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Let's Stop Pretending These Mass Shootings Are A Coincidence

Children of a youth sports community participate in a vigil for the victims of Saturday's mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019. (Andres Leighton/AP)
Children of a youth sports community participate in a vigil for the victims of Saturday's mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019. (Andres Leighton/AP)

Often, you have to go back to the beginning to get to the bottom of something. So let’s hop in the time machine and zip back to June 16, 2015, the date our sitting president announced his candidacy.

He rode down a golden escalator in his New York skyscraper and addressed the bank of cameras dutifully assembled: “Wow. Woah. That is some group of people. Thousands.” (This was a lie. There were not thousands of people. There were a few dozen, most of whom had been paid $50 by the campaign to play the role of rabid supporters on TV.)

He went on to make the following statement: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us [sic]. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists.”

On Saturday, a young white Trump supporter entered a Walmart in El Paso, Texas and killed 20 people. His intention, according to the manifesto he appears to have proudly posted online was to murder “as many Mexicans as possible.”

Can we please stop pretending this is all a coincidence?

The president didn’t invent racial demagoguery, or white supremacy, or white victimization. He has simply triggered the deadly leap from ideation to action.

Hours after the El Paso massacre, another white young man, this one draped in body armor and carrying an automatic weapon, entered a bar in Dayton, Ohio and murdered nine people, six of them African-American.

Again: can we stop pretending it’s “just a coincidence” that his president continually insults people of color and stokes feelings of white victimization?

Can we stop pretending that it’s a coincidence that a man who mailed bombs to prominent Democrats was a Trump superfan who came to view the president’s opponents as worthy of mass murder?

We must recall the president’s bizarre inaugural address, in which he painted America as a wasteland of violence. This dark and distorted portrait of our nation needs to be seen for what it was: prophecy.

“This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” he pledged.

But what his most inflamed supporters heard wasn’t a call for the restoration of peace and order. It was a call to war, a call for violence to be taken up by white people.

Law enforcement officials block a road at the scene of a mass shooting at a shopping complex Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. (John Locher/AP)
Law enforcement officials block a road at the scene of a mass shooting at a shopping complex Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. (John Locher/AP)

And so it has come to pass. America is growing hundreds of young white jihadists eager to use automatic weapons to slaughter innocent people of color.

The president didn’t invent racial demagoguery, or white supremacy, or white victimization. He has simply triggered the deadly leap from ideation to action.

The idea that these terrorists are “lone wolves” driven by mental illness, or violent video games, is a flimsy excuse offered up by cowardly leaders who refuse to face their complicity.

The shooters clearly see themselves as racial martyrs who congregate in packs online to egg each other on. “Do your part and spread this brothers!” That’s what the El Paso shooter allegedly wrote to his brethren in his manifesto. “Keep up the good fight.”

Dylann Roof, the young man who slaughtered nine African-American parishioners in a church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, explained to the FBI that he had no choice but to commit the murders: “We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

Roof is now considered a martyr among the white supremacists who congregate online.

As more and more white jihadists mount attacks, Americans are coming to recognize the contours of stochastic terrorism, which was defined by an anonymous blogger in 2011 as, “the use of mass communications to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable."

There are obvious ways to save lives here. The president — and right-wing media demagogues — could stop using racism to incite aggrieved white people. The FCC could shut down digital forums devoted to fomenting hate. Congress could pass sensible gun control laws, measures that place public safety above the dirty money of the gun lobby. I’m a personal fan of the proposal popularized by Gloria Steinem: start treating young men who want to purchase guns the same way we treat young women who want to get abortions.

Mourners gather at a vigil following a nearby mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. Multiple people in Ohio have been killed in the second mass shooting in the U.S. in less than 24 hours, and the suspected shooter is also deceased, police said. (John Minchillo/AP)
Mourners gather at a vigil following a nearby mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. Multiple people in Ohio have been killed in the second mass shooting in the U.S. in less than 24 hours, and the suspected shooter is also deceased, police said. (John Minchillo/AP)

But none of those things is going to happen.

The president and Republicans in Congress are not going to be swayed by issues of conscience, or by public opinion. If these nihilists can witness the massacre of 20 6-year-olds at Sandy Hook Elementary School and not do a thing, they are literally telling you — out loud and in capital letters — WE WILL NEVER DO ANYTHING.

The mass murders we’re witnessing are not “senseless.” The murderers have a common ideology. They hate specific groups of people. And they murder those people.

The only force powerful enough to stem this tide of domestic terrorism is democracy itself.

You know this already. The carnage will not stop until these merchants of racial hatred — and those who keep them supplied with weapons — are turned out of office.

If you’re not an active part of that effort, you’re part of the problem.

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Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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