L’Infâme: Columbine Progeny
Back in the days when white folks prayed in school
Evangelical Taliban Does CBS Evening News
Pierre Tristam/Candide’s Notebooks, October 5, 2006
A new American is born every eight seconds. A fanatic American is born-again every second: Brian Rohrbough lost a son in the Columbine shooting in Colorado seven years ago. Monday Evening on the entertainment show formerly known as the CBS Evening news, he was invited to speak his mind for 90 seconds in response to the school shooting in Lancaster County, Pa., where five girls were gunned down the same day. He said: “This country is in a moral free-fall. For over two generations, the public school system has taught in a moral vacuum, expelling God from the school and from the government, replacing him with evolution, where the strong kill the weak, without moral consequences and life has no inherent value.” Then he blamed suicide, abortion and school shootings on God’s alleged expulsion from public schools. He must not hang out in public schools much, where the only thing that drips more profusely than bathrooms and urinals neglected for two generations is the latent religiosity of students raised in the America of the 1980s and 90s, where it isn’t possible to turn one’s head without being knocked senseless by public displays of religion more obscene, more in-your-face, more invasive than anything Larry Flint could muster between his covers.
Mr. Rohrbough is entitled to losing his mind more than anyone. It’s a wonder parents who lose children don’t go mad in every way. He lost his only son. But Rohrbough isn’t losing his mind over his son so much as riding the Columbine crusade to score the sort of regressive points no one would have taken seriously had he not had a massacre’s mythology for his booster seat. And on a nationally televised network entertainment show to boot.
“Folks on the religious right are beside themselves to finally hear their views espoused in a network broadcast,” one of the more breezily reactionary bloggers writes out there, “folks on the left seem like they can’t quite grasp the concept of ‘free speech’ and are making noises that such a man shouldn’t be allowed to talk on network television. They are simply not as accustomed as folks on the right are to hearing speech (on a network newscast) that offends their sensibilities.” She misses the point, of course, by hiding behind her little straw man. It’s not at all about free speech. CBS’ decision to put on the Rohrbough show for 90 seconds is certainly far, far less repugnant than CBS’ decision to put on the Katie Couric show in the guise of news for twenty-two minutes every evening. If anything, Rohrbough’s appearance is more interesting, provocative, debatable — in short, grist for what news and substantial discussions ought to be about. CBS and its likes, all the way up to the national newspapers, don’t do enough of giving over their pages to the nutty fringes; which is to say: they don’t let us in on the way a frightening chunk of America’s minds mush about in their not-so-silent majorities out there in Grand Inquisitorland.
There is a measure of credibility in the whole thing. You can’t just put on anything that flaps its gums no matter how much you revere free speech, otherwise we should make no difference between a zoologically witted college freshman’s right to puff on for 90 seconds as equally as, say, Bill Buckley (lord help us). But Rohrbough at least and easily passes the test of a worthy 90-seconder. That said, CBS had at least some responsibility to let us in on a few of Rohrbough’s more fanatical tendencies before projecting him as just another voice in the debate.
Let’s look at the eminent Mr. Rohrbough, as CBS ought to have before showering us with his medievalisms. This is the “godly” man who, subsequent to the Columbine shooting, went to a park where a carpenter had put up fifteen crucifixes in memory of the students who’d been killed, uprooted two of the crucifixes and chopped them up, saying, “ We never ever honor a murderer in the same place as the memorial for his victims.” This is the guy who filed suit against the county sheriff and branded one of the deputies a child killer, then apologized (the officer hadn’t even arrived at the scene of the shooting when Rohrbough’s son was killed) , then filed suit against a Denver SWAT team member, branding him a child-killer. This is the guy who, “invited” (his word) by Columbine High School to add his part to a memorial to the slain students. The school’s intention was to create a uniting, uncontroversial memorial, two words Rohrbough knows not. He unleashed another salvo of disparagement at the school when he was asked not to include thirteen crucifixes and an obviously incendiary verse from the Bible (“There is no peace onto the wicked”—Isaiah 48:22) as part of his memorial. His was not the only imagery removed (the memorial was made up of tiles with painted images and words). Other imagery removed included a human head dripping with blood, angels, a Star of David and graffiti. He and other parents sued. They lost (the full decision here).
This, finally, is the guy who’ll be first to wear the garlands of playing the First Amendment card on the CBS evening news when he’s been among the first to denigrate it the moment his son’s shooting was in play ( “Outrage is probably a mild way to describe it,” he said of the leak in 2002, which should actually not have been a leak but a full, required release of photographs from the day’s shooting). And this from a man who’s been seeing nothing but cover-ups all over the Columbine investigations. He may be right. But the pattern of his revulsions at everything and their mothers edges him closer and closer to the kind of universal hatreds that linked up arms and let loose on Columbine in 1999. It’s that sort of relentless anger that leads to school shootings, too.
And here he is lecturing us about abortion and school shootings and God. Let’s by all means be sorry for his loss. But the guy has been on a rampage of his own since, ruining lives and desecrating the very religion he alleges to stand for, and preach, on national television. Let’s be grateful his kind of God isn’t running loose in our schools’ corridors. We’d have to start calling all our public school students talebs, which is, of course, Arabic for student, and the genesis of that lovely creation of that other regressively religious movement, the Taleban.