Mass-Shootings as Expressions of U.S. Racism

Nineteenth century U.S. racism, resting in part on biblical myth (the curse of Ham) and Social Darwinist notions of racial hierarchies, focused on the defense of slavery and suppression of uppity blacks. Its cruelest, most terrorist tool was the lynching. Twenty-first century racism rests on the myth of a lost golden era of white (“White”) prosperity and happiness in the Promised Land, a halcyon time gradually stolen by waves of unwelcome unassimilable brown people; it focuses on whites as victims, and the expulsion and exclusion of these others. Its current weapon of choice is the mass-shooting.

Lynchings were a statement to blacks: Live in fear. Mass-shootings are a statement to immigrants, Hispanics, African-Americans, Jews, Muslims—anyone challenging white nationalism—to similarly live in fear. Go home or risk death in a land that doesn’t want you.

But lynchings were coordinated group affairs, conducted by law enforcement and/or the Klan. Mass-shootings are usually loner affairs, solo actions often by suicide attackers. The latter cannot imagine that their individual efforts will produce the social transformation they crave; rather, they hope to inspire others to launch similar attacks, sharpening up social conflict resulting somehow, someday in a restoration of White Power. The shooter is thus part of a noble process larger than himself, to be recorded, living or dead, in the annals of White Pride. Often he’s connected to others through social media. If he’s not reborn in a Valhalla he will live on in cyberspace and the hearts of like-minded Volk.

Notice how this kind of racist white nationalism resembles the al-Qaeda variety of Islamist terrorism. Sensationalist acts of terrorism, justified by manifestos claiming victimization; the expectation of copycat actions and mass “radicalization”; some kind of apocalyptic climax. For bin Laden it was the restoration of the 8th century Caliphate; for the white supremacists, it’s an America made great again under firm white rule.

Nineteenth-century racism was this-worldly, affirming the status quo. Today’s racism is focused on the future America, whiter and greater. Donald Trump has obviously helped construct this racism.

One might point out that the mass-shooters are delusional; there will be no general race war; the people of this country including its whites will never accept ethnic-based slaughter. But then, the people did elect a presidential candidate who had made numerous racist statements, and advocated racist policies, many not even acknowledging or recognizing that he was racist. And his statements resonate with some would-be gunmen, like the El Paso murderer whose on-line manifesto alluded to a Mexican “invasion” of the U.S. It is quite likely that the present pattern of routine white nationalist mass-shootings will continue.

At a certain point al-Qaeda called on motivated individuals to take independent action to kill the enemy. So did ISIL, and many have responded to the call. Solo white supremacists are similarly following the calls of Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik and Australian Brenton Tarrant to take bold solitary action against non-white aliens.

Meanwhile the Trump administration is using terror tactics at the border, including family separations, to frighten Central Americans from applying for asylum. While such cruelty is not unprecedented in our history, Trump has made meanness the face of U.S. policy, and this pleases his base—the base that would send Ilhan Omar back to Somalia because she criticizes Trump.

So on the one hand, the lone gunman, acting in isolation, planning a moment of murderous glory; on the other, the president broadcasting white supremacist sentiments, validating anti-immigrant feelings in particular if not mass carnage. Trump having coasted to power largely on the basis of his overt racist views, cannot speak out against racism and white supremacy with any credibility. (It did not help that he confused Dayton with Toledo in a teleprompter speech.) He may be obliged to try, and make a couple more teleprompter speeches, but in the end he will need to retain the Breitbart right with the requisite race-baiting.

The Democrats for their part will continue to blame Trump for creating a racist atmosphere by his “rhetoric.” Trump’s adherents will reply that the “white supremacy problem” is a “hoax,” as Tucker Carlson has done on Fox News—a hoax designed to defame good loyal Trump-supporting Americans. The contradictions will intensify; the issue of racism will be confronted and debated as never before; the lines will be drawn; the white nationalists will be isolated and defeated. But before that happens we will need confront the problem of capitalism, and its relationship to racism and national oppression.

Why do Republican lawmakers solidly back an obviously racist president? It’s all about the Benjamins, baby. To retain their electoral support, and thus attract donors, they cannot attack Trump. They are obliged (even as some hold their noses) to cater to racists, due to the very nature of the system. Thus even as science debunks the very concept of “race,” racism thrives in contemporary America. Even as progressive civil lights legislation has produced undoubted progress for many African-Americans, the racist Crime Bill of 1994 led to the incarceration of more black men than were enslaved in 1862, many in for-profit capitalist institutions contracted by the government. Even as Muslims struggle to win understanding of their community and religion, rapid Islamophobia leads to (ridiculous, unnecessary) laws banning Sharia law and Trump’s call for a Muslim ban.

One faction of the U.S. ruling class is comfortable with Trump’s racist program. This guarantees that white supremacists will for now flourish and indulge both in collective actions (like the Charlottesville torch-lit march) and loner attacks. With each attack, calls for background checks mount, met with ferocious NRA resistance; thus the struggle against racist mass-murder is closely linked to the struggle for gun control.

The struggle to prevent more El Pasos and Daytons is a struggle against a racist presidency, America’s insane gun culture rooted in its unusually violent history, and grass-roots white racism and nationalism buoyed by the ascension of Trump. The responses to Trump’s visits to the two cities, in obligatory response to tragedy, will show how deep the divisions are in this racist country. There is no way the president can “heal” them given his history. And there’s no way racism will go away in this country without the moves towards economic equality that will probably require a revolution, with or without guns.

More articles by:

Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

August 22, 2019
George Ochenski
Breaking the Web of Life
Kenneth Surin
Boris Johnson’s Brexit Helter Skelter
Enrique C. Ochoa – Gilda L. Ochoa
It’s About Time for Ethnic Studies in Our K-12 Schools
Steve Early
A GI Rebellion: When Soldiers Said No to War
Clark T. Scott
Sanders And Bezos’s Shared, Debilitating, Basic Premise
Dan Corjescu
The Metaphysics of Revolution
Mark Weisbrot
Who is to Blame for Argentina’s Economic Crisis?
Howard Lisnoff
To Protect and Serve
Cesar Chelala
A Palestinian/Israeli Experiment for Peace in the Middle East
Binoy Kampmark
No Deal Chaos: the Brexit Cliff Face and Operation Yellowhammer
Josue De Luna Navarro
For True Climate Justice, Abolish ICE and CBP
Dean Baker
The NYT’s Upside Down Economics on Germany and the Euro Zone
August 21, 2019
Craig Collins
Endangered Species Act: A Failure Worth Fighting For?
Colin Todhunter
Offering Choice But Delivering Tyranny: the Corporate Capture of Agriculture
Michael Welton
That Couldn’t Be True: Restorying and Reconciliation
John Feffer
‘Slowbalization’: Is the Slowing Global Economy a Boon or Bane?
Johnny Hazard
In Protest Against Police Raping Spree, Women Burn Their Station in Mexico City.
Tom Engelhardt
2084: Orwell Revisited in the Age of Trump
Binoy Kampmark
Condescension and Climate Change: Australia and the Failure of the Pacific Islands Forum
Kenn Orphan – Phil Rockstroh
The Dead Letter Office of Capitalist Imperium: a Poverty of Mundus Imaginalis 
George Wuerthner
The Forest Service Puts Ranchers Ahead of Grizzlies (and the Public Interest)
Stephen Martin
Geopolitics of Arse and Elbow, with Apologies to Schopenhauer.
Gary Lindorff
The Smiling Turtle
August 20, 2019
James Bovard
America’s Forgotten Bullshit Bombing of Serbia
Peter Bolton
Biden’s Complicity in Obama’s Toxic Legacy
James Phillips
Calm and Conflict: a Dispatch From Nicaragua
Karl Grossman
Einstein’s Atomic Regrets
Colter Louwerse
Kushner’s Threat to Palestine: An Interview with Norman Finkelstein
Nyla Ali Khan
Jammu and Kashmir: the Legitimacy of Article 370
Dean Baker
The Mythology of the Stock Market
Daniel Warner
Is Hong Kong Important? For Whom?
Frederick B. Mills
Monroeism is the Other Side of Jim Crow, the Side Facing South
Binoy Kampmark
God, Guns and Video Games
John Kendall Hawkins
Toni Morrison: Beloved or Belovéd?
Martin Billheimer
A Clerk’s Guide to the Unspectacular, 1914
Elliot Sperber
On the 10-Year Treasury Bonds 
August 19, 2019
John Davis
The Isle of White: a Tale of the Have-Lots Versus the Have-Nots
John O'Kane
Supreme Nihilism: the El Paso Shooter’s Manifesto
Robert Fisk
If Chinese Tanks Take Hong Kong, Who’ll be Surprised?
Ipek S. Burnett
White Terror: Toni Morrison on the Construct of Racism
Arshad Khan
India’s Mangled Economy
Howard Lisnoff
The Proud Boys Take Over the Streets of Portland, Oregon
Steven Krichbaum
Put an End to the Endless War Inflicted Upon Our National Forests
Cal Winslow
A Brief History of Harlan County, USA
Jim Goodman
Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue is Just Part of a Loathsome Administration