Keyla Alison Salazar was supposed to turn fourteen today. She didn’t, because she was murdered by a white supremacist. It happened one week ago at a food festival in Gilroy, California. She died trying to help a relative with a walking cane escape.
The family couldn’t even hold Keyla’s funeral before the next white supremacist massacre came. At least twenty people were shot to death yesterday in El Paso by a man who told police he wanted to kill “as many Mexicans as possible.” Hours later, yet another white man used an AR-15-style rifle to execute another nine people, including his sister, in Dayton, Ohio.
Much about this week of bloodbaths feels horribly familiar. But at the same time, it feels like something has shifted. Some Republicans are still hiding behind platitudes and crocodile tears over the state of mental healthcare in America. But others, it seems, can’t hold that pose any longer.
Surprisingly, to me at least, one of the strongest statements came from Sen. Ted Cruz:
I sense fear in Cruz’s tweet. It isn’t fear about guns. I’m not even sure, despite his appeals to his father’s Cuban heritage elsewhere in the thread, that he feels personally threatened by the white supremacist wave himself—though the thought may be beginning to dawn on him.
Rather, I think Cruz realizes a stark political fact: In the wake of this latest terror, a larger swath of the public may finally be coming to the realization that a significant part of the wave of white supremacy gripping this country can be traced to his party and its president—and that they may be getting ready to hold them accountable.
Many Americans, including powerful figures in media, have been willing to tolerate the clear evidence of a rising tide of violence suborned by the president for the past two years because they haven’t had to directly confront its effects. The people who’ve died behind the barbed wire of Trump’s concentration camps don’t have friends at the networks. They are anonymous and hidden, as their captors intend.
But mass shootings are different. They are, despite the attempts of politicians to falsely claim otherwise, inherently political events—especially when a killer writes a manifesto ahead of time. They are acts of terrorism: symbolic attacks intended to have their most significant effects far from the killing zone. As such, these shooting have the potential to shock millions of people into action, and to reframe debates in ways the killers might not intend.
White supremacy is a far bigger and more pervasive pathology than a single party, or even the entire electoral system. White liberal racism is a thing too, as is left racism, and both are destructive. But in the face of this wave of terror, there are some basic facts we need to state clearly: This violence has been abetted most specifically by the Republican Party. Its perpetrators are feeding on Trump’s unmistakably fascist, racist rhetoric, which in turn draws profligately from the same racist conspiracy theories and memes that populate the far-right boards where the killers plan.
While removing its leaders from power—as Cruz may fear the people will do—would in no way end white supremacy in America (how could it?), it is a tangible step. And it thus one that, as millions of people may be thinking this weekend, is becoming increasingly urgent.
In 2009, Obama’s Department of Homeland Security produced a report that identified white supremacy as the greatest domestic terror threat facing the country. Republicans forced the department to rescind the report because they feared its findings and knew it would make Republicans and their voters look bad. Once Trump got into office, he eliminated the last vestiges of DHS’s monitoring of white nationalist extremism. The wave has risen since.
Trump has also made clear on the rally podium that he supports violence in general, and violence against immigrants specifically:
In the hours since the latest massacres, Trump has made a few perfunctory tweets that barely mentioned the victims. As the bodies were being collected in Texas, he was hanging out at one of his golf clubs, doing a celebrity drop-in at a wedding.
The manifesto attributed to the El Paso killer reads like it could have been delivered by the old man himself. “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” it says. It repeats lies about the looming loss of jobs, supposed threat of immigrants voting, and how much worse things are in Europe. It echoes the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory that underlined the Charlottesville Nazi march two years ago and is a staple of Tucker Carlson’s program.
Nor is it likely a coincidence that the suspect traveled all the way from a Dallas suburb to El Paso—a nine-hour, 650-mile drive—just a few weeks after a congressional delegation visited concentration camps around that city and condemned the conditions there. Trump was reacting in part to that criticism when he bellowed at young congresswomen of color who were on that trip to “go back” to their supposed countries of origin. The resulting Trump rally chant—“send her back!”—was echoed in the manifesto as well.
Republicans have also largely stood alone in their aggressive defense and promotion of the widespread proliferation of guns. That is also a deeply, though not exclusively, white supremacist position, rooted in white fears of blacks and immigrants, as evidenced by how rarely the National Rifle Association’s advocacy extends to nonwhite gun owners.
The trouble for Cruz is that it may be too late to put the genie back into the bottle. With Trump’s election, Republicans had started to all but give up on nonwhite voters, apparently relying on their ongoing efforts to undermine elections and block nonwhite voter participation instead. Out of 279 current Republican governors, members of Congress, and the president and vice president, only 13—less than five percent—aren’t white.
History clearly shows that there is no peaceful white supremacy. There is no segregation without violence. Even the El Paso shooter’s purported manifesto tries to deny, after four pages of detailed plans for mass murder aimed at balkanizing the United States into a series of ethnic enclaves, that he is a white supremacist. (To say otherwise, he notes, quoting the president, would be “fake news.”)
If Cruz really believes that white supremacy has no place in America, he may have to leave his party. Those who remain will have to decide how long they are willing to stand by and tolerate the use of terror as a political tool. The longer the rest of us go without addressing the root political cause, the worse the nightmare grows. More families like Keyla’s will pay the price.
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Jonathan M. Katz is a freelance journalist, author, and national fellow at New America. His next book, Gangsters of Capitalism, will trace the origins and contradictions of American empire. You can find him on Twitter @KatzOnEarth