We Need to Name the Threat

Early on Friday, a 28-year-old white man who described himself as “an actual fascist” entered two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, armed with assault rifles and killed at least 49 people and injuring many others. New Zealand authorities also report that the attacker had placed two explosive devices in his vehicle, which apparently did not detonate.

In a gruesome contemporary twist, the gunman apparently streamed parts of the attack live on Facebook. Although that feed and other accounts associated with the shooter have been taken down, but the New York Times reports that both the 17-minute video and a manifesto posted by the shooter have been widely disseminated on social media. Others were taken into custody, but reports suggest that the 28-year-old man, who by his own account was born and raised in Australia, was the sole shooter.

That man appears to have posted a manifesto online before the attack. In it, he rages against “Islamic invaders” who are “occupying European soil,” and writes that he used guns to commit this massacre in order to call attention to debate about the Second Amendment in the United States. The alleged mass murderer also claimed that he donated money to American white supremacist organizations, and quoted the “14 words” pledge often used by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

According to reports, the alleged terrorist specifically cited Donald Trump as an inspiration. His online manifesto praised Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”

Friday’s massacre appears to be an example of what is known as “stochastic terrorism,” when someone who has a large platform describes the kind of violence that they want to be carried out, but stops short of direct incitement. They identify targets, but leave it up to their viewers or listeners to carry out the violence, giving themselves just enough plausible deniability if/when violence occurs. It is another case study in how right-wing terrorists, with no official group affiliation, can be radicalized online.

Of course, every right-wing provocateur came out to demand that we ignore where this man got his hateful ideas. Their gaslighting was wrapped up in virtue signaling, “starve them of attention” they said, just as they peddled the hate that fuels these attacks.

They don’t want you asking questions. They didn’t want you to ask after Norway, or Charleston, or Charlottesville, or Quebec, or Pittsburgh. And now, they don’t want any questions after Christchurch either. And it’s worth asking: Why?

It has been repeatedly documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, as well as other organizations, that Donald Trump is considered a hero by white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Since Trump launched his presidential campaign nearly four years ago, there has been a surge of hate crimes, including violence against Jews, Muslims, and immigrants of various backgrounds.

There have been many documented examples of assaults and other forms of violence by Donald Trump supporters, in some cases the perpetrators even wearing MAGA hats and other regalia, shouting his slogans or claiming to act on his behalf. These hateful actions have included the so-called MAGA bomber, who mailed pipe bombs to public critics of Donald Trump, the man who killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, and the neo-Nazi mass murderer who killed 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Trump has suggested that the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who rioted in Charlottesville, Virginia, included “very fine people.” He sought to ban Muslims from entering the United States and pursued a policy of separating immigrant children from their families and placing them in concentration camps. He has suggested that Latino immigrants are a natural criminal class who come to America with the express goal of raping and killing white people.

Trump has described predominantly black nations such as Haiti and Nigeria as “shitholes.” He basically abandoned the people of Puerto Rico after the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, implying that they were lazy and did not deserve humanitarian aid. At least 5,000 people died.

Trump has shared neo-Nazi talking points and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Twitter. He has condemned the Black Lives Matter movement and has said that African-American athletes who exercise their constitutionally protected freedom of protest are traitors who should be kicked out of the United States.

Trump was and remains one of the leading voices for the “birther” conspiracy theory alleging that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. and may be a secret Muslim. The Trump administration is working to remove language in UN documents that condemns racism, xenophobia, bigotry, or nationalism.

Some would like to look away from this list. Others will find it tedious and complain that they have seen this all before. Some will mutter that we all know that Trump is a racist, but so what? And yes, many other people who will see such a list and feel validation. Numbness to this kind of horror is one of the main ways through which evil is normalized.

Later on Friday, Donald Trump issued an obligatory public statement condemning the Christchurch massacre, apparently committed by a self-identified fascist who claimed him as an inspiration. The president wrote, “My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques.”

As usual at such moments, there is something deeply awkward and strained about Trump’s pronouncement. We all understand the reason for that awkwardness. Trump does not value the lives of Muslims, or nonwhite people more generally, as equal to those of white Americans.

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