A Killer's Lamentable and Unavoidable Digital AfterlifeS

He knew what we would do, and now we're doing it. George Sodini, the man who murdered three women in a Pennsylvania gym last night, left a detailed log of his plans online. So everybody is scouring his digital traces.

It's clear from the log—dare we call it a blog?—that Sodini desperately wanted to be heard, to expose his antagonists and enemies to the world and justify his own failures as a human being. We read it eagerly at first, both out of run-of-the-mill morbid curiosity and because it opens with an entry that seems to indicate a racist anti-Obama sentiment ("Amerika has chosen The Black Man") and might have fit Sodini into the ongoing narrative of overheated right-wing rejectionists lashing out with fatal violence. But Sodini didn't do it because he's a racist, or because he hates right-wing "fundies" (against whom he rails)—he did it because he wanted ABC News, and Matt Dudge, and the Associated Press, and people like us, to pay attention to him. This is how he closes out his mass-killing diary:

A Killer's Lamentable and Unavoidable Digital AfterlifeS

Mission accomplished. Only three women had to die. Sodini got a Wikipedia entry at about 2 o'clock this morning (it now redirects to a general entry on the killings).

People have been killing others for notoriety forever. Charles Manson did it and the Columbine kids did it and James von Brunn (who left us a book-length manifesto) did it. Jack the Ripper, who wrote letters to newspapers about his killings, did it. The well-established cycle of media excavation following these acts of violence means that Sodini died fully confident that his stupid and self-pitying and chilling writings would be heralded on Drudge and dissected on blogs like this one. While it's nauseating to read to the end of a web site like Sodini's and see that copyright notice and realize you've done exactly what he wanted, in the end he's dead and can't get any satisfaction from the attention. What's really awful to consider is that his digital voice from beyond will serve only to reinforce in the next lonely and stunted mass-killer to come down the pike the notion that horrible random violence can finally earn you the right to be heard.

A Killer's Lamentable and Unavoidable Digital Afterlife

Sodini was a web guy. He first registered crazygeorge.com and georgesodini.com in 2000. He called himself a ".NET software developer," and his early forays on the internet seemed to be in service of the creation of a sort of community blog. So he understood the Googling-monkey impulse to track down whatever online remains could be found of him, and he understood that by writing out his thoughts in advance of the killings he could have complete control over how he presented himself to his "audience." He also reportedly carried a note with him to the site of his murders, an anachronistic flourish. In the old days, such a note would have been, of necessity, filtered through reporters and editors, and presented amid a picture of him as the sick fuck that he was. With his online testament, he was able to portray himself exactly as he desired—which also happens to be as a sick fuck, though he probably didn't realize that. Remember how extraordinary it was when Ted Kaczynski extorted the Washington Post and New York Times into publishing his unedited manifesto in 1995? That was an attempt to achieve publicity without ceding control to the gatekeepers. Those days are certainly over—Sodini has, posthumously, convinced almost everyone to run his manifesto.

We won't coyly refuse to link to it so as to maintain some sort of distance from the whole sad dynamic: Here it is. We might as well post it to Usenet groups, too, so that his words will live forever. There's no way to undo the fact that people know they can bring their sad little lives some attention by hurting others. But to circle back to the (admittedly cynical) idea that there may be a political lesson to learn from Sodini's online afterlife, here's something he was into back in 2000:

A Killer's Lamentable and Unavoidable Digital AfterlifeS