By DONALD JONES
Like a recurring nightmare we have witnessed, now at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, the spectacle of yet another mass shooting. The fact that 17 people’s lives were snuffed out senselessly is tragedy that cuts to the quick of America’s soul. Even more tragic is the fact at this terrible carnage is no longer aberration. We are failing to protect our children.
There is an evangelical strain in American politics that seeks to paint the world in terms of good and evil, black and white. The debate over banning automatic guns is cast in these terms. What Nickolas Cruz did was evil. Liberals view automatic weapons the same way.
Automatic weapons are used only to kill, they say. Teen survivors hold rallies and demonstrations reminiscent of the civil right era. The gun advocates reply “Criminals don’t care about gun bans- any weapons ban you enact will only keep the guns out of the hands of law aiding citizens the criminals will still get them illegally.” The liberals reply the fact that laws will not always deter crime has never stopped us from banning dangerous things – like drugs for example. Both sides “know” they are right.
But, the bottom line is there has not been a weapons ban in 20 years. The NRA has too much money. And behind them deeper and stronger is a gun culture with deep roots in our history. Our conversation about guns has ceased to be a debate; it is a quagmire in which we as a society are bogged down while our children continue to be killed.
I see a way out of the quagmire. My solution is radical. Radical here does not mean extreme it means going to the root of the problem. What Nickolas Cruz did was an act of terror. We think of teenage gunmen who commit mass murders as troubled kids or as lone wolves, but not terrorists. We treat each of these terroristic acts as something sporadic, not organized violence.
And many government officials believe that to be an act of terrorism exists only if it is launched by an organized group. Said Elmer Toro of the New York Joint Terrorism Task force, “Unless you can prove to me that this guy organized this with others, you can’t call it terrorism.”
But what Toro and others fail to see is an organized “network” hiding in our midst, in cyberspace.
In the past, organized violent groups like the Nazis or the Klan met in physical spaces. They had command structure, the Nazis had a Fuhrer the Klan, a grand dragon, and they committed their acts of evil together as a group.
The terror networks of today do not meet in a physical space, may have no command structure. But, the social networks on the internet whether those of the Klan, the Nazi’s or serial killers can function as effectively as their counterparts in the physical world. Within each network they can meet in secret and if they choose to talk only to each other sealing out everyone else from the cultural bubble they create. Extremist websites can, from the internet, solicit members, indoctrinate them, give them a place to belong, motivate and even teach – where to buy automatic weapons, how to kill.
Banning these social networks from the internet would be like cutting the head off of the mythical hydra. We are not up against lone wolves; we are up against a culture of extremism.
Elijah Anderson in his book Code of the Street argues that in the inner city blacks developed a Code of the Street, a set of values opposite to that of regular society. The key is to understand that these social networks of terror represent an oppositional sub-culture as well. “Racism against blacks, Jews is good,”
they seem to say. “Success is not going to college it is becoming a martyr.” Nikolas Cruz went through the equivalent of religious conversion into these extremist values, rejecting those of mainstream society. He not only romanticized killing, posing with guns and knives on Facebook, he became, in his mind, a killer which gave the alienated teen a place to belong.
We must infiltrate this culture. In the 1970’s the FBI infiltrated the Klan. We have counter-terrorists infiltrating Muslim terror groups. We need to create a counter terror infrastructure within the schools. A new generation of teachers and counselors with funds from existing counter terrorism budgets should be trained to identify and intervene in the lives of troubled youth. Perhaps there could be a 21 Jump Street version of counter-terror agents posing as students helping to create an early detection system as well about who the alienated extremists are- to identify them intervene before they strike.