He drove 10 hours to come terrorize our city. The ideology that fueled a mass murderer, a terrorist, to drive 10 hours to come kill and maim this community because of the color of their skin and assumed Nationality, is the same ideology I and every other white person directly benefit from. White supremacy. He drove 10 hours to murder “illegal immigrants” because he believes that, like Donald Trump says, immigrants are invading the United States. Yet, there was no effort to distinguish from those with papers and those without, because it’s not really about “legality”; it’s about skin color.
The “legality” argument is as old as America, and the concept of “maintaining law and order” has always been synonymous with erasing people of color either through silencing them, enslaving and incarcerating them, or killing them to keep the United States “safe” and “prosperous”. The genocide of Indigenous people, slavery, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Texas Rangers, Jim Crow Laws, internment of Japanese Americans, denying entry to Jewish refugees, the attack on Civil Rights leaders and the Black Panthers, exploitation of Migrant farm workers, Islamophobia, the separation of families and caging children at the border, are just a few of the many ways in which institutions of power have attacked people of color and communicated that such treatment was necessary to preserve the safety and prosperity of America. Historically, law enforcement agencies and government entities have carried out this violence and have encouraged the public to “take matters into their own hands”. These institutional attacks have enforced the belief that “white” is the default, the natural state for “civilized” and good humans, and anyone that falls outside of that is a threat and is criminal, and therefore must be treated as such. These beliefs have permeated every inch of our institutions and have become more than beliefs, they have become truths. And because they have become truths, they have become tied inextricably to morality. White America is the true and moral America, and therefore must be preserved at all costs.
And so, we can’t be surprised that time and time again throughout our history, white men have chosen to take the “law” which seeks to preserve whiteness into their own hands, after all they are encouraged to do just that. “Protect your women from the Black man”, “Protect your job from the Mexicans”, “Protect your family from the disease of poverty by keeping your neighborhood white”. These are all narratives that permeate our social conscience in this country, and these narratives have been used time and time again by those in positions of power to encourage hate and fear toward immigrants and people of color. Lynchings, bombings, attacks on the street, mass shootings, have all been fueled by this belief that whiteness needs to be preserved in order for this Nation to remain safe and powerful.
The U.S. began to see a resurgence of Nationalist and White Supremacist groups during the Obama Presidency, as well as racist and violent public displays, however Republican lawmakers as a collective refused to acknowledge this social shift as a legitimate problem. This continues to be the case under the Trump Administration. The White House refuses to acknowledge the drastic increase of racist displays, hate crimes, and increasingly threatening online and physical presence of right-wing extremist groups, ignoring reports from the highest law enforcement institutions flagging these issues, and refusing to allocate funding accordingly. Instead, funding continues to go to overseas often focused on Muslim majority areas and toward “border security”, even though government data shows that, since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, far-right extremists carried out nearly three times as many attacks on Americans in the United States as Islamic extremists did. (New York Times).
Public displays of white supremacist propaganda such as fliers increased 182 percent in 2018, and the number of racist rallies increased nearly 20 percent. Hate crimes continue to rise and reached a nine-year high in 2017, the last year that FBI data is available. (New York Times). Charlottesville was the point of no return. Not only did it demonstrate that White Supremacist violence was in a resurgence and existed outside of vile words and memes online, but when the President of the United States failed to denounce the violent group of White Supremacists in the strongest terms, and instead chose to equate them to those who bravely showed up to stand against them, it was evident that we were at a point of no return. When those in positions of power identify that oppressive and violent acts are necessary to maintain balance, that gives justification for the public to take similar action. And in the United States, the gun lobby has insured that white men in America have the tools readily available to take the “law” into their own hands.
The NRA has become inextricably linked to right-wing extremism and White Supremacy, however this has not always been the case. Founded in 1871 by a group of former Union Army officers, it was created for the purpose of training to produce better marksmen, after many officers were appalled at the poor competency of Union soldiers (TIME). That focus on marksmanship continued for nearly 100 years, and all throughout that time, the NRA worked with the Federal government on gun restrictions. It wasn’t until the 1960s that things began to shift. The Civil Rights Movement and the appearance of a changing social order began to create widespread concern. Riots in major cities, often portrayed as Black Americans engaging in criminal behavior, prompted individuals to purchase guns for their personal protection. NRA members pushed the organization to adopt this messaging. (NPR). As Black Americans asserted their personhood, they became the victims of public displays of violence at the hands of law enforcement and the public. The laws and social norms that were in place were racist and kept Black people from freedom and full personhood, and so Black people broke those laws. Law enforcement and the public lashed out violently to maintain “law and order”. Law and order meant the oppression of Black people, it meant institutional racism and White Supremacy. The National push for gun ownership as a means of personal protection was born out of the need to protect the status quo, the need to protect the ideology of White Supremacy from the push for social equity.
In 1975 the NRA became a lobbying force with the creation of the Institute for Legislative Action in response to the 1971 incident in which agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms killed an NRA member who was hiding a large number of illegal weapons. The ILA was headed by Texan Harlon Carter, who was the head of the Border Patrol in the 1950s. The NRA’s shift has continued and has become more extreme following the election of President Barack Obama. In recent years, the NRA has fully embraced right-wing extremism and White Supremacy. The NRA has given over $4 million to current members of Congress since 1998, and since 1998 has reported spending $45.9 million on federal lobbying (Politifact).
The constant refusal on the part of Republican lawmakers to even consider gun control legislation, their continued justification for Donald Trump’s rhetoric, and their own rhetoric such as that of Governor Abbott’s call for Texans to “take matters into their own hands” just one day before a Texan drove to El Paso to murder Brown people, are unforgiveable acts and are allowing public safety to be used as a tool of manipulation. This idea that the rhetoric coming out of the White House and from other elected leaders is not problematic is appalling. Hitler’s words inspired a Nation to take violent views against those who were not white enough, and the policies he enacted turned those views into acts of violence and genocide. His rhetoric was the same as what we are seeing now, equating the targeted group to criminals, animals, invaders, a threat that needed to be exterminated. It was White Supremacy then, and it is White Supremacy now. White Supremacy has been the motive behind institutional and interpersonal violence for centuries, and we have allowed it to permeate every inch of our culture in this Nation. Our refusal to call it what it is, to demand its demise, while at the same time giving the NRA free reign to influence elected officials and play on fear-bating racist tropes has created a massive public health emergency. White Supremacy is a murderer, and we have ensured it has access to the means to carry out its violence, and institutional support to justify it.
The combination of our culture of White Supremacy, the idea that “White America” is the true America, the narrative of “law and order”, and access to deadly weapons without regulation championed by the NRA and its supporters, means that people of color will continue to be killed, and that our collective social conscience will continue to justify it.
After all, Treyvon Martin and Michael Brown looked suspicious.
Black = Suspicious
Suspicious = Criminal
Criminal = Threat
Threats must be eliminated
Black = Threat
Black must be eliminated.
After all, to the El Paso shooter, Immigrants are taking over.
Non-white = Immigrant
Immigrant = Criminal
Criminal = Threat
Threats must be eliminated
Non-white = Threat
Non-white must be eliminated.
Now do you get it? Do you understand how these narratives work together?
As a white person living in El Paso, the realization that the murderer who drove 10 hours to my community to kill Brown people did it to make sure my white skin remains the majority elicits such strong feelings of disgust and rage that I cannot seem to find words for. If you are a white person and this article offends you and/or you feel the need to defend your white skin at this time, especially if you choose to do so by pointing out that "there have been white victims too", I implore you to stop and think. Do not invoke the murder of others to prove that not all white people are evil, and instead ask yourself why is proving your goodness your priority right now? Take your personal inventory and figure out how you can dismantle the system of white supremacy instead of trying to justify your place in it.