On the morning of August 26 in Roanoke, Va., two employees of CBS affiliate WDBJ7, reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward, were gunned down on live television during a field interview by Vester Flanagan, a former employee of the station. Vicki Gardner, executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce and the subject of the interview, was shot but survived.
As Flanagan approached his victims, he recorded himself drawing his weapon, seeming to think twice about going through with the murders. He then advanced and opened fire. After the attack, he fled the scene in his Ford Mustang and picked up a rented Chevrolet Sonic at the airport in an apparent effort to evade police. It turns out that uploading a snuff film to social media and using Twitter to brag about it is not conducive to evading arrest. Just before 11:30 a.m., Flanagan’s rental car was identified and pursued eastbound on Interstate 66 by Virginia state troopers. After being chased 170 miles from the scene of the shooting, Flanagan used his gun to mortally wound himself.
Predictably, leftists and their lapdog media have blamed the usual suspects, namely mental illness and a lack of restrictions on guns. This is thoroughly misguided. A gun in the possession of any good person in the vicinity could have been used to confront and stop Flanagan during his rather lengthy approach, and no current or proposed laws to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill would have stopped Flanagan. (But they would have disarmed some morally upstanding people, which is the true purpose of gun control.) It must also be noted that not every person who commits an evil act has a diagnosable mental illness. Some people form in their minds a thoroughly false worldview and act upon it, which is not currently considered a mental illness (though perhaps it should be).
Let us consider a different target for blame: social justice warriorism. There are several characteristics which distinguish a social justice warrior from a sensible activist, as well as from a delusional person of another type. Social justice warriors typically exhibit a persecution complex, a lack of social skills, a sense of entitlement, a desire to engage in counter-oppression, and a desire to avoid responsibility for one’s actions. We will now see how these characteristics fit with Flanagan’s behavior.
Flanagan had a long history of exhibiting a persecution complex. In 2000, he was fired from NBC affiliate WTWC-TV in Tallahassee, Fla. for “odd behavior” and a “poor work ethic.” After his termination, he sued the station and threatened to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging racist discrimination. The case was settled out of court, and his former colleagues said that his allegations were false. He made similar accusations upon being fired from WDBJ in 2013, and that lawsuit was dismissed on July 2 of this year. Dan Dennison, the news director who hired Williams at WBDJ in 2012 and then fired him the following year, said of him,
“Flanagan had a level of a long series of complaints against co-workers nearly from the beginning of employment at the TV station. That really had nothing to do with his termination, and after a lot of investigation both internally and externally, all of these allegations were deemed to be unfounded. And they were largely…along racial lines, and we did a thorough investigation and could find no evidence that anyone had racially discriminated against this man.”
WDBJ station manager Jeff Marks said of him,
“Vester was an unhappy man. We employed him as a reporter and he had some talent in that respect and some experience. He quickly gathered a reputation of someone who was difficult to work with. He was sort of looking out to people to say things he could take offense to. Eventually, after many incidents of his anger, we dismissed him. He did not take that well. We had to call police to escort him from the building.”
Implicit in his continual complaints about being discriminated against are a sense of entitlement and an avoidance of responsibility for his behavior. His behavior toward his co-workers also indicates poor social skills.
Flanagan also made many other efforts to avoid responsibility for his actions. When engaging in journalism, he used the false name Bryce Williams. This is not always wrong; a false name is sometimes necessary in journalism. If one is performing an undercover investigation, a false name can keep one’s cover intact and allow important information to be brought to public attention. In a political environment that is hostile to freedom of speech and freedom of the press, a false name can allow one to tell the truth about the rulers and their minions without the usual repercussions. In a discriminatory environment, a false name can allow a person of a discriminated class to be taken seriously when they otherwise would not be. For example, some female writers in ages past had a male pen name for this reason. None of these conditions applied to Flanagan, so his false name was simply an avoidance of responsibility by refusing to attach his real name to his journalistic content. His efforts to escape and his subsequent suicide when his escape was unsuccessful were also meant to avoid responsibility by evading justice for his crimes.
“Why did I do it? I put down a deposit for a gun on 6/19/15. The Church shooting in Charleston happened on 6/17/15…What sent me over the top was the church shooting. And my hollow point bullets have the victims’ initials on them. As for Dylann Roof? You (expletive)! You want a race war (expletive)? BRING IT THEN YOU WHITE …(expletive)!!! Yes, it will sound like I am angry…I am. And I have every right to be. But when I leave this Earth, the only emotion I want to feel is peace…The church shooting was the tipping point…but my anger has been building steadily…I’ve been a human powder keg for a while…just waiting to go BOOM!!!!”
Rather than work to eliminate oppression, Flanagan acted to counter-oppress by killing innocent white people in response to an earlier killing of innocent black people.
Vester Flanagan was the very model of a social justice warrior. He saw himself as a victim of non-existent oppression rather than as responsible for his own conduct and performance. He thought himself entitled to be treated favorably without taking the necessary steps to earn favorable treatment. Rather than act to bring about an end to oppression, he sought to reverse the oppression he perceived and harm innocent people who had what he wanted, what he once had and could not manage to keep because of his own poor behavior and choices. After doing this, he did everything he could to refuse to answer for his crimes. In other words, he was everything that social justice warriors strive to be.