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Replacement Theory: Not A New Threat in America

GELFAND’S WORLD - This is apparently what is meant by Make America Great Again: White supremacism supported by murder of the minority population. 

And that remark wasn't even supposed to sound snarky. 

I've known two murder victims in my lifetime. Maybe I should say that I've known at least two murder victims, because it's possible that somebody I knew back in college or at work also got killed. A lot of people get murdered in this country. So at least two. They were both middle aged white men. One was killed for financial gain and the other probably just for being irritating. 

The curious thing is that of the two, only one was killed by a gunshot, so that in itself is unusual. 

In a week where we are once again mourning the victims of multiple mass-shooting incidents, I have a tendency to muse about the American sickness, and how we can expect all the usual excuses for doing nothing about gun murders. Notice that I don't even have it in me to use that euphemism "gun violence." It's murder, and increasingly it's slaughter. 

And once again, the gun lobby is anticipating that people will respond logically to the latest outrage. The NRA is reported to have tweeted, " Disarming law-abiding citizens and making good people helpless will not make bad people harmless." The lack of logic in that statement was pointed out immediately -- for example, there was an armed guard who fired back, but was himself killed in the line of duty because he was outgunned and lacking in battle armor. 

Making good people helpless, indeed. It seems to me that the way this has already happened is that the bad guys have access to this level of weaponry. 

It's infuriating that the people who push the sale of remarkably dangerous weapons as if they were toys are themselves probably aware of how silly their rationalizations sound. It's just that they figure that they have to say something -- almost anything will suffice -- to provide excuses for their customers who enjoy owning those guns. All of them together feel that they have to put a spin on our gun culture. They've got one point, I have to concede: There are now so many guns in the hands of the American people that it would be close to impossible to succeed in disarming them of high power, semiautomatic rifles. They point out that most of these weapons are not used for mass murder. This is correct, but we might reasonably point out that it is also irrelevant. 

The thing is, I'm not exactly alone in having these thoughts. One time, our congresswoman held a meeting to talk about gun violence because we had just had one of those mass shootings. There was a full crowd filling a large auditorium-sized room at a local high school. After a while, it became obvious that pretty much every person in that hall, give or take half a dozen, was there to testify to his/her own loss. 

And then I realized that I actually knew at least a couple of those people who had suffered different, but technically similar murders of family members due to gunshots. 

And I've gradually come to realize that most of us, even if we didn't know a murder victim directly, probably know somebody who did. Remember that old term "six degrees of separation"? In this country, it's probably two degrees of separation that connect you to a murder victim. 

So, you might ask, what's the point of my muttering to myself about these depressing topics? There is an answer. Actually, there are two answers, and they are of equal validity. 

The first answer is that we have to speak up, even knowing that the Republicans in congress will prevent effective legislation from passing. Even if some reporter asks them about the latest shootings, they will simply pledge allegiance to the Second Amendment or trot out that latest irrelevancy that "this is a mental health issue" or that even more disingenuous argument that "we need to identify these people before they go on their killing sprees." 

That thought of "degrees of separation" provokes one final thought. 

In the old days, there was the occasional mass murder -- rare, but not unheard of. Perhaps the most infamous was the 1966 University of Texas tower shootings, which cost 16 people their lives but took 96 minutes in an era when snipers used bolt action rifles. It took a while for the technology of mass murder to reach the Las Vegas massacre stage. But it has taken more than technology to get us to the present situation. It has taken a whole collection of social, political, and communications developments to get here. 

The Buffalo killer had to have a series of learning experiences and purchasing opportunities (direct or indirect) for him to engage in Saturday's shooting. There was the social poison -- apparently on 4Chan -- to reinforce his views. Those views are overtly racist -- the news media showed his rifle on television, and it has racist garbage written all over it -- but the argument about "replacement" is reinforced on Fox News and other right-wing media on a daily and weekly basis.  

What's "replacement," you may ask? It's the idea that people of different races and skin color will gradually become the voting majority in this country, thereby replacing whites as the dominant race. The more overtly crazy ones see it as a vast conspiracy whereby the Democratic Party will gain long term power through mass violations of our immigration rules. 

The gunman, now 18 years old, was taught about these topics somewhere, and then they were reinforced. He made himself a part of the conversation -- one of its leaders, you might say -- by putting his own manifesto on the internet. This is one way that the right-wing crazed mass-murder culture grows and develops. 

And that's an important point that hasn't been talked about enough. It's a kind of unwritten concept among the most deranged that the way to get what you want in this country is to kill a lot of strangers in an act of mass terrorism. They seem to feel that this kind of conduct will provoke others to follow in their footsteps. Curiously, this is a straightforward replication of the ideas of Charles Manson, with his hope that Helter Skelter would bring on a race war. Apparently Manson, and now people like the Buffalo shooter, think that a race war would be a good thing. 

There's no doubt that the popular right-wing press and television shows contribute to this line of thought, even if they don't support white-against-black violence overtly. But they do their best to make mountains out of mole hills as often as they can. Take this example: The shooter wrote on his rifle, "here's your reparations." I would imagine that most of us are aware of discussions of reparations (for the suffering and losses from slavery), but most of us recognize it as an academic discussion that isn't likely to go anywhere. And even if it did, it would be through a democratic process which would inevitably involve compromise. To equate "here are your reparations" with the killing of strangers is to reveal that what really motivates you is pure, unadulterated racial hatred. 

And where did that hatred come from? It's all around us, communicated by Fox News hosts, talk radio, and the internet. 

But here's where those degrees of separation come in. It took more than a thought to result in so many dead. It took a gun culture and online training in the use of body armor and most of all, the ready access to the guns. 

And one more thing. In some parts of the United States, it wouldn't even be against the law to walk around in public the way the Buffalo shooter presented himself. Some people, no longer considered all that extreme, believe that it is a good thing to come out in public armed to the teeth in order to exercise and communicate their rights under the Second Amendment. 

And that's the final lesson. It's taken a series of decisions by increasingly conservative Supreme Court majorities to weaken restrictions against the ownership and display of lethal firearms. Court decisions weakening such rules, a subversive culture of anger which uses gun rights to its political advantage, and a thoroughly insensitive Republican Party have all contributed to the current condition. The media outlets for gun culture, the politicians who curry favor with them by showing guns in their campaign ads, and the inwardly fearful, increasingly paranoid folks who think that the liberals are out to "take our guns" have made it more and more possible for these killings to happen. 

Of course there are a lot of killings that are just killings, motivated by everyday anger and a few too many drinks. But it is the legal climate and the easy availability of guns that makes it all possible. This year alone, we've averaged 10 mass shooting events a week. 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])