Nikolas has a fan club

Nikolas Cruz is the 19-year-old young man in police custody who is accused of gunning down 17 people and wounding another 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. If the allegations are true, his crimes are unspeakable. He's accused of assembling an arsenal (legally!) and then cold-bloodedly and with premeditation carried out an indiscriminate slaughter of innocent, unarmed school students and staff members. No empathy. No remorse. Not a thought to how many lives he was taking away nor to the living family members who now have to carry a permanent daily grief. There is no possible moral justification for his loathsome actions.

Most of America reviles him as a monster. But not all. The south Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that amazed jail officials who open his mail for him (he’s on suicide watch) have received $800 in gifts for his commissary privileges. Letters from young women all over the country express their love and sympathy. Some send revealing pictures with smiley faces and hearts.

Social media is humming too—at one point a Facebook group called “Nikolas Cruz—the First Victim” had three hundred members. They expressed compassion for Cruz because they had heard how he was bullied, diagnosed with disabilities, and orphaned. #NikFam and #OurBoy are generating sympathetic comments and retweets.

How is this possible? How can this sociopath have a fan club? Has the world really gone mad? Psychiatrist Carole Lieberman has studied similar behaviors in other cases and written a book called Bad Boys: Why We Love Them, How to Live With Them, and When to Leave Them. In her words: “Women who become pen pals and groupies of killers in prison are those who have had a dysfunctional relationship with their dad that has made them feel unlovable. . . . These women have low self-esteem and become imbued with the killer’s power.”

The same thing happened in 2013 after Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s arrest as the Boston bomber. #FreeDzokhar web groupies arose immediately. Rolling Stone put one of his social media pics on the cover, a place usually reserved for artists and celebrities.

What are your theories as to why violent killers have fan clubs? Here are a few of mine:

  1. Violent criminals achieve their goals of becoming celebrities. In our country, apparently, it doesn’t matter what you are famous for, just that you are famous. Attention is a narcotic. Charles Manson made the cover of Rolling Stone too. He had groupies too.
  2. It seems to be one of the characteristics of our fallen world that women feel attracted to bad men. Maybe they fantasize that they can fix them. They feel the urge to transform the perpetrator into a victim. The Nikolas fan club wants to blame the “system” that failed him.
  3. Violence is seductive (if it wasn’t your child that was killed). People who feel weak secretly (and sometimes openly) show admiration for people who just go and do whatever they want and take whatever they please. There’s a beast in each of us that wants to come out, and that beast perhaps derives some pleasure from watching someone else’s beast come out.

Actor Joe Mantegna’s character David Rossi on the TV show Criminal Minds was given a profoundly insightful set of lines to explain to others what his FBI unit had learned about the motivation of ultraviolent people. He said, “They have three messages to the world: Look at me. Fear me. I am God.”

This painful story leaves Christians with some sobering takeaways:

  1. No one knows the hour of his or her death. Those 17 high school kids and staff members didn’t have a note from God with their breakfast cereal that they would face their Maker that day. Now is the time to repent. Now is the time to embrace Christ’s amazing love for you.
  2. Every human misdeed is made worse by those who rationalize or sympathize with sin.
  3. Our teens want very much to be treated like adults and want to talk and act big. Sometimes they push parents away or speak defiantly. But they are still as hungry for love, security, and assurance as ever. The teens in your family might be far more insecure and self-doubting than you think.

Pastor Mark Jeske has been bringing the Word of God to viewers of Time of Grace since the program began airing in late 2001. A Milwaukee native, Pastor Jeske has served as the senior pastor at St. Marcus, a multicultural congregation on Milwaukee’s near north side since 1980. In addition, he is the author of several books and dozens of devotional booklets on various topics.

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