American carnage in Texas and Ohio
The nation was thrust into a fraught national reckoning on guns, white nationalism, and domestic terrorism this week, after at least 31 people were killed and dozens more wounded in mass shootings in Texas and Ohio. In El Paso, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius shot and killed 22 people and wounded 26 others with a semi-automatic rifle inside a crowded Walmart before surrendering to police. Just before driving from an affluent Dallas suburb to commit the shooting, the gunman posted a racist manifesto on 8chan, a message board frequented by white supremacists, in which he said the attack was a response to the “Hispanic invasion of Texas” and “open borders,” and the Democrats’ attempt to “enact a political coup by importing and then legalizing millions of new voters.” This was an echo of President Trump’s frequent rhetoric about the influx of Central American migrants at the border, but the shooter said he’d developed his anti-immigrant views before Trump.
Less than 15 hours later in Dayton, 24-year-old Connor Betts used an AR-15 to kill nine people and wound 27 outside a bar in a popular nightlife area in a rampage that lasted only 30 seconds before he was killed by police. The shooter’s sister was among the victims. A self-declared “leftist” on social media, the gunman had a history of threatening women and kept a “hit list” of people he wanted to kill or rape, acquaintances said. One of the gunman’s ex-girlfriends said he was obsessed with mass shootings and told her that he heard voices and wanted to “hurt a lot of people.”
President Trump visited Dayton and El Paso in the aftermath of the shootings, where he faced protests for his opposition to gun control and his anti-immigrant rhetoric. Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), a Hispanic congresswoman who represents the El Paso area, said Trump was “not welcome” in her city. “Words have consequences, and the president has made my community and my people the enemy,” Escobar said.
What the editorials said
White nationalist terrorism “is a serious and growing reality,” said the Los Angeles Times. According to the Anti-Defamation League, 73.3 percent of all extremist-related deaths in the U.S. over the past decade have been linked to right-wing terrorists like the El Paso shooter. In a televised speech he read off a teleprompter, President Trump belatedly called on Americans to condemn “white supremacy” and “hatred.” He “should start with himself.” Trump has been “fanning the flames of division and fear” for years, and while the El Paso gunman may have learned to view Hispanic immigration as an infestation of vermin from online cesspools, Trump has legitimized that bigotry and brought it into the mainstream.
What about the Dayton shooter? asked The Wall Street Journal. The mass murderer in Ohio appears to have had leftist politics. More importantly, he was a deeply disturbed man who was allegedly obsessed with mass shootings and openly fantasized about committing violence. The twisted motivations of mass killers “are varied and often too convoluted to sort into any clear ideology.” The common thread is that both the El Paso and Dayton shooters were angry, isolated young men who felt alienated “in our increasingly atomistic culture.” Blaming individual politicians or ideologies is “pointless and counterproductive.”
What the columnists said
There are “disturbing parallels” between radical Islam and white nationalism, said Jonathan Last in TheBulwark.com. Just like followers of ISIS and other Islamist terror groups, white supremacists are obsessed with purity and use social media to spread their agenda, radicalize others, and celebrate terrorist acts. Imagine how the country would have responded if the El Paso shooter had labeled himself a “jihadist,” said David French in National Review.com. Law enforcement needs the resources and the mandate to pursue “racist radicals” with the same intensity as ISIS. “It’s time to declare war on white-nationalist terrorism.”
That will never happen while Trump is in office, said Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times. The Trump administration has slashed millions of dollars in funding dedicated to monitoring and combating white supremacist terrorism while signaling to Justice Department employees that such efforts would be unwelcome. A former FBI supervisor has said agents feel “reluctant” to investigate groups and individuals that “the president perceives as his base.” Meanwhile, Trump has done more than anyone to mainstream white nationalist tropes, and he “probably couldn’t bottle up the hideous forces he’s helped unleash even if he wanted to.”
It’s not just Trump, said Adam Serwer in TheAtlantic.com. Right-wing media increasingly traffics in white nationalist talking points. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson—who declared this week that the threat of white supremacy is a “hoax”—regularly depicts the browning of America through immigration as a dire threat. Laura Ingraham has told viewers that Democrats “want to replace you” with illegal immigrants, a version of the “great replacement” conspiracy theory embraced by the El Paso shooter. America, we have a serious white supremacy problem.
Federal agencies are “scrambling” to meet the domestic terrorism threat with limited resources, said Laura Strickler in NBCNews.com. Two years ago, the Homeland Security office responsible for combating domestic terrorism had a staff of 16 employees and a budget of $21 million. Staffing cuts have left it with just eight employees and a budget of $2.6 million. Roughly 80 percent of the FBI’s counterterrorism agents are focused on “foreign ideologies” like Islamist extremism. That includes agents investigating homegrown jihadists. Federal officials also face legal obstacles in pursuing domestic terrorism, said Sabrina Tavernise in The New York Times. Obtaining wiretap warrants is more difficult, and white supremacist rhetoric—unlike jihadist calls for violence—is protected by the First Amendment. “If they did the same thing that they did with the Muslims,” said Martin R. Stolar, a New York civil rights lawyer, “the blowback would be outrageous.”
Cover illustration by Howard McWilliam.
Cover photos from AP, Newscom (2) ■