Another shattering few days of violence, at least a good part of which was inflicted on communities of color in the name of white nationalism. Terrorism has become a pressing part of the American political scene as choreographed racist resentment and fear mongering inspire members of already active fascist groups to use weapons of war to kill and create even more fear. As philosopher Jason Stanley has been pointing out, these are some of the ways fascism works.
Although I have written many times before, alas, about how these mass killings underscore the importance of gun safety laws, it is imperative that we see and come to grips with the ideological dimensions of right-wing terrorism. If verified, the El Paso shooter’s manifesto provides a chilling look into the mechanisms of creating violence to defend white supremacy. The fear is of an invasion, or of being replaced, and instead of seeing a demographic transition, the author envisions an apocalyptic threat. As historian Kathleen Belew wrote of the manifesto in today’s New York Times:
It has paragraphs that give rote gesture to not being white supremacist, even as the document invokes phrase after phrase, ideological marker after ideological marker, of the white power movement. These are all markers of the genre.
We can all recognize the similarities with the rhetoric of the president, who on the one hand encourages violence against immigrants, and on the other hand will condemn the El Paso shooter as “deranged.” We see the “markers of the genre” in Trump’s discourse.
These mass shootings are not just meaningless acts of isolated, troubled individuals. They are the product of ideological rage and the rhetoric that goes with it.
What are we to do after we mourn the victims? First, we understand the mechanisms for promoting domestic terrorism, and we ensure that our institutions disrupt them. Second, we organize so as to create civic institutions that respect the diversity of our country and protect its most vulnerable inhabitants. This will involve creating a public sphere that inspires trust rather than fear, that promotes connectivity among people across their differences rather than the isolation of one group from another.
Colleges and universities have a role to play here, too. We must promote civic preparedness so that our students can learn from those with a variety of political, moral and aesthetic views without this openness compromising their abilities to fight fascism when it rears its ugly head. Violence, pseudo-science and fear are being “carefully taught” to those who would abide ethno-nationalism. We can counter this by teaching how to recreate a public sphere that is open to democratic participation and is fierce in the determination to fight terror.