Umpqua Community College Shooting Update

[Content Note: Guns; shooting; death; injury; disablism.]

This morning, there still isn't a ton of clarity about the shooting at UCC. The number of deceased has been reduced from 13 to 10, and it is not clear if that includes the shooter, who has been identified as a 26-year-old white mixed race* man named Chris Harper-Mercer. (I have seen "Harper-Mercer" hyphenated in some places, and unhyphenated in others.) He was reportedly not a student at Umpqua Community College.

His victims are still being identified, and no names have yet been released. That is expected to happen sometime today.

[CN: Video may autoplay at link] There have been reports from eyewitnesses that Harper-Mercer asked his victims about their religions before shooting them, and at least one account has Harper-Mercer shooting to kill people who identified themselves as Christians, and shooting to injure people who did not.

I caution that we should take this report with a grain of salt, at this point. Not because I imagine the witness is lying, but because, as Aphra_Behn noted via email, which I'm sharing with her permission: "We all know what trauma does to memory, so I truly think this might be taken with caution for the moment. IIRC there was a similar story about Columbine that was later totally debunked, though not until the usual suspects had milked it for all the propaganda it was worth, of course." I have already seen lots of "war on Christians" rhetoric surrounding this single report, so I want to be careful to note that it is only one account of a chaotic scene.

(Which is not, by the way, because I am invested in denying it if indeed this shooter was targeting Christians. It's because I don't want anyone to feel as though there is a "war" on them if there actually isn't. Although I am not a Christian, many of the people I love are. My life isn't organized by religious teams, despite routine assumptions to the contrary based on my atheism.)

Early reports suggested that Harper-Mercer was atheist, but it later emerged that he had a dating profile on a site called "Spiritual Passions," in which he identified himself as a conservative Republican who dislikes organized religion and is "spiritual but not religious."

There have also been rumors that Harper-Mercer was a Muslim, but I have seen no credible confirmation of that anywhere. It seems very unlikely.

The UK-born shooter had sympathies, or maybe just a fascination, with the Irish Republican Army, and at least one social media account that appears to belong to him reflects a similar interest in Nazis. It doesn't appear to me, based on the limited information that is currently available, that he had a coherent religious or irreligious ideology, but rather was enamored with violent organizations.

As you may have heard, there was also an anonymous poster on 4¢han who seemed to announce this plan the night before. David Futrelle has documented some of that, as well as reactions to the shooting, here. It is very disturbing—and naturally the conclusion is that if he'd had a girlfriend, he wouldn't have done this heinous thing.

Whatever evidence there is that he may have been motivated in part by male entitlement and violent misogyny, that will almost certainly be buried beneath the emergent narrative that he was mentally ill. Shades of Elliot Rodger.

President Obama gave a very powerful statement yesterday, in which he argued that "this is something we should politicize," yet even he axiomatically conceded that Harper-Mercer was mentally ill: "We don't yet know why this individual did what he did. And it's fair to say that anybody who does this has a sickness in their minds, regardless of what they think their motivations may be. But we are not the only country on Earth that has people with mental illnesses or want to do harm to other people. We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months."

Again I will note that even if Harper-Mercer was indeed mentally ill, it is a confluence of many issues that causes someone to pick up a gun and do what he did. Most people with mental illness do not commit mass violence. His individual beliefs, the culture in which he existed, his access to guns—these things are all relevant, too, and they cannot be extricated from one another to find a simple, singular reason to explain his despicable actions.

That's about all that's available now. I will post updates as new information becomes available and/or information needs to be corrected.

Please feel welcome to drop new info in comments, and, as always, let's keep this an image-free thread. Thanks.


* I have updated the post to reflect that Harper-Mercer identified himself as mixed race on the aforementioned dating profile.

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