The New York subway shooter’s private hell

17 April 2022

4:00 PM

17 April 2022

4:00 PM

A common theme among America’s spree killers is a fondness for rambling online. Isla Vista shooter Elliot Rodger griped about his inability to get a girlfriend. Troy Sesler made videos about anime that grew increasingly dark before he flipped out and killed his family. Randy Stair made numerous sketches and vlogs detailing his fondness for serial killers, his issues with his body image and his problems with his masculinity before massacring several of his co-workers.

The shooter who injured ten people on the New York subway this week did not become a spree killer, but only because of his blessedly incompetent aim. Frank James, the waddling sexagenarian suspect, was arrested a day after the shootings. How an obese, apparently alcoholic man evaded capture for so long remains to be determined. The police had better have a good excuse.

James was a prolific YouTuber, who, posting under the names ‘Prophet of Truth 88’ and ‘Profit of Doom 8888’ among others, rambled quasi-coherently about his black nationalist beliefs from thirty minutes to an hour at a time. Speaking to his few hundred followers, it appears, was all he had to do. Allegedly, the FBI was monitoring him but he slipped through the net. They had better have a good excuse as well.

Media responses to James’s peculiar online life have been ambiguous. The New York Post coyly suggests that he ‘complained about race issues’. The New York Times vaguely describes him as having ‘harshly bigoted views’. Let’s be blunt: he hates white people. ‘White people and black people,’ he says in one video, ‘should not have any contact with each other’. ‘They hate your guts,’ he says, speaking to his fellow blacks. ‘Nothing can happen differently than what happened over in Europe with the Jews.’

James doesn’t feel much love for black people either — as long as they associate with whites, that is. (‘We have a lot of house negroes out here today,’ he declares in one monologue, ‘like the ones that flag my videos down.’) Dwelling on the fact that Supreme Court appointee Ketanji Brown Jackson is married to a white man, James dismisses black people who might be angered. She is white, he claims, in a spiritual sense. Only her skin is black.

‘We should be coming closer together,’ he says elsewhere, fretting about the similar domestic arrangement of Susan Rice. ‘We should be more close-knit than everybody else.’ ‘We invented mathematics,’ he sighs, ‘but we surrendered all that for a handful of trinkets.’ Despairing, James huffs that if black people are not willing to ‘do the work’, they might as well go extinct.

James makes a point of emphasising his independent-mindedness. He criticises the ‘negro mob mentality’, which holds, in his mind, that all black people should think and speak as one. Still, he seethes with racial animus. One video that has been deleted but apparently copied and uploaded to Twitter appears to show him stalking through a city while screaming about ‘white ugly racist motherfuckers’, ‘stinking sp*cs’ and ‘wetbacks’.

James has other interests as well. He thinks the war in Ukraine is ushering in a nuclear holocaust. (Did that spur his decision? Perhaps we will find out.) He is an enthusiastic conspiracy theorist who has colourful opinions about 9/11. He really, really has a problem with women.

It is too early to judge the extent to which James’s eccentric opinions drove him. While his speech is generally measured, if bizarre, he has obvious mental health problems and claims to have spent time in treatment facilities. (These, he says, were filled with ‘violence’, ‘not physical violence but the same kind of violence that’s similar to what a child may experience in grade school.’)

Still, mental health problems and bigoted beliefs can work symbiotically. No one would claim that Elliot Rodger, for example, had robust mental health. Black nationalist prejudices have influenced attacks on Jewish and Asian people, as well as white people, yet are generally ignored. Should the media reflect on such Manichean ideas? Reader, yes. That the New York Post and the New York Times are so hesitant to clearly describe James’s open and extensively detailed opinions is evidence of skewed judgement here.

Yet there is clearly a psychosocial factor as well. James was an isolated, alienated person. Even his own sister claims not to have had a relationship with him. On the internet, as he wallowed for hour after hour, week after week, month after month, year after year in his own strange opinions, James must have felt like he mattered. That can offer consolation. But it also encourages people to sink into their private worlds.

In one video, on one of his many channels, James sits in front of an enormous birthday cake and an even more enormous bottle of whiskey. The title reads, ‘i had a happy bday thanks to yall’. As he thanks viewers who donated money to him, James escapes his world of racial grievance for a moment and one feels a stab of sadness. He abandoned any right to sympathy, of course, if he is indeed the culprit. But one wishes for a world where he did not descend into a private hell.<//>

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