The Intersection of White Nationalism and the Propensity for Mass Murder

The world is still reeling days after an Australian gunman opened fire at two mosques in Christchurch New Zealand killing 50 people. The shooter, a fervent white nationalist, had posted a manifesto online before the attack and horrifically live streamed the shooting to Facebook. The video was taken down 1.5 million times within the first 24 hours. That means over a million people wanted to share the slaughter of innocent people with their friends and family on the social media platform. It was also shared by President Erdogan of Turkey to stoke anti-Muslim sentiments during a campaign rally for his re-election.

We’ve gotten to the point in the existence of humanity that we’re using live video footage of a vicious hate crime as political propaganda. Let that sink in.

This attack is indicative that the world has a major problem stemming from the wilds of the Internet. What was once lauded as a tool to educate, enlighten, and connect the world is also, in parallel, a tool to spread misinformation, bigotry, and hate. The world is witnessing the rapid proliferation of far-right ideologies, transforming mostly disaffected white men in their 20’s into immigrant fearing, manifest destiny-inspired racists often beginning in the rancorous corners of 4chan, Youtube, and other social media sites.

The rise of white nationalism across the world is undeniable, but it is skyrocketing in the United States. The Southern Poverty Law Center states that 2018 was the deadliest year on record for attacks carried out by the alt-right. Data compiled by Quartz shows that terror incidents in the US since 2012 have gone up 500%. Of all domestic terrorism attacks in the US between 2008- 2017, 71% were carried out by far-right extremists, 26% by Islamic extremists, and 3% by left-wing extremists. While this is, in itself, alarming, the number of attacks by right-wing extremists shot up 20% between 2016 and 2017. We are on a dangerous path as a nation… but that’s old news.

While many point to Donald Trump as an instigator for the far right, these attacks have been on the rise since Barack Obama became president. Racist attacks are an undeniable backlash to the nation electing our first black president, but these ambushes have exponentially increased in the Trump era. After Trump claimed that “very fine people” were on both sides of the alt-right rally and counter-protest in Charlottesville that left Heather Heyer dead, the nation was forced to reevaluate the role of the president in the rise of the alt-right.

Trump’s adamant fight to keep immigrants out of the country with an estimated 25 billion dollar wall continues to perpetuate racist ideologies that America is somehow not a nation of immigrants built on stolen land. His continued racist remarks call immigrants and refugees drug dealers, rapists, animals, and invaders — and that’s just along our southern border. He has, of course, instated a ban on people coming from Muslim-majority countries and called other nations from which immigrants come to the US as “shithole countries.” Like it or not, our president is profoundly racist.

We should not ignore the power that Trump’s words carry as president. His sentiments go further, are perceived with more validity, and normalize bigotry.

Often white nationalists are concerned about immigrant populations taking over their “birth-right” nations and seek to reclaim their white heritage and power. Much of Trump’s rhetoric plays right into these dangerous tropes.

It should be noted that most white nationalist ideologies are also deeply rooted in misogyny and toxic masculinity. Many manifestos left spoke strictly of man’s right and duty to fight for his race. Various sites discussed birthrates and how white women who have children with black men should be dispossessed.

Elliot Rodgers, a mass shooter who in 2014 killed 6 people and injured 14, left behind a manifesto discussing his hatred for interracial relationships and women — especially those who rebuffed his advances. Adam Lanza, the young man responsible for gunning down 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, left behind a file entitled “Selfish” proclaiming that women are naturally selfish, after being cared for by his mother who, as one doctor at Yale put it, was  “becoming a prisoner in her own house.” Lanza killed his mother first before attacking the school.

Perpetrators of such atrocities carry the delusion and inflated ego of not only white nationalism but also toxic masculinity, believing that their unique actions and verbose manifestos will shift the national or world dialog to bring about racial wars. Dylann Roof, the 24-year-old responsible for the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting in 2015 claimed that he did it to incite a “race war” but also said to his victims “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country, and you have to go.”

This rise in white nationalism is emboldening those on the fringes of society and on the fringes of sanity. Reports of white supremacist propaganda such as fliers, posters, and banners rose 182% between 2017 and 2018. We are at a precarious time in our nation’s history. A country built upon slavery and the usurping of land from Native Americans must face the racist cancer that continues to permeate our communities. The longer we kick the can down the road the more innocent lives will be lost.

While we can all agree something must be done, many Americans have become desensitized to the violence. It seems that only when it happens in our own backyards do people become galvanized in the fight. This just begs the question — how many backyards are we talking about?

Ann Lewis is an artist, activist, and writer based in Detroit. Her artwork reflects upon social and environmental justice issues.

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