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Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Stop With the Mental Gymnastics, Conservatives — Radical Right-Wing Terrorism is a Deadly Serious Problem

Unless you’ve been living in a cave without internet access, you’ve probably heard about the deadly mass shootings that took place this past weekend.

As is usually the case with these events, the media and the public wants to know the motives behind these heinous acts. When it comes to the perpetrator of the El Paso, Texas, shooting (whose name will be deliberately omitted here), however, it didn’t take long to figure out what was going through his mind when he walked into that Walmart.

According to investigators, the El Paso shooter posted a roughly 2,500 word manifesto onto the 8chan message board — a website which has come under increasing scrutiny for harboring a user base with a strong affinity for right-wing radicalism — explaining just why he was going to do what he did.

Filled with anti-immigrant and white nationalist language — ranging from a distaste for race mixing to alarm about a “Hispanic invasion” to blaming Democrats for wanting to lure immigrants into the country — it’s not hard to see why the shooter drove over 400 miles to the border town of El Paso to carry out his crimes.

The El Paso shooter is hardly the first person to espouse such radical right-wing political views before going on to commit mass murder — and, in this case, an act that is being investigated as both a hate crime and an act of domestic terrorism. The reality is that racial and white nationalist-inspired terrorism has been increasing in recent years.

Shortly before the El Paso shooting, the FBI revealed that domestic terrorism arrests have been on the rise and warned against the increasing threat white nationalism poses to American lives. Earlier this year, the Anti-Defamation League also released its annual report on hate crime killings in the United States, noting that last year every individual involved in a hate-inspired murder had at least one link to right-wing radicalism. To deny these trends would require some impressive mental gymnastics — and in the days since El Paso, this has been on full display.

One of these has been the tired and long-dispelled claim that video games inspire shooters. There are, at least among online conservatives, the similarly textbook response that this was some sort of “false flag” operation aimed at drumming up support for gun control.

Then there are the embarrassing attempts at employing Whataboutism: What about left-wing terror? What about antifa? A Breitbart article claiming to chronicle 639 acts of leftist violence, written a month ago, suddenly began circulating widely this weekend. That deliberately inflated number is predicated not only on a very broad definition of “leftist violence” (including examples like throwing chocolate milkshakes to verbal insults online) but in some cases outright deliberate misinformation.

Yes, there are some genuine instances of physical violence in the article, but much of it is a woeful attempt at grasping at straws by equating derogatory tweets with individuals shooting up synagogues and public spaces, driving into a crowd of protesters, and mailing bombs to political figures. They’re simply not the same — it’s an argument made intentionally in bad faith.

Yet we have Republican leaders actively running with this narrative — that the left is just as dangerous (or more dangerous) than right-wing radicals.

In a spectacular example of ignoring reality, late last month Sen. Ted Cruz and other Republicans expressed a renwed determination to classify antifa as a domestic terrorist organization. Not only has antifa not been responsible for any political killings in modern times — it’s also not an organization, but an umbrella term that covers a political movement aimed at opposing fascism, as it has for the past century; it’s not unlike conservatives’ condemnation of Black Lives Matter, which is also not a specific group — but when you’re scrambling to point fingers the other way, who cares about nuance and facts?

White nationalism never disappeared from the United States. However, if we are to go on FBI data and hate crime statistics alone — never mind the none-too-subtle rhetoric that’s being spewed by everyone from your racist aunt on Facebook to the president himself — something is happening and ignoring it is quite literally dangerous.

Stop blaming everyone and everything else and take a look in the mirror, conservatives. You’re part of the problem.

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