They are shootings du jour—we’re now up to 255 mass shootings (that means more than four people shot) so far this year. That’s more than one a day. The 22 people killed in El Paso on August 3 were four more than the average number of people murdered there every year.
By now we’re long past “thoughts and prayers.” In fact we’re way past “thoughts and prayers are not enough.” Yeah we know.
We’re also past “we need to get serious about background checks and mental illness solutions and red flags.” Yeah we’ve got to do all that. But we’re long past that too. At the end of the day, this isn’t just about guns.
“There’s a pattern. The shooters were once again young white men, armed with easily available military-style assault rifles. And once again, in ways too familiar to have to name, even in cities collapsed in collective grief, the motivation for the violence was white supremacy.”
There’s a pattern. The shooters were once again young white men, armed with easily available military-style assault rifles. And once again, in ways too familiar to have to name, even in cities collapsed in collective grief, the motivation for the violence was white supremacy: racism against people of color, xenophobia against migrants and asylum seekers, hatred of those whose skin is a different shade or who speak a different language or worship a different way.
White supremacy and its terrorism can look different in some ways. At the bombing of the Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, MN, the victims were Muslims. The eleven worshippers killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh were Jews. The nine killed in Mother Emmanuel Church in South Carolina were Black. In El Paso more than a third of the victims killed were Mexican citizens—at least eight out of 22—and at least seven of the wounded were Mexican as well, and a large majority of the others were Mexican-American—80% of El Paso is Latinx.
The victims in all these attacks were diverse in a whole host of ways—from race and nationality, to age and religion, language and countries of origin. But all of them were some combination of immigrants, supporters of immigrant rights, people of color, Muslims, Jews. They were people who were not white Christian Americans—all people whom white supremacists are taught to hate and to target.
The patterns remain. The killer of the Mother Emmanuel parishioners said Hitler would someday “be inducted as a saint,” and that unless white people “take violent action, we have no future.” The killer at the Tree of Life blamed the synagogue for supporting Central American migrants seeking refuge in the United States. The bomber of the Islamic Center told the FBI that his goal was designed “to scare” Muslims out of the United States.
And in El Paso the killer raged at the “Hispanic invasion” taking over his country. The exact same words his president used while raging at the Central American refugee “invasion”—the impoverished and desperate families walking hundreds or thousands of miles north to escape the violence and terror of their homelands.
Like those earlier attacks, the driving force in El Paso was all about racism and white supremacy—killing, scaring, driving out immigrants, those who were “other” than white native-born Christian U.S. citizens. He drove 600 miles from his home near Dallas to attack the city sitting virtually astride the U.S.-Mexican border. He came to kill brown people, to kill the Mexicans his president had warned him were “rapists” bringing drugs and crime to his country. To keep out the “invasion” that was turning his country into something other than the white majority, white controlled, white picket fenced-in country of his imaginary 1950s. Should we be surprised that counties that hosted Trump rallies in the run-up to the 2016 election saw an overall 226% increase in hate crimes? Two hundred and twenty-six percent.
We have to be careful not to let these attacks become normal. In Afghanistan it still makes news when 20 people are killed in one incident—like the attack on a government office some months ago in Kabul. And Afghanistan has been at war for more than 40 years—El Paso is not in a war zone. The U.S. is spending $716 billion of our tax money—53 cents of every discretionary dollar—on the military, fighting wars that are killing civilians and doing nothing to keep us safe, and essentially zero on fighting white supremacy.
In the first hours after the El Paso racist terror assault, media coverage was all about mental illness and gun laws. Then some began to at least consider the white supremacy at the root of the attack. CNN‘s anchor Wolf Blitzer, glued to his chair for hours of coverage, urged everyone to report to the police anything that could hint of violence to come. “If you see something online that’s full of hate,” he said, call the police, or the FBI. He didn’t say what to do if you saw “something online that’s full of hate” that came from the White House.
It’s long past time to say the crisis is a crisis of white supremacy and racist xenophobic violence—rooted in US history but now enabled and encouraged and cheered on by a white supremacist racist xenophobic president. What’s different is the president’s willingness to state and repeat and defend his racist, xenophobic rants. No defensiveness from this president—caught in the low act, he goes lower.
Speaking at a Florida rally a while ago, Trump shouted his certain-applause line, “how are we going to deal with people crossing [the US border] in such numbers?” Someone in the audience shouts “shoot them!” The crowd roars its approval. Trump stands back, cocks his head, smiling. Appreciating their cheers. Then he smirks, leans into the microphone, and says, “only in the Panhandle you could get away with that statement.” He’s just told the crowd they could shoot asylum seekers. He smiles. Only in the panhandle.
Except the racism, the xenophobia, the white supremacy—they’ve already spread far beyond the panhandle. That’s where the resistance goes too—spread far and wide beyond trump’s rallies.