2014 Isla Vista killings
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On May 23, 2014, in Isla Vista, California, near the campus of University of California, Santa Barbara, Elliot Rodger, a 22-year old junior college student, went on a misogyny-fueled killing spree, murdering six people, wounding thirteen more, and finally committing suicide when confronted by the police. In the aftermath, Rodger's manifesto attracted much attention from the media and the blogosphere for its disturbingly cruel attitude towards women.
The killing spree involved ten crime scenes in the town of Isla Vista, beginning in Elliot Rodger's apartment, where he stabbed three men to death, two of whom were his housemates and another who was either a visiting friend or living there temporarily (accounts differ). It is uncertain when the stabbings occurred.
At around 8:30pm on the day of the shooting, Rodger was seen parked in his BMW outside his apartment, working on his laptop. This appears to have been when he uploaded his "retribution video" to YouTube, and emailed his manifesto to about a dozen people, including his mother, father, and therapist. The video was uploaded at 9:17 and the manifesto emailed at 9:18, only a few minutes before the first shots were reported at 9:27.
Rodger drove to Alpha Phi sorority house to start his shooting spree. The manifesto states that he chose his target "after doing a lot of extensive research within the last year, I found out that the sorority with the most beautiful girls is Alpha Phi Sorority", and that he intended to "sneak into their house at around 9:00 p.m. on the Day of Retribution, just before all of the partying starts, and slaughter every single one of them with my guns and knives" before burning the sorority house down. In reality, nobody let him into the sorority house, despite him banging on the door angrily for several minutes, and instead, he started shooting passersby with his handgun, killing two women and one man and seriously wounding one woman.
After this, Rodger embarked on a rampage, driving to several locations (largely around Del Playa Drive, a popular party area for students) and stopping to shoot pedestrians, as well as hitting some pedestrians and cyclists with his car. He wounded eleven men and two women, either by shooting them or running into them. Rodger also shot at but missed one woman and sheriff's deputies who engaged him. Sheriff's deputies responded swiftly and exchanged gunfire with Rodger, who eventually crashed his car and was found dead in it from a gunshot wound to the head, almost certainly self-inflicted.
All six of his murder victims were students at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Elliot Rodger's background
Following the shootings, numerous pieces of evidence came to light regarding Rodger's bizarre opinions and motives.
Aggression and Attitudes
Rodger was obsessed with romantic rejection and popularity, and he would plan out explosive, aggressive actions when he got angry.
In 2011, he followed a couple out of a Starbucks and threw coffee on them because he felt jealous. Later, he threw coffee on two women at a bus stop because they had dared not to smile at him. In 2012, he filled a Super Soaker with orange juice and sprayed people at a park, screaming with hatred, because he didn't want them to have fun.
“”I was giving the female gender one last chance to provide me with the pleasures I deserved from them.
|—Elliot Rodger explaining his "date me or I will attack you" approach to getting a girlfriend
No longer content with throwing drinks at people, Rodger decided to push women over a 10-foot ledge at a party, but he failed. A group of men pushed him over instead. He called the police to try to tell them he had been assaulted.
In addition to treating women like a hive mind (as well as acting like a total hive), Rodger complained about men of color dating women, because he saw men of color as inferior to whites and believed that white women should be reserved for white or part-white men like him. Because women are, of course, commodities whose feelings and choices matter much less than what he wants.
Elliot Rodger had a YouTube channel, where he posted ramblings and rants expressing his loneliness, alienation, sexual frustrations, and embittered worldview. He also kept a blog with similar content.
In the weeks leading up to his killings (which he had planned for months or years, according to his manifesto), his videos became increasingly awful and weird, including videos promising "revenge" for his suffering. One or more of these videos caused Rodger to be reported to a mental health helpline (possibly by his mother; this information is unclear), which resulted in a police visit on April 30. However, Rodger managed to persuade the officers that there was no cause for concern, and they left without searching his apartment or taking further action. Rodger's manifesto also recounts the incident, and he reacted by pulling his videos offline and taking more care to hide his activities while planning the massacre.
Rodger uploaded his final video, sometimes called "retribution video", on May 23rd before the shooting started. In the video, Rodger, seated in his car, calmly stated that "tomorrow is the Day of Retribution, the day in which I will have my revenge against humanity". This may indicate that the video was filmed the previous day and only uploaded on the evening of the killings. However, since Rodger was observed sitting in his car for at least half an hour on the evening of May 23rd, and since his manifesto indicates that he actually intended to carry out his primary massacre on May 24th, it seems possible that the video was, in fact, filmed on the evening of the May 23rd with the intention of carrying out the shooting spree the next day, and Rodger simply decided for whatever reason that he just couldn't wait. If this is true, then the video shows the cold detachment of somebody who was not only about to commit a brutal mass shooting but had already stabbed his three housemates to death at the time of filming.
The video lays out Rodger's massacre plans, his motives, his hostility towards women, and his bizarre worldview, themes which he also addressed at greater lengths in his manifesto. Displaying his almost total lack of self-awareness, Rodger saw no contradiction between his violent "revenge" and his self-image as "the perfect guy":
You girls have never been attracted to me. I don't know why you girls aren't attracted to me — but I will punish you all for it! It's an injustice; a crime. Because I don't know what you don't see in me. I'm the perfect guy. And yet you throw yourself at all these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman. I will punish all of you for it. Heh! [smirk]
Why such a violent and creepy guy saw himself as "perfect" is a question left for the viewer to wonder. After describing the massacre he intended to commit (at the sorority house and on the streets of Isla Vista), Rodger also vented his scorn for humanity:
I hate all of you. Humanity is a disgusting, wretched, depraved species. If I had it in my power, I would stop at nothing to reduce every single one of you to mountains of skulls and rivers of blood. And rightfully so. You deserve to be annihilated.
In the immediate wake of the shootings, the video attracted huge attention from the media as well as the police, and was soon pulled offline by YouTube as a violation of their policy against violent content. It was subsequently reposted by third parties and appears to have been approved (presumably because of its news relevance) with a content warning.
Rodger's "manifesto", posted online within hours of the killings, is actually more of an autobiography with some pieces of badly thought-out ideology included. Much of it concerns (almost typical) lonely teenage angst about not having friends or (in particular) a girlfriend, but this is tinged throughout with irrationally violent rage at boys who did have girlfriends and especially at girls themselves for (understandably) rejecting and despising him. Rodger believed that couples (usually complete strangers to him) should be "punished" for "the crime of having a better life than me" and fantasized about torturing or killing them, a fantasy that developed into his "Day of Retribution".
The manifesto makes it abundantly clear that Rodger was a conscious and devoted misogynist. Not only did he regard women's attention and sexual favour as something he was entitled to and wrongfully denied, but he believed that "women should not have the right to choose who to mate and breed with" and "women are vicious, evil, barbaric animals, and they need to be treated as such". The manifesto ends with a fantasy about his idea of "a fair and pure world" in which women would be "quarantined" in concentration camps and starved to death, other than a few kept in laboratories for breeding purposes where "they will be artificially inseminated with sperm samples in order to produce offspring". He believed that sex should be outlawed, saying that "If I can't have it, I will destroy it." He was also a racist on top of it, harping on about how he was descended from British aristocracy and hated to see "ugly black filth" with white girlfriends (ironically, Rodger himself was mixed-race, with a white British father and a Chinese-Malaysian mother).
Despite being such a repellent character, Rodger (ever the nice guy) believed himself to be a "magnificent gentleman" and even (as he became more intent on carrying out a grand massacre) "the closest thing there is to a living god". The manifesto ends with these words:
I will punish everyone. And it will be beautiful. Finally, at long last, I can show the world my true worth.
And nothing good happens after someone writes that — although his actions did, at least, show his true worth.
Rodger was being treated by multiple therapists. Santa Barbara Sheriff's Office revealed that in 2007 he was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), an autism-related disorder, with his autism evaluation scores below the autism and the autism-spectrum cutoffs. A psychologist has stated "there is no proven connection between the diagnosis and [Rodger's] violent behaviour." This would make sense since autistic people are actually less likely to commit crime. It was likely a misdiagnosis. Rodger's demonstrated abilities and traits don't seem to match up with autism, as he was able to form friendships throughout childhood, pay close attention to social hierarchies, and fool police into believing that he was not going to kill anyone. Some have argued that his extreme traits (including envy, materialism, shame, and grandiose fantasies) better match malignant narcissism.
He wrote that he had been prescribed risperidone but refused to take it because he believed it was "the absolute wrong thing for me to take." After turning 18, Rodger began rejecting the mental health care that his family provided, and he became increasingly isolated. He claimed that he was unable to make friends, although acquaintances stated that he rebuffed their attempts to be friendly.
“”One day incels will realise their true strength and numbers, and will overthrow this oppressive feminist system. Start envisioning a world where WOMEN FEAR YOU.
|—Rodger advocating for a more violent world
Rodger was a frequent contributor to the manosphere, most notably on PUAHate, a website bashing pick-up artists but populated mainly by self-identified "incels" ("involuntarily celibate" people) and other malcontents, especially misogynists. The site was taken down as soon as its connection to the murders started to gain publicity. He was also actively posting messages of the same character and sharing his videos on Bodybuilding.com's forum, where some local forum members characterized his contributions as those that seemingly might come from a serial killer.
Parts of the media and various feminists pointed out the overwhelming misogyny of Rodger's rants, with some referring to Rodger as a Men's Rights Advocate (MRA) because he used the same terminology used by the Men's Rights Movement (MRM) and subscribed to YouTube channels about it.
In response, various MRA sites and personalities denounced Rodger, claimed that he was not associated with them, and complained about people saying he was. They argued that his actions were based on mental illness (mental illness is not a reliable correlate with people who commit mass shootings), that he hated men, or that he had too much "adoration" for women. Some claimed that the relative numbers of fatal and non-fatal assaults on men and women (15 men, 6 women) indicated a motive other than misogyny. This contention overlooks the fact that the final rampage was a "Plan B" after his unsuccessful attempt to enter a sorority house. Had he successfully entered the sorority house, the ratio would likely have been quite different.
However, other misogynists were far less quick to disclaim him. In certain corners of the incel community, Rodger emerged as an unlikely hero, a man who struck back against a "gynocentric" society that denied men like him and his supporters the sex and romance they felt they deserved. On several forums catering to incels, Rodger was canonized as "Saint Elliot", and many posters make reference to the idea of "going ER" (in reference to Rodger's initials) in order to bring awareness to their perceived problems. In 2018, one such incel, Alek Minassian, made a Facebook post celebrating Rodger shortly before going on a rampage with a van in the streets of Toronto, killing ten.
The killings provoked many feminist responses, the most widespread of which was the hashtag #YesAllWomen, inspired by the "not all men" argument used to counter negative stereotypes of male behavior towards women.
"Not all men" is the objection from men who see claims of "structural" violence and injustice reflecting on all men as bigoted. While many men claim that they do not and have not harassed women, treated them badly, or raped them, #yesallwomen is a claim that all women have at some point been sexually harassed, objectified, or violated by men. Within 24 hours of the killings, Twitter was full of women posting about their experiences of abuse at the hands of men and the precautions they have to take against them.
- Timeline: A killer's rampage through a California college town, CNN, May 28, 2014.
- Elliot Rodger's Retribution video
- Santa Barbara Independent, "Isla Vista Killer’s April 30 Check-Up", May 29, 2014.
- My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodger by Elliott Rodger. See also our article on Elliot Rodger's manifesto.
- What do many mass shooters have in common? A history of domestic violence.
- Elliot Rodger's Previous Attacks on Women, Couples
- Elliot Rodger, Isla Vista Shooting Suspect, Posted Racist Messages on Misogynistic Website
- Elliot Rodger: Portrait of a Lonely Outcast Obsessed With Status
- See here for a (fairly boring) example.
- Investigative Summary
- Autism Is Not Psychosis But why investigate the real causes of violence when you can cry autism?
- Elliot Rodger Didn't Have Autism? Well, He Had Anger
- The Isla Vista Shooter: This is Not the Autism Spectrum
- http://abclocal.go.com/three/kabc/kabc/My-Twisted-World.pdf Page 125
- Risperdone is a relatively blunt instrument with potential for alarming side effects, but mental health clinicians are more than happy to discuss medication alternatives with an engaged patient.
- Most mass shooters aren’t mentally ill. So why push better treatment as the answer?
- Mass Shooting and the Myth of the Violent Mentally Ill
- Untangling Gun Violence From Mental Illness
- How to Stop Violence
- How to Reduce Shootings
- Stop blaming mental illness for mass shootings
- Elliot Rodger's links to the Men's Rights Activist movement: A SURVEY of Elliot Rodger’s subscribed YouTube channels reveals disturbing links to misogynistic groups and "pick-up artists" who trick women into having sex. (May 26, 20145:25pm) news.com.au
- Why Elliot Rodger is being linked to the men’s rights movement
- Elliot Rodger’s Online World: A Primer on Men’s Rights Activists
- Elliot Rodger’s links to the Men’s Rights Activist movement
- Men's Rights Activists respond to the Elliot Rodger murders with a hearty "Nothing to see here! Move along!"
- "Elliot Rodger: How misogynist killer became 'incel hero'." BBC News, 26 April 2018 (recovered 8 August 2019).
- Edwards, Stassa. "Saint Elliot Rodger and the 'Incels' Who Canonize Him." Jezebel, 27 April 2018 (recovered 8 August 2019).
- In one case, ""I have a boyfriend" is the easiest way to get a man to leave you alone. Because he respects another man more than you" it is noteworthy that said boyfriend need not even exist.
- "Girls grow up knowing that it's safer to give a fake phone number than to turn a guy down."