Future

After Newtown: Why Most Mass Murderers Are Actually Not Mentally Ill

Adam Lanza does not fit all the profile characteristics of mass muderers
Adam Lanza does not fit all the profile characteristics of mass muderers
Roland Coutanceau*

PARIS - Adam Lanza, killer of 20 children and seven adults, including his mother, is a mass murderer – he murdered a large number of people in a short time in one place. He then committed suicide in a classroom.

Ending your life or having the police shoot you dead is often part of the mass murderer’s plan – as opposed to the serial killer who usually tries to escape the police and kills repeatedly, not in a single strike.

Mass murderers are not, according to statistics, mentally ill in the psychiatric sense. That is to say they are not living outside reality. Serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia are the source of disordered behaviors. Whereas a mass shooting requires organization, preparation, being able to acquire and make proper use of a gun as well as defining a strategy to gain access to the site.

The reason why they are commonly labeled as insane is because they are not perceived as normal people, given their personality and character disorders. Actually, statistically mass murderers possess some common characteristics.

The most common characteristics are social isolation, introversion, withdrawal and a relative deficit in social skills and relationships. At the same time, signs of paranoia can also be observed. These people often believe that people are after them, bullying them or ignoring them.

These features of course do not make someone a murderer. For a person to commit an act as extreme as mass murder, these characteristics have to be very intense. On top of the paranoid behavior, there is also megalomania and self-centeredness.

Personality disorder v. mental illness

When mass murderers leave written texts, we often find feelings of aggressiveness, vengeance, a will to stand out, to show the world they exist. Taking multiple lives is an aggressive way to leave a mark that says, "Look at who I am." In their destructive rampage, they unleash a murderous violence on others, which is also quite desperate, since suicide is part of their plan.

There are two criminology aspects that set the Newtown massacre apart. First, the victims are very young children – six to seven years old – whereas most of the shootings following Columbine took place in middle schools, high schools or colleges. Also, the killer started his rampage by killing his mother, while in most cases, the mass murderer leaves his family unharmed.

The murderer’s brother apparently claimed that Adam Lanza suffered from a certain kind of autism. This is a clinically interesting element since this specific illness could explain these two criminology aspects. It should however be said that most mentally ill patients and autistic people, even the ones afflicted with Asperger syndrome, are not violent.

Mental pathologies do not in themselves lead to the aggressive behaviors behind mass killings. These events are usually born from insanity of the human mind, personality and character disorders rather than mental illness.

*The author is a psychiatrist and a criminologist

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Society

Chinese Students Now Required To Learn To Think Like Xi Jinping

'Xi Jinping Thought' ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university.

Children from Congtai Elementary School, Handan City, Hebei Province

Maximilian Kalkhof

BEIJING — It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education.

The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader.


Xi Jinping has been the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for almost 10 years. In 2017, at a party convention, he presented a doctrine in the most riveting of party prose: "Xi Jinping's ideas of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new age."

Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself. In other words, to make China great again!

Communist curriculum replaces global subjects

This doctrine has sent shockwaves through China since 2017. It's been echoed in newspapers, on TV, and screamed from posters and banners hung in many cities. But now, the People's Republic is going one step further: It's bringing "Xi Jinping Thought" into the schools.

Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation?

The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

photo of books on a book shelf

Books about Xi-Jinping at the 2021 Hong Kong Book Fair

Alex Chan Tsz Yuk/SOPA Images/ZUMA

— Photo:

Targeting pop culture

The regime is also taking massive action against the entertainment industry. Popstar Kris Wu was arrested on charges of rape. Movies and TV series starring actor Zhao Wei have started to disappear from Chinese streaming platforms. The reason is unclear.

What the developments do show is that China is attempting to decouple from the West with increasing insistence. Beijing wants to protect its youth from Western excesses, from celebrity worship, super wealth and moral decline.

A nationalist blogger recently called for a "profound change in the economy, finance, culture and politics," a "revolution" and a "return from the capitalists to the masses." Party media shared the text on their websites. It appears the analysis caused more than a few nods in the party headquarters.

Dictatorships are always afraid of pluralism.

Caspar Welbergen, managing director of the Education Network China, an initiative that aims to intensify school exchanges between Germany and China, says that against this background, the curriculum reform is not surprising.

"The emphasis on 'Xi Jinping Thought' is being used in all areas of society," he says. "It is almost logical that China is now also using it in the education system."

Needless to say, the doctrine doesn't make student exchanges with China any easier.

Dictatorships are always afraid of color, pluralism and independent thinking citizens. And yet, Kristin Kupfer, a Sinology professor at the University of Trier, suggests that ideologically charged school lessons should not be interpreted necessarily as a sign of weakness of the CCP.

From the point of view of a totalitarian regime, she explains, this can also be interpreted as a signal of strength. "It remains to be seen whether the Chinese leadership can implement this so thoroughly," Kupfer adds. "Initial reactions from teachers and parents on social media show that such a widespread attempt to control opinion has raised fears and discontent in the population."

Die Welt
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