El Paso and the ongoing eruption of white nationalist terrorism

In the immediate aftermath of the El Paso shooting, the New York Times editorial board published an article that confirms what political commentators having been saying for decades: the United States has a white nationalist terrorism problem. The El Paso attacks are only the latest outburst in a long-term pattern of ultra-rightist, fascistic violence.

Right wing terrorism is not confined to the United States – white nationalism is a supranational ideology that motivated multiple ultranationalist killers, from Breivik in Norway, to the Australian racist murderer in Christchurch.

Let’s unpack this subject.

The El Paso racist killings have prompted the corporate media – finally – to critically examine an undercurrent of American society which they had previously denied or downplayed – white racism. The latter, rebranded with the euphemistic label white nationalism, has motivated far right terrorism, and is the ideological glue that holds together white supremacist groups of all stripes.

White nationalist killers are an international contagion, according to the FBI. If that assessment of white nationalist gunmen sounds similar to the evaluation of IS militants, then this must prompt us to rethink definitions of ‘national security.’

White nationalism wants a whites-only ethnostate

The term ‘white nationalism’ sounds harmless – just another variety of ethnic diversity. Its egalitarian-sounding undertone makes it appear to be just an overeager patriotism indulged by its partisans on a jolly jamboree. Make no mistake – white nationalism is a xenophobic and exclusionary philosophy, intending on creating a whites-only ethnostate. Harking back to the days of Rhodesia – and apartheid South Africa – white nationalism sees a racially hierarchical society as a fundamental objective of its endeavour to reshape capitalist society.

Trump is not the only one

There is no question that the US President, through his words and actions, is an enabler of fascistic violence. His constant demonisation of migrants and refugees, his portrayal of immigration from non-white countries as an ‘invasion’, his defence of white supremacist rallies such as Charlottesville 2017 – all these mark out the Trump presidency as an ally of white nationalism.

However, to reduce the problem of white nationalist terrorism to the workings of Trump’s brain misses the wider picture. Trump is hideous in his racism, but he is not an aberration. White nationalist killings have a long and sordid history in the United States. White supremacist killers have rationalised their actions, from Breivik in Norway to the racist Christchurch murderer in 2019, by way of issuing a manifesto.

As repulsive as it is, it is instructive to examine the El Paso shooter’s manifesto. Patrick Crusius, prior to going on his violent rampage in El Paso, published a document elaborating his worldview and explaining his actions. This manifesto demonstrates a person committed to a fascistic perspective, and who made clear that his reasoning predates the actions and words of Trump.

The Great Replacement theory – white racial paranoia

Crusius, like all racist killers, frames his actions in purely self-defensive terms. The white race, according to Crusius, is under attack by multicultural and liberal elites bringing nonwhite migrants into the United States. Through this programme of integration and assimilation, the white race will be outnumbered and replaced by the superior numbers – and faster breeding – of the nonwhite ethnicities. This is the great replacement theory, and this notion has been developed over the years not only by white supremacists, but also by mainstream conservative commentators.

First elaborated by French political commentator and writer Renaud Camus, the great replacement theory is an umbrella term that includes various permutations of white racial paranoia. In its most basic form, it states that global elites are engaged in a vast transnational conspiracy to replace the white race by bringing in nonwhite populations. In Europe, far right parties have advocated this conspiracy theory to scapegoat migrants for economic and social problems.

It is instructive to note that it is not only the ultra-right that has blamed a mythical ‘mass immigration’ wave for the socioeconomic problems of Europe. Charles De Gaulle, hero of the French Republic, is on record as stating that the French population faces the threat of being overwhelmed by Arab, Muslim and Berber immigrants from Algeria and North Africa. These sentiments, recycled by British politicians such as Enoch Powell, are a perverse inversion of reality – the ‘white race’ changes from an oppressor to a victim.

The United States has its own tradition of fear-mongering when it comes to the issue of immigration. The late Professor Madison Grant authored the book The Passing of the Great Race in 1916. In this book, Grant lamented the dilution of the white race, through race-mixing, with the ‘inferior’ breeds of migrants from Eastern Europe (particularly Jewish emigrants) and nonwhite nations. This manufactured racial anxiety predates the ‘white genocide’ conspiracy theory being regurgitated in far right circles today.

Ultra-rightist terrorists recycle a version of this racial paranoid dystopian fantasy in their writings. The El Paso shooter complained of a ‘Hispanic invasion of Texas’. The Australian killer in Christchurch also portrayed his actions as those of a white man ‘defending his race’ against invading hordes of migrants. In fact, the revamped white nationalist movement – under the new brand name of Alternative Right – posits itself as ‘anti-globalist’ or ‘anti-elite’ and thus attempts to deflect accusations of racism.

The El Paso gunman, like his fellow white supremacists, updated and operationalised fascistic violence by targeting the mythical ‘upsurge’ in migrant numbers. Fighting a war to stop the supposed marginalisation of the white race, far-rightist killers have adapted their whites-only perspective for a modern society. Nostalgia for the white, ante-bellum Confederate past is no longer a preeminent feature of the ultra-right.

What the far right has also discovered as a tactic to propose its solutions – as evidenced by El Paso shooter’s manifesto – is environmentalism. Instead of denying or downplaying environmentally destructive threats to the planet, the anti-immigrant Right is using these concerns to demand their solution – decimate the nonwhite populations and thus rescue the Earth’s ecology. In fact, Crusius described himself as an eco-fascist.

The resurgence of eco-fascism is a large subject. That will be the topic of the next article.

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