What Do We Do If White Supremacist Terrorism Keeps Increasing?

It’s hard to say what the tipping point was.

After years of incendiary racist rhetoric from conservative infotainment, far-right websites, troll forums like 8chan and, of course, President Trump himself, America is suffering from a crisis of white-supremacist terrorist violence. The FBI now acknowledges white supremacy as the nation’s most deadly terrorist ideology. Right-wing extremist attacks have been increasing year over year, surging to a high not seen since the racist terrorist Tim McVeigh bombed a federal building in 1995.

It has worsened since Trump was elected. His rallies are ugly and often violent affairs, and he has tacitly encouraged white nationalist extremism. There was, of course, the deadly alt-right rally in Charlottesville where a neo-Nazi killed a decent young women. There was the anti-semitic killing at the Poway synagogue by an alt-right extremist. And, of course, there was the Charleston massacre at a black church by another white supremacist.

But now there have been at least two mass attacks in the just the last few days, one at the Gilroy Garlic Festival by an angry young man who had posted white-supremacist ideology on Instagram and had white supremacist materials in his home, and another on Saturday at a Walmart in El Paso by a vicious bigot spouting rhetoric who posted a manifesto online decrying the Hispanic “invasion” of Texas, adopting language similar to the president’s. And while we have no solid information on the killings Saturday night at a bar in Dayton, Ohio, there are ominous indications: the shooter was a white male who went where he sister was, then shot her and dozens of others. Six of the nine people killed were black. At the very least, it speaks to a misogynistic entitlement common in many of these attackers.

So, what do we do if this keeps happening? What do we do if the attacks increase? What if the people we trust to protect us, including the government and law enforcement, refuse to try and do something about this? What do we do about the fact that communities of color have been experiencing a chronic version of this, including victimization by racism within law enforcement, for decades? What recourse is left?

This is one of the deepest problems of having a broken political system—we are incapable of action. The Republican Party is dependent for its survival on the support of the gun industry, racist and sexist xenophobes, and evangelical bigots, and in thrall to a conservative infotainment complex whose business model depends on ratcheting up cultural and racial anxieties, not reducing them. The judiciary has been seeded with Federalist Society-approved radicals who not only scuttle most attempts at progressive reform, but actively try to remake the country into an anarcho-capitalist dystopia through judicial activism. The Democratic Party struggles with internal divisions, but even under the best circumstances, it finds itself punished electorally for even trying to make moderate changes on a single crisis like healthcare.

That means that the prospect for legislative action on gun control, for instance, is incredibly dim. The potential for changing the culture of the FBI to deal with white supremacist violence in a serious and systematic is low. And the prospect of changing the culture of local law enforcement remains challenging.

Even a smashing electoral victory for Democrats carries no guarantees. It’s the best and most immediate response to an empowered white-supremacist president. It’s also entirely possible that the realization of utter defeat will only serve to cause white supremacists to abandon political remedies in favor of violent ones.

There are no easy answers for this problem. But any solution begins with naming and confronting it at every level of society.

We need political leaders who will talk about it relentlessly. We need law enforcement to treat white-supremacist violence as an organized entity rather than the actions of lone wolves. We need social media platforms to start treating white-supremacist rhetoric like they do ISIS and Islamist extremist rhetoric—and if that catches a few white-supremacist extremist Republican politicians in the net, so be it.

And if the sclerosis of the political system makes it absolutely impossible to take legislative action on our gun crisis, the last tool left may be the one used recently by the people of Puerto Rico: mass protest. After all, Republican politics can be neatly summed up as very rich white people using the prejudices and cultural pathologies of poorer white people to keep them rich and their taxes low while pinning blame for society’s ills on the “other.” If money is the only language GOP leaders will listen to, then perhaps mass protests on the level of a general strike and bringing the asset economy to a halt will be what is required to break the logjam.

Because the only other alternative is exactly what the white supremacists want: more fear, more killing, more intimidation, and, ultimately, the possibility of dangerous reprisals and low-grade civil war. As with climate change and other crises facing the country, the time to act to build a better future is now. Otherwise, things will only get worse.

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David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.