Motive: The Austin Bomber

In Part Two of this blog post, we take a look at the Austin Bomber’s possible motives. Please see Part One for background on the case.

Discussion of Motive

Austin Police Chief Brian Manley stated shortly after bombing suspect Mark Anthony Conditt’s suicide: “I know everybody is interested in a motive and understanding why. And we’re never going to be able to put a [rationale] behind these acts.” Manley also claims Conditt never referenced any racial or hate-oriented motivations behind the bombings (oh, really?). Still, something prompted Conditt to spend an inordinate amount of time researching, googling, planning, shopping, constructing, and implementing in order to carry out these bombings. This level of premeditation indicates that there is, in fact, a motive.

Manley claims Conditt’s video confession is the “outcry of a challenged young man.” Respectfully, I disagree. My life’s work is supporting and guiding ‘challenged young individuals’ who are struggling under the weight of mental health issues and never have I encountered someone with Conditt’s methodical callousness. Many of the individuals I provide counseling to are disenfranchised and lack the bountiful resources Conditt had available to him: a tight-knit family, a two-parent home, caregivers with enough financial resources to allow at least one of them to stay home to raise the four children, parents with enough financial resources to buy their barely-a-legal-adult, unemployed, community-college-drop-out son a parcel of land outside the hub of Austin and then build him a house on it. This is ridiculousness. Conditt had it made in terms of resources.

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He also had it made in terms of privilege. He was a young, Caucasian male, relatively good-looking, with ample opportunities in life. So, what went wrong? Why was he “challenged” and “crying out?” Because of the privilege.

When the world tells you you’re special, when your parents raise you to believe that you are perfect, revered, above others in your life station, and can do anything — including bestowing your missionary visions and beliefs on other cultures — you start to believe it. But, when reality sets in and you find yourself incapable — or, worse: mediocre — a conflict emerges. The reality fails to reinforce the fantasy you’ve been spoon-fed since birth. You’re not special. You’re a college drop-out. You’re not perfect. You can’t even keep an entry-level job. You’re not the next savior of the world. You can’t even maintain a relationship.

What do young, Caucasian males do when the reality doesn’t match the fantasy? They use their station in life, their inherent privilege, in an entitled manner. They shoot up schools, send bombs to strangers, instill fear in others. Because they want others to feel the same helplessness and fear they experienced when they realized they don’t measure up. This isn’t mental illness. This is white privilege in its most basic, fundamental, stripped-down form: the delusional, self-justified ability to take another person’s life simply because your own is decidedly mediocre.


The Victims

Whether or not Conditt specifically targeted his victims, it is clear that his own ineptitude collided dramatically with their inherent gifts and contributions to the Austin community.

At only 17-years old, Draylen Mason showed enormous promise. He was a gifted double 920x920bass player and outstanding student who had been accepted into the highly-competitive Butler School of Music and the University of Texas at Austin. In addition to playing in his high school orchestra and at church, Mason volunteered in a youth program called Austin Sound Waves which offers no-cost music lessons to under-served youth. The dean at his school said that Mason was “smarter on accident than most of us are on purpose.”

 

Similarly, Stephan Anthony House, 39, was by all accounts the kind of neighbor and citizen you’d want living next door. With prior experience as a hedge fund and private equity investment manager, he was currently employed at Texas Quarries and had once launched his own business. House was also father to an 8-year old girl who, horrifically, witnessed his death as he retrieved a compromised package from their front stoop. Despite being a talented finance professional, House appeared to devote his life to his beloved little girl and kept their relationship as his primary focus in life.

Mason and House’s varied talents, gifts, and ability to connect to others stands in stark contrast to Conditt’s isolated, unremarkable existence. It begs the question: were these individuals targeted because of the color of their skin — or because they represented something Conditt could never attain?

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Could There Be a Secondary Motive?

While I stand by the above as Conditt’s primary motive, it does seem there are indicators that Conditt may have been struggling with issues of identity, specifically sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The public may never be privy to the content of Conditt’s 25-minute video confession but police chief Manley describes a tormented individual who was lashing out in response to personal challenges.
Given the devout, conservative, cloistered environment he was raised, it seems reasonable to assume that Conditt would not have been able to reconcile any parts of his identity that did not jibe with the doctrine of the household and his family’s religion. I find it curious that Conditt used the alias ‘Kelly Killmore’ to mail his bombs — why not Kevin Killmore, or Kyle, Ken, or Keith? Of course, Kelly can be a gender-neutral name, but is often used as a male name in geographic areas which are predominantly Irish such as South Boston. The small town of Pflugerville, TX is not necessarily known for its Irish citizens. Perhaps Conditt was trying to throw investigators off the case by using a “female” name. But, again, why not use Karen Killmore, or Kate, Kathy, or Kay? It seems meaningful, purposeful, that Conditt chose “Kelly” and I’d be curious to know wby. The alias “Kelly” must have been a message for Conditt, perhaps about his own sense of self.
There is good evidence that those individuals most staunchly clinging to a conservative narrative about how human beings or the world should work are also those most likely to be closeted in one way or another. Take Wesley Goodman or Ralph Shortey for example. Studies support what the media shows us: the more anti-LGBTQ a person is, the more likely they are to be some kind of sexual deviant (pedophile, etc) or have a closeted identity (homosexual, transgender).
We do know from Conditt’s online postings that he was quite anti-LGBTQ. We also know he was raised in an ultra-conservative Christian family, one in which he had little exposure to alternative messages from the outside world. Conditt even participated in a fringe Christian survivalist group that openly discussed the mixing of dangerous chemicals and the hoarding of weapons. The group, called RIOT (Righteous Invasion of Truth), was so far on one end of the spectrum, it makes you wonder what existed on the other end of the spectrum in terms of Conditt’s sense of self. If Conditt was closeted in some way, it in no way excuses his horrific actions. The vast majority of closeted individuals, whether gay or trans, are kind and highly-empathic people. If this ends up being a piece of the puzzle, it only lends itself to being a warning that we need to allow people to be who they fundamentally are. Otherwise, they might be pushed to become monsters.

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