White Power, White Terrorism, White Mainstream

As you’ve probably heard by now, Jared Lee Loughner is accused of a horrific attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ.) and the murder of six other people, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old little girl.  Loughner also injured 14 other people.  Remarkably, Giffords survived – in no small measure due to the heroic actions of a gay, Latino intern who rushed to administer first aid – and doctors are cautiously optimistic that she will recover.   While the facts in this terrible case are still unfolding, the initial indications are that the shooting points to some profound connections between white power, terrorism and the mainstream political culture of the U.S.

Hate group monitors, including Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates and Mark Potok at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC),  have noted the ties Loughner had to white power groups through his posting to various web sites and his YouTube channel.   Elise Foley, reporting at the Huffington Post, suggests that Loughner had ties to the American Renaissance, a white nationalist group that operates under a pseudo think tank called the New Century Foundation.  Among a number of notions it holds rooted in white supremacy, the American Renaissance is also opposed to the entry of “non-whites” into the United States and supports Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration law.  The group is known for its anti-semitism and a number of media outlets have pointed to the fact that Hitler’s Mein Kampf was listed as one of Loughner’s favorite books, leading to questions about whether anti-semitism and anti-immigrant hostility were motives in the shootings.  Giffords is the first Jewish U.S. representative to be elected in Arizona (and an opponent of SB 1070) and Gabe Zimmerman, a Giffords aide who was killed in the shooting, was also Jewish.    Potok is more circumspect when he observes:

I didn’t see anything that suggested racial, anti-Semitic or anti-immigrant animus in Loughner’s writings. Certainly, there’s nothing I saw at all reminiscent of American Renaissance, which focuses heavily on the alleged intellectual and psychological inferiority of black people.  At this early stage, I think Loughner is probably best described as a mentally ill or unstable person who was influenced by the rhetoric and demonizing propaganda around him. Ideology may not explain why he allegedly killed, but it could help explain how he selected his target.

One thing that seems clear is that Giffords … was the nearest and most obvious representative of “the government” that Loughner could find. Another is that he likely absorbed some of his anger from the vitriolic political atmosphere in the United States in general and Arizona in particular.

I tend to agree with Potok here.  I doubt that any official ties between Loughner and white supremacist (or nationalist) groups will be unearthed.  But, even though he Loughner isn’t much of a “joiner” doesn’t mean he’s not a political terrorist – he is.  He even calls himself a terrorist.  And, that’s what he is.  The only problem is that he’s white, so lots of people are going to have trouble recognizing him as a terrorist.

Academic blogger Juan Cole (h/t @tandmark) makes this point:

“[He] was clearly mentally unstable. But the political themes of his instability were those of the American far Right. Loughner was acting politically even if he is not all there. He is said to have called out the names of his victims, such as Roll and Gifford, as he fired. As usual, when white people do these things, the mass media doesn’t call it terrorism.

While lots of liberal bloggers have picked up this white-terrorism meme, there is almost nothing in the mainstream media about the whiteness of this suspect.  The white mainstream is already framing this shooting as the act of a crazed, lone gunman, rather than part of a consistent pattern of right-wing violence perpetrated almost exclusively by white men who are responding to a political climate that is increasingly stoked by vitriolic rhetoric.

Sarah Palin has been a chief instigator, although certainly not alone, in generating this deadly rhetoric.  Palin bears a special responsibility for the shooting given her frequent, and reckless, use of the gun metaphors such as her Twitter update: “Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!” (Indeed, Palin’s rhetoric was so inflammatory during the presidential election that the Secret Service blamed her remarks about Obama for increasing the number of death threats against him.)   Giffords was well aware of the threat posed by Palin campaign rhetoric like this map with cross hairs mimicking a gun scope on 20 Democratic districts, including Giffords’ own:

After the shooting, Palin’s political action group tried to scrub the Internet of traces of the map, but to no avail. Lots of evidence of Palin’s vitriol still exists on the web, including an interview Giffords did last spring directly addressing the poster.  Speaking to MSNBC reporter Chuck Todd after her office was vandalized in March of this year, Giffords tells Todd:

GIFFORDS:   Community leaders, figures in our community need to say “look, we can’t stand for this.”  This is a situation where — people don’t — they really need to realize that the rhetoric and firing people up and, you know, even things, for example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list. But the thing is that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gunsight over our district.  And when people do that, they’ve gotta realize there’s consequences to that action.

TODD:  But in fairness, campaign rhetoric and war rhetoric have been interchangeable for years.  And so that’s — is there not, is there a line here?  I understand that in the moment it may look bad, but do you really think that’s what she intended?

GIFFORDS:  You know, I can’t say, I’m not Sarah Palin.  But I can say that in the years that some of my colleagues have served — 20, 30 years — they’ve never seen it like this.

Todd dismisses Giffords concerns here, and I have to wonder if part of the dismissal has to do with the fact that Sarah Palin is a white woman, and thus, somehow less threatening.   What’s relevant here for my point is that Chuck Todd is part of the white mainstream that initially dismissed this violent political rhetoric as worthy of concern, and will continue in his role on MSNBC to be one of the framers of this event as the act of a “lone gunman” who is “mentally unbalanced.” These are partial truths.

What Todd and others like him in the white mainstream do when they repeat these partial truths over and over again, is that they hide from view the larger truth about the way whiteness and white supremacy are implicated in this violent political era.


  1. Joe

    I agree there are right wing connections linked to the shooter, apparently, but I think it is a bit early to conclude that the shooter was “only” a right-winger. His “friend” a couple of years back, Caitie, says on twitter he was left and liberal when she knew him. Apparently, too, he was upset that Giffords voted against Pelosi for minority leader. And one of his favorite books, he says, is the Communist Manifesto — and some other liberal books. His videos are confusing and parts can be read as right or left. However, he also lists far right books like Mein Kampf, and was upset about the things you mention in the post — stuff about the US currency. Seems partly right libertarian, partly left libertarian as of now? The only thing clear in all this stuff from him is that he is a very mentally ill fellow, and should have not been let anywhere near a gun. He was dismissed from his community college because of five disruptive incidents, police were called. And his parents were asked formally to have him mentally diagnosed before he could be allowed to return. Why does AZ allow such folks to have a concealed weapon? without three heroes who brought him down, he could have killed 30 more people.

  2. Dr. Terence Fitzgerald

    Great piece Jessie. What I found interesting, while watching the news coverage on several shows including Face the Nation, was the fact that the political representatives on the shows always made it seem that both Liberals and Conservatives are guilty of fanning the flames of hate. There seem to have been a need to have a balance of blame. Very interesting…

    • Blaque Swan, previously No1KState

      I hate this need for “balance” even when it’s unfair. As I think about it, it kinda feeds the toxic political environment. Conservatives get to say all kinds of ignorant, unfounded nonsense because “it happens on both sides,” even though clearly the left is too much of a punk to say anything – except Alan Grayson. Then, when violence happens, they slink behind, “well remember both sides do it.”

      As I think about it further, the left was most “violent” during the 70s with Weathermen Underground, and it was never their intention to hurt anyone. So, I mean, it seems like when the left feels compelled to acts of violence, they try to avoid casualties. (Even South Africa’s ANC.) And to Jessie’s point that white men are never terrorists (even recently with the serial killer targeting black men nearly exclusively) – it seems that it’s mostly white reactionary violence that isn’t labeled an act of terror.


  3. Joe

    Tis important that many conservative pundits do not understand framing 101, and keep repeating and denying that “people are saying conservative or right-wing (Limbaugh type) radio and Beck-type TV often fosters violence,” again and again and again. They repeat the theme/meme in liberal’s language, even as they deny it. This constant public discussion of right radio as violence provocative will very likely accent that framing as reality in many middle of road, and other American minds See: http://goo.gl/sP9TP

    • Blaque Swan, previously No1KState

      Okay, first. There’s no way anyone can deny that the modern Tea Partydiots and nominated/elected Republicans have been encouraging violence. It’s not as though this is the first act of terror in the name of “getting the country back” (since Jan 2009) just the first to have successfully get shots off at an elected official. Even excepting “cross-hairs” as a metaphor, if someone is “destroying” the country or trying to “kill grandma,” or trying to “enslave (white) people” or place “regular” Americans in concentration camps – what do you do?

      That said, to your point of the denying of conservative culpability – if they argue that gangsta rap contributes to inner-city violence, then they have to accept that calling Obama a Kenya anti-colonialist who hypnotized voters to get back at “whitey” contributes to reactionary violence. At least gangsta rap uses music and doesn’t suggest anyone needs to die.

      This goes back to the whole notion, discussed here in several posts, that we need to rethink the notion of “free speech.” Or, rather, mainstream whites need to rethink the notion of “free speech.” At the very least, even if there’re only 10 people in a theater and you know one is an undiagnosed schizophrenic, you can’t yell “fire!” Which is to say, no matter what they (now claim they) intended, they had to know that there is at least 1 person who would do what Loughner did. And if they didn’t, they need a mental evaluation themselves.

    • Blaque Swan, previously No1KState


      Conservative historian and pundit Victor Davis Hanson wrote on National Review’s web site that, “In the times of national uncertainty and fear that immediately follow hideous mass shootings, this cheap habit of channeling insanity into politics always surfaces but never convinces — as we learned from the deplorable tactic of blaming the Oklahoma City bombing on conservative talk radio.”
      Hanson denounced “political vultures who scavenge political capital as they pick through the horrific violence.”

      He doesn’t seem to feel the same way about the use of 9/11. http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/228229/our-national-9-11-schizophrenia-victor-davis-hanson

  4. Joe

    And, of course, the Oklahoma City mass killings by McVeigh have been, extensively, shown to be linked to his readings in the exterminationist, white supremacist, and far-right political literatures, and probably from listening to radio right types too. He read, for example, the Turner Diaries, which are still popular and for sale at gun shows.

  5. Joe

    Here [http://goo.gl/Po4Tg] is a brilliant commentary on the AZ shooter & mental illness, by someone sharp who has been severely mentally ill. Mental illness is NOT likely reason for his violence, in spite of what almost all analysts are saying! One has to buy into the ideology of violence as solution in order to commit these acts of violence whether one has serious mental illness or not. (Most mentally ill commit no violence, and are no more likely to commit violence that their non-ill counterparts) This person in the commentary on dailykos.com above reports having violent thoughts, but they are rejected by his/her having deep nonviolence-ideology commitments. The deeper problem in AZ killings is that this country teaches a great many people the violence-as-solution ideology and allows them easy access to the tools to implement that violence. Whether they are mentally ill or sane…..It is easier to blame the mental illness than the omnipresent societal teaching of violence as solution, and corporate profits from selling 2.4 million handguns a year in US…

    • ThirtyNine4Ever

      I would think untreated mental illness, depending on the illness, could make one more likely to latch on to the idea that violence is the answer and also to the extremist views. So it might not be the reason for the violence but it could easily be a contributing factor. Mind you Arizona isn’t known for taking care of it’s mentaly ill.

      • Blaque Swan, previously No1KState

        Mind you Arizona isn’t known for taking care of it’s mentaly ill.

        Clearly. They just put them in elected office (with apologies to the mentally ill).

        • ThirtyNine4Ever

          You’re telling me, and when we elect someone decent they take them away from us!
          The worst part about Obama is that he took our intelligent very qualified governer Napalitano away from us and left us with Brewer running the show.

  6. Blaque Swan, previously No1KState

    Mental illness is NOT likely reason for his violence, in spite of what almost all analysts are saying!

    That’s right!!! Why hadn’t that occurred to me sooner!! The commenter absolutely correct!! Wow!!

      • Blaque Swan, previously No1KState

        But we agree on what may be “legitimate”
        Posted January 10th, 2011 by ProfGeo
        The Times and I disagree on what may constitute “facile and mistaken.” Therefore, continuing my cross-posting mission of the day:
        Melissa McEwan at Shakesville has written a piece that deserves to go viral. This is my small contribution to that effort. Here is your teaser:
        Let’s Get This Straight
        Posted by Melissa McEwan at Monday, January 10, 2011
        [Trigger warning for violent rhetoric of many different stripes.]
        Both sides are, in fact, not “just as bad,” when it comes to institutionally sanctioned violent and eliminationist rhetoric.
        An anonymous commenter at Daily Kos and the last Republican vice presidential nominee are not equivalent, no matter how many ridiculously irresponsible members of the media would have us believe otherwise.
        There is, demonstrably, no leftist equivalent to Sarah Palin, former veep candidate and presumed future presidential candidate, who uses gun imagery (rifle sights) and language (“Don’t Retreat, RELOAD”) to exhort her followers to action.
        There is no leftist equivalent to the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a group which was created from the mailing list of the old white supremacist White Citizens Councils and has been noted as becoming increasingly “radical and racist” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which classifies the CCC as a hate group—and is nonetheless considered an acceptable association by prominent members of the Republican Party, including a a former senator and the last Republican presidential nominee…
        …This is not an argument there is no hatred, no inappropriate and even violent rhetoric, among US leftists. There is.
        This is evidence that, although violent rhetoric exists among US leftists, it is not remotely on the same scale, and, more importantly, not an institutionally endorsed tactic, as it is among US rightwingers.
        This is a fact. It is not debatable.
        And there is observably precious little integrity among conservatives in addressing this fact, in the wake of the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords…


  7. Joe

    Useful listing (http://goo.gl/nNCDH) of many acts of violence in the last year or so linked to violent anti-gov’t talk in right-wing media — why don’t the mainstream media do a little research and talk about all of these right wingers and their killings and attacks, some clearly racial motivated?


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