My blog can be heated at times, but death threats? Over blog posts?
One of the reasons I like crime fiction is that it’s a platform for exploring social issues. I’m a self-confessed news junkie. I like to keep an eye on the headlines, and follow stories of interest.
But there are stories out there that pass me by on a daily basis that I’m not even seeing.
Well, obviously, you think. Who has time to read everything from every newspaper, everywhere? Fair point. But when I was doing some research not that long ago, I discovered a blog that opened my eyes to a whole new side of the blogging world.
Oh, I know not everyone who blogs is a writer. Many people have that idea, but it isn’t true, and my recent research led me to one of the blogs out there that has a completely different focus and has earned the creator, Trench, more than one death threat.
Why? Well, read the most recent post and join me in scratching my head.
Now, any of you who read the interview that JB Thompson did with me a few weeks ago know that I was assaulted when I was 14. My jaw was permanently injured. The bullying was so bad that school officials transferred me for my own safety.
But it never occurred to me to go home and get one of our guns to solve my problems. Hell, it never occurred to me to just hit back.
The Trenchcoat Chronicles is a sight dedicated to debunking myths on both sides of the school shooting equation. It’s filled with news articles on teen and children committing violent acts, follows sentencing… In short, it’s a site that automatically fascinated me. I think, in part for me because I never defended myself, and for society, because people are often compelled by the need to make sense of what they don’t understand so they feel less threatened, most people want to understand school shootings.
Maybe we think if we understand, we can stop it from happening here, to our kids.
This is one topic I certainly don’t have all the answers on, but I decided to approach Trench and ask for a short interview, to learn more about the goals and purpose of his blog. If you’re a crime writer, like me, you may find this site to be an excellent resource. And if you’re a parent, you might be surprised at some of the things that are out there that you don’t know about.
Q. Tell me about The Trenchcoat Chronicles. First, when did you launch the blog?
A. The blog was actually launched in April of 2000, a few days after the one-year anniversary of Columbine. It wasn't really a blog then either. It was just a website that I maintained on Tripod where I basically just gave my opinion on different subjects, Columbine included. I did the entire HTML by hand on a Web TV, so you can imagine how primitive that website looked.
Q. Why blog about this topic? What inspired you? Did you have a specific goal in mind, an objective?
A. I didn't originally start out talking about just this topic. At first I talked about politics and current events but within the past two years the news about school shootings and related crimes has skyrocketed. So not until recently did I focus strictly on those issues. Columbine inspired me more or less. You could also say Columbine dragged me into it. I started making websites using TheTrenchcoat name back in 1997. At first it was basically the 1997 version of a MySpace page. Then I started posting my poetry online. My poetry was very dark and my site could have been construed as "goth" even though I was never a true goth.
When Columbine happened in 1999 the Washington Post and other media outlets reported my website as either belonging to or having some connection to the "Trench Coat Mafia". I received e-mail death threats from people who thought my site had something to do with Columbine. I took down the site and laid low for a year. When I came back in April 2000 I started talking about what Columbine on my website and I've been talking about it ever since.
I do have a few specific objectives actually. The first is to dispel the myths on both sides of the argument. Like the myth that bullying causes school shootings and conversely that not all goths are school shooters waiting to happen. Or that videogames and music do not make kids violent. Another one of my objectives is to make parents more aware of what could possibly be going on in their kids' lives and for what behavior to look for. The odds of your kid being a school shooter are almost the same as winning the lottery but that doesn't mean that it can't happen to you. Some parents let their kids go to school wearing Harris and Klebold t-shirts. That would be a good sign that your kid may have a problem. Also some kids have created these online shrines to Harris and Klebold and that parents should monitor their kids' online activities for signs like this. Also there are adults who make what I call "worship sites" of Harris and Klebold and parents should be made aware that sites like these actually exist. Lastly and more importantly my objective is to let kids know that school is just a very short part of their life. It's not worth throwing your life away and someone else’s over something as petty as school. In my experience the bullied kids leave their schools behind and go on to lead fruitful lives while the bullies end up in jail or at some menial job.
Q. What has the response to your blog been like? Do you still get abusive email?
A. The response goes either way. I've gotten positive responses from the families of school shooting victims, the families and friends of two school shooting suspects who I believe are innocent, and even from a Columbine victim, not to mention various other supporters. The hate mail is overwhelming sometimes. I have an entire section of my site dedicated to the best ones. I get it from people who I refer to as "mutants". These are the people who consider Harris and Klebold to be heroes or victims. I've actually had to block an entire ISP from New England from my site because one kid was so obsessed with sending me hate mail that I was worried for his own well being.
Q. Obviously, there have been some disturbing trends in society over the past few decades, and school shootings have been one of them. Do you have any theories about why this is happening?
A. Not to oversimplify things but I think it blew up with Columbine. The media reported that Harris and Klebold shot up the school because they were bullied and that myth still perpetuates today. So some kids who are bullied or are perceived they are bullied think that killing would be a logical step. Also I think parents today are too busy trying to be their kids' best friend instead of trying to be their parents. The public schools aren't helping either. It seems like their scared to actually punish students whether they be bullies or just violent.
Q. Now, I could be wrong about this, not being up on statistics, but I think school shootings are still primarily occurring in the US. Is that so, and why do you think that is?
A. I hate to say this since I support the right to bear arms but it's because guns are too easily accessible in the U.S. But I should point out that in most cases the guns were obtained illegally or were stolen from a parent or guardian. Harris and Klebold got their guns from a friend of theirs who purchased the guns legally. Jeff Weise, the Red Lake shooter, stole his weapons from his grandfather who was a police officer who he then killed. There needs to be harsher penalties for selling illegal firearms and for not keeping a firearm secure when it's not being used.
Q. Some of your recent discussion has centered on video games. What do you think of the controversy surrounding 25 to Life? Do you think the game rating standards are adequate?
A. I think 25 to Life is a non-issue since the game is so incredibly bad. I haven't played it myself but all of my gamer friends have said the game is one of the worst. A lot of politicians gave that game a ton of free publicity before it came out and it couldn't live up to the hype. As a gamer who has kids I think the ratings are more than adequate. If the parents can't read the back of the box they shouldn't be buying games for their kids. No 7th grader is getting 50 bucks and going to the store by themselves to get GTA. The only way these underage kids are getting these games is because they're parents are buying them for them.
Q. What about movies? Are the standards for what youth can watch eroding, and contributing to school violence, in your opinion?
A. I think just like the videogame ratings the movie ratings are pretty cut and dry. Again it's up to parents to enforce those ratings. When my wife and I went to see Sin City last year we saw parents at the movie with really young kids. It was rated 'R' for a reason. It was a great movie but I wouldn't want little kids to see it. I wouldn't say movies influence school shootings but I find it mildly disturbing that in recent years some of these kids, like Jeff Weise, are fans of the movie Elephant which was about a fictional school shooting.
Q. There's been a real push to address bullying in school, in the hopes that it will prevent school shootings or suicides. Do you think that will help? What do you think needs to be done to address these problems?
A. I think addressing the bullying problem would go a long way in helping. Some people thing I'm some kind of pro-bullying activist. I'm not. I just don't see it as an excuse for murder. The problem is what can schools do realistically to stop bullying? Zero tolerance regulations at schools haven't helped. You can bring in as many guest speakers as you want to a school to address bullying but it's not going to stop. I don't have a realistic answer on how to stop bullying but unfortunately neither does anyone else.
Q. Are the sentences for violent crimes enough of a deterrent? Why or why not?
A. No, if they were we wouldn't have crime in the U.S. Kids think they know everything. I thought I knew everything when I was kid. They think they can get away with the perfect crime. They think they have it all figured out. Harris and Klebold's original plan was to blow up the school, pick off people as they ran out of the school and then escape.
Only when confronted with the possibility of going to jail did they kill themselves. A lot of these kids view themselves as beyond the law anyway. In some case they view themselves as gods that are above the laws of man. It's hard for a self-proclaimed god to consider the repercussions of his actions.