New Media Project: The Navy Yard Shooter and Buddhism

Posted on December 7, 2013 by


Aaron Alexis

Media portrays religion very differently depending on the author, the point of view of the article, previous experiences with the subject, stereotypes that people have for certain religions, and many other reasons.  In the case of Aaron Alexis, the Navy Yard shooter, he and his involvement in Buddhism is portrayed in many different ways.  Buddhism in general is portrayed in many different ways in various articles.  The media and the world have created a stereotype for Buddhism and that affects the way it is portrayed in the news.  I read and analyzed some sources covering Alexis and his involvement in Buddhism, and they all seemed to have a different idea of why he was involved. Another aspect to look at is if his involvement in Buddhism influenced him in some way to then eventually shoot twelve people in cold blood.  The representation of Buddhism was different in each article as well.

This video gives some insight in analyzing Aaron Alexis.

Aaron Alexis was a former navy reserve and a military contractor.  He was 34 years old when the shooting took place.  Years prior to the shooting, nobody that knew Aaron Alexis had any idea he was capable of doing something as awful as that.  The last place he lived was right outside Fort Worth.  He had been living with his roommate Nutpisit Suthamtewakul for three years.  Alexis had always been fascinated by guns and always carried one with him.  Not only that, but he played video games quite a bit.  To the people close to him, he didn’t seem like he could ever be involved in a shooting.  Even so, he did show signs of mental illness.  His roommate said that ever since he met him, Alexis would talk about people coming to get him.  Along with that he also had some anger management issues.  These led to him getting in trouble with the law for shooting out someone’s tires after an argument.  Alexis attributed these to post-traumatic stress disorder from being present at the 9/11 terrorist attack.  He ended up contacting two Veteran’s Hospitals because of psychological issues a few weeks prior to the shooting.  Aaron was also a Buddhist convert.  He meditated frequently at the Wat Busayadhammavanaram Meditation Center in White Settlement, Texas.  He even had a gold Buddha in his room to worship and wore an amulet around his neck of the Buddha.  As well as being a Buddhist convert, he was very interested in learning the Thai language.  He worked at a Thai restaurant and enjoyed speaking with Thai natives in their native tongue.  He was also teaching some of the people who worked there to speak Thai.  Alexis even spent a few months living in Thailand. With all of that being said, Aaron Alexis didn’t seem like someone who would be involved in a shooting, especially since he was a Buddhist.

Alexis’ friend and former roommate gives his opinions on Alexis’ actions in this video.

Buddhists are usually portrayed as peaceful, serene people meditating in front of a statue of the Buddha.  They are shown like this in movies, pictures, and many other ways.  When Buddhism is thought of, often the Dalai Lama comes to mind.  Nobody would ever think about a man with a gun when they think of someone who practices Buddhism.  Aaron Alexis doesn’t seem to fit the stereotypical Buddhist.  The articles I found provide different explanations for what was different in Alexis’ case.  Even though the articles give different views on the subject, the pictures from the articles all seemed to match and give the same stereotypical message of a peaceful, meditative Buddhist.  The articles also try to explain the reasons Aaron Alexis converted to Buddhism and if it helped him or not.

This PowerPoint presentation gives an outline of the four articles I analyzed and what I found in them.

Four Articles Analyzed

From these four articles I found that Buddhism is still portrayed as a peaceful and meditative religion with the image of the Buddha.  Throughout each article this was referenced at some point, but three of the articles went into greater detail.  One gave an in depth explanation of how meditation is not beneficial for everyone and can make matters worse in some cases.  Another one outlines historical occurrences that disproved the typical peaceful stereotype.  The last article was written by a Buddhist.  Knowing the author was a practicing Buddhist gives the article an authenticity the other articles do not have when describing Buddhism.  Overall Buddhism is portrayed stereotypically if someone is just glancing one of the articles.  To find the more in depth view one must dig deeper to find the true meaning and view of the article.

In the case of Aaron Alexis, I do not believe that Buddhism had much to do with the Navy Yard Shooting.  I think it is true that he converted to Buddhism to try and cope with his mental illness.  There is evidence on the gun he used in the shooting that provides evidence he was delusional.

This video shows the official report of what happened in the Navy yard.  It also shows footage of Alexis inside during the shooting.  It gives details about what was on his gun and why the etchings alluded to mental illness.

After looking at the first article I talked about from, I think that meditating made his metal illness worse and he ended up not being able to cope with it at all in the end.  Buddhism, in my opinion, played no other part in influencing him to go through with the shooting.  I think Alexis did not know how to cope with the hardships in his life and his mental illness, and the shooting was his last resort and the way for him to end his suffering.  The article from that gave examples of times when Buddhist monks were not peaceful was just trying to find ways to blame what Alexis did on Buddhism.  One would be hard pressed to find anything in Buddhist teachings that have anything to do with the promotion of violence, if at all.  Overall, Buddhism was portrayed in many different ways, some positive and some negative, but if one delves deeper when analyzing news articles, he or she will be able to see past Buddhist stereotypes.

Posted in: Buddhism