Don’t Let Trump and the Media Confuse the Problem of White Supremacy

August 14, 2019

Here’s what you need to know

The mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, Dayton, Ohio, Chicago, Illinois, and Gilroy, California have left America reeling. In their statement immediately after the El Paso and Dayton shootings, the White House recycled familiar tropes. Contrary to their claims, these shootings were not due to mental illness, video games, or bullying, nor were they were merely the acts of a “lone wolf”. The El Paso shooter’s actions follow directly from the politicians who use social divisions to instigate bigotry and hate. Their hateful rhetoric and incitement has continued to feed the cancer of white supremacist ideology. Enough is enough. Through policy recommendations, forums and our paper on white supremacy, we’re taking action on a national scale.

Here are the details

Recently, a total of 31 people were killed in two separate mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. The El Paso shooter, Patrick Crusius, had clear associations with white supremacy. Prior to the attack, Crusius announced the start of his rampage on 8chan’s /pol board, a forum routinely used by white supremacists to spread hate. He also released a manifesto in which he admitted to fears of a “Hispanic invasion.”

In his comments immediately after the attacks, President Trump deceived the public over the nature of the attacks and our collective path forward. In his comments immediately after the two shootings, Trump mentioned mental health illness and violent video games as the main causes of gun violence. He also tweeted a suggestion that the government tie gun reform policies to immigration legislation. These comments cynically distract from the real forces at play. They also baselessly implicate immigrants and those with mental health illness as particularly prone to violence. On the contrary, immigrants and people with mental health disabilities are so often the victims of violent attacks. 

Not only do these false connections have dangerous implications, but so too do the connections Trump did not make. When Trump said “mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun,” he shifted the policy focus away from the main cause of mass shootings, the proliferation of assault weapons, and provided cover for future ones. Unfettered white supremacy and widespread access to guns create a lethal combination; a de facto white militia movement. 

Due to the contagious nature of contemporary white supremacist activity, not focusing on the issue might also culminate in a future act of mass violence. In the days following Brenton Tarrant’s massacre of 50 Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, news outlets speculated that Tarrant’s actions resulted from his being bullied, rather than his explicit participation in organized white supremacist movements. Already, there have been additional attacks inspired by Tarrant. The El Paso shooter’s fears of a “Hispanic invasion” have factored prominently in the white supremacist movement and been mainstreamed by the Trump administration. 

While President Trump did condemn white supremacy in the White House press statement, his words and actions otherwise speak for themselves. He has incited violence against immigrants and religious minorities and downplayed the threat of white supremacy writ large. The true test of opposition to white supremacy will not be lofty rhetoric, but decisive action. As the president seeks to distract from the root causes of white supremacist violence, we risk repeating a history fraught with missed opportunities. The answer to this problem will not be found in convenient scapegoating which ignores larger problems. Rather, the solution will be in policy that addresses the spread and magnitude of orchestrated white supremacist violence. 

We're doing our part to offer those solutions. Following the recent attacks, we moderated a panel on ethnonationalism, a political tendency at the root of white supremacism. We also organized a panel geared toward finding solutions to white supremacy and white supremacist violence with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee which oversees intelligence agencies such as the FBI, CIA, DHS, and NSA), All Saints Church, IKAR, and the Islamic Center of Southern California. There, we presented Congressman Schiff with our policy paper, “The White Supremacist Threat to America.” The paper offers research into organized white supremacy and policy solutions for addressing the white supremacist movement.  

As Congressman Schiff said at our event, “it shouldn’t take a mass shooting to spur action … This is the time for each of us to dig deep and ask ourselves: ‘Where can I do good?’” 

We will continue to strive for policy actions to address the rise of violence which fractures this country. We hope you will join us in that effort. 



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