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It was pure evil, motivated by despicable racism and wrapped in sheer anti-Semitism.
The suspect in the Buffalo supermarket shooting is a sick and twisted individual who allegedly set out to kill as many black people as possible. The murder of 10 people is an unspeakable tragedy for their families, for the city (where I went to college) and for our country.
But how much attention do we want to give the alleged shooter (who I am not naming here, as is my usual practice) when that is precisely what he craved, as evidenced by his live-streaming the massacre?
There are some larger issues to debate here, but personally I have little interest in “understanding” anyone crazy enough to open fire in a crowded place, which sadly has become far too common. It was only a month ago that a black nationalist started shooting up a Brooklyn subway car, wounding more than 20, and a day after the Buffalo shooting, another man started firing in a California church, killing one person and wounding four before parishioners tackled him.
After each mass shooting, there is a brief moment where people on the left and the right wait to see what the killer’s motivation is, then rush to score political points depending on the outcome.
If it turns out the assailant is a liberal – as at the GOP congressional baseball practice shooting in Virginia, by a Bernie Sanders supporter who loved Rachel Maddow’s show – then conservatives blame left-wing philosophy. When a mentally ill man wounded Gabby Giffords and killed six people in Arizona, liberals (and later the New York Times) unfairly blamed Sarah Palin for a political map with crosshairs in Democratic districts–though it turned out the killer had never even seen the map.
In the Buffalo case, we don’t have to guess. The 180-page screed shows the 18-year-old suspect is an ardent believer in “replacement theory,” the conspiratorial idea that immigrants are being brought to America to shrink the white majority and its influence – a supposed scheme masterminded by the Jews.
Among the unhinged rants: Jews “must be called out and killed. I wish all JEWS to HELL! Go back to hell where you came from DEMON!”
The suspect openly admires the mass shooter who embraced replacement theory and killed 51 people three years ago in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Now, since a couple of voices have talked about replacement theory on Fox News, there has been both heated reporting and commentary that…it’s Fox’s fault! Never mind that no one on Fox has advocated political violence. Never mind that, as the New York Times acknowledged deep in a story on conservative media, we have no idea if the suspect ever watched Fox.
Never mind that no public figure can be held responsible for what an insane person decides to do with their words. Never mind that no one blamed Maddow for the baseball shooting, as indeed no one should have.
I’m in no way minimizing the nuttiness of replacement theory, and of course anyone who appears on Fox or any other network, or in any newspaper or website, is fair game for criticism. But the rush to say that so-and-so has “blood on his hands” – as some on the right would say of Barack Obama when a police officer was killed–is reckless.
As Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald writes on Substack:
“It is virtually impossible to find any ideology on any part of the political spectrum that has not spawned senseless violence and mass murder by adherents.”
He continues: “When killings are carried out in the name of right-wing ideologies despised by the corporate press and mainstream pundits (or ideologies that they falsely associate with conservatism), they instantly leap to lay blame at the feet of their conservative political opponents who, despite never having advocated or even implied the need for violence, are nonetheless accused of bearing guilt for the violence — often before anything is known about the killers or their motives.
In general, it is widely understood that liberal pundits and politicians are not to blame, at all, when murders are carried out in the name of the causes they support or against the enemies they routinely condemn. That is because, in such cases, we apply the rational framework that someone who does not advocate violence is not responsible for the violent acts of one’s followers and fans who kill in the name of that person’s ideas.”
One other point: the alleged shooter is clearly a white supremacist, racist and anti-Semite. But in his diatribe, as Greenwald notes, he describes himself as a “left-wing authoritarian,” a strong environmentalist and a critic of corporate profits who argues that “conservatism is corporatism in disguise.”
The Wall Street Journal editorial page, from the right, warned that “partisans are already using the massacre to leap to broader political conclusions, as they always do. There’s no doubt that a racist subculture exists in America and is spread on social media. Politicians and media figures have an obligation to condemn it and such conspiratorial notions as ‘white replacement theory.’” Agreed.
Which brings us to the question of guns. The suspect legally purchased a Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle, then modified it to carry extra ammunition.
Turns out that when he was in high school last year, police took the suspect into custody under a New York mental health law after he said he wanted to commit a murder/suicide. He was given a psychiatric evaluation and quickly released. State police maintain they had no grounds to hold him because he hadn’t made a specific threat.
Says the Journal: “He fits the profile of other young men who become mass shooters at an age when mental illness often strikes. Keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill isn’t easy, but it’s one form of gun control that would do some good.”
That’s exceedingly difficult to carry out, but it’s a goal that even gun-control opponents should embrace.
In the meantime, less partisan finger-pointing and a greater focus on curbing the scourge of mass shootings would be welcome.