Giving hatred a deadly voice, part 2

Both the El Paso mass murderer and the killer of three people (two Hispanic children, ages 6 and 13, and a young African-American man) at a California garlic festival espoused white nationalist views and sentiments. While the motives and political views of the Ohio mass murderer (killed by police) are less clear, he opened fire in front of a bar reputedly frequented by African-Americans, and six of his nine victims were black. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center — a civil rights organization in Montgomery, Alabama, that monitors hate groups — states that white nationalists have expressed solidarity with the El Paso shooter. They also mocked the victims. 

Twitter feeds and extreme right-wing websites are replete with white nationalist rants. Speaking of the El Paso killer, one contributor stated: “Agree with the shooter that the Dems see immigration as a path to permanent power and that pro-business elements in the GOP are cooperating. … This won’t be the last bit of violence from people concerned with the Great Replacement.”

For white nationalists, the “Great Replacement” refers to a global conspiracy wherein white people are being systematically replaced by non-whites in Western countries (the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Europe). The anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic Nazis who marched in Virginia two years ago chanted, “Jews will not replace us.” Just before he killed 22 people in El Paso, the shooter posted an online manifesto stating he was “defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement.” 

The Great Replacement is often coupled with “acceleration” — the belief among some far-right extremists that engaging in terrorism will lead to the collapse of society and the construction of a new social order solely for white non-Jews. After the El Paso massacre, a writer posted the words “ACCELERATE ACCELERATE” on an extremist website. 

Some white nationalists are brutally frank about their goals as well as the strategy to achieve them. One wrote: “I unequivocally support the killing of children. I believe our enemies need such a level of atrocity inflicted upon them and their homes that they are afraid to ever threaten the white race with genocide again. We will not relent until after their daughters are raped in front of them. … We will not relent until the cries of their infants are silenced by the boots stomping their brains out onto the pavement.”

While some extremists advocate killing “High-Value Targets” (politicians and public figures), others believe murdering “normal people” is preferable because “it tells everyday people that terror can happen to them and those around them.” Both groups should be targeted, one individual wrote, and the killers “deserve Sainthood.” 

White males have committed more mass shootings than any other group. Criminologist and mass-murder expert Alan Fox notes some of these men are motivated by a sense of entitlement: “They often complain their job was taken over by blacks or Mexicans or Jews. They feel that a well-paid job is their birthright. It’s a blow to their psyche” when they lose those jobs.

Firearms are the weapons of choice for white nationalist terrorists as well other mass murderers. FBI data indicate there were approximately 27 million gun purchases in 2016, and this figure does not include weapons that were sold privately or given away. According to one estimate, 40% of all guns sales are private transactions with no background checks. This figure has been highly criticized by pro-gun groups as being much too high. However, even if private gun sales account for only 10% of all gun transactions, approximately 3 million guns changed hands in 2016 with no buyer background checks. Only 17 states (including New York) and the District of Columbia require background checks on private gun sales. 

According to a 2017 Pew Research report, just over three-quarters (76%) of Democrats say the ease with which people can legally obtain guns contributes a great deal or fair amount to gun violence, compared with just 39% of Republicans. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 94% of voters and 90% of gun owners support requiring background checks for all gun buyers.

Despite such overwhelming support for universal background checks, President Donald Trump has acquiesced to the NRA, which categorically rejects any such requirements. After the shooting massacre at Marjorie Stoneman High School in Florida last year (17 people killed), Trump stated he supported expanded background checks. The president mocked fellow Republicans for being “petrified” of the NRA, noting he wouldn’t cave in to that organization’s demands to halt any enhanced background check legislation. Trump caved, and the proposed legislation fizzled. At a campaign rally two weeks after the El Paso and Dayton slaughters, Trump stated, “People don’t realize we have very strong background checks right now.” Another cave-in.

There appears to be some bipartisan support for “red flag laws” — state laws authorizing police to temporarily confiscate guns from individuals deemed by a judge to be a danger to themselves and/or others. Researchers from the University of California at Davis found that in the three years since California implemented the nation’s first red flag law, at least 21 likely mass shootings have been averted. These individuals “made a clear declaration of intent to commit a mass shooting” or exhibited behavior suggesting such an intent. In seven instances, defendants threatened workplace violence against relatives, co-workers or former co-workers. In five cases, individuals threatened violence against schools or children.

Do state-level red flag ordinances have a chance of being passed across the country? Or will elected officials, terrified the NRA will actively oppose them in the next election if they support these proposed laws, cave in to that organization just as Trump has? 

Between August 1966 and April 1999 there was, on average, a mass murder shooting (defined as four or more people killed, excluding the shooter) in public places or large private gatherings every 180 days. From April 1999 to June 2015 and the killing of nine African-Americans in a South Carolina church, there was a mass shooting, on average, once every 84 days. From June 2015 through the Dayton massacre, there has been a mass murder shooting, on average, every 47 days.

How long before we have a gun-related mass murder every month? Every week? 

P.S. Sales have increased every year since 2016 for children’s bulletproof vests and backpacks. Some are adorned with Disney princesses and Avengers superheroes. Office Max and Office Depot offer bulletproof vests with their “back-to-school” supplies. Only in America.

George J. Bryjak lives in Bloomingdale and is retired after 24 years of teaching sociology at the University of San Diego.


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