Mass shootings, inaction, rinse, repeat
Hello, and happy Monday to everyone. Let’s jump right in.
As I’m sure you’re well aware, a white supremacist drove to a predominantly-Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, where he shot and killed 10 people. In a manifesto originally posted to Google Docs on Thursday evening, the 18-year-old shooter amplified the right-wing “great replacement” conspiracy theory, alleging that a group of powerful elites is trying to replace white Americans through immigration.
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NBC’s Ben Collins has a summary of the document, which cites 4chan as the venue for his radicalization, lashes out at “critical race theory,” and praises Brenton Tarrant, who murdered 51 people at a Christchurch, New Zealand, mosque in 2019. From Collins:
“Great replacement" theory has recently received support from traditional power centers of the American right. According to an AP-NORC poll released this week, one in three U.S. adults believes there is an ongoing effort “to replace U.S.-born Americans with immigrants for electoral gains.”
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson has repeatedly pushed “replacement” rhetoric on his show. “I know that the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term ‘replacement,’ if you suggest for the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World,” Carlson said in April 2021.
The “great replacement” theory has inspired a number of white supremacist shooters in recent years, including the people behind the 2018 Tree of Life Synagogue massacre, the 2019 murder of 23 people in an El Paso, Texas, Walmart; and the perpetrator of the 2019 shooting at a Poway, California, synagogue. It is a dangerous, conspiratorial lie that’s taken hold of the mainstream U.S. right, and was recently highlighted in a New York Times series about Fox News and Tucker Carlson. The Times report found that Carlson has used his Tucker Carlson Tonight platform to amplify the conspiracy theory during more than 400 episodes.
“A revolutionary age is an age of action; ours is the age of advertisement and publicity. Nothing ever happens but there is immediate publicity everywhere.”
That line is from Søren Kierkegaard’s “The Present Age: On the Death of Rebellion” (yes, the namesake of this newsletter), and I frequently think about it. As someone who has analyzed and written about media and politics for years, I’ve gotten used to the publicity — and the inaction that inevitably follows.
“‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens,” has been one of The Onion’s longest-running and most depressing bits. First posted in May 2014 following incel shooter Elliot Rodger’s misogynistic rampage, this same article has gotten a new version (same text, just swapped out details) in June 2015 (Charleston, South Carolina), October 2015 (Roseburg, Oregon), December 2015 (San Bernardino, California), December 2017 (Las Vegas, Nevada), November 2017 (Sutherland Springs, Texas), February 2018 (Parkland, Florida), May 2018 (Santa Fe, Texas), September 2018 (Bakersfield, California), October 2018 (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), November 2018 (Thousand Oaks, California), June 2019 (Virginia Beach, Virginia), August 2019 (El Paso, Texas), August 2019 again (Dayton, Ohio), February 2020 (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), March 2021 (Atlanta, Georgia), March 2021 again (Boulder, Colorado), April 2021 (Indianapolis, Indiana), May 2021 (San Jose, California), and again this month.
“Nothing ever happens, but there is immediate publicity everywhere” continues to be as true today as ever before. Democrats in Congress will call for gun safety measures, Republicans will say, “No, no, no, this isn’t about guns; it’s about mental health;” Democrats will say, “Okay, then can we at least do something about mental health?” and Republicans will go, “No, can’t do that, either.” Nothing happens. The system continues on, unchanged. Plus, let’s not kid ourselves. Even if Democrats and Republicans came together to pass some small version of gun reform by some miracle, the 6-3 Republican Supreme Court would strike it down.
But we’ll talk. Talk, talk, talk. We’ll tweet, we’ll go on TV, we’ll argue for and against various answers to the uniquely American problem of mass shootings (unique in frequency, at least), and we’ll move on to the next thing without changing anything. It’s all so predictable by now.
On Saturday, after hearing about the shooting, I shared a short thread on Twitter about what to expect next from the people who pushed the conspiracy theory the killer used to justify his actions:
Defend. They’ll double down.
Deny. People will argue that actually, the “great replacement” conspiracy theory isn’t a conspiracy theory at all! And then they will try to pretend that they don’t understand the difference between acknowledging demographic changes and claiming that there’s some sort of “plot” to change the country’s demographics.
Deflect. They’ll deflect to something else, such as video games
Media Matters @mmfaBen Shapiro dismissed the NYT report as a “conspiracy theory” https://t.co/vVzR77BHqv https://t.co/Z6JFb0OdP4
And here’s where we’re at less than two days later:
Defend. Fox went right back to talking about the possibility of migrant terrorists.
Deny. Ben Shapiro twisted himself into a rhetorical knot.
Deflect. They’ve already started talking about video games.
Ben Shapiro @benshapiroIf you want to be accurate about the Great Replacement Theory, it is a conspiracy theory about Jewish elites shipping in minorities to change the racial stock of a country. That is precisely what the Buffalo shooter says. And it is echoed by neither political party.
How have things gotten this way? Or is this just the natural state of the world?
I think it’s easier to pretend that our problems are modern, that things were fine up until some just-barely-out-of-memory time. You hear this come up a lot when older politicians like Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi talk about the importance of having a “strong Republican Party” or hoping that Republicans would have an “epiphany” post-Trump. Sure, it may have been easier to get bills through Congress decades ago, and the right-wing extremism has certainly gotten more intense in recent years, but are things really all that different now than they were then? The systems in place prevent people from enacting meaningful change. On the rare occasions when meaningful change is made, such as the civil rights movement, the systems of power rewrite the history of how we got there (see: the obsession with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “content of their character” line).
I feel like this piece could be read in two completely different ways, neither of which I’m entirely sure I believe:
Inspire a descent into nihilism.
Inspire a small amount of hope knowing that despite systems of power being forever reluctant to adopt change (Hey, I’m quoting a 19th-century philosopher who felt the same way I feel in 2022), that change sometimes happens anyway.
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