Op-Ed: Unpacking Dayton Shooter Connor Betts’ Connection to Metal and Pornogrind
Living through yet another mass shooting in America is always difficult; the senselessly lost lives, the desperation, the sheer horror, the lack of any meaningful gun reform to follow. But Sunday’s massacre in Dayton, OH brought with it another conundrum for metalheads: Connor Betts, the shooter, was one of our own.
Or was he? While it was easy to explain away Betts’ metal band hoodie — The Acacia Strain are heavy, sure, but they aren’t violent — new details that have come to light about the shooter indicate he was into some incredibly violent, dark and misogynistic metal, and learning about that association has been serving as an inflection point for the metal community.
Betts was a member of the pornogrind band Menstrual Munchies which released albums called 6 Ways of Female Butchery and Preeteen Daughter Pu$$y Slaughter including songs with titles such as “Cunt Stuffed With Medical Waste – Sexual Abuse Of A Teenage Corpse.” While pornogrind is generally thought of as satirical, it seems Betts took its messages seriously.
Neckbeard Deathcamp, the left wing satirical black metal band, knew of Betts from years of running in the same metal circles in the Midwest. Breaking from his usual all caps leftist warrior character to address the situation yesterday on Twitter, the band’s leader Noah Maria expressed disdain for Betts’ viewpoints, describing him as a misogynist who was not welcomed in the scene. “I feel like we spend a lot of time expressing values highly incongruent with the way he treated women and the act of absolute cowardice that occurred sunday night.”
One of Betts’ bandmates, Jesse Creekbaum, told Vice he’s been working overtime to scrub the band’s presence from the web and that he’s horrified to be associated with what he thought was a joke but clearly wasn’t. “I feel shitty having let him be in the band, doing those lyrics. Because I know, like, whereas I saw it as a joke — like, ‘Let’s play this and we’ll shock some people,’ and then the people that we know laugh — he didn’t see it as a joke. He was like, ‘Fuck, yeah. We’re gonna do this.’ “It’s like, Jesus Christ, how much of this was like real life for him?”
Betts violent behavior didn’t stop there, according to Creekbaum. Betts’ former bandmate said Connor once brought a handgun on tour and suggested they rob gas stations. At one point he was suspended from high school for keeping a “hit list” and a “rape list,” Betts told Creekbaum. Posts on Twitter from his classmates confirm that account and go on to portray him as a “bully” who frequently targeted women with his ire and was generally an all-around unpleasant person to be around.
And then there’s this: Betts identified as a hard leftist. Social media posts, since deleted, saw him supporting anti-fascists, slandering Nazis, rallying against cops and speaking out against gun violence.
As left-leaning metalheads, how do we parse this cognitive dissonance?
To start, we must admit that just because someone identifies with the left doesn’t mean they can’t be a colossal piece of shit. I again kick things over to Neckbeard Deathcamp’s Noah Maria on Twitter, who nailed it: “For what it’s worth men who cape hard line “””””left””””” politics who still treat women like shit are not exactly a new invention.” That’s difficult to admit — we on the left like to pin toxic masculinity on the far right, and indeed, that’s where a whole lot of it lies — but clearly our own scene has those same issues, too.
We also need to make a very important clarification about causality. While many (like Ohio journalist Jim Heath) will be quick to blame Betts’ violent behavior on metal, we instead point the causal arrow the other way: Betts was an extremely violent and misogynistic person by nature, and was drawn to the fringe extreme of pornogrind as a result.
Most importantly, we must address pornogrind itself. I have personally never had any interest in the genre from either a musical, lyrical or conceptual standpoint — it’s just not my thing, at all, and the venn diagram of my world and the pornogrind scene has no overlap — but I concede we’ve given it a pass on this site in the past by explaining it away as satirical. That ends now. Much as we do with white supremacists, abusers and bigots of all kinds, we as a community must put our collective foot down and give the pornogrind scene no space to thrive. With apologies to those of you who have been saying this for years, I am sorry: we get it now.
And finally, we need to take a long, serious look at more mainstream and universally accepted elements of the metal scene that depict violence towards women. By all accounts, George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher is a Target-loving, videogame-playing, family-focused dad, but we must still ask ourselves why we accept Cannibal Corpse as OK if we’re no longer going to afford pornogrind that luxury. What is it about “Fucked with a Knife,” the lyrics of which depict grotesque violence towards women, that’s inherently different from “6 Ways of Female Butchery”? Are they any different? Where do we draw the line between fantasy and reality? I don’t have the answers to these questions, and I’m not arguing we ought to jettison Cannibal Corpse to the dustbin of metal history. I am saying we need to have a discussion about it.
I’ve seen a lot of positive, constructive dialogue on social media the past couple of days regarding the intersection of metal and violence. I’d love to see more. Please keep it civil out there, people… the last thing we need during this moment of tragedy is even more in-fighting.