Categories
History Journalism

Sicario Culture: An Analysis of Violent Crime and Aggression in Colombia During the 80s and 90s

According to Blackburn (2005, pp. 211-223), “aggression describes the intentional infliction of harm, including psychological discomfort as well as injury, although it is sometimes loosely equated with vigour in competitive situations […] a constant need to discharge aggressive energy governs human behaviour […] anger is a socially constructed emotion […] In personality disorders, ego weakness results in the repression of aggression […] Ferguson and Rule, for example, suggest that anger is aroused not simply by the degree of perceived aversive treatment by others, but also by judgements of whether the aversion is intentional, malevolent, foreseeable, and unjustified”.

The cycle of criminogenic behaviour

Gillespie and Mitchell (2018, p. 85) describe individuals diagnosed with psychopathy as a personality disorder (ASPD) as “outwardly normal, but were nonetheless extremely callous and unable to express remorse or guilt, to the point where they seemed to be devoid of human emotion. The patients were typically of above average intelligence and seemingly charming, though lacked the capacity for love”. Psychopaths who go through the criminal justice system can at times exhibit great criminal versatility. The following is a diagram I designed to illustrate how such criminogenic needs and versatility develop and recur.

Recidivism

National homicide rates per 100 000 population, c. 1984

Blackburn (2005) included a table in his chapter about violent crime and aggression where Colombia is listed as the country with the highest homicide rate in 1984 and this was published in the United Nations year-book (1988). Even though the data has changed massively, and Colombia has dramatically reduced its crime rates; such bloody past would have caused generational trauma without a doubt, and the Colombian people would have had to adapt to survive potential death anywhere at any time if they upset the wrong person. Many political leaders were assassinated in order to stop the people from interfering with the criminal business of the mafia. A lot of blood was shed, and the Colombian people were over-exposed to extreme levels of danger to the point where the entire nation was having a humanitarian crisis, which still echoes, and which is still being solved.

CountryRate
Colombia37.4
Mexico17.9
Brazil13.4
Venezuela12.9
USA 8.5
Ecuador 7.1
Argentina3.8
Hungary2.7
Canada2.3
Italy2.1
Australia1.9
Poland1.6
Austria1.4
Israel1.4
France1.3
Scotland1.3
New Zealand1.2
FDR1.2
Spain1.0
Greece0.9
England and Wales0.7
Egypt0.5

Source: United Nations (1988). Demographic yearbook. New York: United Nations Publishing.

Case study: the criminal career of sicario alias Popeye

The following video covers the developmental trajectory of Jhon Jairo Velasquez Vasquez’ criminal career, the political context in which he was rewarded with attention and money for being a hired gun; and how such media attention has led to some of the Colombian people seeing and treating him as a celebrity. Behind this story is a real case of a mental health crisis where the hypernormalisation of violence from recent decades was so extreme, that many people became desensitised to the actions of this type of individual, seeing no difference between what is right and what is wrong. Furthermore, this documentary analyses some of the confessions of Popeye as the primary psychopath that he was, and shows how what is ‘normal’ in a country, is ‘abnormal’ in other places. Popeye specialised in crime, and developed all the skills needed for the criminal business. This makes an interesting case for forensic psychology, and for media studies.

References

1989: un año para la memoria (2014) Youtube video, added by El Espectador [Online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDFsNNaTQIY&t=4s (Accessed 9 March 2020). 

2015 Popeye Full TV Interview. Part 1 of 3. English Subtitles (2018) Youtube video, added by Colombian History X [Online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6NGWNrzg88 (Accessed 8 March 2020). 

Blackburn, R. (2005) The Psychology of Criminal Conduct, West Sussex, John Wiley & Sons/ University of Liverpool, pp. 210-245.

Escobar’s Hitman. Former drug-gang killer now loved and loathed in Colombia (2017) Youtube video, added by RT Documentary [Online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQy_LJdZ7qw (Accessed 8 March 2020).

Gillespie, S. M. and Mitchell, I.J. (2018) ‘Psychopathy’, in Davies, G.M. and Beech, A.R. (eds), Forensic Psychology: Crime, Justice, Law, Interventions, 3rd ed, West Sussex, British Psychological Society/ John Wiley & Sons, pp. 85-100. 

Popeye: The Jailhouse Interviews Pt. 1 – English Subtitles  (2018) Youtube video, added by Colombian History X [Online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaPw1EEPOCc  (Accessed 8 March 2020). 

Popeye: The early years (2018) Youtube video, added by Colombian History X [Online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAPsQ0P_4Q0  (Accessed 8 March 2020).

United Nations (1988) Demographic Year-Book, New York, United Nations Publishing Division. 

Categories
Opinion

Book Review: Ted Bundy: Conversations With a Killer

Because simply watching the docuseries on Netflix is not enough, I decided to read the book by Michaud and Aynesworth (2019) which contains the transcripts from conversations with Theodore Robert Bundy, also known as the All-American Boy (Loftus and Ketcham, 1991).

This book provides real insight into Bundy’s psychological discourse, and it can be observed that his superego mainly served as a reminder not to get caught. He could not control his impulses, and this is why he left such a high death toll. His moral degeneracy can be appreciated in his described thinking process, where he expresses how he felt it was not difficult at all to maintain such secret life hidden away from the consciousness of those who were part of his personal circle: “I became expert at projecting something very different. That I was very busy. It is clear now, I think, that a huge part of my life was hidden from everyone – secret, as it were. It didn’t take much effort” (p. 16). One thing that can be noticed throughout the conversations is that Ted Bundy had a form of self-serving bias which was compounded by his belief about what he called the psychological “condition”. He expressed his states of narcissistic melancholia mixed with helplessness in relation to what can be described as his criminogenic, sadistic needs and the satisficing of these. He expressed that at times he would lay with the corpses he created until these were putrid.

What I find particularly difficult to comprehend when it comes to studying Ted Bundy as a prototypical psychopath is that at times some of the statements he made about his experience posited that he had the capacity to feel fear, which goes beyond the scope of primary psychopathy: “I thought I was going to die every night the first few days I was in jail back in October of 1975. I was scared to death! Daily. I thought they were going to kill me” (p. 23). Was he saying the truth? I don’t know. However, some of his other statements did reveal his malignant personality, such as when speaking about the way in which he perceived his victims as objects: “Except he is not killing a person. He is killing an image” (p. 65). Whose image? is the question I have. Psychodynamic theorists would of course instantly say that perhaps he wanted to recreate the image of the woman who he had the most contempt against, his own mother.

Bundy truly believed that this “condition”- as he called it- was to blame for all of his behaviour; nevertheless, unable to meet the M’Naghtan rules, he was not found to be eligible to claim criminal insanity and even prominent expert witnesses and forensic psychologists such as Elizabeth Loftus (1991) describe having been disturbed by his sophisticated mannerisms and inappropriate body language and responses to contexts. In other words, Bundy had a theory of mind (ToM) deficit, and a surplus of self-esteem. Moreover, his construct of reality was based on self-justifications and false beliefs. The way in which he described his “disease” in third person was as follows: “what’s happening is that we’re building up the condition and what may have been a predisposition for violence becomes a disposition. And as the condition develops and its purposes or its characteristics become more well defined, it begins to demand more of the attention and time of the individual” (p. 71). Such cluster of personality traits and behaviour is classed in the DSM-5 as antisocial personality disorder (ASPD).

What’s interesting is that Bundy describes having been influenced by his peers’ concepts of the attractive woman when choosing his victims. This was perhaps the case because as a malignant narcissist, his desire to have complete control over such beautiful images meant that he needed to kill them in order to control everything about their interaction. According to Bundy he murdered his victims because he wanted to leave no living witness of his sexual atrocities. As the moral imbecile that he was, he even washed some of his victims’ hair and did their make up in order to have sex with their corpses until the rotting nature of death made it impossible to do so. This shows the utter perversion of this individual, and this is synthesised by his own words: “A certain amount of the need of that malignant condition had been satisfied through the sexual release. That driving force would recede somewhat, allowing the normal individual’s mental mechanisms to again begin to take hold” (p. 90).

What makes this a great book is that it is made up of transcripts mainly and this allows the reader to see the pathetically perverse side of Bundy that is so easily forgotten when watching his charming ways on camera right until the evening before he was finally executed in 1989. It truly feels like talking with this serial killer. A truly recommended reading for anyone interested in this particular case study or in understanding antisocial personality disorder more deeply.

References

Michaud, S.G. and Aynesworth, H. (2019) Ted Bundy: Conversations with a Killer, London, Mirror Books.

Loftus, E. and Ketcham, K. (1991) Witness for the Defense: The Accused, the Eyewitness, and the Expert Who Puts Memory on Trial, New York, St. Martin’s Press, pp. 61-91.