Everything Progressives Say About Mass Shootings is Wrong…and Racist

I’ve been reading posts on Facebook expressing relief that the El Paso shooter was not a Muslim. Above is a screen shot of the status of a co-editor of the political newsletter CounterPunch expressing this sentiment. One wonders whether he hopes, upon hearing news that another mass shooting has occurred, that a white nationalist is responsible. I included a comment by Kati Francis. St. Clair is not alone in this desire.

Why would people express such a sentiment? What is the agenda?

My newsfeed is bustling with memes proclaiming the “truth” that mass shooting is not a Muslim problem but a white male problem (as if Muslims aren’t white males). We’ve seen these memes before. We’ll see them again.

Islam is an ideology. Remind me, what ideology is “white male” again? Passive demographic categories, even in their intersections, are not motive generating. This doesn’t matter to those pushing the agenda.

This is the worst feature of identitarian politics—blaming the actions of individuals on their race and gender. It’s racist and sexist.

This time around progressives have a new angle: lay El Paso at the feet of President Trump, whose desire to slow the flow of migrants from Central America—a desire shared by millions of working class Americans—“inspires” hate crimes.

To be sure, the El Paso shooter subscribed to racist ideology. Make no mistake, this was an act of domestic terrorism. But progressives pretend as if only they grasp this truth. Rolling Stone’s sarcastic take: White Nationalist Violence has Nothing to do with White Nationalism.

It’s a lot like how Islamic terrorism has nothing to do with Islam. For progressives, when Muslims act “in the name of Islam,” they “pervert the faith.” Crusius did not carry out an attack on humans “in the name of racism.” Racism authored Crusius’ actions. This is true of Islamic terrorism, as well.

Human beings act on the basis of belief and meaning concerning the things and relations they experience—or believe they experience—in life. Omar Mateen, a man who, in 2016, killed 49 people in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, was motivated by Islamic teachings and the desire for the return of the Caliphate, the Islamic Empire. Dylann Roof, responsible for the 2015 killing of black churchgoers in Charleston, held views similar to Patrick Crusius. White supremacists want a world of people who look like them. At least they want a world where white men call the shots. This resonates with Islam: everybody should be a Muslim—or at least Muslims should be on top.

The attempt to tie the albatross of racism around President Trump’s neck won’t work. There’s too much history here. Crusius’ actions are not new. Mass shootings didn’t begin with Trump. Nor do they depend on his rhetoric. Racist terrorism depends on a racist worldview. Just as Muslim terrorism depends on an Islamic worldview.

Yet the memes keep coming.

This must be said: Progressives get everything wrong about the phenomenon of mass shooting. At the core of their confusion—to be charitable for a moment I will call it confusion—is the fallacy that mass shooting is a “white male” problem.

On November 5th, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Devin Patrick Kelley, a young man with a history of abusive behavior towards women, children, and animals, killed seven percent of the town that had gathered in a church to pray to their god. It was one of many mass killings in the United States in the post-Vietnam War period.

In the aftermath of the slaying, many on the left immediately exploited Kelley’s actions to push a perception—at the time already several years in the making, continually reinforced with each successive case, each case selected for illustrative purpose, curated in the service of the agenda—that mass shooting by white men is the “real problem.” But, alas, the real problem is rationalized by the mainstream media as “mental illness” because “white privilege.” At the same time, unfairly, mass shooting by Muslims is defined as “terrorism.”

Their complaint: Perceptions of mass shootings are driven by a racist double standard. Murder by whites is rationalized, while non-white killers are held accountable with motive assumed.

Ironically, the double standard sits on their doorstep.

Consider the following headlines, most written before Sutherland Springs: “Most of America’s Terrorists are White, and Not Muslim” (The Huffington Post 6.23.2017); “White American men are a bigger domestic terrorist threat than Muslim foreigners” (Vox 10.2.2017); “Why is it always a white guy? The roots of modern, violent rage” (Salon 11.1.2013); “White Men Have Committed More Mass Shootings Than Any Other Group” (Newsweek 10.2.2017). Even Teen Vogue (5.9.2017) joined the chorus of headlines with “White Male Terrorists are an Issue We Should Discuss.” (Except, of course, if the white male terrorist is Muslim.)

Take the Salon piece, excerpted from Michael Kimmel’s Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era. All is not well in white America, Kimmel opines: “There’s a mounting anger underneath those perfectly manicured lawns, and it erupts like small volcanoes in our homes, in our corporate offices, and on those peaceful suburban streets themselves.” The threat is not from Muslims, portrayed as a downtrodden racial minority, but from white males. The message to the majority white population: a mass murder could be brewing in your idyllic white-bread neighborhood. That’s where the real pathology dwells.

What’s the solution? Open borders and embrace Islam?

This line of thinking has generated a seemingly endless stream of memes, epitomized, for example, by the image of a hand holding a paint chip sampler to Kelley’s face, with the light end of the chips indicating mental illness and the darker end of the chips indicating terrorism. “Guess which one Kelley’s is?” we’re to ask ourselves.

Memes are reusable. Here it is using Stephen Paddock as the embodiment of white male threat:

We’re being invited to view mass shootings through the lens of race in a tightly controlled way. The function of the social media propaganda is to install in the population a reflex that sees coverage of violence as intrinsically racist. The propaganda racializes Islam to cover the range of mass killing in order to deny its ideological character at one end, to paint those who express concern about the Islamic form of violence as racist. You’re not to notice that Muslim terrorists kill for religiously-inspired political reasons. That might lead the public to worry about the spread of Islam in society—the worry the public is supposed to have about the spread of white nationalism. If Muslims are a race, then to draw any conclusions about them becomes racist. The only race the public is allowed to draw conclusions about is the white one. Especially if they are male.

The epitome of this approach is found in Naaz Modan’s “How America has Silently Accepted the Rage of White Men,” an op-ed, published by CNN, written on the occasion of the Las Vegas massacre perpetrated by Stephen Paddock, who, on October 1, 2017, killed 58 people and wounded 422 others. Modan writes:

“Mass shootings are a violent epidemic that have been met with fatal passivity for far too long. If mass shootings were perpetrated mostly by brown bodies, this would quickly be reframed and reformed as an immigration issue. If thousands died at the hands of black men, it would be used to excuse police brutality, minimize the Black Lives Matter movement and exacerbate the ‘raging black man’ stereotype. If mass shooters identified as Muslim, it would quickly become terrorism and catalyze defense and security expenditures. But because the shooter is white, it is downplayed, ignored, and nothing is done about it.”

Naaz Modan

The facts disprove Modan’s raw identitarian claims at every point. That CNN would publish such rubbish indicates an agenda.

The Los Angeles Times, in an article published yesterday, “Recent mass shootings in the US: A timeline,” gives us a terrific opportunity to show why corporate media framing is wrong. The article looks at the worst mass shootings over the last four years, its author, Carolina Miranda, identifying eighteen such incidents.

She begins with the most recent shooting, the August 4, 2019 shooting in Dayton, Ohio, that left 9 dead and numerous others injured. We don’t yet know the motive for this shooting. However, we do know that the perpetrator, Connor Betts, was white. He was shot and killed by police. The day before, Crusius carried out his attack in a Walmart on El Paso’s eastside leaving 20 dead and two wounded. Crusius, too, is white. He was taken into custody. (Progressives make a point of Crusius being taken alive, juxtaposing the photo of his arrest to that of a black man being choked to death by cops. They wonder aloud about the “special treatment,” yet another instance of “white privilege.” They said the same thing when Dylann Roof was arrested.)

Crusius and Betts

The next two mass casualty events, the May 31, 2019 Virginia Beach shooting that left 12 dead and six wounded, and the February 15, 2019 Aurora, Illinois shooting that left 5 dead, were both perpetrated by black men. DeWayne Craddock was shot dead by the police. So was Gary Martin. These stories quickly faded in the media echo chamber. Very little was made of race in these cases.

Craddock and Martin

Of the four mass shootings the LA Times locates in 2019, half of the perpetrators were white. One of them—Crusius—was motivated by white nationalist ideology.

Of course, Craddock and Martin’s race did not cause the deaths of 17 people. Craddock and Martin appear to have been motivated by workplace grievances. The notion that race is a causal force is a central tenet of racist thought. Racists believe that a man’s skin color explains his behavior. This is a false belief. It’s just as false when used to explain the behavior of white men. Crusius and Betts did not commit their crimes because they are white males. Whatever their motives, the facts do not allow for the conclusion that mass shooting is a “white male” problem. It’s hard to imagine what would even count as evidence for such a claim—outside of racist logic.

On October 27, 2018, in Pittsburgh, Robert Bowers entered the Tree of Life Synagogue and killed 11 people and wounded six others. He wounded four police officers before being shot and taken into custody. He was motivated by anti-Semitic hate. On June 12, 2016, in Orlando, Florida, Omar Mateen entered the Pulse nightclub and perpetrated the second worse mass shooting in modern US history. Mateen identified himself as “Islamic Soldier,” “Mujahideen,” and “Soldier of God.” He pledged his allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the militant jihadist group ISIS. He specifically cited the airstrike in Iraq that killed Abu Wahib, an ISIS commander as the trigger for carrying out the event. Yet, according to the LA Times: “Among the motives attributed to Mateen were racism and homophobia.” Why would Miranda leave Islam out of it? The agenda.

Bowers and Mateen

On December 2, 2015, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik killed 14 and wounded 22 others at a holiday potluck. On July 16 of that year Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez killed five military personnel at two military centers. In between, on October 1, Christopher Sean Harper-Mercer entered his writing class at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon and killed nine and injured nine. Law enforcement reported that he had white supremacist leanings. He specifically targeted Christian students. He shot Christians in the head. Those who were not Christian were shot in the leg and lived.

Farook, Malik, and Harper-Mercer

The rest of the LA Times list is just as diverse. Arian Cetin was from Turkey, so some would say he was non-white. Some are of Hispanic ancestry: Ramos, Cruz, and Santiago. Santiago does not appear white. In most cases, the motive remains unclear or does not involve racist or Islamic beliefs. Mental illness marks some cases.

Four years of mass shootings. Progressive claims that mass shootings are a “white male” problem, or that white nationalism is the only or main motive in mass shootings, collapses. It’s as if nobody bothered to look. They just receive opinions and repeat them. Rampant virtue signaling with no fact-checking.

For some readers of my blog, the LA Times list may feel like it lacks statistical rigor. What do the aggregate statistics tell us? I will define mass shooting as a perpetrator, using a gun, killing four or more victims at a public location during a 24-hour period. This is a standard definition. This is the standard the LA Times uses.

Consider that the percentage of non-Hispanic white people in the US population is 63 percent. With white Hispanics included, it’s 72 percent. Populations are approximately equally divided between male and female. Using figures from Mother Jones’ file of mass shooting events and the work of Grant Duwe, non-Hispanic white men make up between 54 and 63 percent of mass shootings. It follows, then, that whites males overall are either underrepresented in mass shootings or their representation in mass shootings excluding white Hispanics is proportional to their demographic representation. In other words, the claim that whites are overrepresented in mass shootings is false.

Consider that 30 percent of Muslims in the US are white, mostly Arab, a group comprising the largest plurality of Muslims in the country. It is, in fact, these white Muslims who have committed some of the worst mass murders. Omar Mateen is Arab. Yet when explanations are sought in Muslim-perpetrated mass shootings, one risks being smeared as a racist or an Islamophobe. See, it is not that being Arab made Mateen a mass murderer. It is rather what Mateen believed that animated his actions.

(Ironically, those who want to make white males out to be the bad guys miss an opportunity to expand the pool by excluding Muslims from the white demographic statistics. I left them in. That means that, from the left identitarian standpoint, the underrepresentation of white males in mass shootings is even greater.)

What about the claim that atrocities by white males are falsely excused by mental illness? Duwe compiled an exhaustive set of numbers for mass public shootings, identifying 160 cases between 1915-2013. Of those, 97 involved shooters who had either been diagnosed with a serious mental illness or showed signs of one. “The 61% is actually a minimum estimate,” writes Duwe (see Mass Murder in the United States: A History).

When Modan writes, “If thousands died at the hands of black men, it would be used to excuse police brutality, minimize the Black Lives Matter movement and exacerbate the ‘raging black man’ stereotype,” one has to wonder on what planet she lives and whether facts matter on that planet. In 2015, the latest statistics Modan could have had on hand when she wrote her op-ed, there was an estimated 15,696 murders in the United States. Half of these murders were perpetrated by black men. The fact is that thousands do die at the hands of black men. Of course, Modan did not check the statistics before making her claim, but would she believe the skin color of these perpetrators had anything to do with their crimes? For the record, I don’t.

Nothing was made of Craddock’s race in the media. No onslaught of articles suggesting a lack of caution in previous explanations of mass shootings was forthcoming. Craddock’s actions quickly faded from public view. Why would Modan think that the existence of black mass shooters would provoke a “raging black man” stereotype in the media? If the corporate media is determined to paint a negative picture of black people, then why do they miss the opportunity to blame mass shootings on the black men who perpetrate them? Why, if this were the media’s goal, would they manufacture the perception that mass shooting is a white male problem? The facts suggest that progressives have a different agenda.

“If mass shooters identified as Muslim, it would quickly become terrorism and catalyze defense and security expenditures,” writes Modan. Muslims have killed scores of Americans (and Europeans) while screaming “God is great!” and pledging allegiance to terrorist organizations. Are we supposed to pretend that Islamic terrorism isn’t a problem? That we shouldn’t do something about it? That we should change the subject?

Progressive claims fail spectacularly in the light of facts. But facts do not matter here. Modan’s writings, like those of so many others, reflect an industry determined to make white men out to be America’s problem. The progressive left has a racism problem.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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