Nearly thirty people lost their lives during a double mass shooting in the United States this weekend. The first, on Saturday, took place in the border town of El Paso, Texas. Twenty people were gunned down by a 21-year old white supremacist who had earlier posted an anti-immigrant manifesto online, empathising with the New Zealand Christchurch Mosque shooter. The manifesto also revealed a terrifying motive – “this attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Thirteen hours later, the second mass shooting took place, this time in Dayton, Ohio. Nine people lost their lives after a shooter fired a high-calibre rifle into a busy district. Police stated that the weapon could have caused far greater damage had they not shot him within thirty seconds of firing. The motive behind the shooting remains unclear. The two shootings happen only a week after another mass shooting where a 19-year old gunned down several, killing three people at a food festival in California. One of the casualties was a six-year-old boy.
Just this year alone there have been 249 mass shootings which have amassed over 900 fatalities. Data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has revealed that most domestic terror cases since October have been linked to white nationalism. While not every mass shooting can be linked to hate crimes, statistics reinforce that white nationalism is on the rise and actually seems to be thriving under the current administration.
Fuelled by Trump
Elected in 2016, President Donald Trump has been pushing the same hate-filled rhetoric since well before coming into office. Some will remember when Trump led a hate-campaign against former President Barack Obama for allegedly not being born in the United States. Since running for office, things have become infinitely worse. From his election campaign to present day, Trump has continued to push bigoted ideals under the guise of patriotism. Examples include calling Mexican migrants ‘rapists’ and referring to them as ‘invaders’, the language used is precise, effective and prompts a call to action – which his supporters have answered with violence.
What makes this worse is Trump’s refusal to condemn this demographic of abusers. He knows that a large portion of white supremacists are his avid supporters, and his hesitation to denounce them is complicit. The ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia was a key example of this. After far-right protestors became violent, one self-identified white supremacist rammed his car into counter-protestors, leading to the death of Heather Heyer. When asked about the tragedy, Trump instead decided to proclaim that there were ‘very fine people on both sides’. This, coupled with the President’s own outright bigotry, has facilitated an environment that protects and emboldens these terrorists.
Lack of Gun Control
What makes the United States so different to the rest of the western world is its obsessive gun culture. While far-right movements are rising in many parts of the world, the key difference in America is the overwhelming access to high-grade weapons. In many states, someone can simply walk into a Walmart and purchase an assault-style firearm. And what makes this even more disturbing is the lack of background checks required and the number of people in the country who own a firearm.
The El Paso and Dayton mass shootings have ignited another gun-control argument, with many calling for tighter restrictions. However, the likelihood of reforms being introduced seems very low. In 2012, the Sandy Hook Elementary mass shooting took the lives of over a dozen children and even after that shocking tragedy, nothing substantial has changed. If the violent deaths of six-year-olds has not managed to sway Congress then surely nothing will, right?
After the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern immediately announced that there would be changes to gun laws including the ban of military-style assault weapons. A few months later, the Government introduced a ‘buy-back’ initiative that would compensate those who own semi-automatic weapons. Similarly, in the United Kingdom, after a school shooting took place in Scotland in 1996, claiming the lives of over a dozen students, private ownership of guns was outlawed in the UK, except for sporting rifles and shotguns, which are strictly licenced.
So – why can’t America do the same? Well, the National Rifle Association (NRA) are one of the many obstacles that stand in the way of gun control legislation. As one of the top three most influential lobbying groups in Washington, DC, they hold a considerable amount of bargaining power in Congress, particularly with Republicans. They’ve managed to kill off several bills that could enforce restrictions on gun ownership due to their widespread influential power and linking gun crime to various other reasons from video games to mental illness.
Mental Illness Not an Excuse
Whenever there is a mass shooting with a clear prejudiced motive, many are quick to put the blame on mental health instead. After the mass shooting in Ohio and Texas, Trump categorised the tragedy as a result of ‘mental illness’. It’s a cheap cop-out. Research reveals that only a small portion of these horrific events are carried out by someone suffering from a mental health issue. The American Psychological Association has released a statement on the shootings that further solidified this. The statement reads: “Routinely blaming mass shootings on mental illness is unfounded and stigmatizing. Research has shown that only a very small percentage of violent acts are committed by people who are diagnosed with, or in treatment for, mental illness.”
Blaming these crimes on mental illness only further stigmatises people who actually have mental health issues and are not going around shooting people. Not only that, it also deflects from the actual problem – the fact that those with an inclination for violence can easily go to a grocery store and purchase an assault-style weapon. It minimizes the fact that white nationalism is surging, and as these violent ideas become more prevalent, so will the likelihood of this happening again. In a speech after the mass shootings, Donald Trump said “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. An overwhelming amount of people suffer from mental illnesses and are not violent and hatred isn’t something exclusive to the United States, yet the country is leading the world in mass shootings. The one thing that is limited to the US is its incredibly irresponsible gun laws.
Social Media as a Tool
From Facebook to Twitter to 8chan, white nationalists are using social media as a platform to spread their hateful ideologies and connect with fellow like-minded bigots – and they’re more linked than you may think. Both the Poway Synagogue and El Paso shooters have cited the Christchurch shooter in their manifestos. Each attack is used as a source of inspiration and justification for the next. Platforms like 8chan have been particularly highlighted as a ‘breeding ground for violent extremism’ and just this year three mass shootings have been linked to the website. While Cloudflare, the website security company, has finally cut off funding towards the anonymous messaging board it begs the question – what will stop them simply finding another platform?
While the Trump administration are busy fuelling hatred towards minority communities – whether its Mexicans or Muslims – there is an imminent problem growing domestically. America must recognise how its white nationalism problem is fuelled by its President, protected by its gun legislation, nurtured on social media and shielded by arguments of mental health. While prayers and public cries of outrage are all good, the law must change and quickly, before this happens again.