The San Diego shooting, Christchurch, and the deadly consequences of white nationalism

In the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque attacks, serious questions were asked as to why the police and intelligence authorities were unable to prevent the operations and criminal actions of the Australian-born gunman. He emerged from a far-right and fascistic milieu. The chief of the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) Duncan Lewis, was asked this very question – and his response was indicative of the skewed way the problem of terrorism is approached.

Lewis explained that there was no need for a dramatic reset of intelligence gathering, nor a requirement to refocus on collecting information about domestic ultra-rightist terrorism after the Christchurch shootings. This response is rather puzzling, given that fascistic domestic terrorism driven by the ideology of white supremacy has been increasing over the last decade. This type of terrorism does not prompt reexaminations of our political and intelligence-practices in the way that attacks from Muslim perpetrators do.

Police and intelligence agencies continue to insist that the Christchurch gunman was a ‘lone wolf’ who acted on his own. However, even lone wolves emerge from and operate within packs. The fascistic Australian gang, the Lads Society, attempted to recruit the Christchurch killer before he carried out his attacks. This group is only one of several neo-Nazi outfits that operates in Australia. This information discredits government claims that the Christchurch gunman was a ‘lone wolf’.

The Christchurch mosque attacker provided the direct inspiration for the anti-Semitic gunman who killed one person and injured three at the Chabad of Poway synagogue near San Diego. The shooter, John Earnest, had fifty rounds of ammunition when he walked into the synagogue in April this year. More casualties were prevented because Earnest’s gun jammed.

President Trump issued a lukewarm condemnation of the San Diego synagogue shooting – only after he insisted that his description of the anti-Semitic white supremacists who rallied at Charlottesville in 2017 as ‘very fine people’ was accurate. In fact, Trump and his administration has downplayed the threat of anti-Semitism, all the while recycling anti-Semitic tropes.

Trump has not only failed to condemn anti-Semitism, he has recycled the underlying logic of bigoted white supremacist killers in the immediate aftermath of anti-Semitic attacks. The Pittsburgh synagogue attack, while attracting outrage from around the world, received only mild criticism from the Trump administration. The latter’s continued support for the state of Israel has provided a convenient excuse for Trump and his supporters to deflect charges of anti-Semitism.

White supremacist terrorism does not induce nation-wide anxieties and moral panics about the nature of the terror threat and the ideology motivating it. Adam Serwer, writing in The Atlantic magazine makes the following observation in contrasting our responses to Islamic versus white nationalist attacks:

When white extremists kill, politicians do not demand that they be racially profiled. They do not call for bans on white people coming to the United States. They do not insist that white people’s freedom of movement be restricted, their houses of worship be surveilled, their leaders be banned from holding public office, or their neighborhoods be “secured” and occupied by armed agents of the state.

It would be morally outrageous and ethically bankrupt to racially profile white persons, demand their detention in internment camps and deny their human rights because of the criminal actions of white supremacists. It is legitimate to demand that white nationalist killers be prosecuted as terrorists – something that rarely occurs. Trevor Aaronson, writing in The Intercept e-magazine, writes that the US Department of Justice has, since September 11 2001, routinely declined to press terrorism charges against ultra-right terrorists, even when their crimes meet the legal definition of domestic terrorism.

The San Diego shooter, John Earnest, penned a ‘manifesto’ in the days prior to his attack. He combines a noxious mix of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, blaming Jews for allegedly plotting the demise of white civilisation, and expressing his contempt for non-white immigrants. This rationale is nothing new in white supremacist and fascistic circles – the ‘great replacement’ theory purports to expose a Jewish plot to bring non-white immigrants into the United States for the express purpose of ‘replacing whites’.

What is interesting to note is that Earnest regularly attended an evangelical Christian church – the Orthodox Presbyterian denomination, a conservative force that is countering what it perceives to be the liberal drift of the mainstream Presbyterian church. The pastor of the group, Reverend Mika Edmondson, has spoken of his soul-searching quest to understand how one of his congregants espoused a virulent anti-Semitism. Edmondson admitted that Earnest was radicalised into white nationalism in the very midst of his group.

Before concluding with this subject, let us address the predictable and tiresomely shrill response from conservative pundits – what about the attacks against Christian communities? Of course the Easter 2019 Sri Lanka bombings, targeting Christian worshippers in churches, were acts of horrific terrorism. We can all see what is happening to the Christian communities in Pakistan – similar to other minorities, they are attacked by religious fanatics and their places of worship desecrated. The ancient Christian communities of Iraq are being driven out by the terrorist actions of Islamic State.

There is no question that Christian communities are subjected to persecution by terrorist groups. As Mehdi Hasan wrote in The Intercept e-magazine, we all need to stand together in the face of barbaric murders, such as the Easter 2019 bombings in Sri Lanka. Are Christian lives less worthy or valuable than Muslim lives? Of course not. Are Muslims super-fantastic people who require special privileges and consideration? No, they are not.

Our objection here is against the co-thinkers of the conservative far-right such as Australian National Party politician George Christensen – or indeed former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The latter, and his ultra-rightist fellow thinkers, usually play the ‘Christians are persecuted’ card when discussing questions of white nationalism. Please, stop lecturing others about morals and values, because the Australian tribal conservative Right has no moral compass.

If you regard the colonisation of indigenous society in Australia as a ‘good thing’ – as former PM Abbott and George Christensen do – then you are not only woefully ignorant of Australian history, but lack a moral or ethical compass with which to address white nationalism. You have no credibility in lecturing others about morals and ethics if you cannot recognise that white nationalism was built on a criminal enterprise. Let us address the underlying ideology of white nationalist hatred and how it leads to lethal consequences.

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