This morning the President addressed the nation and expressed his sadness and anger at the shooting that took place at the Emanuel AME Church Wednesday night. But however candid the president was in expressing his anger about the shooting, he failed to mention the true cause of the attack: racist extremism and deep-seated white supremacy.
Instead he focused on the need for stricter gun control policies:
“We don’t have all the facts, but we do know that once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun. … At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.”
Gun control may be part of the solution, but gun control will not stop hate at its source.
The president’s only nod at the racist nature of the attack was to say, “We know that hatred across races and faiths pose a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals.”
He made no mention of “racism,” “racists,” “white supremacy,” “white nationalists,” or the need for increased attention to the ever-growing problem of far-right extremist and violent activity in his short speech. And, while America’s inability to pass sensible gun control legislation may have enabled the shooter to too easily gain access to a gun, a culture of white supremacy and racism may very well be what led him to that church in the first place.
In recent weeks, minority communities across our country have been terrorized by a spectrum of far-right extremist activity, including armed neo-nazis protesting a Black Lives Matter event in St. Louis and an armed protest at a Mosque in Phoenix, AZ.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that this trend of right-wing violence is slowing down.
Earlier this year the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) issued the Lone Wolf Report, which highlights a 2009 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report that detailed the resurgence of the radical right in the aftermath of Obama’s 2008 election — unfortunately that DHS report was attacked by conservative pundits and politicians and was ultimately recalled by then-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano.
“Then-House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH)…described the DHS report as ‘offensive and unacceptable’ and charged, without any basis, that DHS had abandoned the word ‘terrorist’ to describe Al Qaeda and instead was using ‘the same term to describe American citizens who disagree with the direction Washington Democrats are taking our nation.’”
And in what seems like unnerving prescience, The New York Times, ran an Op-Ed the same day as the AME massacre entitled, “The Growing Right-Wing Terror Threat.” The authors argued that “the main terrorist threat in the United States is not from violent Muslim extremists, but from right-wing extremists. Just ask the police.”
A twenty-one year old white man was under the impression he was a soldier on the front lines of a race war.
As Kathleen Blee, distinguished professor of sociology and associate dean for Graduate Studies and Research at the University of Pittsburgh, said in 2013, “the modern U.S. far right [movement] is highly insular, shielded from the mainstream, and largely focused on developing tactics and strategies of cataclysmic violence that can move forward the agenda of white supremacy.”
Fusion’s Latoya Peterson might have put it best: “As much as is made about this being the most diverse generation on the forefront of a racially shifting America, the end result is that a twenty-one year old white man was under the impression he was a soldier on the front lines of a race war.”
It is not just one person pulling the trigger, it is what’s in our environment, in our makeup…
— John Lewis (@repjohnlewis) June 18, 2015
… that drives someone to a point where they are willing to murder innocent people, of all places in the house of the Lord.
— John Lewis (@repjohnlewis) June 18, 2015
Maybe one reason it’s easier to talk about guns than about right-wing extremism is because so many white Americans still just don’t believe that racism, and the cultural impacts of racism, exists. “A Washington Post analysis of Pew Research Center polling on racial issues shows that half of white people do not sense black people are treated less fairly than whites–by police, employers, doctors, restaurants and schools, and at the ballot box.”
Half of white people do not sense black people are treated less fairly than whites–by police, employers, doctors, restaurants and schools, and at the ballot box.
Nothing is more illustrative of this disregard for the role of race, and racism, in this massacre than the decision by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to continue to fly the Confederate flag over the statehouse. As Vox reported:
“As Cornell historian Edward Baptist explains in a series of chilling tweets, the Confederate flag isn’t just a symbol of the pro-slavery rebellion, it’s also a symbol of post-Civil War white supremacy — including the KKK and other groups that expressed that supremacy violently, at times by attacking black churches. That it’s flying today, after what Charleston police are describing as a hate crime, is profoundly ugly.”
President Obama, we need to talk about race. We need to talk about racism. We need to talk about extremism. And we need to turn those words into action.