“Active shooter in Belmar. Hear the choppers?”
That text from my friend Ian Silverii, who lives a couple blocks away from me in Lakewood, was the first I heard about the shooting spree that killed five people and left several others seriously wounded last Monday.
Locked in isolation with a Christmas case of COVID and accustomed to the helicopters that regularly fly over my house on the way to St. Anthony’s hospital, I had not noticed anything different before then.
I immediately began scanning local news. It was both scary and nauseating.
The final location, where the shooter killed a hotel clerk and wounded heroic Lakewood Police Officer Ashley Ferris before she shot him and ended the spree, is very familiar to me.
My favorite breakfast spot, The French Press, is immediately across the street from the Hyatt House. The Core Power Yoga where I practice is a couple store fronts down the block, next to the window shot out at The Rock Wood Fired Pizza I drive by to get to Whole Foods, Target and the movie theater.
When I walked my dogs by on Wednesday, it seemed like a world transformed. Television cameras and crew set up along the sidewalk. A make-shift memorial sprouted up to honor Sarah Steck, the 28-year-old hotel clerk killed inside the hotel. People stopped and stared. Eerie silence echoed the ring of gunfire from Monday evening.
I stood racked by a deadly infection and pondered our national obsession with violence, a chronic disease even more deadly and debilitating than a pandemic.
Details about the perpetrator have come out in the interim days and paint the picture of a man who hoped his outward displays of dominance would cover his broken mental and moral state.
He posted pictures of his assault-style rifle, whiskey and camouflage clothing on social media. He claimed he would “never go unarmed again.”
He blamed society for protecting “the WEAK from the STRONG” and cryptically warned people to “buckle up …” He wrote books detailing his planned attack in startling accuracy. He built up his body, even as uncontrolled rage and anger broke him from within.
In short, the killer was a man who acted tough, declared his own strength and threatened others but was too weak to find other, healthier alternatives to deal with his sense of impotence and irrelevance.
More frightening than his actions is the fact that he is not an aberration. He is simply the extreme outcome of the bloodlust rhetoric espoused by congressional leaders and misogynistic proclamations from far-right media personalities.
It is no accident that Tucker Carlson made a point to criticize weak men for ruining society only months before this bloody rampage.
It is no accident that Rep. Matt Gaetz tweeted about blowing up metal detectors with Rep. Lauren Boebert (who retweeted) only weeks before a man blew up the lives of so many Coloradans.
It is no accident that a Colorado GOP county chair and an OAN newscaster called for the execution of adversaries less than six months before a man filled with murderous rage targeted multiple people for assassination.
It is no accident that a year that began with a rally fanning the flames of a violent insurrection to overthrow our democratic form of government ended with a violent fantasy lived out in blood and terror in our streets.
The more often more people with outsized audiences engage in vocal orgies of discontent and violence, the more often their listeners will act upon them. These violent delights have violent ends and inevitably explode.
While it may be tempting to see a solitary gunman as an awful one-off event, we no longer have that luxury. From Columbine to Aurora to Boulder to Lakewood, Colorado knows better.
Those who cultivate angst and anger contribute to eventual bloody outcome.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq