The soul-searching taking place over the Aug. 3 El Paso mass shooting in which a 21-year-old white racist killed 22 people and wounded 24 others is likely to get nowhere as far as dealing with violent white supremacy and gun control are concerned. If the slaughter of 20 six- and seven-year-old children and six adult staff members of the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, in Newtown.
Conn., could not produce meaningful action, very little else can.
But there was ample warning about such tragedies. Analysts at the Department of Homeland Security said in 2009 that white extremism posed a threat to national security because of the election of the first African American president, the financial crisis and wider use of social media.
The report warned of increasing “rightwing extremist activity, specifically the white supremacist and militia movements” and that, according to The New York Times, “the recession could help recruitment because people economically at risk were more susceptible to extremists of all stripes.” It added, prophetically, that the Internet “would let domestic extremists meet and radicalize other individuals – just as foreign extremists like the Islamic State would do.”
But the warning was immediately denounced by Republicans, including, according to The New York Times, then Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo, now the Secretary of State, who called it “dangerous” and said it ignored “the threat that radical Islamic terrorism poses.”
Within weeks, then Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano withdrew the report and a unit in her department focusing on domestic terrorism was scuttled.
Instead, in August 2017, with Donald Trump as president, a new kind of “threat” was identified. A report obtained by Foreign Policy, stated, “The FBI assesses it is very likely Black Identity Extremist (BIE) perceptions of police brutality against African Americans spurred an increase in premeditated retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement and will likely serve as justification for such violence.”
Newsweek reported that more recent 2018-2019 “Threat Guidance” documents described “black identity extremists” as those who “use force or violence in violation of criminal law in response to perceived racism and injustice in American society.” They included African Americans hoping to create “a separate black homeland or autonomous black social institutions, communities or governing organizations within the USA.” One section, “IRON FIST,” indicated the FBI “plans to use infiltration and other undercover techniques to ‘mitigate’ threats posed by black extremist groups, including exploiting the felony status of some members.” The documents did refer to white extremists but called them Racially Motivated Violent Extremists (RMVEs). There was no mention of their commitment to creating a white America through ethnic cleansing. So, while white racists are slaughtering their fellow citizens, the government’s chief law-enforcement agency was producing a scapegoat.
Civil rights groups protested the false assessment. “When we talk about enemies of the state and terrorists, with that comes an automatic stripping of those people’s rights to speak and protest,” Mohamed Tajsar, American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney, told The Guardian. “It marginalizes what are legitimate voices within the political debate that are calling for racial and economic justice.”
The El Paso slaughter confirmed that the FBI was wrong. It was “clear evidence that violence by white extremists is an undeniable and intensifying problem,” The Times said. While the debate on mass shootings focuses on the availability of assault rifles, white supremacy is not being given enough attention. Even if assault rifles are banned, millions will remain in private hands and while Trump and others blame mass killings on mental health problems and violent video games, the evidence is that the shooters know exactly what they are doing and that, contrary to claims that they are “lone wolves,” they belong to any of hundreds of hate groups identified by organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.
They have been around for years and the upsurge of attacks can be traced to inflammatory rhetoric from rightwing media and the president. Trump is now chafing under the label of “racist”
slapped on him notably by several Democratic presidential candidates. If he wants to prove his bona fides, he can begin by tamping down his rhetoric and launching a program to turn white supremacists away from hate through a massive campaign using television, newspapers, radio and social media to counter the vile propaganda to which they are constantly exposed. The campaign should point out that the mass killings will not change the fundamental nature of America as a multiracial nation and only shed the blood of innocent citizens. It may be wishful thinking but Derek Black refused to succeed his father as a Ku Klux Klan leader and turned his back on racism after being exposed to the wider society. Other stories tell of similar “conversions.”
But is Trump ready to take such a ground-breaking step? His administration’s mindset was seen when Attorney General William Barr quickly expressed outrage at Jeffery Epstein’s suicide but refused to press charges against a white police officer who choked Eric Garner to death in Staten Island on July 17, 2014, while arresting him for selling loose cigarettes and even as he blurted out, “I can’t breathe,” 11 times as his life was being squeezed from him.