Although this blog usually covers Illinois legal issues, events such as the mass shootings that happened over the weekend in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio need to be covered because they affect all of us. I won’t give the names of the perpetrators, not because I want to protect their identities but because I don’t want to give them the spotlight in the media these monsters so covet. The spotlight should be on the victims, and the issues that ultimately led to 31 human beings dying over the weekend in these monstrous mass shootings. So, first of all rest in peace to all that lost their lives and condolences to all the friends and family members affected.
One issue that will certainly be brought up over and over again is gun control, and how monsters like the ones who committed these murders had access to firearms. This is an important topic and I do believe it matters to this discussion, but I’d like to focus on what I think is the more important issue here: The rise of far-right extremism that has taken a number of lives in the past few years. The murderer in El Paso is clearly linked to white supremacist organizations that believed Hispanics were “invading” Texas. Last year, this blog actually covered a legal issue related to far right terrorism when we covered a Montana resident winning a large lawsuit against Neo-Nazis because they were viciously harassing her. But obviously there’s been much more violent examples of this extremism like the events this weekend, and the Pittsburgh Synagogue massacre earlier this year. We need to ask questions like, “why is this violent ideology on the rise, and how do we stop it from taking other people’s lives?” The ADL, which is an organization dedicated to fighting hate, has been covering the rise in far right extremist related violence. Here’s a sobering quote from their website on extremist violence in 2018:
“In 2018, domestic extremists killed at least 50 people in the U.S., a sharp increase from the 37 extremist-related murders documented in 2017, though still lower than the totals for 2015 (70) and 2016 (72). The 50 deaths make 2018 the fourth-deadliest year on record for domestic extremist-related killings since 1970.The extremist-related murders in 2018 were overwhelmingly linked to right-wing extremists. Every one of the perpetrators had ties to at least one right-wing extremist movement, although one had recently switched to supporting Islamist extremism. White supremacists were responsible for the great majority of the killings, which is typically the case.”
That is just in 2018, 2019 has seen a whole new string of mass murders committed by far right terrorists. What makes things frustrating is that so much focus in the country has been put on Islamic extremism that for years it has all but ignored the disturbing rise in far right extremism committed by white Americans in our very backyards. Those Far right extremists have caused many more fatalities in America than Islamic extremists. Far right terrorist violence has always been in this country, from the KKK in the late 19th and early 20th century to the Neo-Nazis of today chanting and murdering protesters at Charlottesville. I remember seeing those skinheads chant “Jews will not replace us” and having to hear constant excuses about how it wasn’t that serious and that they were just a small fringe of people. Although I am a privileged white middle class member of society who hasn’t had to deal with oppression that a number of others have, the issue did get personal for me like I imagine it has for so many others who are more directly affected. I am of Jewish descent through my mom and her family and I take pride in that heritage. My grandfather-the bravest man I’ve ever known- was a Hungarian Jew who got caught up in the horrors of the Holocaust and the Nazis. He had to spend multiple years in a concentration camp, not knowing if he had any family-members left. It’s a miracle he was able to make it out alive and start a new life filled with happiness and joy but the pain was always there, I’m sure. To see skinheads chanting stuff like “Jews will not replace us” just makes my blood boil. So many families nearly don’t exist because of Nazism and yet these people are celebrating it? And then a heroic protester named Heather Heyer- who was with a group of counter protesters standing against the Nazis- was murdered by one of the skinheads. It’s hard to fathom that in 2019, a woman lost her life fighting Nazis.
So, although far right extremist violence has always been part of America, it is growing as the people who commit these crimes are feeling emboldened by the amount of others who share their same hateful views. The internet has not helped in the slightest. Popular websites like YouTube and Reddit have helped radicalize young, angry, and usually isolated teenagers by luring them into watching videos from people like Ben Shapiro that help embed those hateful views inside them and then certain subreddits on the popular social media site Reddit help give them an echo chamber where they can share their hatred with like-minded people. YouTube has vowed to try and do a better job at stopping extremist content from being available to the public but their algorithm is also inherently designed to try and get as many people as possible to click on the most amount of videos possible because it helps their bottom line. Unfortunately videos from people like Shapiro have gotten more popular by the day and are frequently recommended to viewers in the “recommended videos” section of YouTube that allows more and more young adults to fall into the rabbit hole of hatred. There are also undoubtedly politicians who stoke fears of people of color and other oppressed minorities as well, and in the last decade these politicians have become more and more mainstream.
This isn’t just an American problem to be sure, although it is certainly a growing issue here. Worldwide, the rise of Fascism, “strongmen” leaders, and far right extremism has increased. We see evidence of this in places like Brazil where the far right politician Jair Bolsonaro won a recent election. In the Philippines the far right politician Rodrigo Duterte has been terrorizing his country for years as its leader. Putin has ruled Russia with an iron fist. Hungarian and Polish politicians have become further and further right. In Italy, Mussolini’s granddaughter is a member of parliament, and she isn’t considered fringe there either. She’s a mainstream politician and not shockingly, her political views line up pretty similarly with her grandfathers. In Europe, there is a growing amount of far right related terrorist violence as well and it’s making authorities nervous as they devote more and more of their resources to trying to stop it. And like in America, many far right politicians in Europe are helping make these kind of beliefs that lead to this violence more mainstream.
Clearly, there are no easy answers to trying to stop the rise of this violence and ideology. I would say that some solutions could include ousting politicians who either openly or placidly support this ideology or don’t do enough to condemn this violence. Stop giving this ideology mainstream access. News stations aren’t blameless, as they tend to stoke fear and divisiveness because it generates the most number of views. Studies have shown how news depictions of immigrants and people of color, especially when it relates to violence, are discriminatory and prove double standards in how certain groups are depicted. I feel early education about this stuff is also crucial, as young adults are some of the most susceptible to falling into this ideology. Early on in school, teachers should be emphasizing the evil of these views, the danger and violence these views can cause, and education on why hatred and violence in illogical and evil. YouTube also needs to be held more accountable for its content and reddit needs to eliminate the subreddits that have openly spewed hatred. Just recently they “quarantined” a sub dedicated to Donald Trump because of all the racist and anti-Semitic posts there. It should just be banned instead of waffling on a decision over what to do about it. It would also help if we could tear down monuments to white supremacy like all the Confederate statues littered throughout the south. These statues influence people coming across them who don’t know much about the civil war, and imbibe them with an idea that the Confederacy was a noble cause. The police need to do a much better job focusing on stopping this violence. Lastly, we need to stop calling these hateful mass murderers lone wolves or act like their exceptions. They should be called terrorists and their ideology should be shamed into oblivion