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America's Epidemic Problem: Right Wing Terrorism

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Note: I wrote this article nine days ago. I thought it was good but the website I was doing paid work for didn't respond to it at all. Shrugs, I guess. Let me know what you think.


America's mass shooting problem is terrifying and systematic. However, it isn't random, the perception that many people seem to be having. The shooters fall in to a pretty set pattern with a set of ideologies that fit and adapt pretty well with a general stereotype: an isolated young male who wants to lash out at a disorienting world around him. Sometimes the ideology this male picks out is white nationalism, sometimes survivalism, sometimes “men's rights activism” – but it ultimately is the same thing with the same end result.

The White terrorist

White nationalist terrorism is a real thing and it is one of two styles of terrorism, alongside Islamic radicalism, that are most dominant in conflicts in our world. White nationalists have popularity in Greece and Ukraine, both European countries that do not experience the wealth and prosperity that their western neighbors do.

From the Ku Klux Klan to the Oklahoma City bombing, white nationalist terrorism has always had an unfortunate place in American society. The Klan was a harsh response to the end of slavery, the occupation of the south following the Civil War and the march for civil rights. It never really reached outside of the south because the problems it responded to were inherently southern. The Oklahoma City bombing was a response to Waco, in which the Clinton administration had boldly launched an offensive against Branch Davidian terrorists who were hauled up with weapons. McVeigh had his fans who loved that he stood up against the federal government, even if he murdered children in the process. When I was a conservative, one post at Hot Air, Michelle Malkin's site, about the anniversary of that bombing had to be reigned in by administrators after too many readers came in with support of what him and accomplice Terry Nichols had done. Many people of good will become conservatives and Republicans but the harsh reality is that the intolerance that drives white nationalist is rife on the right.

White nationalist terrorism was always restrained to some degree in the United States, even if it was still a cyclical problem. With the election of Barack Obama as president for two terms, however, white nationalist grievance is now a national problem. Obama is hardly a radical president – he has intervened in more countries than George W. Bush – but his name, skin color and background are enough to represent a symbol of the abrupt societal change that is driving many young white men insane.

The Obama administration took note of this phenomenon almost immediately. In 2009, Obama's Department of Homeland Security released a report, which leaked to the public, entitled “Right Wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.” Internal studies of white nationalist recruitment maintained that the number of far right organizations in the United States increased from 139 in 2008 to 1,360 in 2012.

Dyllan Rouf, when he attacked blacks attending church at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina, had released a manifesto that was filled with old school white nationalist nonsense. Rouff had clearly been inundating himself with hardcore neo-Nazi style jibberish and his manifesto was rife with it. (One of the lines that was the most cringing was “I don't know why Jews act the way they do. They are enigma.”) As analyst Sean Posey articulated at he Hampton Institute, Rouf wasn't just crazy. He articulated his views and how he got them clearly in his manifesto, where he cited the Council of Conservative Citizens, a racist conservative groups that has hosted the likes of Haley Barbour and Mike Huckabee.

Adam Lanza's motivations for mowing down schoolkids in Connecticut in 2012 is still unclear but he was inundated with right wing insanity in his home. His parents were “live free or die” survivalists. Survivalism is a racket that has been going on for a long time – perpetuated by people ranging from Ron Paul to Alex Jones, it's usually a way of selling everything from gold to firearms to people who ignorantly think the world around them is on the verge of collapse. Jones has a pretty sordid dossier with civil rights activists at the Southern Poverty Law Center and has been witnessed on camera harassing the families of mass shooting victims.

Shooter Eliot Rodger, who shot several people and ran others over with his car in Isla Vista, California in 2014, lamented that girls wouldn't date him. He targeted women at sororities and lamented that he didn't understand why they wouldn't, since he was “the perfect gentlemen.” Total madness, sure, but sentiments of frustration that probably are seen within many men. These sentiments are drawn on by supposed “men's rights activists,” who justify hatred and violence with the excesses of feminism.`

It can seem perplexing as to why all of these young men could become so demented and so far gone from reality but we need to look at what a sad spectacle the young white man in the United States is. My late fiance, Jennifer Reimer, and I once wrote an article called “The American Hikikomori” in which we juxtaposed the phenomenon of Japanese men who hauled themselves up to play video games all day with the mass shooters facing America. Faced with a world in which women are ascendant in the workplace and free to choose for themselves and in which minorities are in places of authority, they were raised for a longer existing society in which they still would have had economic worth while being insulated. A barrage of factors from the internet to heavy use of psychiatric medication bred a generation of men like this – looking for others to blame for their failure to understand life and the world. It's a variety of factors, all coalesced in to horror.

What To Do

The United States has enjoyed material prosperity of previously unknown proportions for half a century. As a result, insurrectionist violence like we are seeing is disturbing and disorienting. While it is pretty standard in most of the world and most countries have taken steps to deal with it, Americans, even of good will, are a bit disoriented and terrified about something that they simply thought happened only in other countries.

The same fears that drive people to terrorism in other countries clearly exist here. On the individual level, people will do a lot of service to their community by identifying these people as what they are – terrorists – and not simply crazy people with guns. Common sense gun control is clearly in need but the problem will not be lessened unless we call out these terrorists on their ideas.

One of the best electoral voices on this issue may be Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Sanders may initially many voices who see gun control, immediate and authoritative, as the first need to combat the problem. His opposition to gun control (or at least cynicism about how much it will solve) isn't as absolute as many perceive him and his response to the South Carolina church attack was crystal clear – he called it an “act of terrorism” immediately after its occurrence.

As a Jewish man, as well, Sanders connects well with the history of nationalism and racism and knows how to recognize it for what it is when he sees it. Sanders is an aggressive man on causes of social injustice and inequity – he could potentially see this clearer than other people have.

There is a mental health component to all of this and the United States needs to return to a more robust system of mental health, including involuntary commitment. I would argue that the two aren't interchangeable and that anyone who looks at the anti-Semitic, racist material Dylan Rouff did is obviously mentally ill. Many of these shooters are on dangerous psychiatric medications – medications which can damage the brain and exacerbate existing symptoms.

It is controllable. As horrific as it is, America's mass shooting does not compare with many other horrors this world has faced and likely will face. It's not even unique – Australia has been the site of regular race riots and regular tension between white Australians and the aboriginal natives but those race riots haven't turned deadly thanks to Australia's robust gun control laws. Both Islamic and white terrorism seem to grow organically, with the aid of powerful political groups and benefactors. It takes daring and a willing to change, however, and a willingness to confront right wing hate and fanaticism for what it truly is - terrorism.

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About Radical Second Things

Michael Orion is a blogger, writer, artist and photographer based in the Bay Area. Besides his maintenance and promotion of Radical Second Things, he contributes to the San Francisco newspaper SF Western Edition, where he writes about local non-profit organizations.

Mark Cappetta is a practicing Catholic and active LGBT activist. He has been instrumental in keeping Radical Second Things and updates the Facebook account almost daily.

Eva Gnostiquette is an artist, programmer, "future scientist," bi-trans girl and graphic designer. She voluntarily helped to create the first print issue Radical Second Things and designed our beautiful banners. Thanks so much, Eva!

Jordan Denato is a professional artist based out of Iowa. He took the initiative to illustrate both Jennifer Reimer's story and Michael Orion's Oscar Romero work. He has his own art studio, Tar and Feather Studios, and is a critical part of Radical Second Things.

Radical Second Things is a liberation theology themed blog that has clear cut goals - we see the structural decline of the United States and much of the west and hope to present alternatives that will offer "a preferential option for the poor" as more become vulnerable.

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