Stark new reality of US white extremism

It’s no longer deniable – the US has a problem of homegrown white nationalist violent extremism that should rightfully be declared a national emergency.

Three separate attacks across three US states within the space of one week alone have left 32 dead, with a further 54 injured.

In comparison, since July 28 – the day of the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting by a white supremacist that began this spate of mass killings in the US – there have been a combined three terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria that have resulted in the deaths of 35 civilians, and the injury of 35 more.

That, in the so-called land of the free, statistics of civilians slain at the hands of terrorists are even remotely comparable to three countries suffering from years-long Islamist insurgencies and civil war is a poignant reality.

But while it is the Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton attacks that have made the headlines, the US non-profit Gun Violence Archive has recorded 251 mass shootings – defined as an incident in which more than four people were shot, excluding the shooter – in the country as of the 216th day of this year.

Commentators have rightfully pointed out that if the deaths of 32 people in three separate attacks in one week had been the result of Isis-inspired fanatics, the government’s response would be robust and immediate, with a national emergency almost certainly declared.

US President Donald Trump’s two executive orders in 2017 – colloquially known as the “Muslim Travel Ban”, that placed a blanket ban on citizens from six Muslim-majority nations receiving visas – show the lengths he is willing to go in the interests of “national security”.

Yet, once again, a mere chorus of “thoughts and prayers” has reverberated in response to these three deadly attacks, along with Trump declaring, in his characteristically measured and understated tone, that “perhaps more has to be done” to address gun violence.

The problem is that unlike the trend of terrorist incidents in recent decades, the men responsible for these attacks are not easily caricatured or othered, making grandstanding (but ineffective) moves like the Muslim Travel Ban impossible.

Nor can law enforcement agencies profile and target virginal white men in their late teens and early 20s with a penchant for internet chatrooms.

And the anti-immigration sentiment espoused by at least two of the gunmen can’t be so easily demonised and rejected either, as it’s largely reminiscent of the rhetoric publicly espoused by the president himself.

The El Paso “manifesto” left by the shooter declared, in decidedly Trumpian language, that “this attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas”.

To any rational observer, immediate gun control legislation seems the most obvious measure to take in the short term – but even that could rightfully be regarded as treating the symptom rather than the problem.

The problem, simply put, is that a Pandora’s box has been opened since 2016, with xenophobia and racism becoming acceptable, once again, in mainstream discourse.

Disenfranchised, radicalised and emboldened angry young white men now have their raison d’etre, as provided by those at the very top, plentiful inspiration, as well as the means and opportunity to do something about it.

The US must stop skirting the real problem with red herrings, declaring these incidents as simply an issue of lone gunmen, mental health or even gun control.

America must acknowledge the stark reality – it has fostered a society in which homegrown white nationalist violent extremism has been allowed to take root.

Alastair McCready is a journalist for The Phnom Penh Post.