Heroic Doubling and Supporting Hamas

Psychologists who have studied violence in young men and especially young men’s willingness to forsake everything they know, everything they’ve been taught, and everything they might otherwise believe about right and wrong, say that there is a set of shared circumstances and “revelations” that link spree killers and self-radicalized terrorists.  Faced with the emptiness of their own lives, isolated from many of their contemporaries, and desperately in search of something substantive to give their lives meaning and purpose, young men—especially young men who find refuge on the internet and in social media—tend to create fantasy lives for themselves, alternate realities in which they not only find the meaning and purpose they crave but do so in heroic fashion.

For more than a decade now, the journalist and editor Robert Beckhusen has noted that the ties that bind spree shooters and self-radicalized terrorists are both numerous and consistent.  Young men confronted by the social and spiritual emptiness of their lives and society default to what is often called “heroic modeling” or “heroic doubling,” which is to say that they take on a symbolic cause and kill not just to slake their own bloodlust but to exact revenge for a whole class of people with whom they believe they find common cause.

Almost exactly ten years ago, just after the spree shooting in Isla Vista, California, Beckhusen interviewed Roger Griffin, a professor of Modern History at Oxford-Brookes University in the UK and the author of Terrorist’s Creed: Fanatical Violence and the Human Need for Meaning.  Griffin explained the phenomenon of “heroic doubling” as follows:

[I]n the mind of the killer, they’re not just killing someone as the sole purpose of the destruction. They’re killing someone symbolic of something more general, which is also meant to send a message to the survivors….

…what happens psychologically—the person has undergone a process whereby a rather confused, pained, ordinary self puts on a sort of mask, which turns them into an actor—or a protagonist—in a personal narrative drama. . . .

In his avatar double, he achieves the ability to run and fight.  I believe that’s a very powerful metaphor for what happens in the process of heroic doubling.  Because the person who’s previously felt impotent and had no agency . . . is made to feel potent and have agency returned to him by adopting this mission.  So in that moment, he becomes a heroic version, or avatar, of himself.

Although the parallels are hardly perfect, over the years, I’ve found this concept of heroic doubling to be a useful heuristic for assessing the otherwise seemingly pointless embrace by American young men—and, increasingly, young women—of foolish, intellectually abhorrent, and often violent ideologies and practices.

The spiral of violence in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests four years ago is one such example. Whatever one thinks of the BLM movement, its tactics, and its foundational ideology, the initial response to George Floyd’s death was at least somewhat understandable. Believing that young black men were under attack by law enforcement, several hundred thousand people took to the streets to protest the situation. Before long, however, any initial righteousness the protestors may have held was subsumed by the desperate, heroic doubling of the larger crowds. Masses of young, mostly white, mostly privileged men and women joined the movement, desperate to belong to and believe in anything, and the entire undertaking degenerated into violence, looting, and chaos.

While the protests may have started with genuine anguish, they swiftly devolved into little more than LARPing—Live Action Role Play—by spoiled kids with nothing else to do and suffering from White Savior Complex.

Not coincidentally, much the same can be said of those on the other side (of the protests and of the political spectrum), who showed up to various protest sites armed and ready to defend property, God, and country. Again, whatever one thinks of Kyle Rittenhouse and his legal culpability (or lack thereof), the truth of the matter is that he was in Kenosha that night for no other reason than to burnish his personal sense of civic courage. Like the play-acting revolutionaries on the other side, he was there, more or less, in an outburst of heroic doubling.

All of this, in turn, brings us to the “pro-Palestinian” protests and camps popping up on college campuses all over the country. Part of the spirit underlying the protests is earnest and ideologically consistent: some of these people hate Israel and Jews and want both destroyed. Part of that spirit is intellectually animated: the anti-realist epistemologies that dominate American academia have so thoroughly infiltrated the minds of its victims that they can no longer see right from wrong in any serious moral sense. A significant part of the spirit, however, is LARPing and heroic doubling. Once again, young people who have nothing important or valuable in their lives and who believe in nothing substantive or enduring are demonstrating their desperate need for belonging and purpose.

Some of the protestors have no idea what they’re doing or why they’re protesting. Some are there to try to resurrect the 1960s heyday of campus radicalism. Some are there to show that there is nothing in the world that can’t be improved by interpretive dance. All are there to find meaning in their otherwise spiritually and psychologically empty lives.

The problem with all of this—and the thing that makes these protests more serious than spree shooters and even BLM—is that it allies these empty, privileged LARPers with the world’s oldest and most persistent hatred. Their presence gives strength to the resurgent anti-Semitism that underlies the Hamas-aligned Palestinian movement. That’s troubling for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the spiritual void at the heart of the Western LARPers/heroic doublers will, eventually, be filled by something.



Get the news corporate media won't tell you.

Get caught up on today's must read stores!

By submitting your information, you agree to receive exclusive AG+ content, including special promotions, and agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms. By providing your phone number and checking the box to opt in, you are consenting to receive recurring SMS/MMS messages, including automated texts, to that number from my short code. Msg & data rates may apply. Reply HELP for help, STOP to end. SMS opt-in will not be sold, rented, or shared.

About Stephen Soukup

Stephen R. Soukup is the Director of The Political Forum Institute and the author of The Dictatorship of Woke Capital (Encounter, 2021, 2023)

Photo: TOPSHOT - A pro-Palestinian demonstrator waves a Palestinian flag near the White House during the "March on Washington for Gaza" in Washington, DC, on January 13, 2024. Israel's bombardment of Gaza has killed at least 23,708 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest health ministry figures. The war began when Hamas launched an attack on October 7, which resulted in about 1,140 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures. The militant group also seized about 250 hostages. (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP) (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images)