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A Criminal Following: The Internet Subculture of Mass Murderer Fandoms

Not too long ago, many of us saw the Columbine shooting of 1999 as something that was unheard of. It was a mass murder that we never would have expected to see in our culture. The attacks on our society were no longer external, but they had now entered our schools. Now, years later, we’ve experienced the horrifying effects of many shootings like Columbine. The Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting and the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting are the two largest and most devastating massacres since.

The people at fault for these tragic events are nothing more than criminals. The media has exposed their coldblooded identities over and over again, further enforcing the already strong negative opinion the public has for them. The public’s attitude towards these killers is deeper than hatred, far past the point of contempt. In the eyes of most, these men have committed the most disturbing crimes – killing innocent people at their own disposal, completely disregarding their right to life. As they watched the news, many have shook their heads in disgust, wondering if these men had any sense of humanity. Could someone so cruel be considered human at all?

Unfortunately, not everyone reacted the same way to the things that these men have done. Just as there are those who commit the crimes, there are those who support it. They are the people that testify for the killer in court, the people that write to him in jail, and even the people who sit at home with a sense of gratification after hearing about the destruction he has caused. These supporters can be harmless, just admirers from afar who might never commit any crimes themselves, or they can be as dangerous as he, waiting for a moment of their own. But the most horrifying thing of all is that we will never know what to make of these crazed fans. Action against them cannot be taken unless they’re doing something wrong, but what happens if these obsessions are looked over and then it becomes too late?

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We’re able to take a look inside of their twisted devotion with the help of the Internet subculture of mass murderer fandoms. Groups that have sprung up recently are surrounding the criminal acts of the Aurora, Colorado shooter, James Holmes, and the Columbine High School shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. The groups have become significant enough within the realm of Internet fandoms, that fans decided to give themselves an appropriate name, thus further establishing their respect for the murderers. The Colorado supporters are known as “Holmies” and the Columbine supporters as “Columbiners.”

These communities are prevalent on social media sites like Tumblr, for example. There are people who are a part of the groups because of a sparked fascination, as well as those who are there to support the killer. Either way, the lines often become blurred and it is difficult to tell the inclinations of each member. Whichever the case may be, it is clear that within the cyber walls of these mass murderer fandoms, there is a mutual feeling of respect and admiration that is shared among members. There, no one will call James Holmes a “murderer” or Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold “psychopaths” – no, because they have not done anything wrong. These groups are their following, and in their eyes, these killers are not to blame.

On a community Facebook page titled “Holmies,” one can find posts about James Holmes’s trials, photos of him, links to external sources about the case, and much more. The “about me” section of the page states, “We do not support what he did, we are interested in the case. We are not judging.” While the creator claims not to support the actions of Holmes, they do not act as if they are against it, either. Community members post photos of Holmes calling him attractive and also publishing jokes that make light of the horrific event. They also discuss his mental illness that may prevent a plausible grounding in reality and how they feel sorry for him, that “holmies will always support him, you can’t take the holmies away.”

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A similar group exists on Tumblr, but instead, the members cannot be organized onto one page. A search of the community’s name “Holmies” produces results that range from news articles of his trial, freely written opinions, questions about Holmes’s case, and even a set of rules set for the established following – one of them suggesting that all able members should attend a few of the court dates during trial and pretrial motions. Additionally, a Holmie is expected to stay current with their interest in psychology and true crime and is advised to take psychology classes at a local community college or university. The author of the post also states that taking classes is “not the least expensive part of being a Holmie.”

One member, with the username “suchthingasjustice,” has dedicated her entire page to Holmes and recently uploaded a picture of a necklace pendant with the killer’s picture in it. She writes about her admiration for the piece that she got for her birthday, calling it hardcore and awesome. Other members post memes about Holmes, similar to the ones found on the Holmies Facebook page. Also like those active on Facebook, these Tumblr users talk about Holmes’s illness, how they support his recovery rather than imprisonment, and that they think he is “a sweet person.”

The fan pages of the Columbiners are not much different. Tumblr users post GIFs of footage from the shooting, as well as picture montages of newspaper clippings, images of the suspects, and the weapons they used. The Columbiners also host giveaways amongst one another – the prize is a package complete with an Eric Harris pendant necklace, Dylan Klebold pendant necklace, and “a 10 pack of pins for backpacks and shirts and whatever with Columbine related things on them.” Sounds like a cool prize, right? The giveaway host’s Tumblr profile plays a song titled “Kill Your God” and her about me reads: “Dear Diary, my teen angst bullshit has a body count, I believe it’s about 6 or 7 now. I believe in death, destruction, chaos, filth, and greed. Her background includes the image of the two Columbine shooters lying in a pool of their own blood.

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The Columbiners of Tumblr also find amusement in making jokes out of the massacre. They’ve created a meme that says that the two boys “pulled the best senior prank in history” and have also recreated the shooters into the characters of Beavis and Butthead. There are several images shared among the Columbiners that show the boys after their death, some have captions that pay a cult-like respect to the killers and some have been edited with quotes such as, “To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die.”

One of the most striking quotes found within the many posts of the Columbiners has 297 notes, or shares on Tumblr. It reads, “You don’t just get ‘a little bit interested’ in Columbine. You get captivated. Haunted. Engulfed. Hooked. Preoccupied. Fixated. Possessed. You get obsessed.” Obsessed is certainly a word to describe the Columbiners and Holmies, as well as the members of the massacre fandoms that likely exist on the Internet. But the obsession does not stop at a mere interest in the trial or an attempt at so-called justice. It carries well into the stages of a cult-like devotion – stopping at nothing to have its message be heard by everyone. Those involved in this criminal following stand at the opposite end of the spectrum, not agreeing with the views of the law or the majority of the public. Instead, they point fingers at the innocent and at the lawmakers, trying to show us that these murderers are not the ones at fault and that imprisoning them is unjust.

But these Columbiners and Holmies haven’t taught us anything they’ve hoped to. They’ve represented themselves as a group of supporters that is to be watched – they’ve only taught us that, for every coldblooded killer, there are at least 50 people who will admire him.

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