The Santa Fe Shooter’s Medallions Likely Had Nothing to do With Partisan Politics But Something Else Entirely
As social media commentators battle over which political group they can link suspected Santa Fe high school shooter Dimitrios Pagourtzis to, it is highly likely that his politically charged lapel pins had far less to do with an ideology than an obsession with other killers.
The left is currently screaming that he wore an Iron Cross and is therefore a “right-wing Nazi” and the right is yelling back that he had a Communist lapel and must be “Antifa.”
Both sides are probably wrong.
The most logical explanation for the inconsistency is that Pagourtzis, 17, was a member of the True Crime Community (TCC) — more specifically a Columbiner. Across social media there are hundreds of groups where people who are either fascinated by killers, have varying levels of hybristophilia, or generally idolize them, gather to share information about their murderers of choice.
Fans of Dylann Roof are generally referred to as “Roofies,” those who adore James Holmes are dubbed “Holmies” — and arguably the largest and most active fandom is the “Columbiners.”
As news of Pagourtzis’ social media postings broke and I saw headlines labeling him as Antifa I correctly had a feeling it was going to be because of a pin. During the Columbine massacre on April 20, 1999, Dylan Klebold wore a small star-shaped hammer and sickle medallion on his left boot.
Many Columbiners wear this exact lapel as a subtle ode to Klebold. Those who do span the political spectrum. It isn’t actually about the politics, it’s about the shooter.
Klebold himself isn’t even believed to have cared about the politics behind it. Matt Cornwell, a classmate in the notorious shooter’s composition class, once asked him about the medallion.
“One of the last days I was like, ‘Why do you wear that pin on your boot?’ And he was like, ‘Just to get a reaction out of people,”’ Cornwell has previously explained.
Klebold’s mother also discussed the pin in her book and came to a similar conclusion.
Interestingly, Eric Harris, the other shooter, had a fascination with Nazis.
It clear from Pagourtzis’ own description of his collection that he was heavily interested in symbolism. These very well may have been meant to represent mass shooters that he admired, perhaps the Columbine killers and Roof.
The Columbine parallels did not end with the medallion. Pagourtzis’ “Born to Kill” shirt and long black trench coat had the same style as those worn by Harris and Klebold during the shooting at Columbine. He also opted to use nearly identical types of weaponry, including explosive devices.
Within the TCC, there are many people who enjoy discussing Hitler and Nazis, but it is not necessarily in the same way as white supremacists or white nationalists. The members of the TCC who engage in this are often just nihilistic, seeking to get a rise out of people — or more morbidly, they enjoy death. Any and all death. Skin color or religion isn’t generally as much of a factor as the body count.
A clear example of this was Lindsay Kaniitha Souvannarath, who is Asian. She was a very active member of the TCC and frequent poster of Nazi memes and Columbine tributes. In 2015, she was arrested along with Randall Steven Shepherd for conspiring with James Gamble to conduct a Valentine’s Day massacre at the Halifax Shopping Centre in Canada.
“It appears that most of her ‘social’ life, if you want to call it that, took place online,” a researcher using the alias “Artard” told the National Post following her arrest. “I have a lot of trouble imagining her showing up at any sort of political function in person, not least of all because the friendliest Nazis would ask if she was lost.”
Gamble, also a member of the Columbine TCC, shot and killed himself when police moved in on him after being tipped off about the plot.
While reasons for people engaging in the TCC are varied, there are certainly “types” that you can expect to find.
A large number of the women have a fetish for killers or are overly empathetic and believe that they could have prevented the tragedy if only they had known the shooter and were able to provide them with companionship.
Another segment of the community is people who are just fascinated by the minds of killers — the people who want to know “why.” This is how I found myself in TCC groups. These are the researchers and curious onlookers who just want to understand what causes someone to snap in such horrific ways.
The other most noticeable block are the people who idolize the killers and view them as heroes. These are often victims of bullying that see mass shooters as brave fighters who “finally said enough is enough.” While this is most commonly found among the young men in the groups, it is not always the case. There are also frequently overlapping reasons for people’s involvement.
Sometimes, tragically, members of the TCC go on to kill themselves and/or others.
One exceptionally noteworthy member of the TCC who went on to kill was Randy Stair — better known online as “Andrew Blaze.”
Like Pagourtzis, Blaze adopted much of the style of Klebold and Harris. The animator was a staple within the Columbine discussion groups and, despite his often violent posts, he was known for being extremely kind.
Ultimately, he filmed himself flipping a coin. Heads he would kill himself alone at home, tails he would go to the Pennsylvania grocery store that he had worked at and take other lives as well.
It was tails.
He went to the grocery store and barricaded all the doors before killing three people and shooting himself.
While this all sounds intensely depressing, and it is, there is a case that can be made for the importance of the groups. Within these online collectives in the weird parts of the internet, victims of bullying who may feel the need to harm themselves or others often find a comforting and understanding community — which is sometimes all a person needs while facing isolation in the real world. Many grieving family members and close friends of killers also find solace in these groups.
It is too soon to know the real motivations or politics of Pagourtzis, but it is important to know that there is a possible explanation for the pins that has nothing to do with either partisan narrative.
The first line of defense against school shootings is parents. Always remember to pay attention to what your children are doing online and hear them if they show signs of degrading mental health or being unable to cope with bullying.