Orlando Shooting Vigil

Mass Shootings, the Far Right, and Political Incitement

The present article was originally published by the Canadian section of the IMT on marxist.ca.

People around the world have once again been shocked by a wave of shootings perpetrated by far-right extremists. The shootings in Gilroy, California and El Paso, Texas, were carried out by individuals who shared fascist manifestos, detailing their beliefs prior to the attacks, which claimed the lives of 25 people. You would have to be blind not to see that right-wing politicians like US President Donald Trump are complicit in the increase in terrorist attacks by fascists.

Trump consistently downplays the threat of white supremacist terrorism, claiming that it is just “a small group of people.” But right-wing terrorists in the U.S. killed more people last year than any year since 1995, the year when Timothy McVeigh bombed a government building, killing 168 people. On top of this, a January 2019 report showed that all of the extremist killings in the U.S. in 2018 had links to right-wing extremism. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups in the U.S. has been on the rise for four straight years and has recently reached an all-time high.

Trump complicit

Against all odds, Trump has continued to downplay this threat and instead tweeted that he was considering declaring antifa “a major Organization of Terror.” This followed a resolution, put forward by Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana), aiming to have “antifa” identified as “domestic terrorists.” Just a day after Trump’s tweet, the Gilroy shooter carried out his attack.

Donald J TrumpTrump’s inflammatory rhetoric has clearly emboldened the violent far right. / Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Faced with criticism from all sides, Trump has doubled down and refuses to recognize any responsibility for inciting these attacks. This is in spite of the fact that the killers quite often invoke Trump’s name, as was reported by an ABC news investigation. The El Paso shooter mentions Trump in his four-page manifesto where he draws affinity with the Christchurch shooter. He also states that “this attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” repeating one of Trump’s common talking points. This is exactly the same argument used by Robert Gregory Bowers, the perpetrator of the Pittsburgh attack that occurred last October immediately after Trump had labelled the migrant caravan which was traveling up from Central America “an invasion.” Bowers attacked the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue because according to him, the HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) “likes to bring invaders that kill our people.”

And of course, this is all taking place during the increasingly incendiary debate on Trump’s border wall and the mass detention of people at the southern border. It is no secret that Trump’s rallies have become gatherings for violent, racist elements, as was seen at a rally in Panama City Beach Florida this past May when Trump asked “How do you stop these people?” One rally attendee shouted, “Shoot them.” Instead of countering this, Trump seemed amused and then responded, “That’s only in the panhandle you can get away with that statement.”

Following these attacks, which were clearly incited by Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric, Trump laid low for two days. When he finally surfaced, he made a statement in which he, for the first time, denounced “racism, bigotry and white supremacy” and called for the death penalty to deal with perpetrators of hate crimes. At the same time, he once again refused to assume any blame and instead blamed mental illness and video games, stating that “Mental illness and hatred pull the trigger.”

Canada not immune

While many people in Canada watch these gruesome events in the United States with horror, one would be naive to think that Canada is immune from the scourge of fascist violence. The same social processes underway in the U.S. are developing under the surface in Canada and we can see the effects piercing through the surface. At the same time as these attacks were occurring in the U.S., there was an ongoing manhunt for two young Canadian men, Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod, in connection with the murder of three people in northern British Columbia. It was revealed that the suspects are neo-Nazi supporters who have shown approval of Hitler.

And we can’t forget the van attack last year in Toronto where Alek Minassian, a self-described incel (short for involuntarily celibate) drove into pedestrians, killing eight women, two men, and injuring 16 others. The incel movement is a movement of men who express hatred of women for not having sex with them. This misogynist movement has become increasingly violent and associated with the alt-right.

The clearest act of far-right terrorism on Canadian soil was the Quebec city mosque shooting in 2017, which claimed the lives of six and injured a further eight. This shooting was committed by Alexandre Bissonnette, a Trump supporter who stated that he did it because refugees were “going to kill my parents, my family.” He also stated that he was directly inspired by Trump’s Muslim ban which was put forward just two days before the shooting.

Canada is not immune. The Quebec city mosque shooting in 2017 claimed the lives of six and injured a further eight. / Image: Fair Use

The number of extreme-right hate groups in Canada is also on the rise. According to Barbara Perry, a professor and expert on hate crime, there are 130 active far-right extremist groups in Canada, a 30 percent increase from 2015.

The capitalist state exposed

While government officials act surprised each time a far-right extremist attacks, this is willful ignorance. The United States government is well aware of the rise in right-wing extremism, they have just chosen to turn a blind eye. In fact, none other than the United States Department of Homeland Security published a report all the way back in 2009 detailing how the main terrorist threat was from domestic far-right extremists. This report was dismissed and ignored.

The United States government has continued to devote astronomical amounts of money into fighting “international terrorism” while very little goes to combat domestic terrorist threats. This year, both houses of the US Congress introduced the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, but this ironically stops short of designating domestic terrorism as a crime. Up to now, domestic terrorists have been charged with hate crimes or conspiracy laws. This means that the massive anti-terrorism infrastructure in the United States cannot be used to combat domestic terror. This government is not interested in fighting racist terror, which it has used historically and continues to use to divide the working class. Workers cannot depend on the capitalist state to protect them from these attacks—we can only depend on our own forces.

Ironically, ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) was created after 9/11 as part of an anti-terrorism initiative, but is now targeting almost exclusively Latin American immigrants who have never actually carried out any terrorist attacks on U.S. soil—unlike white supremacists who are increasingly emboldened to commit such acts. This discrepancy hasn’t stopped the FBI’s counter-terrorism unit from claiming that black activists fighting against police brutality are a “threat to national security.” The brutal irony is that this report was prepared just nine days before white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia for the “Unite the Right” rally in 2017. This demonstration saw the far right terrorize the town for a weekend and resulted in one fascist ploughing his car into a demonstration, killing left-wing activist Heather Heyer.

ICE arrests an immigrant workerIn the USA, ICE’s powers have been expanded under the Trump administration, and it frequently launches raids against families and workplaces, intended to terrorize and intimidate migrants. / Image: Public Domain

In Canada, things are not that different. A recent study revealed that no terrorism prosecutions have been brought against the far right. This was the case with the Quebec city shooter, Alexandre Bissonnette, where the six murders he committed were not considered terrorism.

While 44 percent of Canadians now see the far right as the biggest threat to national security, almost all counter-terrorist funding is directed towards combating jihadism. Only this year has Canada added far-right groups to the terror watch list—but this is just window dressing. CSIS (the Canadian version of the CIA) agents spend their time harassing Muslims and environmental activists while doing next to nothing about white supremacist terrorist groups, which have multiplied and become emboldened as of late.

Liberal hypocrisy and the socialist solution

It is easy to simply point the finger at conservatives and right-wing demagogues like Trump, as many liberals do. However, in reality, liberals and conservatives are just two sides of the same bankrupt system.

The entire debate around deportations, “illegal” immigrants, the border wall and the ICE raids is only a reaction to a problem created by US imperialism. Both the Republicans and Democrats have pursued policies that have destabilized the Middle East and Central America, leading to the displacement of millions of people fleeing horrible situations. The main reason life is so bad in these countries is because they are subjected to enormous exploitation by the multinational corporations. Regardless of who sits in the White House, the US government still backs dictatorships, funds terrorists abroad, and carries out wars either directly (as they did in Iraq and Afghanistan) or through their proxies. It was the United States government, headed by Obama in 2009, which orchestrated a coup against the democratically elected government of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras. Hillary Clinton, the then-secretary of state, admitted that the U.S. government used its power to ensure that Zelaya would not return to power. This completely destabilized the nation and led to a situation in which the country descended into violence, with targeted assassinations of journalists and anyone who criticized the government. Thousands of Central Americans have fled this horrible situation, seeking a better life. They are met with walls, detainment, and bullets in the USA.

While Democratic party politicians are critical of Trump’s border wall, the fact of the matter is that they don’t fundamentally disagree. The first sections of the border wall went up in San Diego and Tijuana under Democratic President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, and Democrats like Obama supported George W. Bush’s border wall in 2006.

While many people have recently become aware of ICE and the horrors that they perpetrate, it was under Obama that ICE was massively expanded. Obama said at the time that: “We now have more boots on the ground on the southwest border than at any time in our history. The Border Patrol has 20,000 agents—more than twice as many as there were in 2004, a build-up that began under President Bush and that we have continued.” And contrary to what many people think, Obama actually deported more people per year than Trump.

Immigration Rally in St Louis 2017We must confront the crisis in society with a bold revolutionary socialist programme, exposing this rotten system which only brings violence, misery and oppression / Image: Paul Sableman

While Trump did not create ICE, he has radicalized the agency, giving them a much broader direction. In the words of the ex-director of ICE, Thomas Homan, Trump took “the handcuffs off,” allowing ICE to more indiscriminately go after the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. Indeed, mass raids have begun all over the country, terrorizing immigrant families and arresting immigrant workers while at work. This is in spite of the fact that two thirds of these 11 million people have lived in the US for more than 10 years.

The point, however, isn’t actually to deport 11 million people, a monumental task which the U.S. clearly does not have the resources to do. The point is to spread fear. “The main design is to send a message that the current administration is willing to enforce the existing immigration laws, and the raids also act as a deterrent,” said Matthew Kolken, an immigration attorney in Buffalo, New York.

It is in this heightened atmosphere that more and more right-wing extremists are taking matters into their own hands, spreading terror among immigrant communities. This is a desperate situation and people demand answers. What is to be done?

In order to counter far-right violence, the liberals take a completely hypocritical approach. They ignore the link between far-right violence, imperialist immigration policy, and the capitalist crisis. They peddle an unscientific horseshoe theory, that the anti-fascists are the same as the fascists. They talk about violence in the abstract and propose giving the state forces more control over guns. But the police are not neutral arbiters and it has been proven on many occasions that they actually work hand in hand with the far right.

In reality, gun control is not going to solve the violence of the far right. What we need is mass working-class opposition and working-class self defense. We saw a fantastic example of this just a week after the Charlottesville attack in Boston, where a mass demonstration shut down a far-right rally and sent them crawling back into their holes.

As capitalist society continues to decay, the famous slogan “socialism or barbarism” maintains all of its relevance today. The rise in fascist violence, the refugee crisis and imperialist wars are just the most pressing examples of this. The crisis of capitalism is exacerbating all of the ills of society and people are being radicalized, to the right and to the left. We cannot fight the far right with status-quo liberalism which perpetuates all of the same wars, inequality and austerity. We must confront the crisis in society with a bold revolutionary socialist program, exposing this rotten system which only brings violence, misery and oppression.

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