He didn’t win the Powerball.
Banking on a lottery windfall as his last hope for a happy life, accused gunman Elliot Rodger — who police say killed six people and himself Friday night in Isla Vista, California — had fixated on the lottery as his last chance to become “wealthy at a young age,” as put it in the 137-page statement he emailed to several people before his rampage. He believed wealth would finally make him attractive to women, whose apparent indifference drove him to despair and, ultimately, murder.
It was a distant hope to stake his life on, given that the odds of winning a Powerball jackpot are in the neighbourhood of 1 in 175 million. But the belief points to the combustible mix of naivete, narcissism, and entitlement that characterised Elliot’s psychology and, to some degree, that of the society he belonged to.
Rodger’s memoir makes for compelling if nauseating reading. It’s notable for its methodical style, its careful punctuation and grammar, and the stark, sincere, sometimes clinical manner in which he writes of his anguish and contempt. The prose is mostly plain and unadorned as he numbingly describes his increasingly solitary existence and details his litany of failures.
Though the text has been called a manifesto — and there are several passages in which he offers up a sort of ideology — it’s mostly a memoir, beginning with his childhood, which he describes as idyllic and carefree, moving steadily forward in time year by year, through his parents’ separation when he was 7, and pinpointing puberty as a turning point. His burgeoning sexual desire soon curdled into an intense resentment of women, as well as of any man he viewed as more romantically successful, and set him on a lifelong journey of alienation, self-pity, and rage.
Occasionally, his straightforward narrative style gives way to flights of wild grandiosity. At these moments, he seems to be morphing into a hokey caricature: the Phantom of the Opera, brooding from the wings, the disfigured comic-book villain perfecting a death ray in his secret lair. Such moments turn up frequently in his videos as well, generally accompanied by a painfully self-conscious sounding cackle.
But his story’s unmistakable theme is entitlement: Rodger’s ardent belief that the world owed him a good life, something he mostly defined as walking hand in hand on the beach with a beautiful blonde girlfriend.
Rodgers grew up surrounded by wealth and status, and he bought into the promises of materialistic culture. He was a child of privilege, a rich kid, though perhaps not as privileged, or as rich, as the people who surrounded him. He believed he was better than his peers, that he was “high-class,” as he put it, and by the most superficial measures perhaps he was. His father had directed a movie — albeit to lukewarm reviews and poor box-office sales. His stepmother was on a reality-TV show, “Les Vrais Housewives,” but not one you could brag about. It was set in L.A. but aired in France.
He was reasonably handsome, connected, and well-mannered, and had a pair of Gucci sunglasses and eventually a BMW, which he’d successfully lobbied for after insisting it would make him more confident. “I consider myself a sophisticated, polite gentleman, unlike most boys my age,” he wrote in his blog profile.
Why, then, he wondered, was he still denied what was so plainly his due?
After deciding that more money and success would help him with women, he settled on a few possible paths to wealth: one was becoming a screenwriter, but after working at it for a while, he concluded that it was simply too hard, and, besides, even successful screenwriters didn’t really make the kind of money he coveted. He also fantasized about creating a world-changing invention, as Mark Zuckerberg did with Facebook, but the hoped-for idea never materialised.
The thought of putting in real effort never seems to have held much appeal for him. His attempts to get a college degree generally petered out when he began obsessing about the happy social lives of his fellow students and opted to drop his classes rather than subject himself to further jealousy.
His parents arranged various jobs, but he often declined because he considered the work beneath him.
But there was one other easy possibility: persuading his mother to marry a rich man. He apparently viewed her, as he did all women, as an instrument that might serve his needs, and yet, like other women, she declined to accommodate him. “I will always resent my mother for refusing to do this,” he wrote.
Finally, he pinned his hopes on the “power of attraction,” the idea that positive thinking can bring personal rewards, which he’d first encountered in the best-seller “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne and again in “The Power of Your Subconscious Mind” by Joseph Murphy. “I wanted to believe the theory could work,” he wrote. “I needed something to live for.”
Rodger was haunted by an obsession with status. When he got the opportunity to attend the premiere of “The Hunger Games” — for which his father served as a second unit director — he walked the red carpet in a designer shirt, writing proudly of how he’d refused to move aside when photographers wanted to shoot an unnamed actress standing behind him. You can see him there, standing awkwardly with his father, stepmother, and Sylvester Stallone, in an episode of “Les Vrais Housewives.”
On a trip to London to visit his grandmother, he relished his first-class ticket. “We skipped to the front of the line as we boarded the plane,” he wrote, “and I took great satisfaction as I passed by all the other people who flew economy, giving all of the younger passengers a cocky little smirk.”
Despite losing the Mega Millions and other lotteries, Rodger somehow convinced himself that Powerball would provide his salvation. In March 2013, he drove to Arizona to purchase 50 tickets, which he felt certain would him the $US500 million jackpot.
When the Powerball winners were announced, he didn’t check his tickets for three days, paralysed with fear. Eventually he mustered the courage to look.
“I didn’t win,” he wrote. “I sat very quiet and still in my desk chair for a long time, all of the emotion swept out of me … I had driven all the way to Arizona just to buy lottery tickets, because I was so desperate for a happy life in which girls would be attracted to me.”
By then he had already hatched a plan to seek revenge on the “beautiful, popular people” and begun visiting a local shooting range to prepare himself.
Soon, he got his first handgun, a Glock 34 semiautomatic pistol, which he purchased legally for $US700. “I was now armed,” he wrote. “Who’s the alpha male now, bitches?“
Throughout much of Rodger’s memoir, it’s not clear whom he hates more: the tall, attractive, “boisterous” men he considers his competition or the beautiful women he views as having rejected him. But gradually, his misogyny becomes more acute. “My hatred and rage toward all women festered inside me like a plague,” he wrote. “Women deemed me unworthy of having them, and so they deprived me of an enjoyable youth, while giving their love and sex to other boys.”
While Rodger may well have been mentally ill, his views on women are frighteningly common. The sickness of misogyny is deeply embedded in our society, and it finds expression in various forms — from rape, sexual assault, and physical abuse to street harassment and online bullying. Fantasies of male sexual power are wildly popular, and not only among men (see, for example, “Game of Thrones” and Jay Z’s rap in “Drunk in Love,” to name just two prominent examples).
As has been powerfully illustrated in recent days by the profusion of tweets under the hashtag #yesallwomen, what makes Rodger unique is not that he hated women or even that he became violent toward them, but that he was so transparent and unabashed about it.
One online message board he frequented, PUAhate, is “a forum full of men who are starved of sex, just like me,” he wrote. Despondent and angry about female rejection, many of the members refer to themselves as “incels,” short for involuntary celibate, and openly fantasize about harming women, while also regularly lashing out at one another. But “ElliotRodger” seems to be the only one who posted under his own name.
He sent a link to the website to his parents, to help them understand how he was feeling. They didn’t respond — perhaps they were too shocked by the content to know quite what to say — though they appear to have gone to great lengths throughout his life to get him emotional support, working with an array of psychiatrists, therapists, life coaches, and “social-skills counselors,” or what he called “hired friends.”
As his self-proclaimed Day of Retribution approached, Rodger began developing an elaborate misogynistic ideology. Asking himself why women have what he called “perverted sexual attraction for the most brutish of men instead of gentlemen of intelligence,” he concluded it was because they themselves were beasts and should be treated as such.
Embracing a logic that echoed the racist faux science of eugenics, an intellectual underpinning of the Holocaust, he wrote that women’s inability to choose the best mates would “hinder the advancement of humanity” and concluded that “the choice should be made for them by civilized men of intelligence.”
As insane as this vision sounds, it’s an apt description of the place of women in many cultures around the world.
“Women are like a plague,” he went on. “They don’t deserve to have any rights. Their wickedness must be contained in order to prevent future generations from falling to degeneracy.”
Finally, he spun a fantasy of abolishing sex altogether, “which would mean abolishing women” (this section of his memoir suggests a certain homoerotic impulse he appears never to have examined). He proposed establishing a new government led by a supreme ruler, “such as myself,” and backed by a “highly trained army of fanatically loyal troops.”
Under this regime, most women would be placed in “concentration camps” and allowed to starve to death, but a few would be allowed to live “in secret labs,” where they would be “artificially inseminated with sperm samples in order to produce offspring.”
Rodgers wouldn’t live to see this horrific vision realised. After slaying six people, he would put a gun to his head and fire, ending his own suffering, ruining his prized BMW and giving those of us he left behind yet another opportunity to examine the social conditions under which his hatred grew and festered.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.