HOUSTON — The United States of America is a society built on myriad cultures, identities, and languages. It’s a purposeful concept that has been part of the country’s foundation since its earliest days. And despite what a white person may say about “white culture,” the truth is that the U.S. is not a monolithic civilization. What’s true for people on the West Coast isn’t always true for people in the South, the Midwest, or the East Coast. Consequently, there can be no single “American culture.”
Differences in needs and wants vary considerably and are not always divided by vast distances but by state and county lines. This is largely why hate groups and extremists can never establish cohesion among their various movements. Some extremist groups like the Proud Boys even portray an image of diversity and are willing to accept non-white people as long as they’re promoting white supremacist ideology.
But, as has been made clear time and again, alliances with Black people and Latinos are contingent on achieving what is often referred to as “Western chauvinism,” which promotes the colonialist ideology of oppressing non-white people. With groups like the Proud Boys, Three Percenters, and the Oath Keepers, it doesn’t take long to expose the motivating factors behind their coded language (dog-whistles). Behind closed doors, the truth comes out rather quickly.
This is Bobby Crimo, the “person of interest” in the Highland Park shooting, in Trump flags. pic.twitter.com/T7R8y88M9n
— Sawyer Hackett (@SawyerHackett) July 4, 2022
There is no question that the political right has embraced extremism. The current wave of hate in politics began after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. What started as the Tea Party —formed out of disdain for Obama and Republican establishment politics— has morphed into the embrace of “alt-right” political ideology–the path Donald Trump exploited to eke out a victory in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump’s campaign and his ensuing presidency were heavily influenced by the hateful ideology of the extreme right. By employing the language of David Duke’s KKK and the dog-whistle attacks on non-white communities popularized by Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, Trump was able to take things a step further. He directly attacked minority communities based on the knowledge that hate had long been normalized by past administrations.
Trump’s campaign and presidency exploited racial tensions in the country and amplified those beliefs on the world’s stage. Even now, after leaving office, Trump remains a real and present danger to non-white people. Consistently more dangerous are those in corporate media who downplay his influence on extremists and hate groups. We’ve seen the influence of his words over and over as countless lives have been lost because of what he says and does.
The job of a journalist is now more critical than ever. Attacks on reporters and news outlets, in general, have increased while trust in media has plummeted. This is unquestionably dangerous for society. The media, however, particularly corporate-driven news, should not be above criticism—especially when talking about the explosion of hate and extremism in the U.S., what is driving such high recruitment numbers, and the disguising of domestic terrorists’ motivations.
Too many journalists are driven by ego over facts. They focus more on being the first to publish something over the veracity of their source material so they can lock down those TV spots and portray themselves as experts. This leads not only to pundits getting it wrong but also to them promoting false narratives. Far too much of what is seen on cable news is speculative at best. The most recent mass shootings are the best proof of that.
On cable news, we’ve seen national security experts suggest the number “47” tattooed on the Illinois terrorist’s face “could be” gang-related while abundantly mentioning Chicago despite the shooting occurring in Highland Park, about 30 minutes outside of the city. We’ve also heard so-called experts claim the shooter’s motivations were not based on hate but nihilism, presumably using it as a catch-all term so they can’t be called out later for being wrong.
Similarly, many of us heard the nonsensical theory that the Buffalo terrorist’s motivation was related to bad dentistry work performed by a Jewish dentist—despite his manifesto, the fact that he killed 10 Black people, and had the n-word scrawled on his rifle—an idea that was proposed, with little basis, by a prominent reporter on social media and shared by his colleagues.
As self-proclaimed experts continue to ensure that they get the TV spots while confusing the public and media producers who don’t know any better, a deeper investigation shows that the Illinois terrorist didn’t just attend Trump rallies. His social media is harrowing, bigoted, and deeply anti-Semitic.
He was in possession of insignias that resembled the logo of a far-right Finnish group called Suomen Sisu – an ultra-nationalist movement that’s been accused of xenophobia and anti-Semitism in the past. (Read their English introduction here.) While the symbol is more broadly used and could potentially be associated with various movements, the content of the terrorist’s social media and his music narrow its use down to all but two things: far-right ideology and/or numerology.
Other evidence regarding the shooter should not be overlooked either. In April, he attempted to enter the Chabad synagogue during Passover and was immediately removed by the congregation’s security director.
He also entered the synagogue at a different time during Passover and sat in the sanctuary for 45 minutes.
As we wait to hear if the shooter reveals his motivation, it serves no purpose to speculate using dismissive tones and hypothetical tales that only serve to deceive the public. We also can’t ignore what the evidence suggests. Extremism and hate are growing, and understanding motivations is high-value knowledge that provides us with information to better address the issues. Exposing how young white men are becoming radicalized is crucial.
Simply writing extremists off as nihilist is lazy and misinformed—as is citing mental health issues immediately after acts of white terror occur. During the synagogue visit where the Highland Park shooter sat for 45 minutes, he wore all Black “goth style” clothes and Black gloves, according to the Chabad synagogue’s security director. In a city with a population that is 30 percent Jewish, this is alarming evidence that has so far been overlooked or outright dismissed by media pundits.
In addition, it’s been reported that the shooter was the administrator of a Discord chat channel named “SS,” a shortened acronym for the Nazi paramilitary group, the Schutzstaffel, which committed innumerable atrocities during the Holocaust. And while many point to only three Jewish people counted among the dead, they’re not discussing the other victims or the fact that a shooter could not differentiate who is Jewish or not because of crowd density.
If he were targeting the Jewish community, the terrorist would know that the likelihood of killing a Jew is very high in a community like Highland Park.
Update from a Jewish news source:
The Highland Park shooter apparently attempted to enter a synagogue in the town during Passover. He seemed suspicious enough that the rabbi and security made him leave.
Scary to think of what he might have been thinkinghttps://t.co/wShFm61uqw
— Elad Nehorai (@EladNehorai) July 5, 2022
While this information is likely not enough for hate crime charges, what the authorities know in conjunction with this information suggests they are likely—in addition to attempted murder charges and aggravated assault on top of the seven murder charges. That the terrorist admitted to the attack and is talking to police is promising when it comes to finding out what his motivations truly were.
What is certain is the radicalization of young white men beginning with seemingly innocuous memes that lead to more extremist content is growing. As hateful ideas and the accompanying language that inevitably lead to anti-Black, anti-Semitic, and outright bigotry become normalized, so do thoughts of committing acts of terror in hopes of starting a civil ethnic war.
It may be difficult to determine which groups are responsible for radicalizing individuals who commit acts of terror. But, in the U.S., over 1,000 hate groups promote this ideology online, shutting down any talk of lone wolves. Meanwhile, after cable news promoted the ideas of potential gang-related activity and that the shooter was simply a nihilist, there are no retractions or corrections as to his potential motivation.
When it comes to terrorist attacks, journalists who are more concerned with being the first to report something rather than being correct in their reporting are dangerous. Using broad language like nihilism and “blackpilling,” which the general public struggles to understand, only serves to bury the reality of what is happening regarding extremism in the United States.
Arturo Domínquez is a first-generation Cuban American father of three young men, an anti-racist, journalist, and publisher of The Antagonist Magazine. If you’d like to learn more about the issues covered here, follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You can also support his work here and here.