you remove all the neutrals in the vicinity, in which case, hey man have fun.

    Hmm… probably shouldn’t have brought up that song, come to think of it.

  16. “In this case, the murderer’s manifesto describes his assault as revenge for the Charleston church massacre”

    So he is an SJW…

    I will say I am impressed. Never thought an SJW would get within a mile of a hand gun

    1. ” the murderer’s manifesto describes his assault as revenge for the Charleston church massacre”

      Really? The local Phila. NBC affiliate just covered the story without mentioning any manifesto and left one thinking the poor killer got shafted by alleged racist employers and had to file a complaint with EEO. Half the coverage was about some ties to the area that the victims’ intended spouses had.

    2. That’s an interesting line of thinking.

      1. The Big Bang is even more bullshit today then it was a year ago. It is almost as if it is accelerating its expansion of bullshit. Like there is massive unseen dark bullshit pulling it….which would actually mean it is collapsing bullshit but fuck it. It is expanding bullshit cuz we say so!

        1. You should really shut up. I’m embarrassed for you. You sound like an ignorant ass. And seem to think that I am the only one who thinks that big bang cosmology best explains current observation. You do realize that many brilliant physicists and cosmologists have been working hard for many years on finding an alternative theory? This is not a case of enforced orthodoxy. There has been serious and lively debate since the theory was first proposed. Many top scientists fought long and hard to disprove it and couldn’t. But you find it philosophically unappealing, so it must be wrong and can be dismissed out of hand.

          1. And seem to think that I am the only one who thinks that big bang cosmology best explains current observation

            Nope, but you are pretty much the only one who spewed ad hominem about it.

            Like this:

            “I’m embarrassed for you. You sound like an ignorant ass”

            1. I will give you credit though. You did actually stake a position this time rather then ad hominem by itself.

              Thanks for that at least.

    3. Sometimes it’s just an extra little kick for them to know their actions are going to harm responsible gun owners.

      1. Or perhaps all people who express “SJW” type opinions are not all carbon copies of some college activist who has never touched a gun or dealt with any real hardship.

        1. 99.9999% of them I see propped up by MSM are and they invariably turn out to be frauds and liars.

          If this guy was a legit SJW with legit hardship it is ironic that the article above is about not putting his name in print

          1. More like 99.999999999999999999999%

  17. I am given to understand that in the UK, names of the accused are not released before they have been convicted in a court of law. Sometimes I wish we’d adopt that custom here in the States, despite the possible pitfalls.

    The problem is our modern 24/7 news cycle. The media hoopla surrounding high-profile cases is so extreme that the actual outcome of the trial is often irrelevant. Once a defendant has been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion, even incontrovertible proof of his innocence may never be enough to clear his name. The depraved paradox of our cultural climate is that a person can be better off accepting a false conviction than pressing for a just acquittal. At least if he meekly serves time for his alleged offenses, he’ll have “paid his debt to society” and possibly be given a second chance. Whereas if he manages to get himself acquitted, all that proves is he managed to hire an attorney clever enough to beat the rap, so a cloud of suspicion may well hang over his head the rest of his life.

    My attorney friends tell me that the reason we release the names of the accused is to preserve their Sixth Amendment right to a “public trial” and prevent them from whisked off into secret kangaroo courts. Fine, but turnabout is fair play, say I. Accusers shouldn’t be allowed to don a cloak of anonymity when lodging accusations that have the potential to ruin an innocent person’s life. They should have to take responsibility for their actions too.

    1. I’m sympathetic to that idea. Just being arrested can often fuck your life up nearly as much as a conviction. When “public records” meant you could go to the courthouse and get the information if you were sufficiently motivated, it wasn’t a huge problem. But in the information age, and with so many people assuming that if you are arrested you must have done something to deserve it, having it all be public seems a bit unfair to people who are wrongly charged or arrested for something.

  18. I am given to understand that in the UK, names of the accused are not released before they have been convicted in a court of law. Sometimes I wish we’d adopt that custom here in the States, despite the possible pitfalls.

    You mean pitfalls like that pesky First Amendment? Yeah, that one’s a bitch.

    1. The First Amendment doesn’t protect defamation, so I’m not sure why it should protect the dissemination of false accusations either.

      This would be less of a problem if our legal system took false accusations seriously, but it doesn’t. Enforcement of laws against making false accusations is so lax that penalty for dragging someone’s name through the mud is effectively nonexistent. In the State of Minnesota, for example, falsely reporting a crime is punishable as a misdemeanor (gross misdemeanor for a subsequent offense), but good luck convincing a prosecutor to file charges. It doesn’t matter if the false accusation was for rape or stealing a pack of bubble gum; it’s all the same in the eyes of the law. The statute doesn’t even make provision for restitution for the wrongly accused, though it does in cases of falsely reporting police misconduct (ha!). Your bet is to file a civil case, but even if you do win a judgment, it’s up to you to collect.

      The maximum penalty for first-degree sexual assault is 30 years in prison and a $40,000 fine. Falsely accusing someone of rape? A year in jail. If the penalty for false accusation were comparable to the penalty of the alleged offense, people be more cautious about making spurious claims. The tricky part would be discerning between outright fabrications made in bad faith and cases that failed for lack of evidence or other procedural reasons.

      1. The First Amendment as written admits of no exceptions, including defamation.

        Of course, the First Amendment as butchered by the boys in black does not protect all defamation. However, the controlling decisional law does make it very difficult to prevail in defamation cases because of FA concerns, particularly if you are a public figure plaintiff.

      2. The First Amendment doesn’t protect defamation, so I’m not sure why it should protect the dissemination of false accusations either.

        John Smith did X – might be defamation
        Bob Jones said John Smith did X – not defamation

  19. I understand talking about it but it’s been the only thing on the cable networks of 12 fricken hours! That is what I find excessive. Two people were killed, the killer is dead, move on.

  20. Charles Cooke told me this morning I didn’t “need” to view the tweet . . . Need? What the hell?

    The only thing more loathsome than a arrogant, bossy columnist from Harvard is an arrogant, bossy columnist from Oxford.

    And I used to love reading his columns . . .I don’t need to read him, that’s what I need.

  21. If we aren’t given names then how will the media race bait their stories. We all know they try to hide identities of every person unless they are white or republican and even then they try to make them one or the other or the most evil of all a white republican gun loving nut.

  22. Socrates touched on the danger of the stories we tell each other all the way back in ‘Republic’. I think the author of this article missed the point a bit with the opening quote. The real danger to be considered in telling the stories of murderers is that one unintentionally (or intentionally) instills the existence of those values into the subconscious of whoever listens to the story. (Socrates discusses the notion of a story about a coward soldier feeling a battle, the point being, if we allow stories about cowards, the day will come when another man is going to be in the trenches shitting himself and he’ll think about that story of the soldier fleeing — this isn’t the thing one wants floating around in a soldiers mind before battle, yes? If one allows these stories then you expose yourself to a greater risk of cowardice then if you just told people stories of bravery and gallantry, and put the kibosh on stories of cowardice).

    More specifically, take this shooters manifesto, he talks about his admiration and idolization of the Columbine shooters and the Virginia Tech shooter — I won’t give their names because fuck those people. This is very common; mass murderers, school shooters, these people research all those who came before them, before they go on killing sprees they expose themselves to the stories, plans, details of other mass murders, they learn from them and they admire them. It reinforces their own conviction. There are dangerous and tangible effects.

    1. If we didn’t publicize the stories of evil men — we would still have killers even if we burnt the bodies of mass murderers, expunged their names from records, put them in unmarked graves and never published their stories. Evil will still exist in man. But I think it’s fair to say that there is an added chance for malicious acts in a society where criminals are immortalized, where books like “50 greatest Serial Killers in American History” can be found in any bookstore. Maybe the effect those things have is too minimal to give credence too but when I see one murderer praise another murderer in his manifesto, part of me dies on the inside, suffocating on the hatred for evil welling up within me.

      1. And the point of all this purple prose is…?

  23. “But is there really any plausible scenario where people don’t talk about this killer?”

    Why yes, yes there is. One in which the narrative is violated. Only crazy, white, male, bitter clingers do these kinds of things.

    I have yet to hear this guy’s name or see his photo. I did half overhear some drivel about Obumbles and/or Clinton banging on the gun control drums again.

    1. Ok, I clicked the manifesto link. Now I have seen both and it is just as I suspected. A batshit crazy guy who happens to be black. And gay. So it goes against the narrative in more ways than I thought.

      1. He was also an Obama supporter and a journalist who was reprimanded at work for wearing an Obama sticker at voting booths he was covering.

        Also claimed to have been bullied by racists and homophobes at work. Claims that appear to have been fabricated.

        Yeah he was a crazy fuck….but also an SJW.

        You really do not have to go as far about disowning the narrative as you have. I have no problems thinking this guy was an SJW crazy fuck and still understanding that pretty much every SJW in the world are not crazy fuck murderers.

        1. Well, not murderers in the sense this guy was, no. Did you see the story about Delaware State U earlier today? They may not pull out a pistol and start banging away, but they sure have no problems with having the state do their dirty work.

          If you think they won’t gladly smile while someone else put you in a re-education camp you are mistaken. You think they would take to the streets in protest if people like you were lined up against a wall?

        2. Is he more black than Shaun King?

  24. I agree with Cooke. It’s better not to give killers publicity if they were out to get it.

    1. The whole thing is, it’s not about the previous killers. It’s about the next ones. You can talk about it, but localize it and do not, under any circumstances elevate them to some obsessive news cycle.

      1. Oh, puleeze – get a grip. They get elevated with or without you. They get elevated with or without the internet.

        1. There’s a difference between ‘talking about it’ and ’24 news and internet spew’.

          Talking about it is recognizing the event happened, and discussing how to possibly prevent it in the future. ’24 news and internet spew’ is spending the next week obsessing over the account of the actual event and what the killer read, wrote, played, etc. One has a substantial point to it, the other is a pathetic obsession. I’m sorry that you’re unable to see the distinction between the two.

          They get elevated with or without you.

          “People will talk about it anyway, so it’s pointless to criticize the vapid, moronic 24-hour news cycle consistently obsessing over irrelevant details. Why actually attempt to improve shitty behaviour in any way?” Very nuanced position there.

          If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die historic, on the Fury Road!

    2. Like that has ever worked in the history of the universe, Pollyanna.

    3. Perhaps they’re out to get what they truly value: death. For that reason looter altruists (who have the craving but lack the audacity) will forever be fascinated with these self-destructors. After all, haven’t their parents, schoolteachers, ministers, newspapers, movies and politicians taught them that sacrifice–especially self-sacrifice–is noble?

  25. His name is Some Messed Up Dead Punk.

  26. So this guy was a fan of talk radio, violent video games, and anti government ideology, huh?

    Most mass killing in this country are guys (who exist to feel discriminated against) like this, deranged loners, and Islamic terror. The left is so hilariously off on target on mass shooting and “angry white men”, it’s not even funny. You can live in the whitest parts of the country and live a peaceful and boring life.

  27. Murders happen every day. If a situation like this is a “mass killing”, then it’s a societal problem. I means too many adults can’t count higher than 2 or 3.

  28. Well you know Jane, it’s like my Mamma always said: “Libertarian people talk about ideas. “both parties” people talk about taking things. Farcebook and Twitter people talk about other people.”

  29. “Can you do all that without saying the killer’s name? Well, I’ve avoided mentioning it here.”

    I’m not afraid to name names. Not sure what the killer’s name was but I think it was Browning. Or Smith or Wesson.

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