The slow creep of extremism

How did my childhood friend turn into a terrorist?

There were many thoughts rushing through my head when Chase Bliss Colasurdo, 27, was arrested in Kent last month for threatening to bomb synagogues and kill President Trump’s children.

First and foremost, though, was, “Chase — what the hell happened to you?”

You see, we grew up together on Seattle’s eastside, and lived in the same neighborhood. We’d play Spyro and Gex on the PlayStation, pretend we were Pokemon trainers with our figurines, or come up with schemes to annoy his older brother. If I remember correctly, his house was where I learned to make doubly sure I let go of the swing chains before taking a flying leap.

It was quintessential childhood.

We grew apart even before 6th grade, as kids are wont to do, and I almost never saw him again.

But now I can’t help but wonder what kind of life he led, between the innocent days of childhood and the harsh reality of now, pleading guilty to making terrorist threats.

Without actually speaking to him — and to be fair, I’m not sure I want to, as he’s also under investigation for cyberstalking and threatening journalists — details of his life are scarce. It’s possible, even likely, his worldview is skewed due to his supposed paranoid schizophrenia, though I argue that’s only small piece of the puzzle.

Whatever happened, he was in deep, as his Instagram page showed (I was unlucky enough to find the page before it was taken down, and spent at least an hour scrolling though some of the most hate-filled, misogynistic, and racist memes and videos I’ve seen made by someone I personally knew).

Unfortunately, I can’t even say I’m surprised at his diatribes aimed at Jews, women, and politicians — it was the same drivel spouted by the Pittsburgh and New Zealand shooters, and countless others before.

But I never, ever thought I’d know someone driven by these views, let alone be called to act on them.

It reminds me a little bit of a story my old journalism college advisor told me.

He was in a big city (Chicago?) when there was a spat of killings, and people were heavily encouraged not to be out at night.

Thinking themselves clever, my advisor and his friends came up with a buddy system when they went out on the town — they’d still go out at night, but they’d pair off when they were done based on the proximity of their various homes.

One of the pair was a woman and a man, and he would consistently drop her off at her apartment before heading out himself. Until, one time, he didn’t show up to get drinks.

Obviously concerned that no one knew of his whereabouts, a search commenced. Mind you, this is before cell phones, so who knows how long it took for them to find out their friend was alive and well… behind cell bars.

Because, as it turned out, this man would get blackout drunk with his friends, walk this one particular woman home, and then go kill someone.

My advisor told me she went to visit him, to try and figure out how in the world this could happen to either of them.

I have no idea how much, if any, of this story is true, but the point I’m trying to make is that these sorts of things only happen to other people — until they happen to you.

There’s no arguing that mass shootings have increased in the recent years, and I would suspect gun violence in general has as well. In fact, according to a Washington Post article, more than 6,000 people have died due to gun violence (not including suicides) since the beginning of the year to now — roughly 1,600 more deaths than the number of Allied soldiers who went to meet their maker on D-Day.

But at the same time, the odds of being in a mass shooting is estimated to be 1-in-11,000, whereas the odds of dying from heart disease and cancer is 1-in-7.

There’s data that says hate crimes have been on the rise in recent years, though there is other data that claims it only appears that way because more people are reporting hate crimes than in previous years.

But those numbers don’t matter. What really counts is that I feel afraid.

I’m afraid that if someone I know — who grew up in the same suburban neighborhood and attended the same schools and had similar friends — is able to become so radicalized, so detached from reality, so sick, then this can happen to anyone.

I’m afraid that if Enumclaw is ever unlucky enough to be traumatized by a mass shooting, or an attack of hate, that as a community, we’ll have to sit across the person responsible for injecting us with such a poison and ask them, “What happened to you?”

I’m afraid we would get the same empty answers I’ve come to about Chase: everything happened to him, and yet at the same time, nothing. There’s not one, or ten, or a hundred things that would be able to adequately explain why he became the person he did.

There is just hate. Unquenchable, reckless hate turned my old friend into a monster.

That’s what the Allies were fighting at Normandy Beach. Enemy soldiers, yes, and the Nazis and the Axis, but the real foe was hate.

We won the day, but we have not won the war, and Chase was just one of its countless casualties.

He’ll leave prison in a few years, and the system will keep an eye on him for a few years more. But after that, what is going to happen?

I can only hope he’ll see how much pain his hate has caused him and everyone around him, and learn to let it go.

I’ve never liked relying solely on hope. Maybe that’s why this has caused me so much grief, because I feel powerless to do anything.

All I can do is show love and compassion for everyone as best I can, Chase included.

I guess that’s all anyone can do.

Love, and hope.

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