With the daily trickle of news about racist incidents around the country, it was probably just a matter of time, in our gun-soaked country, before something like Monday's nights shooting in Minneapolis happened. A Black Lives Matter protest was violently interrupted by gunfire last night, with five people hit, though thankfully all survived with non-lethal injuries. Police are looking for three white male suspects and witnesses at the scene say that white supremacist counter protesters were at the protest last night, and that the gunfire came from them after a tense confrontation.
There's a brutal irony in all this, because these shootings come at the crescendo of months upon months of hysteria about how white people need to live in terror of black people and immigrants trying to kill us. Things kicked off over the summer, when Donald Trump started his presidential campaign on the premise that Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals and that we need to build a big wall to keep them out.
The trend continued this week. After a CNN video, backed by multiple journalist witnesses, was released showing Trump supporters swarming a BLM protester at a Birmingham rally, the conservative-leaning Politico ran an article about the continuing problem of physical violence and ugliness at Trump rallies, framing it as a "both sides do it" problem, as if supporters of Trump's overtly racist campaign and anti-racist protesters share the blame equally for what's going on.
But the photo illustrating the story is an obvious attempt by Politico's editors to put their thumb on the scale: A picture of a young white woman, enmeshed in a racially diverse crowd of anti-Trump protesters, her face crumpled in tears and her hand clutching a pink polka dotted iPad.
— Scott Eric Kaufman (@scottekaufman) November 24, 2015
The implication is not subtle, but the same old fear-mongering that racists have used for literally centuries: We have to stop them before they hurt the white women!
Never mind that there's nothing in the picture to suggest this woman is being hurt---it looks just like a really packed, jostling crowd. Who knows why she's crying? Maybe someone stepped on her foot. Maybe she feels guilty after being confronted about supporting the kind of man who retweets neo-Nazi propaganda. Maybe someone told her that her iPad is ugly. We don't even know if she's a Trump supporter or a protester who is caught up in the moment. But it doesn't matter, because the image is perfectly pitched to make conservative readers throw a fit about the danger that anti-racism protesters supposedly present to innocent white girls.
(Update: Other photos from the same rally show that the woman in the center of this photograph appears to be a protester. Which makes the use of her photo even more egregious, as it misleads viewers to think she's afraid of the anti-Trump protesters, when seems to be one of them.)
In just the past week alone, we've witnessed the entire Republican Party melting down over the U.S. plan to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees to immigrate here. We've been deluged with warnings that ISIS is trying to smuggle fighters in with the refugees, a myth that requires you to believe ISIS thinks it's a better idea to make someone go through 18-24 months of intense vetting rather than simply asking the native-born Americans that support them to commit acts of terrorism.
Just this weekend, Donald Trump retweeted false statistics, apparently from a neo-Nazi source, claiming that the majority of white murder victims are killed by black people, a lie so egregious that even Bill O'Reilly called him out for it. Naturally, O'Reilly's concern wasn't that having a major presidential candidate promoting neo-Nazi propaganda might give license to white people to really amp up the racism. No, his concern was that it might look bad. "Don’t put your name on stuff like this, because it makes the other side — it gives them stuff to tell the ill-informed voter that you’re a racist," he told Trump.
Needless to say, the conclusion that Trump is racist is not borne from being ill-informed, but its opposite: It's the only legitimate conclusion after watching a campaign that started with calling Mexican immigrants rapists and has evolved---devolved?---into agreeing with a plan that the U.S. should keep a database on all Muslims.
It's hard to say how much of this white fear of violence at the hands of immigrants and people of color is sincere terror and how much of it is a performance of fear used to justify hate. Considering how the anti-refugee stance doesn't soften even in the cases of families with children---or even orphans!---it's clear that a significant amount of the supposed fear isn't sincerely felt, but simple a pose. Claiming to be afraid gets you more sympathy points than simply saying you despise someone for being different. Certainly whoever made up the false murder statistics that Trump retweeted knows full well that black people aren't coming to kill white people, but decided to lie about it anyway, to gin up more hatred.
As the incident in Minneapolis shows, all this hate and fear doesn't protect white people from danger, but it does put people of color and immigrants in danger. This has become especially true as gun fetishism has become the primary means for white people, especially white men, to express their anger and discontent at their loss of dominance, which has happened to some extent, though rarely to the extent that the gun fondling, Fox News-loving crowd likes to imagine it has.
The process of dominant groups using falsified claims of danger to drown out legitimate grievances from marginalized groups is perfectly illustrated by what has happened to the Black Lives Matter movement. The protests started to draw attention to and continue to highlight black people's fears of police violence (and violence at the hands of paranoid white people with guns), fears that are completely legitimate and illustrated by a relentless drumbeat of innocent black people killed by cops or trigger-happy citizens.
At first, conservative media didn't quite know how to deal with BLM, but over time, the instinct to drown out black people's legitimate grievances with hysteria over the fantasy violence that black people supposedly want to dish out to white people took over. Soon the narrative formed that BLM, far from being a protest group against racism, is somehow a racist movement that's out to get white people.
Fox News has been leading the charge, airing anchors and pundits who call BLM a "hate group" and a "terrorist group." Sean Hannity even compared the group to the Ku Klux Klan. These lies are so outrageous that they shouldn't sucker anyone, but such is the need of conservative white people to believe they're the victims here, that you could tell them that black people are sending dragons and unicorns to kill them and they'd probably believe it.
It would be nice if the Minneapolis shooting was a wake-up call, a reminder of how stupid all this propaganda fueling conservative hysteria over fantasy threats to white people actually is. But it probably won't. After the Trump supporters attacked a BLM protester in Birmingham, right-wing media went straight to work painting the protester as the attacker and arguing that people had to swarm him in, uh, self-defense. It probably won't take long before conservative media has some narrative minimizing the shooting in Minneapolis, before returning to a ready stream of programming claiming that foreigners and black people are out to get white people.