Ten years ago today, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and a teacher, as well as wounding 23 others before killing themselves at Columbine High School near Denver, CO. Immediately and since then, mental health professionals, journalists and numerous others have searched through the writings of Harris and Klebold, and interviewed their classmates looking for the motives behind the shootings. Immediately after the tragedy, the media reported various theories based largely upon the accounts of classmates and acquaintances. Many of those theories have been discounted by later systematic investigations.
Scott Lively spoke recently to a Republican group in Temecula, CA and, as an aside, told the crowd his version of Columbine. While talking about the influence of the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche on the Nazis, Lively tied Hitler, Nietzsche and homosexuality together as the culprit behind the Columbine shootings. At about 1:33 into Part 7 of his speech before the GOP group, Lively said,
They [the Nazis] had Hitler youth meetings around Nietzsche’s writings. You know the kids that killed, who was it, one of the school killers, one of the first ones. He was reading Thus Spake Zarathustra [by Nietzsche] when he committed those murders and he did it…didn’t he do it on Adolf Hitler’s birthday? April 20th, right? Yeah, the Columbine shooting, that was the same spirit that existed in Germany. It was Nietzsche’s writings, and it was Hitler’s birthday and it was associated with homosexuality. That was one of the first stories that came out, it got suppressed immediately that the guys that did this were involved in some kind of homosexual connection. That got squelched. As all this stuff gets squelched.
I asked Mr. Lively for a source for these claims and he had no exact reference, although he thought it might have come from a documentary he saw. I searched for any references connecting Klebold and/or Harris to Thus Spake Zarathustra but found nothing specific. Journals and writings of Eric Harris did have a very Nietzschean quality and according to Langman, Harris did a school report on Nietzsche. However, it is not clear to school violence expert, Dr. Peter Langman that Harris ever read Thus Spake Zarathustra. In his paper, “Influences on the Ideology of Eric Harris,” Dr. Langman said
This article explores the parallels between Eric Harris’s ideas and those of people he admired: Adolf Hitler, Friedrich Nietzsche, Thomas Hobbes, and probably Charles Manson. We know that Hitler fascinated Eric from his choosing to write about him for a school research paper, the references to Hitler and the Nazis in Eric’s journal (along with swastikas and SS insignia), and the testimony of Eric’s friends that he idolized or worshipped Hitler.
We know nothing specific about Eric’s interest in Hobbes and Nietzsche. All we have is his statement, “I just love Hobbes and Nietzsche.” What he read of their works remains unknown. Eric did take a philosophy class at school that may have introduced him to Hobbes and Nietzsche. He may also have done significant reading on his own. Whether or not Eric had an accurate understanding of Hobbes and Nietzsche is not relevant here. Eric would have read these philosophers from his own perspective, perhaps already knowing that he would commit mass murder, and looking for justification or validation of his worldview and intentions.
In any event, I could find no evidence that Harris was reading it just before or when he was shooting his peers.
The homosexuality connection is even more tortured. It is true that very quickly after the shootings, some classmates noted that gay slurs had been made toward both Klebold and Harris. However, no credible source has found any verification of the hunch. Langman deals with this rumor in some detail:
More significantly, there were rumors that Eric and Dylan, along with members of the Trench Coat Mafia, were gay. When reporter Dave Cullen investigated this, however, he found that “the stories were generally vague, secondhand, and never from students who personally knew members of the group.”16 A student stated that Eric and Dylan “would touch each other in school. People have seen them. One of them went up to a kid I know and did that” (he demonstrated grabbing his crotch). When asked if that were Eric or Dylan, the student said, “I don’t know,” adding that it was “people in the group.” Thus, behavior that was engaged in by members of the Trench Coat Mafia was attributed to Eric and Dylan because they wore trench coats.
There are, in fact, reports in the JCSO material of Trench Coat Mafia members grabbing crotches in front of people, and of males kissing each other publicly, but none that Eric or Dylan engaged in such behavior. Just to add to the confusion, one of the boys in the Trench Coat Mafia who engaged in this provocative sexual behavior was named Eric. This may be the source of some of the confusion – there were two boys named Eric who wore trench coats. One of them engaged in public homosexual behavior. The other one – Eric Harris – did not.
The same student who was just quoted also said that the Trench Coat Mafia kids were made fun of, and lumped Eric and Dylan in with the TCM: “They [Eric and Dylan] were in the Trench Coat Mafia, and that’s something around our school that we consider freaks.” He said that as a result, Eric and Dylan were picked on. Yet, Eric and Dylan were not in the Trench Coat Mafia, and this student could not talk about them apart from that identification. He said Eric and Dylan were gay and that they were picked on for being in the TCM, but when pushed on the issue, could not be sure he even knew which kids he was talking about.
Similarly, Time Magazine reported the following:
“Columbine is a clean, good place except for those rejects,” Todd says of Klebold and Harris and their friends. “Most kids didn’t want them there. They were into witchcraft. They were into voodoo dolls. Sure, we teased them. But what do you expect with kids who come to school with weird hairdos and horns on their hats? … They’re a bunch of homos, grabbing each other’s private parts. If you want to get rid of someone, usually you tease ’em. So the whole school would call them homos.”19
This passage could easily be used to support the idea that Eric and Dylan were persecuted, but that would be a mistake. Who is this student talking about? The reporters’ comment says he was talking about “Klebold and Harris and their friends,” but nothing that the student said applied to Eric and Dylan. They were not into witchcraft. They were not into voodoo. They did not have weird hairdos. They did not wear horns on their hats. They did not grab each other’s crotches. There were kids at Columbine who did these things, but Eric and Dylan were not among them. Thus, we again see a student apparently talking about Eric and Dylan, but confusing them with all the students who were considered misfits, outcasts, or members of the Trench Coat Mafia.
I reproduced that long section because the context is necessary to understand why the hypothetical connection of homosexuality (or the spirit of it) to the Columbine tragedy is spurious. There is also doubt about the relevance of Hitler’s birthday; April 19th may have been the original date. Nietzsche’s sexuality is in doubt as well. However, even if every component of the conspiracy theory about Klebold and Harris was accurate, it would not prove that they were linked in some manner.
In any case, there is no credible evidence that either Harris or Klebold were homosexual. The best evidence points to mental illness being behind the violence at Columbine. The stories about homosexuality have been squelched, not because they would betray a dark secret about homosexuality and fascism, but because investigation finds no basis for them.