Article Thumbnail

The Dilemma of the Post-Manifesto Shooter

Is such mass violence all the more unstoppable when it means almost nothing to the perpetrator?

On Fourth of July, Robert “Bobby” Crimo III clambered onto a rooftop, unsheathed a high-powered rifle and rained more than 70 bullets down onto the unsuspecting crowd gathered for the annual Independence Day parade in the tony suburb of Highland Park, Illinois. 

The 21-year-old walked away from the massacre, stopping at his mother’s house before getting apprehended while driving on the road. He is the main suspect in the murder of seven people, with more than 30 others injured by the gunfire. 

Although investigators believe Crimo planned this attack for “several weeks,” there is no evidence yet to suggest the attack was “racially motivated, motivated by religion or any other protected status,” according to a spokesperson for the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force. 

But as with other recent mass shootings, observers have scrambled to find some semblance of motive or meaning in the aftermath of bloodshed. A number of posters on sites dominated by far-right views, such as the message board 4chan, spread conspiracies of Crimo being “antifa” and having socialist tattoos. Other online sleuths found photos and footage of Crimo attending right-wing rallies, including an event for Donald Trump; in another snapshot, he’s wearing a MAGA flag as a cape, grinning wide while standing on a chair. 

Yet others dug up a Discord server dubbed “SS” that Crimo ran; he apparently copied the symbol of Suomen Sisu, a far-right Finnish organization, without ever mentioning the group. Then there’s the mysterious “encrypted manifesto” of numbers that has excited some internet detectives, despite little evidence it says anything at all. 

It’s tempting to take the scattered bits of evidence and suggest that, like the Buffalo shooter before him, Crimo was a young white edgelord who decided to take the threat of far-right revolution into his own hands and turn it into reality. But other details about his life suggest that there is no Great Replacement theory, or any particular theory at all, behind the violence he unleashed on Monday. Instead, Crimo appears more and more like the prototype of the post-manifesto shooter: Young, aggrieved and enamored with suicide, emboldened by violent, Extremely Online® rhetoric, yet untethered to any particular moral conviction or target of blame. 

The biggest clues may be the scattershot but consistently depressed tone of his content, including the sadboi rap music he made under the alias “Awake”; his most recent video shows him in the aftermath of a school shooting. The cryptic, minimalist YouTube videos that he posted under the name “ZeroTwo” also have a similar energy; one crudely animated clip shows the subject, wearing a shirt with a ZeroTwo logo, holding a rifle and being gunned down by police in an apparent suicide-by-cop. 

Screenshot taken from a YouTube video posted by Crimo, aka “Zero Two”

His uncle, Paul Crimo, told news media that he “saw no signs of trouble” with the shooter, describing him as a “real quiet kid”: “He keeps to himself and he doesn’t express himself out. He just, like, sits down on his computer. There’s no interaction between me and him,” he told local media.

Another acquaintance who knew Crimo during his time at Highland Park High School, before he dropped out, described Crimo as “always quiet and reserved” but also “nice.” “He wasn’t a quiet kid who was dark then,” Andres Lopez, 23, told the New York Times. “He was quiet because he was nerdy.” 

Rather, Lopez noticed something seemed to change after his older brother, Anthony LaPorte, died of a heroin overdose in 2017. Crimo spoke at the funeral, and was “very upset,” noting that LaPorte was one of his only friends. Lopez also noted that Crimo may have gone through a breakup around the same time, saying that Crimo began “acting weird” and became increasingly reclusive. 

Two years later, his reclusive behavior turned violent. He reportedly attempted suicide in April 2019, which was then “handled by mental health professionals” according to Christopher Covelli, a spokesman for the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. Five months later, Crimo threatened to “kill everyone” in his immediate family, which led to a visit from law enforcement at the home where he lived with parents and siblings. The Highland Park Police Department seized 16 knives, a dagger and a sword from the house, then notified the state police, per Covelli. 

Despite these interventions in 2019, Crimo later legally bought five firearms, including two rifles and multiple pistols. And he seemed to have taken shelter online, especially in his Discord server, where a handful of rap fans and acquaintances chatted. The community often shared cynical memes about politics and society, including posts that Crimo made himself. One March selfie of Crimo reads, “Cursed image screenshot and send to everyone or commit not alive anymore,” urging people to continue the chain or die by suicide. 

None of these details suggest a committed extremist working for an ideology — it all paints a picture of a lonely young man who regularly flirted with suicide and felt compelled to agitate for some notoreity online, especially by leveraging the threat of violence in his music, YouTube posts and Discord chatter. 

Crimo’s vague interest in far-right politics and iconography suggests more of an interest in being edgy rather than a legitimate belief system. And much like the 18-year-old Uvalde shooter, Crimo appears to have been isolated and harboring some anger while receiving little attention in an unstable household. In general, there’s nothing in particular that should’ve raised immediate red flags. He may have been suicidal, but this doesn’t imply someone can become a mass shooter. He may have posted disturbing and violent imagery online, but much of it falls in line with the offensive taste of young edgelords on the internet.  

This is the dilemma of the post-manifesto shooter — you can’t pin it to revenge on classmates, nor politics, nor any specific grievance with the target of their aim. Young people are watching mass violence unfold, seeing the ripples it creates in society and concluding that it will be satisfying to just literally go out with a bang. 

Fixing this will take more than creating a holistic mental health system, improving gun safety and red-flag laws, banning “assault-type” rifles or any one particular thing. Something is afflicting young people, especially teen men, who grow bitter over real and perceived faults in society, then decide to pivot in life by making headlines through bloodshed. They’re operating not just within the schools and workplaces they know, but sowing random violence to surprise and shock people as a final, decisive, autonomous act. 

Whether it’s catharsis or something else, the Highland Park shooting shows that aggrieved young men are lashing out in increasingly unpredictable ways. Addressing it will take more than defeating ideology, because sometimes, ideology doesn’t matter at all.