Originally Published on July 23, 2013
Mass murderer James Holmes and homicidal cannibal Luka Magnotta have legions of fans. Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is on the cover of Rolling Stone. Though there have always been those infatuated with killers — serial killer Ted Bundy was bombarded daily with love letters — it seems that social media has taken what was rare quirk into the mainstream.
Following terrible crimes, such as domestic terrorism, high-profile rape cases and serial murders, there is always an outpouring of support for the victims. As time passes, however, there often emerges a bizarre support and love for the perpetrator of those terrible crimes. Psychologists even have a name for it: hybristophilia, the love of one who has committed an outrage.
Hybristophilia is considered a sexual anomaly in which an individual is particularly sexually aroused or attracted to another who has committed a brutal crime because of that crime. More often than not it is women who are attracted these so-called “alpha males.” Thanks to the Internet and the advent of social media, these “fangirls” and “fanboys” now express their love on the myriad websites and social media profiles dedicated to a particular criminal or group of criminals, rather than in the handwritten love letter of bygone days. It should be mentioned that blanket coverage of horrific crimes by large media outlets provides endless topics of discussion on these sites.
Seemingly obtusely, women in the U.S, and Canada have become obsessed with homosexual killer Luka Magnotta, accused of murdering his gay lover, Jun Lin, desecrating and cannibalizing the body and sharing a video of it on the Internet. He has also shared videos of himself torturing animals. One of his devoted fans, a woman who runs the blog Luka Magnotta Obsession told ABC news that the fact that Magnotta probably did kill Lin “only adds to his mystique. …He’s a bad boy. I’ve always been attracted to bad boys. Good boys are boring.” Disturbingly, some hybristophiles may also be Autassassionophiles, sexually aroused by the risk of being killed.
Women (and men) may find themselves attracted to such monsters for a variety of reasons. For some it may be a misdirected biological drive to nurture or to submit to a more dominant personality. Both female and male hybristophiles often harbor the notion that these “powerful” men are not evil, but rather lost, redeemable by the love and guidance of the right person, and capable, once redeemed, of leading productive lives.
Some of these adoring fans appear to need the drama and suspense of a public trial and a media circus to thrive personally. In a world where social media is ingrained into everyday life, and personal beliefs, no matter how extreme, may be showcased in a public forum, generating drama and suspense is much easier than it used to be. In fact, it makes one wonder if the Tumblr accounts of these misguided women (and men) truly demonstrate hybristophilia, or if this phenomenon is just sad confirmation that media attention today requires ever-increasing levels of outrage, controversy or scandal. In either case, there have been many high-profile attacks and murders in the past year, spurring many to take to the web to express undying love and devotion for the accused, or to attempt to prove their innocence.
One extreme example includes the “Holmies,” the adoring fans who have fetishized accused mass murderer James Holmes, the 24-year-old accused of the movie theater mass-shooting last year in Aurora, Colorado. Reading the “Holmies’” Tumblr accounts, it’s evident that these individuals thrive on each other’s quests to express their love.
A more recent case, probably one of the most high-profile crimes in recent years, involves Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar “Jahar” Tsarnaev. Heated controversy arose when Rolling Stone put Tsarnaev on the cover and into supermarkets and homes across the English-speaking world. Since the cover of Rolling Stone is typically reserved for famous musicians, models or actors rather than those accused of infamy, many wondered if this move wasn’t meant to glorify Tsarnaev as a celebrity in his own right.
Many readers were outraged, but others thought he belonged there. Though some observers were shocked at the crowds of Tsarnaev supporters gathered at the court house recently, a quick search of Tumblr pulls up the seemingly endless number accounts dedicated to the accused murderer. Among the most popular tags are #FreeJahar; the #FreeJahar Twitter account has close to 2,000 followers.
In one post, a woman expresses her love for Tsarnaev:
“I use to think people were crazy to miss or even constantly think of someone they did not know. I don’t know about any of you, but I think about Jahar all the time … Jahar, if you ever get to see this, just know that we love and support you to get the freedom you deserve. Because of you, we won’t let the government kill our generation or future!”
Since most of these fans could never hope to consummate their “love,” it is worth considering whether some fans of murderers may be seeking attention for themselves by a provocative transgression. So is hybristophilia on the rise, or is disordered, attention-seeking behavior being enabled by the ready availability of technology and social media outlets? Probably both; in any case the best most of us can do is not to think too hard about whether such groupies truly “love” a murderer while limiting our direct exposure to their obsessions.