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Monday, June 22, 2015

The Violent, The Demented, And Vengeance For Historic Wrongs

Everyone in New Brighton figured Bradley Connor for a mass murderer.  He had all the hallmarks.  He pulled the wings off of fireflies and strung the pulsating incandescent bodies into necklaces for his sister.  He hooked up the toads he found in the window-wells of his house to his Lionel train transformer and juiced them to watch them stiffen and twitch.  He stomped ant colonies, picked the Japanese beetles off his father’s rose bushes and threw them into buckets of soapy water to watch their frenetic death dance. He stole the blue robin’s eggs out of their nest in Mrs. Fox’s hedges and crushed them under his heel.  How could he not turn out bad?

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Of course his parents hoped that childhood indifference to animal suffering had nothing whatsoever to do with real, human cruelty; and they were pleased when Bradley seemed to turn out to be the model of Christian compassion.  In their relief, they reflected that he must have only been a curious youngster, interested in the electro-neurological systems of animals, the survival instincts of insects as lower-case phylogenetic examples, and the mothering instincts of birds as indicative of a wider biological trend.  In other words, his seemingly callous snuffing out of innocent animal life had nothing at all to do with his own moral character, but an intellectual instinct no different than vaccine trials on monkeys.  His basic nature was good.

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In her childhood Lauren Nicholas showed none of Bradley Connor’s early malignity but only an uncanny sensitivity to the needs of others, respected life in all forms, and displayed a gentle compassion worthy of her Christian upbringing.  She was demure, respectful, and devout. Unlike Bradley Connor’s parents, hers never worried for an instant and was certain that she would become a fine young woman.

Lauren had a seemingly excellent genetic pedigree; and as far back as anyone could determine Lauren’s ancestors had been leaders of the community, devout and principled Lutherans with nary a wayward soul among them. As a young teenager, however, she fell in love with Mickey Frond, a ne’er-do-well layabout from across the tracks. Dismissing her upper-middle class, comfortable life of country club leisure and Ivy League privilege, she became part of his outlaw gang, identified with his violently anti-social behavior, and while her despairing parents could only look on, she became more convinced of his anarchic manifesto. 

After Mickey had been sent to prison, Lauren seemed to regain some of her social balance.  She apologized to her parents and her family for her unexplainable behavior, returned to her studies, and gained acceptance to Brown.

Unfortunately, according to the lurid details following her demented poisoning of her classmates which resulted in twenty deaths and the paralysis of thirty more, her moral rectitude, piousness, and Christian compassion were only thinly-veiled covers for her twisted, murderous personality.  There had been a strand of DNA from some moral reprobate too far back for any genealogical research to have uncovered; and it got activated by the chance appearance of Mickey Frond. 

None of the psychologists interviewed on the news could explain precisely and convincingly how and why her childhood and early adolescence had twisted her so badly and compelled her to take the lives of so many innocent people. The media only repeatedly quoted from her diary: “Privileged bourgeois ignoramuses must die”. Conservative journals lamented the moral decay of America and that this untoward attack on the nation’s best and brightest was an example.  The progressive media chose to focus on her animus against the American capitalist society.   Although any murder, especially of innocent people, might be a heinous offense, hers could be at least explained if not justified by her rightful and righteous anger at the persistently oppressive misuse of the earth’s resources for venal and self-serving ends.

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In fact the answer was simple – nature and nurture combined in such a way as to create the perfect storm of mental derangement. Her blissful and beatific demeanor, a product of a childlike fantasy of goodness and spirituality disguised a much uglier reality within. She had become a psychological football – born mean and violent, cajoled into a posture of innocence by sweet and alluring fantasy, influenced by a rebel soul mate, reconfigured once again into a responsible schoolgirl, and then finally reverting to her very sadistic true self.

Bradley Connor was indeed violent, anti-social, and nihilistic. At the very core of his character was a total disregard for life, whether animal or human. Cruelly decapitating animals and torturing others reflected his basic antipathetic character.  Had economic and social circumstances been any different, Bradley might have become one of Nietzsche’s Supermen, - a wolf of Wall Street, a Genghis Khan, or a Pol Pot. 

Nature and nurture – distinct determining polarities of human character and personality too complex to decipher – are always duking it out for top dog.  Bradley had been born with the socially defective genes of his Great Grandfather Joshua who had been tarred, feathered, disemboweled, and quartered  for wanton slaughter before being hanged on a gibbet in an early 17th century New England square.  It was Bradley’s destiny to follow the genetic imperative of cruelty and lack of any sense of probity or moral sense.  As a child he started off well, displaying his callousness and indifference to life; but who was to foresee the effects of nurture?

Father Aloysius Brophy was the rector and chief priest at St. Maurice Catholic Church in New Brighton; and for some unexplained reason his homilies featuring St. Francis of Assisi resonated with the young Bradley Connor.

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“St. Francis loved all God’s creatures”, said Father Brophy one Sunday morning. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father; and even the hairs of your head are all counted.”

Religion often sets aright foundering ships, and so the wanton and indifferent Bradley Connor sat up straight in his pew feeling that the words of Matthew and Jesus Christ had been meant for him.

Much was made a few years ago of the unfortunate mass murder of black worshippers by a lone, white gunman. The young shooter was accorded far more respect than he ever deserved.  His murderous spree was motivated by racism, progressive commentators concluded, and had nothing to do with his troubled, psychotic past.  He had been photographed with Nazi flags and white supremacist posters.  He had written and shared racist rants on social media, and a friend testified to his hatred of African Americans. 

Yet upon closer scrutiny the boy was no member of a racist terrorist underground; nor did he belong the Nazi or KKK party.  He was just badly demented.  He had inherited the same type of antisocial, aggressive, and intemperate genes as Bradley Connor and Lauren Nicholas, but he had never had the moderating influence of a Father Brophy and his invocation of St. Francis of Assisi. Somehow in his short 21 years, the church shooter became victim of bad genes, indifferent parents, the corrosive influence of Nietzsche, violently sexual Japanese manga comics, and too much television.

The shooter could barely remember his crazed, wanton rampage, and yet he was demonized as a Right Wing Satan. In fact, he could have gone berserk in any number of venues. Because of his mother’s lewd and provocative nakedness in her boudoir, his father’s tomcatting and ultimate abandonment of her, and Nancy Blakely’s outrageously sexual handling of his sex in the woods behind his house, he hated women; and before his murderous assault on black people, he had decided to kill women.

As he sat in his jail cell and read the media accounts of his shooting, he was amazed and dismayed.  How could they have gotten the story so wrong, he wondered. He was no racist or some reincarnated Simon Legree.  He hated black people because LeShawn Washington had eaten the last of the chocolate pudding at the school cafeteria.  He and anyone who looked like him deserved to die.

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The shooter, unlike Bradley Connor, had been unable to overcome his genetic legacy and unfortunate nurturing.  He had no choice in the matter as nature and nurture had combined to produce the perfect storm. He was convicted of mass murder, and after five years of desultory appeals, was executed.  The definition of insanity was too restrictive it turned out, applied only to the truly wacko and demented, and didn’t cover his twisted and tormented early life.  His pursuers were happy at the outcome.  Swinging from a rope at the gallows was too good for this racist pig.

In fact, according to an account given to the Columbus (AL) Clarion, the shooter went to his death wondering what was happening.  To his final moments he was convinced that he was only avenging LeShawn’s insult.

Years passed and a journalist from Nebraska decided to revisit the case. The shooter had been railroaded, he concluded, by an untoward progressivism whose advocates were out for vengeance and retribution for wrongs committed 150 years ago. Too late and too bad.  The shooter –Randall Hiram Biggs – would spend eternity under the fertile, black earth of the Mississippi Delta.

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