White Power, White Terrorism, White Mainstream

tucson shootingAs 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.). Gabrielle 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.

jessie danielsWhat’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.

Jessie Daniels

Racism Review


  1. dr. o says

    Jeez, you were born in the wrong era… With your talent for yellow journalism, Hearst or Pulitzer would have hired you in a heartbeat… Well, you can always get a job with The Sun as their Page 6 Editor… The intellectual attainments of that page will fit you nicely…

    dr. o

  2. Leslie says

    I would like to be removed from the mailing list of L.A. Progressive. I do not like the articles and have been receiving the emails for long enough. I noticed someone else was removed by complaining on another post…can this happen for me? Thanks.


  3. Bill Gibbons says

    OK, lets talk about black-on-black violence and killings, or Latino gang shoot outs, or asian gangs and their own particular brand of violence. So one white Marxist-oriented loser goes postal and its all Sarah Palin’s fault?

    I’m beginning to wonder who the hate talkers really are.

  4. jdlawnguy says

    What a load of crap! Palin is responsible for death talk? Please!! Lol what lunacy. Benjamin franklin said every 100 years there should be a revolution, is he a terrorist? To blame palin for the shooting is like saying obama is responsible because he. Interfered with state law. By the way he is a gun rights advocate.that’s slander and I hope she sues u liberal garbage who are slandering her . Liberals abuse everyfreedom we have and twist the law to ban christianity, and and would glady hand our country to the mexicans so we can live like povert moronsled by a gay army in absence of god.

  5. says

    Some years ago, former FBI terrorism profiler Joe Navarro was the keynote speaker at the state conference of the California Association of Licensed Investigators (CALI), the world’s largest organization of private detectives (of which I served seven terms as Chairman of the Board). Amongst Navarro’s many insights was the fact that 89% of all terrorism is domestic terrorism, and the 11% that is attributable to foreign sources is “statistically insignificant” to professionals in the field.

    However, while that 11% might be a drop in the bucket, it is very lucrative for the military industrial complex, so the taxpayers are paying through the nose when it would be dollars better spent combating domestic terrorists.

  6. George A. Crackuh says

    The people who actually know him personally have described him as left-wing.

    But first off, this horrific act was only “political” in that this nutbag’s particular nuttiness sort of pointed that way for a moment. If we can learn learn anything useful from this awful tragedy, it’s that we should improve our early warning and response systems to prevent these crazies from damaging others. This has to be done very much locally.

    Like Major Hassan at Fort Hood, there were plenty of signals received by neighbors and associates that these guys were very dangerous – but action to insulate them from us was never taken. Why?

    But that’s not enough for the ultra-politicized left, which always rushes to blame others, individuals and groups, for these type of horrible events, flailing away with the grievance club of their choice. For the present author, apparently everything is a race issue.

    But mental illness is a fact of all human societies and cultures. Humans are a wildly variable species; which in practice, means we have many more defectives than any other species existing on the planet. As a society, we should all pitch in and ameliorate the problems this causes. Conservatives and true liberals alike agree on this.

    Ms. Daniels needs to take a good, long, hard look at the violent and racist roots and past of the Democrat party in this country, and the far left world-wide, before she goes dumping her hateful fantasies on a kind-hearted, reverent, family-loving, girl-scout type like Sarah Palin. There is nothing in Mrs. Palin’s past or present life that wouldn’t serve as a fine example for young girls and boys everywhere to emulate.

    But OK, let’s talk about where the actual violence has been coming from, if you insist:

    Organized violence in the past century has historically been coming primarily from the left – and specifically and recently, here in America, from SEUI and ACORN union thugs. The political violence, of course has been vastly leftist and Marxist. The German Nazis, the Soviets, the Chinese Communists, the Cubans and the Maoist Shining path in south America, all on the left.That is a historical fact. And the list goes on. Makes Pinochet and the few other rightwing dictators look like real small potatoes, doesn’t it?

    You leftists purport mob violence on the right, but all the campus riots and the WTO riots are ALWAYS left-wingers – always have been – and this also is not in dispute. Never really mentioned by the mainstream press, but never disputed, either.

    Yet here you go, injecting more hateful racist rhetoric, once again making Sarah Palin and conservatives your victim – even though she’s never hurt anybody or even urged it, even though the metaphoric language on her website is completely typical of all political campaign (and sports!) discourse, and even though nobody in their right minds takes this kind of jargon for anything other than the metaphor it always is.

    Did you take Obama literally when he said the Democrats needed to bring a gun if the Republicans bring a knife to a fight? I didn’t.

    I read blogs on the left and the right, and the left is consistently more vitriolic, day in and day out. Nobody tops DU or the Kos Kids for hateful vile speech.

    Or maybe you forgot the eight years of their Bush-death-wishing signs and slogans and movies? And on and on.

    Calm down, Ms. Daniels, hop off the race-grievance wagon for a while, and let’s pray for all the victims of this senseless crime, and then let’s pull together, each in our own community, to help prevent these poor crazy people from exploding onto others.

    • Harvey Platt says

      While I have no idea what the ultra-polarized left is, I do know there are major differences between liberals and real leftists, who this author cannot differentiate.

      It is the latter who look at the practices of the Bush II and Obama administrations as the real threat for political violence (not Sarah Palin) for example spending billions on drone missiles which are used for official, extra-judicial political assassinations.

      Other practices, such as the Bush I and Clinton administrations embargoes, sanctions, and daily bombing of Iraq killed over 1,000,000 people who were victims, not supporters, of Saddam Hussein.

      This level of political violence makes Tuscon look small and amateurish.

  7. says

    When the Ft. Hood shooter, who is Muslim, killed all those people in his rampage, there were plenty of FOX News folks and others who immediately called him a “terrorist,” and they did so loudly and unflinchingly. You are correct; I have not heard any mainstream folks on TV refer to Loughner as a “terrorist.”

    Loughner is, by all accounts, an unbalanced loner. But aren’t all the mass murderers basically thus? Wasn’t the Ft. Hood shooter a loner and unbalanced? And the Unabomber? And the Virginia Tech shooter? No sane, healthy, well-socialized person would commit such heinous acts against humanity. Prima facie, these mass killers are unbalanced, insane, etc. Now, does that automatically preclude them being “terrorists” as well?

    All our media folks need to decide if they’re going to be consistent, analytical, and fair. No double standards, please. They should come up with a sensible, intelligent definition of what a “terrorist” is, then apply it equally to people deserving such a title, no matter what their ethnicity, religion, or race is.

    • Dr. Wayne Gautreau says

      You are right on target. If the person is white they mentally unstable but if they not white or belong to non-christian religion then they are terrorists. So say those mainly on the right.

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