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Young Men and the Epidemic of Anger, Violence

On July 16, 2015, a 24-year-old man, Mohammod Youssef Abdulazeez, went on a 30-minute shooting spree at two military sites in Chattanooga, Tennessee, that left six people ― including himself ― dead. Later, that same day, a Colorado jury found James Holmes, a 27-year-old former doctoral student, guilty of the 2012 murders of 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora. As the nation attempts to comprehend the most recent senseless tragedy, many of us are still reeling from the horrifically shocking murders of nine African-American church members in Charleston, South Carolina, by Dylann Storm Roof, a 21-year-old misfit and high school dropout.

A few years earlier in 2011, Jared Loughner, a 24-year-old Tucson, Arizona, drifter shot former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the head, killed six others and wounded 12 more. In 2013, the nation was horrified by the murder of dozens of elementary school children in Newtown, Connecticut, by 20-year-old social loner and recluse Adam Lanza, who took his own life. Last year, Elliot Rodgers, a 21-year-old college student, went on a shooting spree in Isla Vista, California, taking the lives of six others before claiming his own.

As we know all too well, there have been numerous other mass shootings by young men.

One of the more galling aspects of these atrocities is that these men had a number of similar traits. The primary commonality being the fact that each of these men were diagnosed or later were found out to have been suffering from an intense level of anger, paranoia, and resentment of their environments and the larger world surrounding them. Moreover, a number of young men were consumed by various disturbing vices and personal demons. Roof and Loughner frequently perused and commented on radical right-wing websites and rabidly consumed the vehemently acerbic and venomous propaganda touted by these racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, and often homophobic and sexist organizations.

Lanza was described as a socially awkward kid (as are many young people and adults for that matter). Interestingly, and admittedly baffling to many people, was the fact that certain segments of the mainstream media depicted Lanza as a β€œnice” kid. Rodgers was the biracial (White and Asian) son of a Hollywood executive who, like Loughner and Ford, had an affinity for visiting and posting inflammatory commentary on White supremacist websites. Rodgers posted a manifesto online that reflected his feeling that his sense of entitlement and advantages ― family wealth, social class, supposedly being half-White, etc. ― had failed to help him succeed with women. He eventually concluded that he had been cheated by life and someone had to pay for it.

Despite initially having second thoughts about his sadistic and evil plan, Roof informed his victims that the reason he was terminating their lives was due to the β€œfact” that Black folks were taking over everything; that ranged from Black men supposedly cornering the market on White women to Blacks displacing White Americans in pretty much all aspects of society. It was clear that this misguided and demented man was so consumed by his irrational mindset and delusional goal of starting a race war that he could not accept the undeniable reality that by all quality-of-life measures ― economic, educational, health, personal wealth, etc. ― White Americans far surpass Black and all other non-White Americans in every vital category.

To be sure, there are young men of all races and ethnicities who are angry, dysfunctional, as well as a danger to themselves and the larger society around them. Mohammod Youssef Abdulazeez is one such example. That being said, it appears that a disproportionate percentage of young, male mass murderers are likely to be White. More recently, they have been White upscale young men. Moreover, these young Caucasian men tend to lash out and target others who are largely innocent or totally removed from their White, male, often-privileged worlds. They are often the victims of their own private demons and personal failures. A disproportionate percentage of these guys have adopted the mentality that a society that has always been rigged in their favor has been hijacked by multiculturalism, political correctness, affirmative action, gays and lesbians, radical leftists, feminists and recent immigrants of color.

They view themselves as victims who are under ever-growing siege from the forces of β€œthe other” and this fact accounts for their blatant and vile retrograde attitudes. These views and feelings largely had been kept contained within the deep, dark private recesses of their anguished minds but are increasingly being expressed in violent and ugly ways from unabashed comments on social media to, in a growing number of cases, outright violence and murder.

It is truly an alarming and disturbing state of affairs.

One thing is for certain, male violence among teenage and early adult men is an ongoing and growing epidemic that we as a society must make an effort to recognize and do all in our power to address. Ignoring it could very well jeopardize the health, safety and well-being of many young men across social, racial and economic lines as well as our nation in general.

Elwood Watson, Ph.D., is a professor of history, African-American studies and gender studies at East Tennessee State University.

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