It's been a little over a week since the deadly shootings in El Paso and Dayton and, as usual, the nation's attention is already turning to other things. In the Trump era, there's always something horrible happening. The Democratic presidential candidates have put gun safety policies at the top of their agenda and perhaps it will stay there. But Mitch McConnell is still in Kentucky vaguely waving his hands about some kind of legislation, clearly assuming the country will have moved on by the time Congress reconvenes next month. This ritual response to mass murder is sadly predictable.
But before we leave this latest episode of horrific violence behind, it's important to note that a new understanding has come out of these events about the nature of the threat we face. It's not only from easy access to guns but about the ideology that's driving some of these recent incidents. The mainstreaming of white supremacist language by conservative media — and by President Trump's rhetoric — have been recognized as a contributing factor in the growing white power movement in the United States. That's an important step to gaining an understanding of this phenomenon.
The threat of white supremacist violence has been with us for a long time, of course. But it has picked up in recent years and the government has been lax in confronting it, mainly because Republican politicians have a fit any time the topic is raised. (This should have sounded some alarm bells about the mainstreaming of this ideology long ago.) Law enforcement has long been aware that the advent of the internet has created fertile ground for recruitment and conversion and that the movement was spreading, but wasn't given the resources to deal with it. Perhaps that will change, although it's hard to see that happening any time soon when the president himself insists the threat does not exist:
But the El Paso massacre by a white supremacist wasn't the only deadly violence on that awful weekend in America. In Dayton, Ohio, a 24-year-old man killed nine people in another mass shooting, and his motivation is murkier. Apparently, the accused shooter's social media accounts showed that he identified with progressive politics, expressing admiration for Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. But that may be less important than the apparent fact that he also had a fetish for guns and held crude and violent misogynistic beliefs. Although law enforcement officials have drawn no public conclusions about the shooter's motive, ABC News reported on Sunday that they believed the shooter had "demonstrated a misogyny that was far more extreme than any of his political leanings."
"Extreme" doesn't really cover it. This man had been expelled from school for writing a "rape list" and was reportedly a singer in a "pornogrind" band — a tiny heavy metal subculture that celebrates extreme violence against women. (Although this musical genre is intentionally disgusting, it's been around for years and has not previously been implicated in any acts of violence.) It appears the authorities believe the shooter's motives weren't explicitly political but rather tied somehow to his hatred of women.
Obviously a leftist can also be a violent misogynist, but left-wing politics doesn't feature misogyny as part and parcel of its ideology. Generally speaking, the left rejects sexism and is open to a feminist critique of gender-based violence. In that regard, the Dayton shooter seems to have had more in common with the white supremacists than anyone on the left.
The Anti-Defamation League issued a report last year titled "When Women are the Enemy: The Intersection of Misogyny and White Supremacy," finding that hatred of women is often "a gateway into the white supremacist world." That report found that cultural changes and the focus on gender equality in progressive politics inspire some men to turn to far-right, white supremacist movements that see women in highly traditional gender roles. Among "white power" and neo-Nazi groups, whose explicit aim is to repopulate the white race (so that black and brown people do no "replace" them), women are encouraged to bear as many children as possible. (In that they are echoed by mainstream white nationalists such as Tucker Carlson of Fox News.)
Jessica Reeve, the author of the ADL report, told the Independent:
There’s a profoundly anti-woman undercurrent to many white supremacist/alt right online exchanges, and that can easily veer from disrespect into the full-on promotion of violence, including rape. This is even more evident if you visit incel and MRA boards, where anger towards and hatred of women is the primary focus — and participants celebrate and encourage misogynist violence.
In other words, there seems to be a strong correlation between the people who believe they are being robbed of their rightful status by people of color and those who believe they are being robbed of their status by women. These overlapping forms of resentment and anger can all too easily lead to violence. Sometimes this is limited to "ordinary" domestic abuse, which remains widespread in America. Sometimes it results in lethal horror such as Dayton.
A recent New York Times article explored the issue of misogyny in these mass shootings. Much as the white supremacists of 8chan and similar forums have celebrated the mass killings of Jews, Mexicans and Muslims, online groups of "incels" have also celebrated the killing of women, especially the infamous case of Elliot Rodger, the young man who killed six people in 2014 in Isla Vista, California, a day after posting an online video vowing revenge on women who had declined his advances. The Times cited a more recent example: "Alek Minassian, who drove a van onto a sidewalk in Toronto in 2018, killing 10 people, had posted a message on Facebook minutes before the attack praising Mr. Rodger."
It appears that the demographic and personality profile that can lead to white supremacist violence is not much different the demographic and personality profile that leads to misogynist violence. In fact, these killers often seem irrationally angry with everyone who isn't a white male.
I hardly think it's necessary to point out that our president is right in the middle of this phenomenon as well. The ADL paper reports that after Trump's "Access Hollywood" tape was released during the 2016 campaign, notorious neo-Nazi Richard Spencer defended the then-candidate, saying that "at some part of every woman’s soul, they want to be taken by a strong man.” Trump's overt racism isn't the only reason these extremists love the guy.
Much has been made of the fact that authorities have been starved of resources to combat this white supremacist threat. There is now some hope that will change. As important as that is, it's time to put some resources — and some serious thought — into combatting misogynist violence as well.