Mass Shootings: Something Important has Changed

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Once again, the news is all about mass shootings. In Buffalo, New York at a grocery store, in Southern California at a Taiwanese Presbyterian Church. Just awful. I grieve for the families and loved ones of those killed and injured. I grieve for us all.

And it strikes me that something has shifted, something has changed, in these hideous events in recent years. Not so long ago, the shooters tended to be the disaffected, the disturbed. They were alienated, isolated and lonely people, usually young, usually men or boys, often white. Their motivations, such as they were, were more psychological.

But something has changed.

Increasingly, race and politics seem to be key motivations for the shooters. The Buffalo gunman was motivated by an internet conspiracy, The Great Replacement Theory, according to which liberals, Jews, the Deep State, and God knows who else are plotting to replace white people with people of color. This is not, however, just a U.S. thing. It’s international. The Buffalo shooter says he was inspired by the shooter in Christchurch, New Zealand who went after Muslims.

Before that, Dylan Roof at Mother Immanuel in South Carolina, and another shooter going after Hispanics in El Paso. Political and racial hatred are intersecting with one another in these mass shootings. It’s not just the psychologically disaffected, often mentally ill. It is some kind of political motivation, with a racist admixture. The Southern California shooter was apparently a person of Chinese background acting on animus toward Taiwan and Taiwanese. More politics.

This shift reflects two influences: first, the internet/ social media fueling of conspiracy theories like the GRT, and second, that one of our two major political parties is, if not outright supporting such conspiracies, at least not contesting or repudiating them. Here’s Bret Stephens in the New York Times:

“The same Republican Party that opposes gun control is also winking at, if not endorsing, the sinister Great Replacement conspiracy theory — the idea that liberals/Jews/the deep state are conspiring to replace whites with nonwhite immigrants — that appears to have motivated the accused shooter in Buffalo.”

The new nexus of mass shootings and political and racial hatred/conspiracy reflects something I mentioned recently on the radicalization of some who identify as Evangelical Christians: namely the idea that it’s now-or-never, time to choose sides and take action. One convenient effect of this kind of apocalyptic thinking is that it overrides all normal ethical questions. The ends justify the means in this great, if trumped up, “civilizational struggle.” This was, of course, the mind-set that powered Hitler’s National Socialism.

All this said, if something has changed in the terrible evil of these mass shooting and gun violence — a move from the psychologically troubled to the politically/racially motivated and radicalized — something hasn’t changed at all. Namely, our inability to really do anything about mass shootings and gun violence. Bret Stephens again:

“Bottom line: I’m heartbroken for the victims of this massacre. And I’m heartbroken for a country that seems increasingly powerless to do anything about it. And that’s just one item on our accumulating inventory of crippling problems.” (Emphasis added).

While all mass shootings are hideous and evil, morphing from psychological disturbed shooters to political/racial actors is a very bad sign.

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Tony is a writer, teacher, speaker and ordained minister (United Church of Christ). He served as Senior Minister of Seattle’s Plymouth Congregational Church for fourteen years. His newest book is Useful Wisdom: Letters to Young (and not so young) Ministers. He divides his time between Seattle and a cabin in Wallowa County of northeastern Oregon. If you’d like to know more or receive his regular blogs in your email, go to his site listed above to sign-up.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Good to emphasize the racist nature of these murders and how the GOP encourages them. The building blocks have been put in place over many years. Open carry laws to enable intimidation, stand your ground laws to enable murders in plain site, no knock warrants that primarily target BIPOC resulting in murders. GOP rhetoric supports “Guilty” by race, religion, income class, and gender (Read Alito!). No need to ask questions. It is okay to judge people on any false narrative your group might invent. And it is okay to claim you are the one being oppressed by “them” and so it is okay to carry assault rifles and handguns and be ready to use them. Ask any black, brown, or Asian, Native American, or Jew.

  2. The Anti-Defamation League has produced helpful data that tracks the murder rates of political extremism:
    “Over the past decade, right-wing extremists have committed the majority of extremist-related killings in all years but one—2016, the year of the shooting spree at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, by a person motivated by Islamist extremism. Of the 443 people killed at the hands of extremists over that 10-year period, 333 (or 75%) were killed by right-wing extremists”

    https://www.adl.org/murder-and-extremism-2021?te=1&nl=the-morning&emc=edit_nn_20220517#exploring-the-numbers

  3. Anthony, it is everything you say, plus territorial tribalism . You often write about “Good vs. Evil” but, if you look at our politics, it is motivated by non-centrist ‘us against them’ positions to get attention – alert the followers – get elected. The abortion issue is an example. Most of us think abortion should be allowed with (at least) some terms. Please explain why Schumer’s latest had none. Are you going to tell me 49 democrats personally agree ? Are 50 republicans opposed ?
    The answer is our politics is leaderless, top to bottom, representing special interests.

  4. I don’t mean to let the current Trump/Republican party off the hook for this – it’s clear enough that they benefit from the disinformation and consequent societal disorder, and they’re 100% culpable along with everyone who buys into it.

    But the other side has played their part. Specifically on immigration – why is it so easy for people to believe the “wide open border” lie? Because there’s a strong political current that would apparently endorse that. “No human is illegal”, quoth the liberal creed yard sign. It hasn’t gotten and won’t get any serious consideration I know of as official policy, so people are free to demonstrate their good will to all, in this way, without taking any responsibility for the consequences – but it’s there for the opposition to use. Do the people behind this understand the divisive consequences? I bet they do.

  5. Nothing has changed. It’s still about Republican-minded terrorists trying to impose their will on others by violent killing. Been this way since the OKC bombing.

  6. Another mass killing of children in Texas yesterday… thanks to the religions in the US. Yes, religions that support the Republican party and gun culture. And another Republican-minded low-intelligence male terrorist.

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