The Santa Barbara gunman who killed six people and himself found a platform for his hate on internet communities around the web. Nicky Woolf reports that the Guardian talked to users who knew him.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown identifies murder suspect Elliot Rodger on May 24. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Dtugg didn’t know what had happened until Saturday morning, when he logged in to his account on the forums of bodybuilding.com and saw his inbox flooded with supportive messages.
“God bless you,” read one. “You truly tried,” said another.
That was how he found out that Elliot Rodger had, the night before, killed six people and himself in Isla Vista, California.
“Even though I knew Elliot was creepy,” Dtugg – who agreed to speak on the condition that he be identified solely by his username – told the Guardian, “it was one of the most shocking things that has ever happened to me.”
Dtugg had tangled with Rodger several times on the boards of bodybuilding.com’s “misc” section, and had attempted to give advice to a man he saw as clearly troubled. Others on the forum didn’t know what to make of Rodger.
It was a space given to flamewars and trolling, but they saw Rodger posting things like “Men shouldn't have to look and act like big, animalistic beasts to get women. The fact that women still prioritize brute strength just shows that their minds haven't fully evolved”; “Women are not drawn to indicators of evolutionary fitness. If they were, they'd be all over me”; and “Never insult the style of Elliot Rodger. I’m the most stylish person in the world. Just look at my profile pic. That’s just one of my fabulous outfits. The sweater I’m wearing in the picture is $500 from Neiman Marcus.”
They assumed he was putting on an act. But to Dtugg, something felt wrong.
“I can easily see someone who is really like that making such a video,” he posted on 19 May, just four days before the stabbings and shootings in Isla Vista, in a thread he started about Rodger’s YouTube channel.
The forum Dtugg frequented was part of a wider community of semi-social circles overlapping on websites and message boards – online cliques with their own vernaculars and labyrinthine hierarchies. For a while before the shooting it was Rodger’s world too.