I’m deeply moved by the nationwide youth protests. The March for Our Lives was breathtaking for so many reasons, not the least of which was its diversity, seamlessly incorporating issues of gun violence from all over the nation.
But the adult backlash is an embarrassment. It’s a real-life Scooby-Doo episode, with unsavory adults shaking their fists at the heroic “meddling kids.” Adults have viciously disparaged, slandered, and even threatened the Parkland survivors. (Imagine what it must feel like to attack a teenager who survived an unspeakable tragedy and believe you’re the good guy.)
In addition to all these attacks, adults are placing the blame for these tragedies on the students themselves, claiming students could solve everything if they’d just be nicer to their fellow students. This is the core of the popular “walk up, not out” campaign, an adult backlash ideology that holds that students should not protest for better gun legislation but should instead be putting their energies into being nicer to their fellow students, since, the theory goes, oddball kids are all the next school shooter, and all they need is a smile!
The idea that teenagers could solve mass shootings by just socializing with “social outcasts” is a dangerous fantasy. Mass shooters do not actually come from the ranks of bullied kids. Many mass shooters were bullies themselves, and a large percentage of them had abused girlfriends and/or wives prior to the shooting. “Walk up, not out” and the entire mythology around the “misunderstood loner” obscure a deeper, more troubling truth.
On February 5 (just days before the Parkland shooting), the Southern Poverty Law Center published an article called “The Alt-Right Is Killing People.” Almost a year prior, The Nation published a piece called “Why Does the Far Right Hold a Near-Monopoly on Political Violence?” There are numerous studies and articles covering the fact that, beginning in the mid-90s, most mass shootings and domestic terrorism have been carried out by white men aligned with the extreme right-wing.
Most white male mass shooters– and most mass shooters are white males– are not “misunderstood loners.” Instead, they’re coming specifically from a place of entitlement– the straight white male entitlement that is a core belief in current extreme right-wing ideology.
There are, of course, instances of left-wing violence, but they are dwarfed by the much more numerous instances of right-wing violence. Elliot Rodger didn’t want a girl to “walk up” and talk to him– he had been convinced by the alt right “manosphere” that he was entitled to a sexually available girlfriend and that violence was a logical expression of the anger he felt at being “denied” that. There are alt right spaces dedicated to Rodger, calling him a “hero.” Dylann Roof believed he was entitled to an all-white nation. Jerad and Amanda Miller believed they were entitled to freedom from the “tyranny” of the Obama administration, seeing their murders as the start of a right wing “revolution,” as did Paul Ciancia. Even Chris Harper-Mercer, who was biracial and shot people who self-identified as “Christian,” was acting from a place of injured, unfulfilled entitlement, writing a manifesto that bemoaned the fact that he was a virgin alongside racist rants, while using the screen name “ironcross45” (a reference to Nazi Germany). He was identified a year before the shooting as a white supremacist by the US Government Accountability Office.
Much was made of Nikolas Cruz being mistakenly identified as a member of a white nationalist group, but whether he was a member or not, he posted selfies in a Trump MAGA hat, called white women who dated men of color “traitors,” and advocated for racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic violence on social media.
The preponderance of evidence has shown that mass shooters have two things in common: they are “wound collectors” who obsess about the many ways the world has “wronged” them, and they have access to guns. These two combined are the reason most mass shooters now come from the ranks of the extreme right.
Since the founding of Fox News in the mid-90s, right-wing media has been spending billions of dollars and enormous effort to spread the idea that liberals, feminists, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ people, “coastal elites,” and Muslims are the enemy, less than human. They stoke fear and hatred of these groups, falsely claiming fellow Americans are out to “destroy America,” “destroy our way of lives,” “destroy our values.” They foster wild conspiracy theories, even conspiracy theories they invented and thus know are wrong. They deliberately skew news coverage, reporting some stories and not others (here, here, here, here, here), and providing inaccurate commentary, all to foster fear and hatred of the left. Online and radio sources take this even further, outright defending– or even advocating for— violence against liberals.
This disinformation campaign has been alarmingly successful. Read the comments even on a relatively mainstream site like FoxNews and see for yourself. In fact, here’s one now, from the California math teacher I quoted in my last post:
Most extreme right wing thinkers won’t become mass shooters, of course. But all mass shooters dehumanize their victims like Marcus F dehumanizes Democrats above, and most mass shooters in the US now express that dehumanization in terms they learned in extreme right-wing circles.
Conservative media and the extremist right-wing online sphere it spawned consistently, incessantly, tell people they are entitled to something that has been stolen from them by evil, “satan-infested” liberals.
You are entitled to this, conservative media trumpet to millions of people, and these bad people are the reason you don’t have it. Respect. A better job. A gun. All the guns. A submissive girlfriend. A nation full of submissive women. A nation where Black people know their place. An all-white neighborhood. An all-white nation. A nation that speaks English and only English. A nation where gay people never mention being gay and gratefully accept their place as second-class citizens. A nation where transgender people do not exist, at all. A nation where “male” and “female” are the only gender options, and “male” always comes first. An all-Christian nation with an Evangelical government.
You’re entitled to a straight, Christian, white male utopia, they say. You deserve it. It’s your cultural heritage. It’s your American birthright. It’s the way things always were, and THEY took it away from you, those inhuman creatures, those “satan infested scum bags.”
Then they make semi-automatic weapons available by the handful to anyone who wants one. A gun is easier to obtain in most areas of the US than a roll of stamps.
These aren’t misunderstood outcasts who can be saved by eating lunch with a pretty girl. These are violent, angry men who commit murder to express their outrage at being unable to control the people and the world around them– unable to make people accord them higher status as white men, unable to create an all-white, straight, cisgender, Christian world, unable to make women submissive and sexually available. Unable to live in the MAGA utopia they are told repeatedly by the extreme right wing they’re entitled to, but wrongfully prevented from achieving by evil feminists, Black Lives Matter, immigrants, Jews, Muslims, LGBTQ people, and “libtards.”
It’s important to note that we only call white male criminals “misunderstood outcasts.” Everyone else is a “thug” or a “terrorist.” We have created this elaborate mythology about the poor, misunderstood white male as part of our larger mythology about the primary importance of white men that permeates the entire culture, left and right.
But while this is an issue on both the right and the left, since the mid-90s, the right has been directly focused on rhetoric that both creates wound collectors and prevents sensible gun legislation. This has proven to be a deadly combination, made even more deadly by the recent campaign to discredit the fact-based media that could mitigate both.
The ability of extremists to convince millions of people that the truth is “fake news” and that unbiased journalists are “liars” is without question a toxic and extremely dangerous development. And while that is, without question, far more common on the right, existing even in the conservative mainstream, it does also exist on the extreme left. We must be vigilant whether the toxic rhetoric comes from the right or the left.
We need to rein in the dangerous extremes of propagandistic right-wing media that have infected the discourse of the nation, turned us against each other, and given rise to a populist movement that put an open racist and cyberbully in the White House. We must also ensure that this kind of fear-mongering propaganda on the left is never allowed to make it to the mainstream as it has on the right.
And we must, we must, we must have more sensible gun legislation. The right has whipped its followers into a frenzy of fear that makes them terrified of any change to current gun laws. I’ve seen multiple gun owners call gun ownership a “God-given right,” as if the 2008 DC v. Heller SCOTUS decision is God. It wasn’t the second amendment that made it possible for private owners to have guns; it was Antonin Scalia. And since that decision, gun deaths have increased in the US 17%. We must have more sensible gun laws in this country that more accurately reflect the second amendment and Scalia’s own 2008 decision that allowed for sensible restrictions rather than reflect the NRA’s desire to protect the interests of gun manufacturers.
We’re not going to end mass shootings in a day. Shifting the culture takes time. But we must try.
And if we fail, I do know this: this next generation, this glorious generation of fierce feminists, of queer brilliance, this generation that is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation of any culture in human history, this generation of vision and ferocity and strength and fearlessness, is going to succeed where we failed.
About ten million people in the most diverse generation in human history will become old enough to vote before November 2020. Behold your future:
I cannot fucking wait.