The shooting in El Paso this weekend is a horrific reminder of the growing threat which white supremacy and other related ideologies pose to America. For many Americans, these hate-filled beliefs seemed almost unheard of – a relic of bygone bigotry which America had largely moved past. But we cannot ignore the truth that white supremacy is alive, and driving some Americans to radical, violent ends.
If we don’t identify white supremacy as a source of domestic terrorism, it will fester, spread, and tear at the fabric of our society.
There are people in America who believe that a war between races is either ongoing, or is necessary to protect their own race. They believe they are superior to any other race, and that they must secure a nation for themselves, killing or expelling any other race or ethnicity from their land.
It is more than unbridled hate, it’s an ideology which cannot coexist with a free, pluralistic society. In short, they cannot accept or tolerate the dream of an America built and strengthened by people of every race, creed, gender or background.
This doctrine is of course nothing new. It has existed in America throughout our history, at times even as a predominant belief. But as our society has grown to recognize the evil of racism and bigotry, we weakened white supremacy as a force in our nation. And those who clung to it were driven to the shadows and fringes.
Today, white supremacy is experiencing a resurgence. They’ve built communities online to recruit new supremacists and to share their hate. But their hate doesn’t stay online. As white supremacists become radicalized they take their vitriol and rage to our homes and our communities. They murder to inspire fear and spread their message. That is what makes it terrorism.
And that is why we need to recognize it as such. If we have any hope to defeat this ideology, and prevent future attacks, we must acknowledge that this is not random violence nor mental illness. This is strategic, and we need a strategic response.
But rather than approach white supremacy – and it’s more socially accepted facade, white nationalism – as an organized threat, some politicians recite their rhetoric, stoke their fears and fuel their anger.
A leader who wants to end the threat of white supremacy wouldn’t blame video games, the internet, the media, or immigration. A leader who is serious about combating racist terrorism wouldn’t laugh when a supporter suggests shooting immigrants. A leader committed to the safety and unity of all Americans would confront the problem by name – white supremacy – and condemn all who embrace it, rather than sharing the words of the more mainstream proponents of hate.
That’s what America needs from its leaders now. That’s how we will confront and defeat radical, violent ideologies.
There is, and will continue to be, much debate about guns, mental health, and mass violence in general, but we cannot ignore the tide of white supremacism which underpins many of these violent attacks. If we don’t call it by name, identify it directly, and confront it bravely, we will not defeat this evil. And if we cannot uphold our commitment to liberty and justice for all if we will not relegate white supremacy to the ash heap of history.