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.

Cave of Horrors

In what seems like the opening scene of a horror movie, British cavers discovered hundreds of centuries-old protective marks and ritualistic drawings apparently designed to capture, trap and/or repel evil forces in an ancient cave system about 150 miles north of London.

The drawings date to the medieval and early modern periods and were found before but dismissed as graffiti from more recent eras.

Members of Subterranea Britannica noticed that the etchings were actually apotropaic (protective) marks scrawled all over wells, ceilings and around holes and crevices, the cave’s operator said in a news release.

Also, caves have “operators” apparently.

The etchings include diagonal lines, boxes and mazes believed to be spells for capturing or trapping evil spirits. There are also ‘VV’ marks that are believed to represent Mary, “Virgin of Virgins,” as well as ‘PM’, for “Pace Maria.”

But it’s not clear what, specifically, the markings were trying to stymie.

The caves have a history of being occupied by Neanderthals as far back as 50,000 years ago, followed then by Homo sapiens. The site is known for the art on its walls dating to some 12,000 years ago, including images of bison, reindeer, birds, as well as more abstract symbols.

The cave may now also be home to another kind of art altogether.

Let’s Not Get It Wrong This Time

Within hours of the terrorist attacks in Paris, politicians and presidential candidates in America and abroad have stated their desire to ramp-up military “involvement” in the Middle East. Given the horrors we witnessed, it’s certainly understandable on a certain level. But before jumping on the “tough on terrorism” bandwagon, we should reflect on the lessons learned in the 14 years since the 9/11 terror attacks and consider what actually works to counter this global problem and what doesn’t.

We can’t kill our way to victory:

There is a role for the U.S. military in responding to terrorism, however counterterrorism policy that relies too heavily on warfare and not enough on addressing the causes of terrorism is doomed to fail. As President Obama said in July:

Countering violent extremism is not simply a military effort. Ideologies are not defeated with guns, they’re defeated by better ideas — a more attractive and compelling vision.

While I am generally very critical of the president’s policies in this area, he is exactly right in this statement. There are no easy solutions, but helping countries address the causes of terrorism; including human rights abuses by governments and the rise of extremism, is critical to making everyone safer. Simply killing more suspects and unintended civilians doesn’t do the job but it does fuel terrorist recruitment.

Suppressing human rights creates more terrorists:

In the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States, a panicked U.S. government rounded up thousands of suspects, both at home and abroad, and denied them basic due process rights. Those at home were detained based on minor visa violations as “persons of interest” to authorities.

Overseas, suspects were abused during interrogations, sent to CIA “black sites” where they were tortured, and eventually sent to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay in an attempt to circumvent the requirements of U.S. law. That backfired: not only did the Supreme Court eventually step in, but to this day, al Qaeda and ISIS invoke Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and US torture of Muslims in their recruitment propoganda.

That network of global recruitment is what makes terrorists so difficult to defeat. We should not be adding fuel to their fire and we should likewise make every effort to encourage our allies to treat suspects humanely.

We lose critical counterterrorism cooperation from our allies when we don’t respect human rights and the rule of law:

Our allies have refused to share intelligence with us out of concern about the United States’ drone program, and refuse to turn over terror suspects out of concern that they’ll be sent to Guantanamo Bay. The United States should instead be the model of lawful behavior and remind our allies that valuable U.S. cooperation depends on their adherence to the rule of law as well.

Refugees are fleeing the same terrorism we’re fighting, so it’s in our interest to help them and not demonize them:

In the wake of the Paris attacks, we’ve already seen politicians in the U.S. and abroad suggest this is cause for denying admission to Syrian refugees. The opposite is true: Refugees to the U.S. are more carefully vetted than any other immigrant population, and offering them assistance and asylum not only helps desperate people in need, but supports the stability of our allies in the region as well as our own standing in the Middle East which has greatly eroded since 9/11.

The US can’t afford to alienate Muslims:

The post-9/11 mistakes and abuses understandably led many Muslims to mistrust U.S. authorities. We can’t afford for that to continue. If law enforcement and the military want an effective policy to counter ISIS and al Qaeda, it will need to work with and support Muslim communities, both at home and abroad.

Muslims suffer from Islamic terrorism more than any other religious or ethnic group, particularly in the Middle East. As they craft their counterterrorism policies, politicians and presidential candidates need to keep in mind that, aside from the actual terrorists, we’re all on the same side and we will be most effective if we fight terrorism together.

Muslims Condemn Paris Violence While Ted Cruz Calls for Tolerance…of Killing Civilians

One CIA estimate puts ISIS’ total manpower at 31,500, about one-third the capacity of Rose Bowl stadium, or roughly, 0.0019% of the world’s total Muslim population when you round down to 1.6 billion. The idea that the remaining 1,599,965,000 Muslims ought to immediately jump on Twitter and condemn ISIS isn’t just silly, it’s the definition of prejudice. But here we are. Another attack, another round of people calling on moderate Muslims to condemn something they had nothing to do with. Or as Mohamed Ghilan tweeted last year:

Asking me to condemn the obviously condemnable presumes my basic moral code is in question. I refuse to take part in this,

Nevertheless, Muslims from around the world are making it clear ISIS does not represent their values. Iran’s Supreme Leader Hassan Rouhani denounced the attacks, postponing his trip to Europe to renew peace talks on the Syrian conflict. Iran and Iran-backed Hezbollah fight ISIS and other extremists in Syria (as well as non-Salafists). The day before the Paris attacks, militants claiming allegiance to ISIS bombed a civilian area of Beirut in an effort to undermine Hezbollah’s support there.

Joko Widodo, president of Indonesia, the largest Muslim country on earth, roundly condemned the attacks, telling reporters, “Indonesia condemns the violence that took place in Paris.” In a now-viral video on YouTube, a Moroccan man expressed his condolences to the victims, saying, “These so-called jihadists only represent themselves.”

The governments of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Egypt have all condemned the attacks, though it should be noted, the unelected rulers who run the Saudi Kingdom and Qatar have themselves routinely funded and armed jihadists in Syria and elsewhere.

The largest Muslim group in the United States, CAIR, quickly condemned the attacks, insisting,

These savage and despicable attacks on civilians, whether they occur in Paris, Beirut or any other city, are outrageous and without justification.

The US Council of Muslim Organizations released a statement also condemning the attack.

Thousands more Muslims took to Twitter to express sorrow, solidarity and solace. A good breakdown can be seen here and here.

Meanwhile, human-shaped pile of shit Ted Cruz wasted no time after the attacks in Paris to issue a bellicose statement insisting President Obama is a little too concerned with civilian casualties in Syria.

It will not be appeased by outreach or declarations of tolerance. It will not be deterred by targeted airstrikes with zero tolerance for civilian casualties, when the terrorists have such utter disregard for innocent life. We must make it crystal clear that affiliation with ISIS and related terrorist groups brings with it the undying enmity of America—that it is, in effect, signing your own death warrant.

Cruz also took time to go on Fox News last night to demagogue against Syrian refugees seeking asylum. He also pushed for an Expatriate Act that automatically strips any American of citizenship if they are accused of joining ISIS or other extremist groups. The idea of “returning foreign fighters” committing acts of terrorism in the United States remains entirely hypothetical since it has never happened or even been attempted.

So there you have it, Muslims around the world nearly universally condemning an act of terrible violence while right-wingers in America call for more violence with even less regard for civilian deaths, which is the exact over-reaction the terrorists wanted incidentally.