On Wednesday morning Vester L. Flanagan II, aka Bryce Williams, shot 24-year-old reporter Alison Parker and 27-year-old cameraman Adam Ward who were both employees at WDBJ Television in Roanoke, Virginia, where Flanagan had previously been employed. Another woman, Vicki Gardner, who was being interviewed by Parker at the time, was shot in the back and is reported in stable condition after surgery.
Parker’s boyfriend, Chris Hurst, said the two of them were “very much in love” and that he is “numb.” Parker’s family issued a brief statement to Entertainment Tonight: “Today we received news that no family should ever hear. Our vivacious, ambitious, smart, engaging, hilarious, beautiful, and immensely talented Alison was taken from the world. This is senseless and our family is crushed.”
Ward was engaged to be married to a coworker, Melissa Ott, who was producing the broadcast from the WDBJ control room and heard the shots that killed her fiancé. According to heavy.com, it was to be Melissa’s “last morning producing the show” before moving to Charlotte, with Ward soon moving there to be with her.
In a series of tweets (which have not been confirmed to have been posted by the shooter), Flanagan/Williams accuses Ms. Parker of having “made racist comments” and Mr. Ward of complaining to the company’s human resources department “after working with (Flanagan) one time!!!”
The beginning of the shooting was seen on live television during the interview. Flanagan also appears to have captured cell phone video of the murders as he committed them and posted that video to Facebook. It has since been removed from the website. (I presume it can be found elsewhere online since the Internet is forever but I will not seek it out or link to it if I stumble across it, nor will I link to the WDBJ broadcast that includes the shooting and screaming.)
The sequence of events suggests that Flanagan shot himself while driving as he was fleeing police. He was taken to a nearby hospital where he died at about 1:30 PM Eastern Time.
The general manager of WDBJ, Jeff Marks, explained that he had fired Flanagan/Williams (“F/W” from here onward) in 2013 because F/W was simply too difficult for other employees to work with. F/W’s reaction to being terminated was aggressive enough that the manager cleared the newsroom and had a police presence when F/W was allowed to clear out his desk.
F/W had repeatedly filed discrimination claims, including with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, regarding alleged racist behavior at television stations he had worked at. Thus far, each of those accusations appears to have been “dismissed out of hand” by the EEOC and employers, as Mr. Marks put it.
In the coming discussion about these murders and the murderer, we should guard against over-determining the reasons for F/W’s homicidal mindset.
Jeff Marks’ understatement that F/W was “not happy” gets to the heart of the matter. F/W was a deeply angry man. Not angry like Howard Beale or Donald Trump or anybody you are likely to know personally. But psychopathically angry, angry enough to do what he did.
In a sense, knowing what drove him to such rage is barely important and it seems insignificant in the immediate aftermath of the bloodshed. But media pundits are already going there, especially since the event is over and the killer is himself dead. The thinking, perhaps, is what lessons may be learned to prevent this sort of atrocity from happening again, as if such prevention is possible and as if overdetermination is avoidable in such circumstances.
As long as it’s going to be talked about, then let’s talk honestly shall we?
When I think about the people who’ve seemed most angry in public recently, I can’t help but think of these horrendous women and their philosophical supporters. Yes, in my opinion they’re an order of magnitude more irate and several orders of magnitude more aggressive than the throngs of Donald Trump supporters widely (and somewhat accurately) described as angry. Is it reasonable to make such a connection with Wednesday’s horrific events?
Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson reported on some of the contents of F/W’s manifesto as part of asking a guest whether the atrocities were a hate crime: “He talks about race a lot. He put the initials of the Charleston church shooting victims on the bullets that he used today. He praised the Virginia Tech mass killer, the Columbine High School killers. Says he was being attacked for being a gay black man. He shot three white people today. Why is that not a hate crime?”
The guest’s response was that the events represented “quintessential workplace violence” because “workplace violence offenders are clearly delusional; they make up their own sense of reality… they don’t like who they are, they make up something that will envision them as a victim.” The guest continued to argue that since the crime was a form of “attention seeking,” it is not a hate crime.
I’m not buying it, at least not fully. In explaining his being motivated to murder by the Charleston shootings, F/W referenced that shooter: “As for Dylann Roof? You (deleted)! You want a race war (deleted)? BRING IT THEN YOU WHITE …(deleted)!!!” It may be “workplace violence,” but it was hate-fueled.
Mr. F/W was described by his former boss as “looking out to people to say things he could take offense to.” There are people whose lives are so empty that anger is their oxygen. F/W seems to have been in that camp, perhaps psychotically so, but is not the #BlackLivesMatter (and before them Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton) business model of seeing racism behind every tree and under every rock and in phrases like “the most qualified person should get the job” designed to foment just such anger?
The other part of their business model is to vilify and silence anyone who points out what they’re doing, an effort in which they have plenty of help from white liberals such as Bethania Palma Markus who wasted no time castigating conservatives for “react(ing) to WDBJ shooting just as horribly as you’d expect.” The headline masks what would have been a more honest story: that terrible events often cause people to react in ways that demonstrate their political leanings. Indeed, the first tweet Markus cites in her article is by actor/comedian Rob Delaney who asked the NRA, “Was that on-air double homicide by handgun sponsored content?” But it’s the conservatives who need to shut up.
Vester Flanagan will be the subject of much analysis in coming days. But unlike the discussion of Dylann Roof whom the media quickly and rightly branded as an unhinged racist, few in the mainstream media will use similar terminology for Flanagan and thus one important potential cause of his rampage will go largely unexplored except by courageous journalists like Fox’s Carlson.
I don’t blame anyone but murderers for the murders they commit. But those who inspire bloodshed by fomenting hatred — whether White Power lunatics or their equally racist black analogues who make Democratic politicians apologize for saying “all lives matter” — have much to repent for.
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