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Revisiting the Manifesto

Revisiting the Manifesto

An addendum to last week's suggestion that we burn the manifesto instead of releasing it

I realize my suggestion that we burn the manifesto last week was contrary to the predominant opinion of how to handle it, so I wanted to clarify, respond to some of the pushback I've gotten, and hone in on my main argument against its release—and, more specifically, detail what I mean by release.

Frustration over the FBI and/or MNPD's hesitancy to release the Covenant killer’s manifesto has been met with unified outrage from almost everyone on the right. Yesterday, Buck Sexton called the delay a "cover-up". His Nashvillian co-host, Clay Travis, appeared during Tucker Carlson's last show on Fox News to say the same.

As Megan details below, Representative Faison advocated for the release of the manifesto yesterday, implying that the information contained within may help inform whatever gun legislation they decide to craft during the special session.

Hale’s manifesto in particular does not appear to be codified in a single source; rather, it seems to be spread across a number of journals, notepads, videos, and digital documents. Whether the massive amount of material is related specifically to the Covenant massacre is unclear. This may explain some of the delay. And as Jano Tantogco brought attention to last week, a more revealing bit of information may be a toxicology report.

When writing, the first and most important question you ask yourself is, "Who am I writing this for?" Last week's opener was for Nashvillians and, more specifically, those associated with Covenant.

It was an attempt to reorient the spotlight away from the darker aspect of the massacre and toward the light that's since emerged from the tragedy in the community. If you were not aware, I myself have close ties to Covenant, as do many of our readers.

This revisitation is an extension of the original argument to a more general audience, those without direct connections to Covenant who may be interested in reckoning with the phenomenon of the mass murderer.

First, I do think the manifesto should be made available to policymakers, psychologists, law enforcement agencies, and those with the credentials or "good reason" to handle the material. I don't think it should be released to the public at large.

I haven't seen anyone specify what they mean when they call for the manifesto’s “release,” but I can only assume—because these calls have been made by media figures to a general audience and echoed by that same audience— that the only satisfactory release would be a public one.

We cannot go back in time, but ever since Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed thirteen people at Columbine High School and their writings, chatlogs, and “Basement Tapes” were left lying out in the open, almost every mass murderer since that time has drawn influence from them. Harris and Klebold themselves took inspiration from Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City terrorist who killed 168 people in protest of the raid of the Branch Davidians compound in Waco, Texas.

Second, releasing the manifesto publicly just encourages mimesis. In the interest of preventing the spread of what is, to some degree, a social contagion, we should limit the flow of information that permits its reproduction. Nearly every mass murderer has studied the actions of previous mass murderers. Everything from the way an assailant dresses to the weapons he or she uses can be interpreted as nods to previous killers.

I realize that this may come off as advocating for censorship—something I have, in every other regard, opposed—but I doubt many people who disagree with me on this point would advocate for free and open access to the planned maneuvers of US troops in perilous situations abroad. Why? Because the open release of such information could result in their deaths.

Similarly, publicizing the grievances of someone who shot six innocent people in a school could very well invite people to sympathize with him or her, and go some way to justify the crimes to those sufficiently aggrieved themselves. General grievances and distress are not new phenomena. What is new is the channeling of such resentment into explosions of mass violence against innocent people.

Again: these tragedies continue to occur largely because the thoughts and motivations of previous mass murderers are easy to access and distributed widely by the media.

This argument is backed up by The Violence Project, which has done great work tracking similarities between mass murderers and attempting to get to the root of what unites them so that we might deal with this 21st-century phenomenon more effectively. The researchers note that in 1890, French sociologist Grabiel Tarde argued that the media were the primary source of all crimes in his book The Laws of Imitation. "Epidemics of crime follow the line of the telegraph," Tarde noted.

To some degree, the media reflects its audience. This is, of course, a chicken and egg situation, but the responsibility of the audience cannot be underrated. Regarding the private desire of those calling for the release of the manifesto, I urge them to consider how their desires, which are finding ample reflection in the media, may contribute to the reproduction of these events. I maintain my position, with all the caveats listed above, that the manifesto should not be made available to the public.