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As the Shootings Continue
White supremacist "replacement theory" has fueled another massacre. Can something be done?
Here we are again. Another mass shooting. Another radicalized man motivated by white supremacy to commit murder.
This latest tragedy was no act of passion. This 18-year-old reportedly researched Tops Friendly Market’s predominately Black neighborhood in Buffalo, wrote a 180-page “manifesto” outlining his hateful views, plotted his plan to “kill as many black as possible,” drove several hours to the grocery store, strapped on body armor and loaded his assault rifle. Now, after livestreaming minutes of the massacre with a camera attached to his helmet, 10 humans are dead and three are injured.
We can and must talk about the epidemic of gun violence. Despite the constant barrage of reports that fill our daily news in America, it’s still hard to fathom there have already been 199 mass shootings in 2022. That’s an average of 10 mass shootings per week, offering about as tragic an illustration of a broken society that I can imagine.
We have every reason to demand an end to this travesty, and every reason to expect nothing will be done once again. Exhibit A: Republican intransigence. This despite the fact that 84 percent of American voters, including 77 percent of Republicans, support requiring all gun buyers to go through background checks and a majority of voters support stricter gun control laws.
But this mass shooting should make us pause and consider the expanding reality of domestic terrorism, triggered by a toxic climate of white nationalism fed by perpetrators like Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham on Fox News, and empowered by political leaders who look the other way or openly approve of it.
In this case, the New York killer reportedly paid tribute to the mass shooter who murdered 51 people in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019. He, too, was obsessed with the racist “replacement theory” that imagines a plot to replace white people with immigrants and other people of color.
This heinous event calls to mind the El Paso massacre in 2019, when another white supremacist drove 700 miles from Dallas to target Latinos in a Walmart. He killed 22 people and injured some two dozen others after posting a racist screed online railing against the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Also recall the white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, VA, in 2017, holding TIKI torches and chanting “Jews will not replace us”—as well as the murderer of 11 people at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018 who shouted at the scene “All Jews must die” after blaming a Jewish refugee settlement group for bringing in “invaders that kill our people.”
And then there’s the degrading, dehumanizing drumbeat from the previous White House occupant, who called refugees “vermin” who will “pour into and infest our country,” adding later, “These aren’t people. These are animals.” As a 2018 story by The Atlantic staff writer David A. Graham noted, explaining the increasingly violent, virulently racist climate, “What are infestations? They are takeovers by vermin, rodents, insects. What does one do with an infestation? Why, one exterminates it.”
In March 2021, seven weeks after the violent insurrection and Capitol attack on January 6, FBI Director Christopher Wray emphasized that domestic terrorism is a high priority of the bureau. He told Senators that the number of arrests for “racially motivated violent extremists” who are white supremacists tripled between 2017 and 2020. He also explained that, in 2019, the FBI “elevated racially and ethnically motivated violent extremism to our highest threat priority, on the same level with ISIS and homegrown violent extremists, where it remains to this day.”
Several months later, on June 15, 2021, Attorney General Merrick Garland reinforced this message and upped the ante, detailing a new “National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism.” This included improving efforts to “understand and share information regarding the full range of domestic terrorism threat…prevent domestic terrorists from successfully recruiting, inciting, and mobilizing Americans to violence…deter and disrupt domestic terrorist activity before it yields violence…and [address] the long-term issues that contribute to domestic terrorism in our country.”
To underline his point, Garland detailed many of the murderous attacks by white supremacists and offered this:
“Such attacks are not only unspeakable tragedies for the victims’ loved ones; they are also a tragedy for our country, an attack on our core ideals as a society. We must not only bring our federal resources to bear; we must adopt a broader, societal response to tackle the problem’s deeper roots.”
Inspiring words. But the killing spree in Buffalo this weekend is a reminder of all the unfinished work. Last spring, the Buffalo shooter was taken into custody for a psychiatric evaluation after saying at his high school outside Binghamton, NY, that he wanted to commit a murder-suicide. After a couple of days, The New York Times reported, he was released, graduated “and fell off investigators’ radar”—until Saturday.
Meanwhile, buoyed by supposed First Amendment freedoms, Fox News and its cynical millionaire entertainers continue to feed their viewers’ fears by scapegoating immigrants and other people of color and decrying “the flood of illegals” who will replace “legacy Americans” and make the country “poor and dirtier.”
But this talk is deeply satisfying to racist outlets like The Daily Stormer and celebrated by racist promoters like former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. The longer that Fox News and its acolytes are free to pollute cable and the airwaves, the more this violent domestic terrorism will continue to poison the body politic and cause more deaths among our fellow citizens.