High School Shooting: Columbine High riven by tensions

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The Independent Online
IN THE pecking order of high-school life they were the bottom of the social food chain.

Below geeks, below nerds, even below the derided and scorned stoners, lay the Trench Coat Mafia, a mixed-up group of anti-social, under-achieving loners glued together by their pseudo-creed of nihilistic neo-nazism.

Their teachers said they were brighter than most fellow students but in typical rebellious teenage fashion they scorned their studies to make a point.

Disaffected from mainstream school society they tried to forge their own identity by calling themselves the Anachronists, adopting their extreme gothic look of dark clothes, sunglasses, lipstick, eyeliner and the uniform of the now infamous black trenchcoat.

The 13 members worshipped a mish-mash of revisionist historian accounts of Adolf Hitler, and misunderstood the ironic lyrics of the "death metal" transvestite rock star Marilyn Manson.

But even this naive attempt to circumvent the system of high school cliques ended in failure. Instead of setting them apart, moving them outside of the social loop, it rooted them firmly at the bottom of ladder when the jocks - Columbine'sathletes - scornfully dubbed them the Trench Coat Mafia. It was the start of a simmering feud that would underpin an ugly series of fights - or "rumbles" - vandalism and threats between he Mafia and the jocks.

The weight of the jocks' mockery was exacerbated by the high regard in which the jocks are held at a school built on fierce social hierarchy. Columbine High prides itself on its athletic achievement, its sporting facilities are exceptional, and to be in the football team was a passport to popularity, parties and social acceptance. Dylan Klebold and other Trench Coats had reputations for being smart and skilled at computers.

Lee Andres, the choir teacher, remembers the 6ft 4in, blond Klebold as a smart kid. He ran the sound for one of last year's school musicals. "They were extremely bright, but not good students," Mr Andres told the Rocky Mountain News. "They disliked authority. They did not like to be told what to do."

By all accounts, they held a special hatred for athletes. "A couple of months ago, the jocks were supposed to fight them," said a football player. The jocks showed up, but the Trench Coats were two hours late, and they went to the wrong spot, he said. They also showed up carrying swords and brass knuckles - not the jocks' idea of a clean fight. The "rumble" was never rescheduled.

School officials and the Sheriff said they had had no discipline problems with Klebold or with Eric Harris. But then their disaffection was reserved for their website and their numerous postings to bulletin boards. On one website, a person identifying himself as a member of the "Mafia" declared: "Preparin' for the big april 20!! You'll all be sorry that day!" The date is that of Hitler's birthday. Another message, from somebody using the name AzMstr17, warned about a war against the Power Boyz, believed to be a reference to jocks, and declares that "Columbine High School sucks". Yesterday, investigators were examining the Internet for other messages that may have been posted by the killers or their friends. n The National Rifle Association yesterday cancelled its annual convention which was to have been held just miles from the scene of the shooting in Denver.

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