The Motive of Binghamton’s Mass Murderer

What motivated Jiverly Wong to murder 13 immigrants, at the American Civic Center? Most people from Binghamton, my home town, have concluded that Wong was simply insane. Consequently, the actions of a crazy person defy rational explanation. But there is a motive for his actions, dark though it may be.

What motivated Wong is what compels all shooters, from Columbine to Virginia Tech. Indeed, it’s what sets suicide bombers into motion. They invariably harbor a grievance, due to some perceived injustice, and are overflowing with self-pity and rage on account of it. When we look deeper, we perceive what lies at the root of these feelings: envy, the most deadly of the seven most deadly sins.

High school killers envy the popular students and those students alive with college dreams. Terrorists — although offering religious and political rationalizations — invariably envy those more optimistic about the future than they are. Several years ago, a Middle Eastern terrorist sought to explain his motives. He said that Jews love life and that he and his cohorts love death. But, those who love death still envy those who love life and will hate them. Although I know little of Wong, I sense a familiar pattern.

Envious people believe that what other people possess — whether it be material things ambition or optimism — has been stolen from them. In other words, for the envious, life is a zero-sum game. Those feelings, which were probably there all along, crystallized and found direction when Wong lost his job. Then he reasoned: “If I lost my job, it’s because you have a job.”

Why, then, target immigrants, taking a class in citizenship? Wong envied their enthusiasm, hope, and belief in the American dream. He resented that they seemed poised to embark on a new life, when his own life had resulted in failure. He felt it unfair that they should be animated by such positive feelings, while he felt despair.

Of course, the question remains as to why this particular man became a mass-murderer, when many other people have been through the travail of job loss. Wong was 41 years old. Many people, a good deal older, pick themselves up, and set course for a new direction. Why, instead, did he turn to murder and suicide? The answer to such questions would involve an analysis of his individual psychology, an understanding of his character flaws. Not knowing Wong personally, I cannot address those questions. Perhaps, what’s really amazing is that the great majority of people — despite the stresses and strains of modern life — manage to keep their sanity, especially when the air, these days, is redolent with a baleful envy, fomented by demagogues.

T.S. Eliot called April “the cruelest month.” Everything comes alive, except for the dead. April was cruel to Wong, for he knew he was dead inside. He resented those full of life and hope. And so he murdered them.

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