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2 min

How many isolated incidents make a trend?

It was a terrorist attack incubated at Virginia Tech

A deeply twisted 23-year-old man rails on video about the injustices he sees in American society. He seethes with anger in a meandering and nonsensical rant about debauchery, women, religion, greed and oppressive hegemony.

With the recording already on its way to a network television newsroom, he stuffs his pockets with weapons and ammunition and shoots 61 innocent college students and faculty, killing 32 of them, before committing suicide.

Cho Seung-hui’s Apr 16 rampage at Virginia Tech was a terrorist attack by every reasonable definition, but American news media haven’t widely applied that label to this tragedy because Cho’s psychopathic rampage does not fit the American paradigm of what a terrorist attack should be. To call Cho–a US resident since the age of eight and a non-Muslim student at an American college–a terrorist negates the propagandized definition of the word that the Bush administration uses to instill enough fear to perpetuate support for its wars.

While Cho wasn’t called a terrorist, it sure didn’t take long for him to be labelled a sexual deviant. In one example, mere hours after Cho was identified as the gunman, CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked Helen Morrison, a forensic psychiatrist, about Cho’s apparent obsession with debauchery.

“He seemed to need to prove his masculinity a lot,” said Cooper.

“If you look at the writings he had in both of his plays, they are focused on things occurring that would generally happen only in a same-sex-type relationship, but they’re very threatening,” replied Morrison. “His response to those threats is to kill.”

“But he seemed to be attracted to women,” said Cooper.

“Well, but, you know, it’s like anything else,” explained Morrison. “If you are trying to prove yourself, and trying to show that you’re the complete opposite of what you might be afraid of, you will definitely stalk… But the focus on the sexuality of females was only masking what appears to have been a tremendous fear that he was not truly attracted to females.”

Morrison was just one of the pundits who speculated on Cho’s sexuality as if it were a symptom or indicator of his violent insanity. There was little discussion, though, about the other half of the equation: that his psychosis was fertilized and incubated in American culture. Cho was crazy, there’s no doubt, but every fire needs fuel. Missing from all the armchair psychoanalysis of this killer are some incredibly conspicuous warts on his environment.

Firstly, instead of treating Cho’s supposed homosexuality as if it were some kind of missed prophesy or validation of his insanity–instead of the approach Morrison seems to take–you’d think pundits and analysts would explain that internalized homophobia and misogyny are so rife and oppressive in Western culture that it leads people to snap. A few are like Cho; they kill. A few kill themselves. The rest lead lives of relatively quiet and secret, self-loathing desperation. One obvious way to prevent tragedies like the one at Virginia Tech is to fight homophobia and misogyny.

Secondly, Cho walked into a gun shop with $600 and a driver’s licence and within an hour walked out again with a perfectly legal semiautomatic handgun like those carried by most police officers. No private citizen living in North America needs a weapon like that for any reason, but Virginia has some of the most ridiculous gun laws in the US. In fact, Cho could just as easily have bought much more powerful weapons than he did for less money. Any Virginian without a criminal record can buy an AK-47 assault rifle–a weapon designed only so people with little training can kill lots of other people very quickly–for under $400.

More than 14,000 gun murders were committed in the US in 2005. If Cho weren’t able to buy his pistols, he likely wouldn’t have shot 61 people.