THE BLOG

Columbine, and the Terrorist Mind

06/12/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Columbine shooter Eric Harris wrote in his diary that he would like to hijack a plane and crash it into New York City. It showed one link between the Columbine killers and terrorists: They served to use limited resources to maximum effect. The Columbine killers, of course, ended up taking a different route than a plane hijacking. But I read with interest a recent story in the New York Times about the psychological research that is emerging on terrorists now that researchers are amassing a larger body of knowledge on them.

It is instructive to see how some of the common denominators among terrorists listed in the NYT match school shooters.

NYT:

a strong sense of victimization and alienation; the belief that moral violations by the enemy justify violence in pursuit of a 'higher moral condition;' the belief that the terrorists' ethnic, religious or nationalist group is special and in danger of extinction, and that they lack the political power to effect change without violence.

I would say Harris and fellow gunman Klebold believed in most of those statements, and that they felt they couldn't change the system, so set out to destroy it.

NYT:

The collective, not the individual, identity has drawn the most attention in recent years. Only in rare cases, like those of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, and the Washington sniper, John Allen Muhammad, have individuals acted on their own, with no connection to a group. ...Most researchers agree that justification for extremist action, whether through religious or secular doctrine, is either developed or greatly intensified by group dynamics.

There were actually two Washington snipers - or at least an accomplice to Muhammad. But it seems in Columbine Harris and Klebold were a group of two who enabled each other to continue on.

NYT:

Fathali M Moghaddam, a professor of psychology at Georgetown University, describes a 'staircase to terrorism,' as a way to understand the process of radicalization. The stairs narrow toward the top. It becomes harder to turn back with each step.

The same could be argued about the Columbine shooters. As psychologist Aubrey Immelman, who I quote in my book Columbine: A True Crime Story says, they themselves may not have believed it was going to happen at first. But as D-Day got closer, it became more of a reality. And I might add, more impossible to turn back.

And from that sampling, you get an idea of the article.