With two mass shootings within 24 hours, the rhetorical
battle lines are once again being drawn. On the one side, liberals are blaming
guns and President Trump’s rhetoric while many on the right are trying to shift
the blame away from white supremacy and presidential tweets. The truth is that
there is more than one cause for the murder spree and both sides share some responsibility
for the charged political environment that may have contributed to the killings.
While the motive is not obvious for the Dayton murders, an
online manifesto posted to the 8Chan message board prior to the El Paso attack
appears to be genuine. The manifesto rails against Hispanic immigrants who the
murderer blamed for many of America’s political and economic problems. Unlike
many on the right, the author of the manifesto did not distinguish between
legal and illegal immigrants.
The racist motive for the murders presents problems for
conservatives, many of whom don’t want to acknowledge that people on the right
are not only capable of violence but commit domestic terror attacks on a fairly
regular basis. Since the news of the manifesto broke yesterday, I have seen at
least one right-wing social media user speculate that Antifa was behind the El
Paso attack as a way to discredit the right. Based on what I’ve seen online in
the past, this sort of reaction is not that rare.
The truth is that white supremacist violence is a growing
problem. Domestic terrorist attacks by leftist groups were common in the 1970s.
In the 1980s and 90s, these gave way to attacks by foreign Islamic radicals. After
September 11, homegrown Islamic radicals launched a wave of attacks. Now, it
seems that white supremacists are the up and coming source of violence.
In June, FBI Director Christopher
Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee, “A majority of the domestic
terrorism cases that we’ve investigated are motivated by some version of what
you might call white supremacist violence.”
Domestic terror attacks related to white supremacy from 2018
and 2019 alone include the murder of student Blaze
Bernstein in California, a shooting at a Pittsburgh
synagogue, an arson attack at a California
mosque, and another mass shooting at a synagogue
in Poway, California. If we expand to include other right-wing attacks, we
can add a vehicular attack on a New
Jersey Planned Parenthood clinic and pipe bomb attacks by the so-called “MAGA
bomber” to the list.
Earlier this week, an FBI bulletin released by Yahoo
News detailed concern about “conspiracy
theory-driven domestic extremists,” who might be inspired by such Deep State
conspiracy theories such as QAnon. The Q conspiracy theory ties President Trump’s
opponents to “a conspiracy involving ‘deep state’ actors and global elites
allegedly engaged in an international child sex trafficking ring.” The report
notes, “the uncovering of real conspiracies or cover-ups involving illegal,
harmful, or unconstitutional activities by government officials or leading
political figures” could further incite domestic terrorists.
It’s clear that there is a problem on the right, but the
flip side is that the left is all too willing to tar all conservatives with the
extremist brush. As Erick Erickson pointed out on Twitter, liberals are quick
to label anyone who supports border security as a racist. For many on the left,
“common sense gun controls” for many Democrats would amount to near-total bans
on privately-owned guns and ammunition. For every liberal who says, “I don’t
want to take your guns,” there seems to be one who openly says, “yes, I do want
to take your guns.”
Liberals complain that conservatives won’t have a meaningful
discussion or take action on the issue of gun violence, but liberals have shown
themselves to be untrustworthy on the issue. The same policy prescriptions are
trotted out after each attack. In many or most cases, the policies that the
left advocates, such as waiting periods and high capacity magazine bans, would
not have prevented the attack.
Even an outright ban on guns would have a minimal effect
since there are an estimated 393
million guns in private hands in the United States. A large percentage of
those guns would remain outstanding in the case of a gun ban and confiscation as
law-abiding citizens suddenly became outlaws. It’s interesting to note that,
despite the ratio of more than 120 guns per 100 Americans, the US
violent crime rate has been falling since 1993. This has remained true even
as the “assault weapons” ban expired and concealed and open carry laws were
passed around the country.
A liberal orthodoxy that needs to be shattered is that gun
control is equivalent to crime control. Mass
shootings seem to occur almost randomly around the country. They have
occurred in states with strict gun controls such as California and New York and
they have occurred in permissive states such as Florida and Texas. They have even
occurred in military and government facilities where personal weapons are
Mass killings are also not limited to AR-15s and similar
types of semi-automatic rifles. The murderers have used various combinations of
rifles, shotguns, and pistols. In other
cases, killers have also used weapons such as bombs made from pipes and
pressure cookers, knives, machetes, nerve gas, swords, and even a baseball bat
to commit mass murder.
One of the few types of gun control that might be effective is red
flag laws. Since many murder sprees have been committed by people with long
histories of mental illness, some states are passing laws that allow temporary
confiscation of guns owned by people who are deemed to present a threat to
themselves or others. However, the potential for abuse and the deficit of trust
between gun owners and the left presents a problem here. Earlier this year, police
killed a Maryland man who had committed no crime as they attempted to serve
a red flag order.
Rather than guns being the problem, weapons are merely a symptom
of a problem with the human heart. The violence problem is related to a number
of evil thoughts and desires such as greed, racism, the desire for political power,
or the belief that one is a holy warrior or an instrument of divine judgment.
It is a defect of one’s humanity to possess the desire to
gun down innocent people in cold blood, but it doesn’t mean that the person is
crazy. The murder plot might be a calculated desire to incite a race war, as
Dylann Roof intended to do, or it might be a desire to defend one’s country
against its enemies, as Cesar Sayoc’s attorneys claim. Maybe the shooter bought
into a conspiracy theory like Pizzagate or QAnon or maybe they blame their own misfortunes on people who look or talk differently.
Sometimes underlying prejudices can be ignited by claims
from political leaders, which brings us back not only to Donald Trump but to
opposition leaders as well. Yes, President Trump says many irresponsible things
and, yes, he should tone down his rhetoric. The president has demonized
immigrants as violent criminals, whipped up fear
of migrant caravans prior to last year’s election, and railed against both
Democrats and his own Justice Department as corrupt enemies of America. It isn’t
hard to imagine that this sort of talk could inspire someone who is already on
the brink of violence.
But it isn’t only Donald Trump’s rhetoric that is a problem.
Claims that Trump is a stooge of Russian President Putin, that he is a fascist,
that he is a white supremacist, and that he will refuse to leave the presidency
after his term is up are all examples of things said by the left that could incite
violence from Trump opponents. It should not be forgotten that it was only two
years ago that a radicalized
Bernie Sanders supporter nearly killed a handful of Republican senators as
they played baseball.
The truth is that both sides are guilty of overheated rhetoric as they attempt to drive their respective bases to the polls. What often motivates voters is the fear that the other side will win and destroy the country rather than the hope that their own side can implement good ideas. Instilling fear requires a scapegoat, but when people, either individuals or an ethnic group, become the object of fear, that fear can lead to violence.
Currently, the national political climate seems to be a tinderbox around which warriors of the two parties are constantly dropping sparks and red hot coals. It’s a wonder that we haven’t experienced more political violence in recent times than we have. Both sides are more than willing to point the finger at the other when violent attacks occur, but if we really want to make America better, both sides need to look in the mirror.