Potential victims who plead for mercy from an active killer only spur him to greater violence and likely doom themselves, while those who act aggressively against him have the best chance of stopping his slaughter, according to an exploration of the dark psychology of rapid mass murderers by a NYPD firearms trainer.
Lt. Daniel Modell, training coordinator with that department’s Firearms and Tactics Section, is a rarity in the police world: a 19-year veteran cop with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in philosophy. He’s also a graduate of the Force Science certification course.
In a paper published recently in the journal Law Enforcement Executive Forum, Modell expresses his theories on the subculture and pathological mentality of active killers, distinguishing their differences from others who commit multiple murders, challenging myths about their nature and motivations, explaining their copy-cat competition with other active killers, and suggesting tactics most likely to work against them for officers or civilians.
“[T]he explanations [of active killers] most often proposed are plainly inadequate,” Modell writes. He argues that these individuals are not driven by the same dark forces as serial killers or murderous ideologues, nor are they motivated by vengeance or a sudden “snapping” in a moment of insanity, as is commonly believed. Their “bloodlust signals a more savage pathology,” he asserts.
In his interpretation, active killers view the world as sharply divided between victims and victimizers; victims are failures, victimizers are successes, “victimization finds its most dramatic expression in acts of physical violence,” and “greater victimization means greater success.”
Over the course of a lifetime, the active shooter has “consistently [and] chronically” been a victim, developing “a self-contempt immeasurable by rational standards,” Modell writes. In the active shooting, his one, all-absorbing moment of glory, the offender feels himself transformed temporarily into a victimizer.
When he sees his victims fleeing in terror, crying, cringing, pleading, “yielding without resistance–as he always has, he sees in their faces, their postures, their bearing everything that he has ever been…. In killing them, he kills himself…kills the failure and the loathing.” Potential victims who act like victims invite his lethal contempt.
Psychologically, however, this “momentary transcendence” into victimizer cannot be sustained, Modell observes. “Bravery is not known to [the active shooter]…his is not a soul made for battle.” So when law enforcement–or even an aggressive, unarmed citizen–aggressively confronts him, “the active killer crumbles.”
In Modell’s words, “[H]e is conditioned by a lifetime of conceding, cringing, and yielding. Swift, aggressive action exploits [this] conditioned behavior. In his brief role as victimizer, he will attack a victim; he will not attack–not effectively, in any case–those who adopt the posture and action of victimizers in his peculiar interpretation of that term.” Most, when the prospect of confrontation occurs or seems inevitable, commit suicide, he notes; those who don’t, want to.
The bottom line for law enforcement, Modell concludes, is to “respond and engage the killer without delay,” employing solo-officer entry and search if necessary, rather than the “affected orthodoxy of cumbersome team formations.” For civilians, “when necessity or obligation calls, attack”; tackling the suspect has been enough in a number of instances.
“The active killer does not lie in wait to battle responding law enforcement,” Modell writes. “No law enforcement officers have been killed responding to active killer incidents in the United States. Few have even been injured.”
To access a free abstract of Modell’s article, “The Psychology of the Active Killer,” click here, where the full text can be purchased for $4 as well.
[Our thanks to active killer researcher Ron Borsch, whose statistical compilations have been reported in past transmissions, for alerting us to Lt. Modell’s paper.]