Sometimes I get the feeling that we are
building a machine that will crush us all.
In 2004, an otherwise quiet man named Marvin built a “killdozer” and put it into action. As a curious aside, the Russian film, “Leviathan” by Andrei Zviaginstev, cited the world over as a depiction of corruption in Russian society and the Russian Orthodox Church, was based on this incident that occurred in Granby, Colorado. After hearing about Marvin Heermeyer’s adventure, Zviaginstev conceived the idea for a film and wanted to shoot it in the United States. In Zviaginstev’s words, “At first we wanted to put him (the film’s protagonist) on a tractor and have him bulldoze the mayor.”1 . But after reading other similar stories, he realized that this is a universal theme and adapted the screenplay to modern Russia.
Fr. Pavel Gumerov also discusses this universal theme, only from the spiritual and psychological point of view.
Not long ago I heard about an incident that once shook America and became known far beyond the borders of the United States. This story took place in 2004 in a small town in Colorado. This episode inspired me to turn once again to the theme of anger and our struggle with it. First, we must briefly retell the story.
[We insert here excerpts from Wikipedia.—O.C.]
Heemeyer lived in Grand Lake, Colorado, about 16 miles (26 km) away from Granby. According to a neighbor, Heemeyer moved to town more than 10 years before the incident. Heemeyer's friends stated that he had no relatives in the Granby–Grand Lake area.
John Bauldree, a friend of Heemeyer, said that Heemeyer was a likable person. Ken Heemeyer said his brother "would bend over backwards for anyone". While many people described Heemeyer as an affable person, Christie Baker claimed that Heemeyer threatened her husband after he refused to pay for a disputed muffler repair. Baker said her husband later paid Heemeyer $124 via an intermediary.
In 1992, Heemeyer bought 2 acres (0.81 hectares) of land from the Resolution Trust Corporation, the federal agency organized to handle the assets of failed savings and loan institutions. He bought the land for $42,000 to build a muffler shop and subsequently agreed to sell the land to Mountain Park Concrete to build a concrete batch plant. The agreed price was $250,000 but, according to Susan Docheff, Heemeyer changed his mind and increased the price to $375,000 and later demanded a deal worth approximately $1 million. Some believe this negotiation happened before the rezoning proposal was heard by the town council.
In 2001, the zoning commission and the town's trustees approved the construction of a cement manufacturing plant. Heemeyer appealed the decisions unsuccessfully. For many years, Heemeyer had used the adjacent property as a way to get to his muffler shop. The plan for the cement plant blocked that access. In addition to the frustration engendered by this dispute over access, Heemeyer was fined $2,500 by the Granby government for various violations, including "junk cars on the property and not being hooked up to the sewer line."
As a last measure, Heemeyer petitioned the city with his neighbors and friends, but to no avail. He could not function without the sewer line and the cooperation of the town.
Heemeyer used an armor-plated Komatsu D355A bulldozer to destroy 13 buildings in Granby, Colorado.
Heemeyer leased his business to a trash company and sold the property several months before the rampage; he had bought a bulldozer two years before the incident, with the intention of using it to build an alternative route to his muffler shop, but city officials rejected his request to build it.
Notes found by investigators after the incident indicate that the primary motivation for the bulldozer rampage was his fight to stop a concrete plant from being built near his shop. These notes indicated that he held grudges over the zoning approval. "I was always willing to be reasonable until I had to be unreasonable", he wrote. "Sometimes reasonable men must do unreasonable things.” Heemeyer took about a year and a half to prepare; in his notes he wrote: "It is interesting to observe that I was never caught. This was a part-time project over a 1½ year time period." Clearly he was surprised that several men, who had visited the shed late the previous year, had not noticed the modified bulldozer "...especially with the 2000-pound lift fully exposed". "Somehow their vision was clouded", he wrote.
The machine used in the incident was a Komatsu D355A bulldozer fitted with makeshift armor plating covering the cabin, engine and parts of the tracks. In places this armor was over 1 foot (30 cm) thick, consisting of 5000-psi Quikrete concrete mix sandwiched between sheets of tool steel (acquired from an automotive dealer in Denver), to make ad-hoc composite armor. This made the machine impervious to small arms fire and resistant to explosives: indeed three external explosions and more than 200 rounds of ammunition fired at the bulldozer had no effect on it.
For visibility the bulldozer was fitted with several video cameras linked to two monitors mounted on the vehicle's dashboard; the cameras were protected on the outside by 3-inch (76 mm) shields of bullet-resistant plastic. Onboard fans and an air conditioner were used to keep Heemeyer cool while driving, and compressed-air nozzles were fitted to blow dust away from the video cameras. He had made three gun-ports, fitted for a .50 caliber sniper rifle, a .308 semi-automatic, and a .22 long rifle, all fitted with a half-inch-thick steel plate. Heemeyer apparently had no intention of leaving the cabin once he entered it. Authorities speculated he may have used a homemade crane—found in his garage—to lower the armor hull over the dozer and himself. "Once he tipped that lid shut, he knew he wasn't getting out", Daly said. Investigators searched the garage where they believe Heemeyer built the vehicle and found cement and armor steel.
Afterwards the modified bulldozer came to be known as "Killdozer", although only Heemeyer was killed in the event by a self-inflicted gun shot
On June 4, 2004, Heemeyer drove his armored bulldozer through the wall of his former business, the concrete plant, the Town Hall, the office of the local newspaper that editorialized against him, the home of a former judge's widow, and a hardware store owned by another man Heemeyer named in a lawsuit, as well as others. Owners of all the buildings that were damaged had some connection to Heemeyer's disputes.
The rampage lasted 2 hours 7 minutes, destroying 13 buildings, knocking out natural gas service to City Hall and the concrete plant, and damaging a truck and part of a utility service center. Despite the great damage to property, no one besides Heemeyer was killed. The cost of the damage was estimated at $7 million…
Defenders of Heemeyer contended that he made a point of not hurting anybody during his bulldozer rampage; Ian Daugherty, a bakery owner, said Heemeyer "went out of his way" not to harm anyone. Others offered different views. The sheriff's department argues that the fact that no one was injured was not due to good intent as much as it must have been due to luck. Heemeyer had installed two rifles in firing ports on the inside of the bulldozer, and fired 15 bullets from his rifle at power transformers and propane tanks. "Had these tanks ruptured and exploded, anyone within one-half mile (800 m) of the explosion could have been endangered", the sheriff's department said; within such a range were 12 police officers and residents of a senior citizens complex. The sheriff's department also asserted Heemeyer fired many bullets from his semi-automatic rifle at Cody Docheff when Docheff tried to stop the assault on his concrete batch plant by using a wheel tractor-scraper, which was pushed aside by Heemeyer's bulldozer. Later, Heemeyer fired on two state troopers before they had fired at him. The sheriff's department also notes that 11 of the 13 buildings Heemeyer bulldozed were occupied until moments before their destruction. At the town library, for example, a children's program was in progress when the incident began. There might have been casualties if local emergency response had not worked effectively.
One officer dropped a flash-bang grenade down the bulldozer's exhaust pipe, with no immediate apparent effect. Local and state police, including a SWAT team, walked behind and beside the bulldozer occasionally firing, but the armored bulldozer was impervious to their shots. Attempts to disable the bulldozer's cameras with gunfire failed as the bullets were unable to penetrate the 3-inch bullet-resistant plastic. At one point during the rampage, Undersheriff Glenn Trainor managed to climb atop the bulldozer and rode the bulldozer "like a bronc-buster, trying to figure out a way to get a bullet inside the dragon." However, he was eventually forced to jump off to avoid being hit with debris.
Two problems arose as Heemeyer destroyed the Gambles hardware store. The radiator of the dozer had been damaged and the engine was leaking various fluids, and Gambles had a small basement. The bulldozer's engine failed and Heemeyer dropped one tread into the basement and couldn't get out. About a minute later, one of the SWAT team members who had swarmed around the machine reported hearing a single gunshot from inside the sealed cab. It was later determined that Heemeyer had shot himself in the head with a .357-caliber handgun…
On April 19, 2005, it was announced that Heemeyer's bulldozer was being taken apart for scrap metal. It was planned that individual pieces would be dispersed to many separate scrap yards to prevent admirers of Heemeyer from taking souvenirs.
How did a law-abiding American taxpayer and hardworking citizen come to such a state? Of course, you can say that it was all because he was Vietnam veteran, the “Vietnam syndrome”. But although Marvin did indeed serve in Vietnam, he worked only as a mechanic at the aerodrome, maintaining U.S. airplanes, and it’s a question whether he ever took part in any military action. (Although, it’s understandable that war is war and leaves its mark on people who participate in it.)
It’s also hard to believe that Heermeyer was mentally ill. No one ever noticed any psychological abnormalities in him. Moreover he carried out his work on the bulldozer quite rationally, systematically, and thoroughly for a year and a half.
For us in who were born in the USSR and live in Russia, where, unfortunately, the “severity of the law was tempered by our optional observation of it”, and “the laws were like a pole—wherever it pointed, that’s were they’d go,” or as an old Russian saying goes, “don’t foreswear the prison or the beggar’s purse,” and this all applies to proletariat and oligarch alike, we have difficulty understanding why Marvin was so incensed over the authorities’ decision to expand the factory and redraw the boundaries of his own property after offering him monetary compensation. For us, unfortunately, such situations are a stark daily reality. When a new road, subdivision, or elite neighborhood has to be built, and a house that might be your childhood home needs to go, they mow it down and give you an apartment in a concrete box in a completely different region totally inconvenient to you. We see this happening all over the place. I recently learned how an acquaintance of mine lost her house and yard in an elite area of suburban Moscow. She was granted compensation, and she was even able to buy an apartment with the money. But did anyone ask her if she wanted this? This was in fact told to me by my close acquaintance, who will also probably be facing a similar resettlement. She lived in a dacha area twelve kilometers from Moscow, a city that is constantly growing, and private homes are being torn down to build high-rise apartments. Well, she and her husband and parents built the house over many years, often with their own hands. And she says that they will also soon be torn down, and she says it quite calmly, as about something that can’t be changed.
But all this would be an unthinkable outrage for the average American. How could they? It’s my property! It’s sacred, I am a free citizen in a free country. Although, corruption and defenselessness before the law happens even in America, especially now. Understandably, no one wants to leave the place they’ve always had, which they chose themselves and fixed up with their own hands. But after all, Heermeyer was offered a good amount of money, several times more than what the property really cost, as compensation for the emotional injury. And I can guess that there is a decent amount of free space in Colorado, unlike the Moscow suburbs. He could easily have bought another property and set up a larger and better shop, maybe two. Besides, there are worse things happening than loss of property; for example, when you or you family are unlawfully put in jail or when the state takes away your children—something that happens frequently now in Western countries.
But Marvin was acting out of principle. Why did he do it? He was obsessed with a passion—the passion of anger and pride. The devil found his weak spot. We recall that this man, according to the testimony of those who knew him, had a bad temper, tended to nurse a grudge, and took offense easily. Apparently his inclination towards anger, aggression, and sociopathic behavior prevented him from starting a family. We also know that Heermeyer had no family or close friends in or near the town where he lived. He had no one to care for, a care that could have softened his heart and become the goal of his life.
Wanting to destroy a person, our enemy the devil looks for the weak spot in his soul. As a rule, in psychology and in almost all world religions anger is considered a negative emotion, a state of passion, an emotional eruption. But anger is not terrible only for this. Anger is more than a destructive emotion. Christianity views anger as a passion. That is, a sinful dependency, an acquired chronic illness of the soul. It settles into the soul, grows roots there and swallows it, becoming a part of it. The person can no longer live without his dependency, his passion. He becomes its obedient slave. From the seed of the habit of getting irritated and angry grows the tree of passion.
The root of anger, as a rule, is pride. As St. Paisius of the Holy Mountain says, “Envy, condemnation, remembrance of wrongs, and so forth comes from pride. Pride is, so to speak, the general headquarters of all the passions.” Vanity, pride, the lack of desire for humility and a rootedness in this state led Marvin to the sad condition in which he lived for the last few years of his life.
Anger can be divided into to types: cold and hot. Just as there is cold war and direct military conflict, so can anger be expressed as a fit of rage, passion, or direct infliction of harm—or as cold, calculated revenge, fed by wounded vanity and pride. The latter is much more bitter and destructive than the former. The American welder was experiencing precisely the second state. All those years (from 2001-2004) he lived and fed on the passion of defensiveness, anger, and vengefulness—at first hatching his plans and then laboring over his “baby”. Calmly and rationally he thought out his plan for revenge. “Revenge is a dish best served cold,” as the eighteenth century French novel, Les Liaisons dangereuses,2 is attributed to as saying. Since that story was written that line has become very popular.
Heymeyer made his revenge a goal in itself, his reason for living, his credo and religion. He knew beforehand that after this deed he would not be leaving his tractor alive. His act was not the revenge of Monte Cristo, who desired to restore his good name and wealth. Nor was it the act of a Herostratus,3 who although punished was able to see the fruits of his destructive actions and peoples’ reactions, and knew that he would not be forgotten. Marvin did not need all that. Otherwise he would not have killed himself in the tractor cabin but calmly surrendered to the police and served a long term in a relatively humane American prison, giving interviews and watching himself on television. His task and aim were altogether something different. Passion, brought to its limits by the devil at the allowance of the man himself, is blind. It starts dominating and becomes a goal in itself. In this case the satisfaction of revenge that lasted no longer than an hour or so, since the bulldozer was capable of turning half the town into ruins, was the goal that Marvin was working towards over the course of three years.
I think that he probably many times imagined how the town would shudder at the lion like roar of the killdozer’s 400 horse-power engine; how the beams would tremble and the glass would shatter as the multi-ton steal and concrete monster rolls unstoppably over its targets; how his hated enemies’ offices and homes would crumble and fall. When the devil gave Marvin the chance to experience all this in reality, any continuation of his life lost all meaning to him. He was so blinded and intoxicated by anger and the thirst for revenge that he became indifferent to anything else. He no longer even cared that totally innocent people could suffer. It is only by God’s mercy that no one other than the perpetrator died. After all, there could have been people in or near the buildings he bulldozed, and the destroyer could not have known it. The local authorities testified that he fired fifteen rounds, including at an electric station and propane tanks, which might have killed much of the population. True, there are other witnesses who said that Heermeyer shot into the air in order to frighten the police. But in any case if you suddenly start bulldozing thirteen buildings in broad daylight while shooting left and right, only a miracle can save people from death.
When a man is obsessed with any sort of passion, no matter which—anger, drunkenness, or fornication—he does not think about others or about any consequences. The passion becomes the dominating feeling, which blinds the obsessed and kills or deadens all other feelings: love, responsibility, fear, or pain. Anger is called the murderer of love. The devil’s main aim is to destroy the life of the man who has succumbed to anger, his relationship to others, and, as the natural outcome, kill the man himself—mainly in order to destroy his immortal soul. Rightly does the passion of sadness come right after anger in the list of the passions,4 and then, as the manifestation of this passion, despair. An irascible person who tends towards anger is often in a state of despondency and despair, and everything repulses him—life and the world around him seem ugly and senseless. Despair is already a form of spiritual suicide. The next step is bodily departure from this life. When a person leaves this life of his own volition—of course barring religious or heroic reasons,5 this is always due to a loss of meaning in life. It seems to the suicide that there is no sense in him living any longer. That’s it, “Mohr (or Marvin?) has done his work, Mohr may depart.”6 There’s nothing left to live for.
It’s a terrible thing to make destruction and death the goal of your life instead of love, service of God and people, or even life itself or your own pleasure. It seems to me that you couldn’t think of anything worse. I feel sorry for the man. Forgive him, Lord, his voluntary and involuntary sins.
In my next article I will try to talk about how to war with the destructive passion of anger.
(To be continued.)