Dave Cullen is Dead Wrong

Ralph W. Larkin, author of <em>Comprehending Columbine</em>, responds to Dave Cullen's new book, <em>Columbine</em>

Ralph W. Larkin, author of Comprehending Columbine, responds to Dave Cullen's new book, Columbine

Dave Cullen’s book, Columbine, has been receiving a great deal of media coverage. For the most part, reviewers are accepting his explanations of the causes of the Columbine shootings as rooted in the psychopathology of the two shooters. The book contains numerous problems, the first of which is that Mr. Cullen goes well beyond the facts of the case to produce an almost novelistic approach to the shootings. He gives Eric Harris a sex life that that has no verification; he gives them emotions that are impossible to know; he attributes sophisticated knowledge of architecture to the two shooters in the placement of the bombs for which there is no evidence. Worst of all, he ignores an existing trail of evidence of rampant bullying at Columbine High School, eyewitness evidence of public humiliations of Klebold and Harris by members of the football team, and statements of the boys both before and during the assault of their intentions to target the so-called jocks. Their videotapes and their writings were obsessed with gaining retribution against jocks. Instead, Cullen, who was heavily influenced by FBI profiler Dwayne Fusilier, labeled Harris a “psychopath,” and Klebold “a depressive,” and attributed the shootings to their mental disorders. This is psychological reductionism at its worst, not to mention the fact that victims of bullies often experience depression.

People unfamiliar with the details of the Columbine massacre focus on the randomness of the shootings and Eric Harris’s rants on the Trenchcoat Mafia website that he created, suggesting that he hated everybody equally as evidence that the shootings were not about jocks or bullying. This is a mistake. First, the boys’ motives were complex. That they wanted to kill jocks is incontrovertibly true. They placed the bombs in the cafeteria not because their location would bring down the ceiling, as stated by Dave Cullen, but because they placed the bombs underneath the table where the jocks always sat. The fact that the bombs did not go off saved a large portion of the football team. Second, as local and FBI investigators pointed out, one reason for carrying out the massacre was to become media celebrities and, as Eric Harris said in the basement tapes, to “kickstart a revolution” of oppressed students like himself. Third, the boys were heavily influenced by paramilitary and gun cultures, which stress dying in a blaze of glory, which they certainly seem to have done. Fourth, and ignored by many investigators, was the fact that Klebold and Harris also hated evangelical Christian students attending Columbine High School who constituted themselves as a moral elite and who went around telling outcast students that if they did not change their ways, accept Jesus as their Savior, and become born again, they would burn in hell.

Jocks and evangelical Christians were their particular hatreds. However, they hated the whole system of social relations at Columbine High School in which they were despised, defined as lesser humans, and subjected to predatory actions. The attitude of a large portion of Columbine students was that because they dressed differently, did not have sufficient school spirit, and acted differently than their peers, they deserved what they received at the hands of the jocks, who regarded themselves as the defenders of the hypermasculine norms of the school.

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