Never let a good tragedy go to waste is pretty much the rule of the road inside the Beltway and a prime example of this showed up in the Washington Post today in the form of an op-ed from former Obama DHS assistant secretary and CNN security analyst Juliette Kayyem. Bluntly titled, “There Are No Lone Wolves,” the author seems to make the claim that these mass shootings wouldn’t be taking place without a “community” fueled by hate and emboldened by the public speech of various officials (mostly President Trump, of course).
Oh, the author goes out of her way to insist that Donald Trump isn’t directly responsible for these shootings. Perish the thought. But she then dances around every possible analysis to leave us with the impression that if he’s not the cause, he’s certainly not helping. The real evil, however, is found on the internet and in the “communities” that evolve around hateful speech and calls for violence.
There are no lone wolves. A mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso on Saturday was allegedly perpetrated by a young, white male, according to police, who appears to have posted a racist, anti-immigrant manifesto online minutes before the attack, declaring the need to fight the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Such white-supremacist hatred isn’t just a poisonous belief held by isolated individuals. It is a group phenomenon that is, according to the FBI, the greatest terrorist threat to America…
If the El Paso massacre turns out to have been the hate crime that police suspect, it will be one more example why viewing what is happening in America today as anything short of an ideological conflict — with one side heavily armed, the other side shopping for school supplies at a Walmart — is to disengage each individual incident from the terrorist rhetoric that breeds it.
White-supremacist terror is rooted in a pack, a community. And its violent strand today is being fed by three distinct, but complementary, creeds. The community has essentially found a mission, kinship and acceptance.
There you have it. “Mission, kinship, and acceptance.” That’s the white nationalist movement in a nutshell, apparently. And this poisonous nest of vipers is only encouraged and pushed to action by the President… or something.
There are two distinct aspects to this debate we should consider. The first is this idea that the “lone wolf” assailant is imaginary because everyone certainly must fall into some sort of group that supports and enables them. This is horse hockey on a number of levels. First of all, there have been plenty of lone wolf killers over the course of our nation’s history. Look no further than John Allen Muhammad, the so-called Beltway Sniper. It’s true he had his juvenile ward with him but were not acting as part of any organization or movement. The Zodiac Killer, the Golden State Killer… the list goes on.
Now, I will grant you that the rise of the internet has certainly gone a long way toward connecting lunatics who might otherwise have festered in lonely silence and allowed them to build toxic communities, but it’s still not always the case. And even if we take the example of the El Paso shooter and his 8-Chan friends, they may have provided immoral support and reinforced his biases, but he was still the one who showed up with a gun and did the shooting. And he did it alone.
The other question is whether or not the President is sufficiently condemning either the specific acts of violence, the general ideology perceived to be behind them or the responsible individuals. What precisely do these critics want the President to say that he’s not already said? (Keeping in mind that both Kayyem and I are addressing conditions as they stood prior to the President’s remarks this morning.) Speaking strictly in terms of proper procedures, there are certain things the POTUS is supposed to keep his beak out of, not that he manages it very often.
Do you want him to condemn “the killings” in general and show compassion for those affected? He did. (And if you want to see what that got him in the eyes of his critics, read this article.) Should he weigh in on the specific individual who did the shooting and condemn him? Hold your horses. In other situations, he’s been criticized for endangering a prosecution by biasing the case before it goes to trial.
Kayyem chastises Trump for not speaking out more broadly against white nationalism or whatever the phrase of the week is at the moment. But let’s remember that when Donald Trump speaks, he speaks as the voice of the government. The rest of us in the peanut gallery are free to condemn hateful speech of all sorts, antisemitism, racism and all the rest. But it’s the job of the government to protect all speech, even the most unpopular. That’s one of the foundations of the First Amendment. Would you have him squelch voices you disagree with?
In the end, I’d be inclined to ask some of these critics to engage in a little introspection first. What are you more upset about? The fact that maniacs are shooting up crowds of people or that Donald Trump is still the President?