Mass murder in America: A deadly pantomime

An all-too-familiar scenario plays out in the US once again…

Pray for Las Vegas - Reuters
I suspect that many people inside and outside America have become inured to the ugly, deadly pantomime they've seen unfold so often, in so many cities, to so many innocents, writes Mitrovica [Reuters]

Murder is America’s oxygen.

Americans have offered the sad, by now routine proof of this aphorism yesterday, today and as they surely will tomorrow.

The latest spasm of “record-breaking” violence occurred on a warm Sunday evening when a lone gunman, holed up in a Las Vegas hotel room with an arsenal fit for a small militia, fired an automatic weapon into a herd of people swaying to country music below his murderous perch.

It was a turkey shoot. When the rat-a-tat-tat bursts of gunfire ended, 59 people had been assassinated, with at least another 520 wounded in a grassy knoll turned killing field.

Always quick to reach for superlatives, US news organisations have dubbed the Route 91 Harvest Festival carnage in America’s “sin city” as the “largest mass killing in modern US history”. Others dispute this, insisting not only that the definition of “mass killing” is debatable, but also that slaughters in Louisiana in 1873 and in St. Louis in 1917 still reign supreme.

While journalists quibble and contemplate redundant questions like who and why, I suspect that many people inside and outside America have become inured to the ugly, deadly pantomime they’ve seen unfold so often, in so many cities, to so many innocents. Massacre fatigue set in long ago. 

The familiar ritual goes like this. First comes the dramatic “breaking news” banner and music, instantly followed by speculation about whether a non-white, non-Christian “terrorist” is responsible for the still unravelling mayhem. Then, the tally of slain and injured grows tentatively, but inexorably ultimately to convert the “breaking news” into a “national tragedy”.

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Cue the “experts”, who, from the comfort of a TV studio, talk and talk without knowing. Next, the parade of blind, stupid, publicity-hungry politicians arrives to caution that it’s “too early” to comment on anything other than offering their “thoughts and prayers”. 

Soon enough, the names, faces and histories of the murdered will fade from memory and television screens.


Cut to a hastily arranged press conference, where the mayor and the police chief hold court, warning of a “still active shooter”. Later, the same mayor and police chief will say that the shooter is no longer “active”. Relief, followed by the requisite dose of fear: Terrorism or not? Hence, the return to the gaggle of experts to consider the “meaning” of the “loaded” word which is an American cable TV news euphemism for: So, was the shooter a Muslim or not? 

Meanwhile, Alex Jones, Ann Coulter and lunatic company declare the lethal rampage another federal government-approved “black flag” operation designed by Obama’s fifth columnists to “take your guns away” or, alternatively, an ISIL-engineered plot to destroy an America that is already busy destroying itself. Millions of their equally lunatic followers repeat the lunacy on Twitter.

Back to the mayor and police chief who invariably identify the mass murderer as either an angry or disturbed young or middle-aged, white man. The words “terror” and “terrorism” disappear quickly from view and into irrelevance – except to many of the families of the dead and damaged who just experienced it.

On to the Oval Office. The President – Republican or Democrat – says stuff from behind the presidential seal with varying degrees of eloquence and conviction about “evil”, the need for unity, the “brave” first responders, and, of course, they proffer their thoughts and prayers too. 

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The attractive, well-manicured cable TV types swoon at the rare, gracious moment when Americans set aside their “differences” and pause from shooting one another to come together in grief and sadness. Everyone nods in agreement. The made-for-TV kumbaya moment is nearly complete. The last, necessary ingredients, stories of the selfless “heroes”, need to be found and told as a soothing tonic to heal America’s fresh psychic wounds. 

Eventually, the President visits and comforts the grieving families with kind whispers, hugs and kisses. The cable TV types, who have set up what amounts to a refugee camp for glib, overpaid reporters, swoon again in hushed tones about how the President “hit the right note”. 

But this President, we know, will promptly head back to Washington DC, to diss the NFL and malign its uppity players and to call suffering Puerto Ricans “ingrates”. Eventually, the cable TV types will follow suit and begin anew to defend or deplore America’s pretend President. So long, ‘kumbaya’ moment.

Soon enough, the names, faces and histories of the murdered will fade from memory and television screens. Only the killer, Stephen Paddock, will be remembered, joining the gallery of other killers, including, Adam Lanza, Seung-Hui Cho, George Hennard, James Huberty, Charles Whitman, and Patrick Sherill.   

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The last, stubborn residue of shock will evaporate, replaced by resignation and one overarching realisation: Some Americans enjoy killing lots of other Americans. And Americans have always enjoyed the easy means to do it – again and again and again.

It doesn’t matter if the prey is a class of happy, restless 6 year-olds in a primary school, couples watching a movie, families praying at church, or young boys and girls playing outside their stoops, they’ve all been murdered by Americans with big, relatively cheap guns that, by God’s providence – we are reminded – they have the constitutional right to own and use.     

So the killers keep killing. Nothing. Not reason. Not science. Not wisdom. Not common sense. Not humanity. And certainly not Congress is going to do anything to stop it. Charlton Heston was right: Most Americans won’t let anyone with a badge or in a well-tailored suit “take away” their beloved guns, even from their cold, dead hands. 

In a day, week, month or year, some American, somewhere in America will pick up a weapon, pick a new spot, to pick off more Americans trying to live and enjoy life. They, like the countless others, will be sacrificed to satiate America’s insatiable lust for violence that comes as easily as breathing.       

The usual stable of banal characters in the media and politics will jump to fashion a sequel to the same, old movie with the same, old scenes and same old villains and good guys.

The audience will tune in to watch until it gets bored. Then, they’ll change the channel. 

Andrew Mitrovica is an award-winning investigative reporter and journalism instructor.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.