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Colorado Springs Shooting Suspect Had History of Domestic Violence
Why are we still ignoring this crucial red flag?
Anderson L. Aldrich, the man identified as the suspect in the horrific mass shooting that left 5 dead and 25 injured at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, CO, had reportedly been arrested previously after threatening his own mother with a homemade bomb. If confirmed, this would make Saturday night’s mass shooting just the latest in a long line of massacres carried out by a perpetrator with a history of domestic violence. Yet because domestic violence is still largely viewed as a private problem that takes place — and should remain — behind closed doors, it continues to be overlooked as a warning sign for future mass violence, with predictable and deadly consequences.
Police are still working to confirm that the suspect in the June 2021 bomb threat incident in a neighborhood near Colorado Springs — during which a man with the same name and birthdate as the Colorado Springs shooting suspect engaged in a standoff with law enforcement after threatening to physically harm his mother with a cache of homemade weapons — is indeed the same Anderson Aldrich that opened fire in an LGBTQ nightclub over the weekend, but it appears exceedingly likely that it is the same man.
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The 2021 incident resulted in the evacuation of about 10 houses in Aldrich’s suburban neighborhood before he finally surrendered to police negotiators. His mother was the one who contacted police, saying he had “threatened to hurt her with a bomb, ammunition and other weapons.”
The New York Times interviewed a woman who had rented a room in her home to Aldrich’s mother during that time period. That woman, Leslie Bowman, told the Times that Aldrich had an “aggressive side,” and went on to describe one instance in which Aldrich slammed a door in her face in anger over an ongoing repair issue. She, like many others, was exasperated to learn that Aldrich had been allowed to have a his rifle in his possession just a year after threatening his own mother with a bomb.
According to a search of public court records, police never moved forward with any formal charges against Aldrich after the 2021 incident, and the records pertaining to the case are now sealed. The Gazette newspaper in Colorado Springs, CO, which covered the 2021 bomb threat incident, reported receiving a call from Aldrich in August demanding that it remove an article about the case.
The failure to bring forth charges and the lack of public records meant that Aldrich was able to dodge Colorado’s "red flag" law that would have allowed state officials to seize any weapons and ammo in his possession. While it’s impossible to say whether that would have prevented him from carrying out a massacre last weekend, it’s clear that multiple warning signs were overlooked and/or dismissed. The most glaring of those warning signs was his history of domestic violence and aggressive behavior towards women, which is a precipitating factor in an overwhelming number of mass shootings in America.
This brand of misogyny runs rampant on social media, where it often coincides with the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that has plagued social media in recent years. That’s because it’s coming from the same place — a heteropatriarchal movement that uses sexism and anti-gay/anti-trans sentiment to maintain and enforce traditional gender roles and the inequality associated with them. This includes anything and everything from the use of ambivalent sexism to define women’s roles in society and “keep them in line,” to the demonization and dehumanization of trans people to justify excluding them from society, including by violent means.
When deemed necessary, this movement has shown time and time again that it will use intimidation, threats, and violence as a way to terrorize and punish those who don’t conform to heteropatriarchal notions of sexuality, gender, and power — and at times, to strike back against society when the privilege they were promised and believe they are entitled to doesn’t materialize. The perpetrators of such acts of mass violence typically believe they are fighting a battle to protect and restore "their" way of life & "take back their country". It goes beyond social, political, and economic expectations — at its core, it's about maintaining dominance and power to which they believed they are entitled.
Two-thirds of mass shootings linked to domestic violence
According to a 2021 study published in the peer reviewed journal Injury Epidemiology, in more than two-thirds (68.2%) of mass shootings between 2014 and 2019, the perpetrator either killed family or intimate partners during the shooting or had a history of domestic violence prior to the shooting. Domestic violence-related mass shootings were also found to be associated with a greater fatality rate.
These numbers speak to a pattern that is clearly seen in anecdotal reporting, as well. The Colorado Springs mass shooting — what we know of it, at least — bears striking resemblance to a number of recent mass shootings in which the perpetrator had a history of domestic violence, violent misogyny, or both.
In August 2019, 24-year-old Connor Betts killed nine people and injured 27 more in Dayton’s downtown Oregon District. He was trying to gain entry into a nightclub to continue the massacre but was gunned down by police before he could get inside. Notably, among Betts’ victims was his sibling, a transgender man who was misgendered and dead-named in media reports for days after the shooting.
Betts also reportedly had a history of violence in his romantic relationships, with one ex-girlfriend recounting being warned of his aggressiveness in prior relationships.
The gunman who killed 19 elementary school students and two teachers, and wounded 17 others, in Uvalde, TX, in May 2022 also had a history of violent misogyny, according to women and girls with whom he interacted online.
Despite reporting his threatening behavior, which included threats of rape, murder, and shootings, the only action taken was a temporary ban on one social media platform. This speaks to both the lack of enforcement on the part of social media companies, as well as the lack of seriousness that our society places on such reports from women and girls. We don’t taken women and girls seriously when they report online harassment, hate, and threats — choosing instead to respond by telling women and girls how to navigate through it — despite ample evidence of its deadly seriousness.
Then there’s the case of far-right influencer Lyndon McLeod, who shot and killed five people in Denver, CO, in December 2021 after writing a series of books detailing how he would kill two of the people he eventually went on to murder.
In his online life, McLeod was embedded in a social network defined by misogyny, rape culture, white supremacist ideology, and glorification of violence — a subculture with close ties to the incel movement, which is increasingly viewed as a serious domestic terrorism threat in the U.S. and Canada.
And the list goes on. Literally.
I have written more extensively about the link between domestic violence, violent misogyny, and mass shootings, including a look at some of the most notorious and deadly massacres in history, most of which have a link to violence against women and/or children.
A few examples: Santino William Logan, the gunman who killed three people and injured 13 others at a festival in Gilroy, Calif., in June 2019, was found to have posted messages online referring to a misogynistic, white supremacist manifesto. Omar Mateen, the gunman who killed 49 people and injured 53 others at Orlando’s Pulse night club in June 2016, had a years-long history of spousal abuse. Robert Lewis Dear, who killed three people and injured nine others when he opened fire at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic in 2015, had been arrested for rape and accused of domestic violence by two of his ex-wives. Two years before killing 32 people in the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, gunman Seung-Hui Cho had been investigated for stalking two female classmates. And Elliot Rodger, who killed six people in a 2014 shooting rampage in Isla Vista, California, left behind a disturbing manifesto describing his “burning hatred for all women who rejected me through the years.” Rodger, who was deeply involved in the so-called ‘men’s rights movement,’ viewed feminism as an “oppressive system” and repeatedly issued a call to arms to start a “revolution against women and feminism.”
The link between mass shootings, misogyny, and domestic violence and/or violence against women is impossible to miss, yet we still overlook it nearly every time it matters. This is in part because domestic violence, intimate partner violence, and violence against women are viewed as a different type of violence than mass shootings — a type of violence that we, as a society, don’t take as seriously. Because it happens behind closed doors, these types of violence are typically perceived as a private or personal problem, rather than a public health, public safety, or national security issue. This, in turn, influences public perceptions of responsibility for the problem, shifting the focus towards the individual actors and largely absolving society of our responsibility.
The media has a role in changing this perception. In my own research examining media reports of domestic and intimate partner violence, my colleagues and I discovered that coverage is highly skewed towards event-based reporting (or “episodic framing”), and that this affects how people think we should address the problem. In other words, coverage focuses primarily on discrete events or incidents of domestic violence while largely ignoring the overarching societal context in which domestic violence occurs and is perpetuated. These findings have been confirmed in other analyses.
The way the media presents domestic violence has an impact on public perceptions of the problem, which in turn influences support (or lack of support) for public health, criminal justice, and other governmental policies designed to address domestic violence. Framing domestic violence as a series of isolated, random events not only skews perceptions of personal risk, but also tends to elicit individualistic rather than societal attributions of responsibility for addressing domestic violence. It also means the connection to other types of violence, including mass shootings, is often overlooked — and ultimately, that means we’re missing opportunities to save lives.
When we view problems as individualistic, we also lose sight of the connections between things like misogyny and anti-trans hate, and the merging of extremist movements and rhetoric. Thus far, much of the focus in the aftermath of the Colorado Springs mass shooting has been on the surge of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from GOP lawmakers and far-right influencers — and rightfully so. For months, we’ve seen influencers and politicians using their large social media platforms to target LGBTQ individuals and organizations, in a style that sure looks a lot like stochastic terrorism.
But very little has been said about the connection to domestic violence, and that’s a mistake. What we are seeing is the emergence of a meta-movement of extremism that seeks to exclude — by violent means if necessary — anyone who violates heteropatriarchal norms. We don’t know exactly what motivated the Colorado Springs shooter, but his history suggests that patriarchy and the violence it promotes was probably at least an underlying factor. As we learn more about this horrific attack and the gunman who carried it out, don’t fall into the trap of viewing him as a lone wolf or a mentally unstable “evil” psychopath. Instead of asking about the individual, maybe it’s time to start asking about the police who failed to charge him, the bystanders who failed to speak up, the media that still frames domestic violence as an interpersonal problem, the laws that allowed this man to own a firearm, and the society that has watched trans people, children, and parents be terrorized for months and then reacted with surprise when weaponized language and psychological violence spilled over into a massacre.
Recognizing the links between these forms of oppression is the first step towards defeating them.
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