Shortly after the government announced that 21-year-old Robert Eugene Crimo III was wanted for the fatal shooting during the Independence Day celebrations in the American town of Highland Park, extremism researchers, journalists and other internet sleuths were unsure how quickly to get online. In no time, they were able to dig up obscure material from the darkest recesses of the internet that had been created by the perpetrator himself. After sifting through this wealth of messages, memes, photos, music, videos and more, experts all came to the same conclusion: There is no evidence whatsoever of any political, religious or ideological motivation. And that’s what makes this shooting terrifying. How can you prevent this kind of violence if it has no meaning for the perpetrator?
Crimo cannot be pigeonholed: he is not a white supremacist, not a religious fanatic, not a radical Islamist and not a militant. However, as with previous mass shooters, the same online profile can clearly be recognized with him, in which the aesthetics are more important than ideology. To properly understand the development of the far right worldwide, one needs to understand how various dark, online subcultures from different forums, chat groups and online channels overlap and complement each other in ways that glorify violence and promote accelerationism and nihilism. They are communities overflowing with racism, fascism, misogyny, transphobia and other forms of hatred and bigotry. Conspiracy theories, paranormal events, and aliens also play a major role in these subgroups. It’s extremist eclecticism. These milieus use their own image and language culture, so-called memes in which it is deliberately left open how serious or ironically violent fantasies are intended. This creates a fake reality that is considered real by the participants.
Crimo is part of the online schizowave subculture, which involves flirting with various mental illnesses, including schizophrenia. This movement can best be described as a willingness to accept a worldview made up of delusions and conspiracy theories and rejecting any prospect of progressive change by the group. In this subculture people try to create a hyper-narcissistic image of themselves as being mentally ill. It is this aesthetic that brings people together in these forums and where they isolate themselves from reality. Paradoxically, this withdrawal leads to even more opposition to society: they radicalize themselves. So is Crimo.
Research shows that Crimo published more than 3000 anti-Semitic and racist murder fantasies on a so-called gore forum, a shock site where often gruesome images are shared. Where things are shown that “you just can’t unsee”,. He can also be seen in a number of photos in which he is wearing a t-shirt with the hate symbol Pepe the Frog, the alt-right’s mascot. In yet another photo, he wears a MAGA flag as a cape at a Trump rally. In the online game Roblox, Crimo had built his own environment, where the game element consisted of shooting as many communists and police officers as possible. In the music world, he was known as “Awake the Rapper”. His songs, which could be played on Soundcloud, are infused with references to mass shootings. In one of his video clips he glorifies a school shooting and in yet another clip he is shot by the police, it’s suicide-by-cop. Through this so-called schizoposting, Crimo purposefully constructed an online identity that perfectly matches the image of the lone wolf. It also explains why Crimo hasn’t published a manifesto. The shooting is an integral part of his performance. His online personality — his digital heritage — is his post-manifesto. Crimo is the incarnated meme of the lone shooter who has been radicalized online.
While the schizowave movement used to be an internet culture that was mainly underground, and thus hidden from the public eye, today’s Zoomers are regularly confronted with this in all kinds of social media apps. A quick search on the short movie app TikTok shows that the hashtag #schizopilled has been viewed more than 8.7 million times. Viewers are confronted with videos praising Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, cult leader and serial killer Charles Manson and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, among others. Cult figures such as the Joker and the character Patrick Bateman from the film American Psycho are also praised. In this way, in quickly edited images, viewers are inundated with anti-Semitic and racist fantasies about genocide. This week it became clear that TikTok is being used to promote Christian-nationalist and Christian-fascist ideology.
With a simple push of a button, this schizowave spreads virally through all kinds of networks. Politically incorrect internet platforms such as 4chan and 9gag, but also ‘neutral’ platforms such as Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube and Whatsapp all contribute to this form of brain rot. Violence is just an ironic meme. It is just a step, that can be easily imitated, from the online manual that we are all creating onkine in this way. The next mass shooter is being prepared in this way for his 15 seconds of fame. We can wait for it. And why? Just for the lulz. It is a bitter pill that we as a society have to swallow. No normie can do anything about that.