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Right-Wing Mass Shootings Are a Product of Imperialism

Dozens are dead in El Paso, Dayton, and Gilroy. The primary cause of this violence is not mental illness. This is about toxic masculinity and white supremacist terrorism—and a President who actively promotes it.

Tatiana Cozzarelli

August 5, 2019
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REUTERS/Leah Millis

On Saturday, August 3, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, a Trump supporter and white supremacist, drove 10 hours to the border town of El Paso, which is 80 percent Latinx. He then shot and killed 20 people in a busy Walmart, where families were doing their back-to-school shopping. A letter that appears to have been from the shooter appeared online 19 minutes before the mass shooting, describing the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” It spoke about “invaders with high birth rates” and “the threat of the Hispanic voting bloc,” and it described killing Latinx people as an “act of preservation.”

Just a few hours later, 24-year-old Connor Betts killed nine people in Dayton, Ohio. And only a week earlier, on July 28, there was a mass shooting at the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival in California. 19-year-old Santino William Legan killed three people.

This brings the number to three mass shootings in a week.

The primary cause of this is not mental illness. It is not access to guns. It’s not about videogames or the “fake news media,” as Trump would have you believe. This is about toxic masculinity and white supremacist terrorism.

It is about a President who encourages, with his words and actions, white supremacy every single day. And it is about white supremacists like Patrick Crusius, who came of age during the Trump era and whose words echo—almost verbatim—statements from Donald Trump, using terms like the “invasion” of migrants.

The blood is all over Donald Trump’s hands. Since the start of his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump has been spewing the most hateful and vile rhetoric from his Twitter account and at his rallies. And as the election approaches, his racist agitation is escalating. His election events are pep rallies for white nationalists.

“Send her back!” his supporters chanted at a recent rally, echoing Trump’s hateful tirade against the four new Congresswomen of color who have been nicknamed “the Squad.” “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” he tweeted.

Indeed, Trump has been fostering the notion that there is an invasion of brown criminals since the beginning of his first campaign in 2015.

At a rally in May, Trump said, “When you have 15,000 people marching up, and you have hundreds and hundreds of [immigrants], and you have two or three border security people that are brave and great—and don’t forget we don’t let them and we can’t let them use weapons… But how do you stop these people?” In response, someone from the audience shouted: “Shoot them!” Trump laughed and responded, “That’s only in the Panhandle you can get away with that statement.”

Although Trump has attempted to distance himself from these violent actions, the blood is a direct result of his behavior. Not only has he denied in the past that white supremacist violence is a threat in the U.S., but he has made calls, albeit vague ones, for extra-judicial methods of removing migrants, saying: “We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came.” The Atlantic reports:

In the hours after the shootings, Trump stuck to Twitter, sending out a series of brief messages voicing condolences. ‘God bless the people of El Paso, Texas. God bless the people of Dayton, Ohio,’ he said this morning, following a tweet about how the FBI is working with state and local law enforcement. Yesterday, though, there was an oddly discordant message that Trump, for some reason, believed couldn’t wait. Minutes after writing that there were ‘many killed’ in El Paso, he tweeted about an Ultimate Fighting Championship match that would take place that night involving one of his supporters, Colby Covington. ‘Fight hard tonight, Colby. You are a real Champ!’ Trump wrote, as El Paso treated the wounded and recovered the dead.

He has not even acknowledged that these were white supremacist terror attacks. For Trump, the enemies are Black and Brown people. He has spewed more hate towards the migrant caravan than towards the terrorists who killed dozens in the past week.

And although U.S. institutions use the word “terrorism” to refer almost exclusively to actions by Brown people, especially Muslims, these actions by white supremacists cannot be described as anything other than terrorism—and the instigator is in the White House. Over and over, we have seen how mass shooters are white supremacist men, who often, although not always, target communities of color.

Republicans who have supported the President and his hateful message and have been spewing hate of their own are now claiming to be “shocked.” Some have even suddenly started speaking out against white supremacy.

These messages are dripping in cynicism. We all knew where Trump’s hate is going; we all know it is the fuel to white nationalist terrorism.

But mass shootings didn’t begin with Trump nor did white nationalism. They have merely been emboldened by the Trump administration.

We cannot disconnect these mass shootings from a very particular kind of toxic and white supremacist masculinity that is being cultivated in this country—a kind that comes from living in a country that drops an average of one bomb every 12 minutes on Black and Brown people throughout the world. It comes from a country of borders, built by both Democrats and Republicans to keep “those people” out, while at the same time engaging in bloody overthrows of democratically-elected governments.

We also cannot disconnect the mass shootings from patriarchal violence: it is not a coincidence that the shooters are white men, many with histories of violence against women. While women and trans folks are certainly alienated and marginalized by the system, these shootings aren’t perpetrated by marginalized groups. They are tied to patriarchy and the sexist violence condoned by society—including and especially by Donald Trump.

This kind of toxic and white supremacist masculinity—the kind that creates mass shootings—is only the last link in a long chain of state-sanctioned violence against people of color: prisons, police brutality, imperialism, and colonialism. These mass shootings in the United States are an extension of U.S. policy in Latin America and around the world, not an aberration limited to Trump’s administration. This is what America was founded on, and it is what America has continued to do.

US Rep. Steve Cohen (D) wants racist mass murder to be limited to outside U.S. borders. Source: Twitter (since deleted)
Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg also in favor of mass murder—as long as it’s somewhere else. Source: Twitter.

Violence, both economic and directly physical, is the primary method used by capitalist economies.  In the case of the predatory economic relationship between the U.S. and Latin American countries, capitalism requires strong national borders in order to prevent true solidarity among the workers of various countries. This is achieved through fostering xenophobia, referring to the free movement of migrants as “dangerous” and “an invasion,” which in turn drums up support for violent actions against migrants trying to escape the economic misery brought about by imperialism.

That’s why solutions that speak of increased border control and law enforcement are not solutions at all. This has been the line of a whole sector of Democrats, including Bernie Sanders, who said that we need to invest in “law enforcement resources to combat the growing population of white nationalists.” This kind of proposal seeks to arm already state-sanctioned white supremacist terror. The police force is a bastion of white supremacy more brutal than the mass shootings, which kills Black and Brown people with impunity.

And these law enforcement officers at the border are white supremacists. If there was ever any doubt, just look at the recently-exposed Facebook group made up of current and former Border Patrol agents, which included despicable messages. In a video of a migrant man carrying his child in a plastic bag through a dangerous river, a Border Patrol chief commented: “At least it’s already in a trash bag.” She, and those who posted messages with this vile hatred, are still on the job.

And we’ve seen the delicate way that the cops treat white supremacist terrorists during their arrests: without incident, without shooting, without so much as a bloody nose or a broken rib. The same cannot be said for Black people who are merely walking down the street. Over and over, the cops claim they don’t know how to de-escalate these situations, but they do as long as they are arresting right-wing white men.

“Law enforcement” is a huge part of the problem. We don’t need more of it. And that is also why solutions that focus on gun control are not solutions at all. How can the solution to white supremacist violence focus on centralizing guns in the hands of the white supremacist state?

Both the Democrat and Republican parties want a more heavily armed police force and military, both of which are necessary to sustain capitalism through the subjugation of the working class in the U.S. and internationally. While the Democrats generally do not use the incendiary and racist rhetoric that Donald Trump is using, they administer the same racist system.

The problems of neo-fascism and growth of white supremacist terrorism can only be resolved by the collective action of working class people in our workplaces and in our places of study. The blame lies with Donald Trump and the right, as well as with colonialism, imperialism, prisons, and police—all the institutions we must organize to destroy.

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Tatiana Cozzarelli

Tatiana is a former middle school teacher and current Urban Education PhD student at CUNY.

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