The first year of President Barack Obama’s presidency, the government released a report about domestic terror threats in our country. It determined right-wing extremism the No. 1 domestic threat to our peace and security.
Despite the report having been commissioned under Obama’s predecessor, conservative media pounced on it as an attack on red-blooded Americans. In particular, I remember hearing a clip of Rush Limbaugh saying the report demonstrated that the leftists in Washington were coming after “people like you and me.”
The report said nothing of the sort. The right-wing extremists it referred to were white nationalists, private militias and other fanatical anti-government groups, not everyday conservatives. But by making the report inclusive of every conservative and not just those in the fringe who are stashing military-style weapons and explosives like they’re a kid’s baseball card collection, it undercut the real threat facing our country.
And the report wasn’t wrong. What now is called the alt-right spawned the likes of Timothy McVeigh and Randy Weaver in the decade before its release, and the attacks on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, synagogues in California and Pittsburgh, and the Bundy family standoffs in Nevada and Oregon after.
The shooting Saturday in El Paso is just the latest example of someone with white nationalist views taking deadly action because of that cultivated hate.
It is important here not to conflate Saturday’s deadly shooting in El Paso with that in Dayton. The “why” of the Texas tragedy is quite clear given the racist manifesto posted before the assault. The suspect in Ohio — a “leftist” according to his social media account — did not provide clues to explain his motivation, though people who knew him told of a sick fixation with violence and killing going back to middle school.
There also is no great wave of leftist violence sweeping the country, save for the Antifa squads damaging businesses and assaulting alt-right activists. Leftists seem more inclined to try banning speakers from college campuses.
That still doesn’t equate to deadly, hate-fueled attacks by conservative extremists, of which there have been at least 18 this decade, including five that could be categorized as mass shootings. Comparatively, there have been two where leftist ideology has been the pre-eminent motivation — the attack on Dallas police in 2016 and the shooting at a softball game practice by Republican lawmakers in 2017.
Organized attacks by Islamic extremists during the same period? Nine.
Don’t make the same mistake as Limbaugh did a decade ago of lumping together the El Paso shooter with flag-waving, Dan Patrick-loving conservatives. They don’t belong together any more than Louis Farrakhan and Jon Stewart. In both cases, the power of the extreme side of each equation needs to be diluted.
One other point about the shootings over the weekend.
Fifty-three years ago when Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the University of Texas tower and began shooting innocent bystanders, he left 14 dead and 31 wounded in 96 minutes before police killed him to stop the rampage.
The shooter in a Dayton entertainment district early Sunday morning killed nine people and wounded 27 in less than one minute. That’s 36 people shot before the good guys with guns — police officers who were already there — could take out the shooter.
At minimum, that should be food for thought toward a productive discussion about the pervasiveness of our pro-gun culture and whether military weapons belong in civilian hands.