by Naama Kates
Friday, 8
July 2022
Behind the news
07:00

Why are young men drawn to extremist aesthetics?

Robert Crimo III is part of a troubling trend among mass shooters
by Naama Kates
Robert Primo III

Before law enforcement released his name to the press, Robert Crimo, III — or his digital persona — was a largely ignored figure on the internet. The 22-year-old was a SoundCloud rapper who went by the name “Awake”, whose music went virtually unnoticed. But since the Highland Park shooting, it has been played for tens of thousands of people all over the nation. His apocalyptic clichés, odd filming locations, and the meaningless symbols he’d chosen to tattoo onto his face were all analysed by amateurs and professionals alike. It was just the sort of attention he’d always craved.

By now, his profiles have been scrubbed, and the makeshift manifesto he sold on Amazon is gone. But Crimo left plenty for interpretation by those that got in before the purge. His songs were about going insane, being killed by police, and taking his life after romantic rejection. One of his videos was shot in an empty classroom. Another was a crudely drawn animation; it ended with stick figures bleeding. 

I’ve been asked repeatedly whether this might be an ‘incel shooting’, and whether the number 17 tattooed on his face carried any significance for incels. Or did the tattoo mean that was he a white supremacist? Highland Park was a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood, after all, and that symbol by his name vaguely resembled perhaps a Celtic cross or… a Swastika? That said, the way he crouched over his weapon suggested military training. Then again, he committed his attack on the 4th of July, and was later pictured dressed in women’s clothes. Could this be anarchism? Antifa? ISIS? 

These details will never fit, because this attack was motivated by no single ideology. It was a senseless, depraved attempt to watch it all burn. It was a desperate attempt to be seen. Like YouTuber Randy Stair, who killed three people and then himself in Pennsylvania in 2017, Crimo crafted a flamboyant online identity that he used to court recognition, to exorcise his bizarre personal demons, and ultimately to add an additional element of intrigue to his ‘legacy’ by leaving cryptic video clues. According to a friend of his, who spoke out on social media shortly after the attack, Crimo was not at all political, just “a stoner who completely lost touch with reality”, that had co-opted “aesthetics from the left and the right” that he found interesting.

This statement reveals a facet of Crimo’s psychology that is noteworthy and alarming: he found extremist aesthetics to be “interesting”. The look of terrorism has become an edgy style to adopt. We live in a culturally conformist time; outsiders seek out excitement on the fringes. And when someone is so desperate to be notorious, all they have to do is look at the headlines and they’ll quickly find that political violence — from antifa, neo-nazis, or incels — get all the headlines. 

Alek Minassian, one of the most infamous ‘incel killers,’ admired mass murderers from a young age, but ascribed his attack to the “Beta Uprising”, parroting Isla Vista shooter Elliott Rodger. In his sentencing, Justice Anne Molloy stated that he wasn’t motivated by ideology, and had “piggybacked on the incel movement to ratchet up his own notoriety”. It worked. 

More recently, Salvador Ramos, perpetrator of the devastating attack in Uvalde, Texas, was another killer with no apparent motive — just an inspiration. He was enthralled by Luka Magnotta, a Canadian wannabe model and serial killer who uploaded snuff films to YouTube as he went on his murderous spree. Like Magnotta, Ramos filmed himself killing cats and posted the videos online. He had also told people on Yubo, the live streaming app, that he was going to be famous before going on to perpetrate his horrific attack.

There is something deeply broken in a society where young men are using the aesthetics of terrorism just for some online notoriety. We are a long way from repairing it. For as long as we live in a country traumatised by carnage and divided by toxic politics, we must not allow it to destroy us completely.

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Lindsay S
Lindsay S
1 month ago

In a society that glorifies fame and legacy to the extent that it does and also gives losers a taste via a childhood where everyone is a winner, should we be surprised when life’s losers choose to make a grab at infamy? Ever heard the phrase “Bad attention is better than no attention”?
So many in society are self absorbed, they want it all, the career and the family but you can’t give 100% to both and frequently its the children who lose out. Desperate for the attention they lacked as children, they turn to social media, grasp at any and all straws and this is the result.
Another societal failing that we can drop on the doorstep of those who are actively destroying the family unit and its importance to society.

Laney Roberts
Laney Roberts
1 month ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

Very true it’s an empty life but it’s all some people know

Jim Beam
Jim Beam
1 month ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

Right indeed. The attention they lacked, and the male role models that remain lacking leave plenty of room for this insanity.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 month ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

You need to factor in the effect of smoking cannabis. It seems to be a common factor with many shooters regardless of denomination

Jim R
Jim R
1 month ago

For all the empty talk of ‘inclusiveness’ that goes on these days, I wonder if there’s ever been a time where people are so actively and aggressively excluded for not fitting in. As soon as someone seems a little off, they get called all sorts of terrible things and are assumed to be members of sinister fringe extremist groups. It should surprise no one that social outcasts would go looking for acceptance in these dark places. So hard to tell the poison from the cure. Our society needs to either evolve forward or backward to a place where everyone gets a chance at a meaningful relationship with their community or the outcasts will eventually destroy everything. Or be rounded up into camps.

Last edited 1 month ago by Jim R
Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 month ago

I wonder how many outside of Chicago knew that more people were murdered (10)) on Chicago inner city streets over that weekend than in Highland Park? And several dozens were injured. A city where gun laws are as strict as it gets.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

Strict gun laws in a single state are pointless when people can simply go and get them from the state next door. No other country with gun control laws (all other first world countries) has them in only certain states, counties or regions. It either has to be nationwide or it’s a complete waste of time

Keith Mcmaugh
Keith Mcmaugh
1 month ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Only in America, we are numero uno.
But, it’s spreading to Mexico, Canada, maybe others, soon.
Mass shootings and gun violence are now common place and ho hum.

Hope it is not a new sport or a national past_time.
Can we blame it on a virus escaped from Wuhan??

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 month ago

For as long as we live in a country where Godlessness and narcissism are highly encouraged and kids are taught to hate their country.

Tyler Lord
Tyler Lord
1 month ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

What are they taught to love? Not God, country, parents, girls, each other.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
1 month ago

I sometimes wonder how often the shooter has been on prescription drugs for anxiety or depression or lack of focus or…
I think this is much more common in the USA, where the mass shootings are also more common. It doesn’t prove cause and effect, but it does suggest it.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that there will be a large study because all the institutions who are capable of such a study are so beholden to the pharmas.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
1 month ago

Drug use (including prescription, illegal and cocktails of both types, plus on occasion alchol) is common among mass shooters (and Islamic terrorists). Shortly prior to the London Bridge attack the 3 perpetrators were seen smoking cannabis together in a garage. The British journalist Peter Hitchens from time to time investigates the drugs background in such cases on his ‘Mail on Sunday’ blog.

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
1 month ago

I guess its the desire people have for a sense of meaning and purpose, and how the mainstream doesnt satisfy that for quite a few. Over the decades, a great many sages have came up with excellent sounding plans to address the problem – but they’re mostly ignored by those in power. Or in rare cases when they are not (e.g. Nick Timothy & Fiona Hill who were well listened to by Theresa May) they turn out to be lacking in other ways. So things may have to get a lot worse before they get better, at least in terms of the underlying cause, and this could take decades more. I guess things could improve sooner though, it sometimes seems the degree to which God exerts a pull on troubled souls waxes and wanes overtime, so maybe soon more well be drawn in a benign direction. And perhaps it wont be too long before more states ban assult weapons.

Jim Beam
Jim Beam
1 month ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

Of course the plans are ignored. There is a great deal of money at stake for special interests who profit from it all.

Tyler Lord
Tyler Lord
1 month ago

I pity the young people today, they are wretched. There must be a return to respect and some sense of the sanctity of life.

Laney Roberts
Laney Roberts
1 month ago

There is nothing cool to belong to if you’re on the outside. There are no punks. They want to be bad so they do drugs and guns and kill and or be killed

Jim Beam
Jim Beam
1 month ago

And showed total cowardice in the end. At least he will live to face the consequences of his crimes and conscience before God takes care of the rest.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
1 month ago

deeply broken indeed – and the young hopeless introverts out there are killing themselves, rather than others, in droves. Epic numbers of drug ‘overdoses’ anyone ?

James Rowlands
James Rowlands
1 month ago

just “a stoner who completely lost touch with reality”,
Like everyone Elise Naama.
You ignore the elephant in the room.
How many shootings in Singapore lately? How many stoners?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

Are you suggesting that a major cause of the mass shootings in America (which is a problem largely unique to the States) is due to a few stoners having a puff? There are other countries with much more liberal drug laws that are much less violent so how does that fit into your theory?

James Rowlands
James Rowlands
1 month ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

The cause is multifaceted. Being a Stoner seems to be a statistically significant risk factor.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
1 month ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

How many stoners are self medicating for other problems in their life? Is it possible that the real problem is masked by the drug use as opposed to being caused by the drug use or is it possibly a bad combination of mental health and drug use? Just as many cases of domestic violence can cite alcohol abuse as a factor, not all who imbibe go home and batter their partners. Most stoners won’t go on to shoot up a park as they’ll still be sat on the sofa philosophising life or starting a band.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
1 month ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

being a stoner also greatly increases the tendency towards paranoia.. modern cannabis is very strong and not the ‘mild’ drug it used to be. I used to have a puff back in the day but the new strains ‘blow my mind’ – imagine smoking that every day…..and having easy access to guns – very scary combination.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 month ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

For over 30 years in the U.S., preschool boys were “diagnosed” with ADD and given behavior-modifying drugs because largely young, inexperienced, ill-educated women couldn’t handle natural boy energy. That these artificially altered boys go on to abuse other drugs (and the pot today isn’t what we toked in our youth; the new stuff is laced with fentanyl), should surprise no one, especially the pharmaceutical companies and psych charlatans who collude with them.

Patience Easy
Patience Easy
1 month ago

You know the debate over gun control is over when people are defending the right of a civilian to kill families and children for no reason at all. Might as well accept it. The guns aren’t going anywhere.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
1 month ago
Reply to  Patience Easy

I suppose people who hang themselves from a tree do so because of the availability of trees, and for no other reason.

Patience Easy
Patience Easy
1 month ago
Reply to  Arnold Grutt

Trees, guns. Such an intellectually honest comparison and not a false equivalency at all………