'He Who Shall Not Be Named'

New Zealand's prime minister vows to deny notoriety to a mass murderer.

Nate Jackson · Mar. 19, 2019

There is great power in names. In the book of Genesis, God the Creator names the first man, Adam, and then empowers Adam to name not only every living creature but his wife as well. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham and Saul’s name to Paul when those changes reflected a new relationship. The power of names works the other way, too, even in fiction. It’s why in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the primary villain is regularly referred to as “He Who Shall Not Be Named.”

So what do we make of the ubiquity of the names (and faces) of mass murderers?

Such was the question when New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asserted Tuesday that notoriety was a primary motivator for the fascist psychopath who attacked two mosques last week. “He obviously had a range of reasons for committing this atrocious terrorist attack,” Ardern said. “Lifting his profile was one of them. And that’s something that we can absolutely deny him.” She added, “He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless.” She continued, “And to others, I implore you, speak the names of those who were lost, rather than name of the man who took them. He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing. Not even his name.”

It’s a thoughtful sentiment and approach borne of research into the profiles of these types of assailants. “They want attention,” says Mary Muscari, a forensic nurse at Binghamton University in New York. After studying numerous such mass shootings, she concluded, “That’s why you see them wanting to have a bigger head count, a bigger body count, to try to outdo the last one or to do something that is going to cause more of a rise.”

American media outlets that depend on eyeballs for advertising revenue dutifully comply, plastering the names and faces of assailants across our TV screens 24/7. Socially awkward and ignored young men commit atrocities and suddenly find the fame they desired. The New Zealand attacker went so far as to broadcast his murderous rampage on Facebook live. According to the Associated Press, “Facebook said it removed 1.5 million versions of the video during the first 24 hours.” That’s an astounding level of success for a man who craved attention.

On the other hand, in order for justice to be done and even for the public to be informed, names must at times be given. That balance is something we in our humble shop have strived to maintain when covering such events. Name to inform when necessary, but deny notoriety. Unfortunately, the tide is against us.

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