NARRATION: Centuries ago, a faraway culture was plagued by an epidemic of mass killings but, over time, managed to rid itself of the problem. How did that happen?
ARCHIVAL (FOX NEWS, 10-2-17):
JON SCOTT: The deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.
ARCHIVAL (CNN, 11-5-17):
ANA CABRERA: A gunman opened fire.
NARRATION: And what can modern-day America learn from it?
When European explorers arrived in the Malaysian archipelago in the 1700s, they observed a phenomenon called amok, the mass murder of that era.
GEOFFREY ROBINSON (PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES): An individual who, for various reasons - usually because he’s suffered some humiliation, some indignity - engages in this aggressive, homicidal frenzied attack with knives and other sharp weapons. Suddenly a lot of people lie dead and there’s blood everywhere. He would get as far as he could before the villagers, the family members, or if they’re around, the police cut him down.
NARRATION: Amok became commonplace in a culture where every man carried daggers and swords, and the amoker achieved a degree of fame.
GEOFFREY ROBINSON: One of the points of running amok, it seems, if there is a point in it, is that I’m going to die a heroic and honorable death and get rid of all this indignity that I’ve suffered. The spotlight would likewise be focused on him and maybe, in that sense, the amoker and the modern-day mass killer in the United States is not that different.
NARRATION: Modern-day mass killers spend days in the media spotlight…
ARCHIVAL (WCAU, 6-19-15):
ANCHOR: Who is Dylann Roof?
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 6-14-16):
STEPHANIE GOSK: This is the first look inside the home of mass murderer Omar Mateen.
NARRATION: …with stories that seek to explain their motivations and grievances.
ARCHIVAL (CNN, 6-19-15):
CAROL COSTELLO: Why did a gunman mow down worshipers inside an iconic southern church?
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 11-6-17):
STEPHANIE GOSK: Kelley had trouble at work. As recently as this summer, he was fired from a nearby water park.
MICHAEL WELNER: When grievances of the mass killer are treated with serious consideration, they not only give the mass killer exactly what they’ve been looking for, but they inspire other mass killers. They see the formula. And they replicate it.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 4-20-07):
PETER ALEXANDER: Seung-Hui Cho wrote that he was inspired by the Columbine killers attack eight years ago today.
GEOFFREY ROBINSON: It’s not as people like to say, “Oh, it’s just human nature. When people feel humiliated and especially men feel humiliated, of course they pick up a gun and shoot.” No.
They do that in a society where, for one thing, lots of guns are available and where the model-the cultural model of killing and shooting people in a public setting is already available.
NARRATION: Which brings us back to Malaysia, where amok came to be recognized as a mental illness and, over a century, slowly declined. One of many factors was depriving the amoker of a dramatic death.
GEOFFREY ROBINSON: Instead of taking part in the normal pattern of simply killing the amoker they start to arrest them. They send them to lunatic asylums alive, which completely changes the dynamic. Eventually it loses its appeal.
NARRATION: In the U.S., some news outlets are also trying to change the dynamic, focusing coverage away from the mass killers.
ARCHIVAL (CNN, 12-15-12):
ANDERSON COOPER: I want you to know we are not, during this broadcast, using the name of the shooter. Often it seems that history remembers the names of murderers and not the names of victims.
GEOFFREY ROBINSON: Cultures themselves are so complex. The idea that you could solve the problem of mass violence in the United States by altering a single variable, I think is a huge mistake.
NARRATION: But historian Geoffrey Robinson says the biggest lesson from Malaysia is that amok, once thought embedded in that culture, eventually faded away.
GEOFFREY ROBINSON: America is not the only place where this has happened. It’s not something in the American psyche that has always been there and will never change. You can at least hope and work for a time when this mass violence will become as amok did, less and less prevalent and less and less meaningful to people.