The reaction by most prominent conservatives to the mass shootings in El Paso, yet another allegedly perpetrated by a white supremacist, has mostly been what you’d usually expect: thoughts and prayers, ban video games, vague plays at the existence of a mental health crisis with no intention to actually increase funding for services, and so on.
It’s all so predictable that multiple reporters have tripped over themselves today in an attempt to classify Donald Trump’s dead-eyed intones about the evils of white supremacy this morning as some sort of deviation from the norm, as if he hasn’t spent his entire presidency encouraging racism against Latinx people. (He also confused Dayton with Toledo.)
But if you’re interested in action, look no further than the National Review, which today has David French arguing that the way to deal with this ongoing crisis of white supremacy is to expand the police state, and that it’s “time to declare war on white-nationalist terrorism.” French isn’t exactly clear about what shape this “war” on white nationalism would take as a whole, but we can get a sense of what he’s thinking from this passage (emphasis mine):
It’s time to declare war on white-nationalist terrorism. It’s time to be as wide awake about the dangers of online racist radicalization as we are about online jihadist inspiration. And it’s time to reject the public language and rhetoric that excites and inspires racist radicals. Just as we demanded from our Muslim allies a legal and cultural response to the hate in their midst, we should demand a legal and cultural response to the terrorists from our own land.
To say that it’s time to declare war does not mean it’s time to repeal the Constitution. Nor does it mean droning a young man in his mom’s basement in Des Moines. It means treating online white-nationalist radicals exactly the way we treat online jihadist sympathizers.
The FBI is hardly passive. Last month, FBI director Christopher Wray told Congress that the FBI had made “about 90” domestic terror arrests in the last nine months, and a “majority” are motivated by “white-supremacist violence.” Aside from making “domestic terrorism” a federal crime (federal terrorism crimes focus on international terrorism), the federal response is mainly one of resource allocation. It’s time to shake free greater resources from the Department of Justice, with greater emphasis in its myriad joint terrorism task forces on the white-nationalist threat.
It’s not just conservatives pushing this idea. Here’s the New York Times editorial board this morning:
Most importantly, American law enforcement needs to target white nationalists with the same zeal that they have targeted radical Islamic terrorists. Ensuring the security of the homeland demands it.
And here’s Bernie Sanders over the weekend:
As well-intentioned as the idea that the solution is investing more resources and hiring more cops might be, it’s not going to solve the problem.
To start, it’s highly debatable that the way the FBI and the federal government as a whole has “treated online jihadist sympathizers” is a good response that even remotely kept the country safe, let alone produced anything resembling justice. For years, the federal government has been accused of entrapping young Muslim men in fake terror plots dreamt up by the government itself. A 2014 Human Rights Watch report alleged that the FBI targets people with mental and intellectual disabilities, and has obtained evidence via coercion. (The FBI has always denied this. “This is a topic that’s been well reviewed by the courts and there’s not been a single case where the court has said the FBI has entrapped an individual,” then-FBI assistant director for counterterrorism Michael Steinbach told BuzzFeed in 2015.)
Complicating matters is that, unlike ISIS, white supremacy actually has a constituency in law enforcement itself, and that isn’t solely in the “American law enforcement began as slavecatching” sense (although, yes, that does play a major role). The past few years have seen a flurry of stories about this, from the Willamette Week’s uncovering of warm, cordial text messages between a Portland police lieutenant and the far-right group Patriot Prayer, to the dozens of Philadelphia police officers suspended after a history of racist and homophobic social media activity was uncovered, to the way a small, militarized local Georgia police department protected a neo-Nazi rally by tackling counterprotesters for the crime of wearing masks, to the virulently racist Border Patrol Facebook group.
If that wasn’t enough, think about who this job would be entrusted with: Donald Trump and Donald Trump’s Department of Justice. These are the same people who want to designate antifa as a terrorist organization. It’s quite literally only a matter of time before any effort aimed at suppressing white nationalist terrorism would turn into an effort to silence antiracist, antifascist groups on the left with zero history of violence committed in the name of those ideals.
It’s unclear what, if anything, can be done to stop the scourge of angry young white men from picking up a gun and trying to kill as many people as possible in the name of defending the white race. A good place to start, maybe, would be making it impossible to legally purchase a weapon capable of killing dozens of people in seconds, and increasing access to mental health services, and maybe telling a more accurate story about how America became America than the fairy tale that schoolchildren in this country have always heard.
If we’ve learned anything from the last half-century, however, it’s that you simply can’t police your way out of every societal dilemma.