I don’t believe the white supremacist attack in Charlottesville comes as a shock to anyone in America. I think we all knew it was coming on November 9th 2016.
The torch march through University of Virginia that included holding clergy hostage in a campus church was disgusting. The fighting in the street with clubs and shields was depressing.
The video of the car attack was horrific. It does not appear random. There is no video of the driver being in danger before driving straight into a crowd of protesters at high speed. It looks like what we’ve all seen coming for a long time. An escalation in domestic terrorism.
When the President refuses to acknowledge that a white supremacist killed a woman and injured 19 others with a tactic lifted from ISIS and talks about “violence on many sides”, it’s a shrieking dog whistle to every white racist and fascist in the country. All they hear is that they are part of a legitimate movement. They’re not.
When Trump tries to spin the issue of white nationalist terrorism into a cultural clash over historic monuments he justifies violence against those who resist a bleak program of xenophobia .
No surprise. He’s broadcast this message proudly since deciding to run for office. Trump didn’t engineer the increase in hate crimes worldwide, he’s only capitalising on it, and thereby emboldening the most dangerous actors.
On June 17th 2015, Dylan Roof, then 21, opened fire on a black church congregation in Charleston, South Carolina, killing Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, 54, Susie Jackson, 87, Ethel Lee Lance, 70, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, Clementa C. Pinckney, 41, Tywanza Sanders, 26, Daniel Simmons, 74, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, and Myra Thompson, 59.
In November of 2015, Allen Scarsella, 29, shot into a crowd of protesters occupying a park across the street from the 4th Precinct in North Minneapolis, wounding 5 people. His victims were protesting the police killing of Jamal Clark. Scarsella shot them from his car, accompanied by 3 friends.
In February of 2017, Adam Purinton, 51, told 2 Indian men to get out of his country and shot them in a bar in Kansas. He killed Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, injured Alok Madasani, 32, and Ian Grillot, 24, a bystander.
On May 27th, Jeremy Christian, 35, harrassed 2 teenage girls because one was wearing a hijab on a Portland light rail, screaming at them to get out of his country. After they fled to the back of the train, 3 bystanders intervened and Christian stabbed them, killing Ricky Best ,53, Taliesin Namkai-Meche, 23, and wounding Micah Fletcher, 21.
I’ve lived in Virginia Beach, VA and Portland, OR. In both places I’ve seen people do exactly what those 3 did. Stand up for a stranger against a volatile attacker because it’s the right thing to do. To see that resolve result in such a brutal end is a chilling proposition.
In both Virginia and Oregon, I’ve marched in the streets against police brutality with people who were disregarded by the media and much of the general public as “troublemakers”, “professional victims”, and “dangerous radicals.” This may account for why the attack in Charlottesville weighs on me so heavily. Blocking traffic, being herded by riot cops, even in a crowd of thousands, made me feel the fragility of my body. Watching the fragility of a crowd being plowed through by a car was visceral. Imagining Heather Heyer, 32, dying in a street, crushed by metal, leaves me very cold. I can’t muster any righteous sentiment about her “dying for what she believed in.” All I see is a woman slaughtered by America for being American.
Trump snubbed her memory before her body was cold to needlessly pander to racists. 99% of his supporters wouldn’t have blinked an eye if he had acted like a president and denounced the murder and the neo-nazis who cheered it. But support isn’t enough for him. He needs the mindless adulation that only the dregs of his base provide. Hence, “many sides”, and “fine, upstanding people.”
Justice won’t be served for Heather Heyer when James Alex Fields Jr., 20, is convicted, no matter how harsh the sentence. It won’t be served if he’s executed.
The only justice we can salvage from all these murders is to oppose the culture of fear that justifies and incites the violence. Trump won’t because he needs it to support his agenda, and the Republican Party has gone along for the ride, no matter how many times they “denounce” neo-nazis. The hate groups that call an organized, aggressive mob a peaceful protest need to be called on their equivocations and their ignorance, willful or not.
The groups that claim to be fascists that don’t condone violence, to only want a white nation for white people that would coexist with nations of other races, are the greatest cowards. Greater than the subhuman clods who terrorize and murder high on their rhetoric. And no one should believe their lies.
Richard Spencer and the National Policy Institute, Matthew Heimbach and the Traditionalist Workers Party, Dillon Irizarry and Vanguard America, don’t get to rationalize white supremacy as identitarian politics or equal rights.
The Oath keepers and Three Percenters don’t get to claim to be patriots while they threaten their country with vigilantism. Steve Bannon doesn’t get to pretend to be a populist crusader instead of a chickenhawk internet troll.
What can we do? We can oppose the arguments of the right that enable and support racism and similar discrimination. Arguments such as, the playing field is level now, or that we’d all have jobs if illegal immigrants were deported. Hate groups recruit hundreds of young white people who’ve come of age at a time when even the “moderate” right wing culture has committed to a party line of a post-racial America where whites, particularly white men, suffer the worst discrimination. Affirmative action and programs to relieve poverty are framed as an attempt to destroy white communities and American values. They create a myth that American prosperity was achieved by white people alone, and that liberal policies use white guilt to manipulate bleeding hearts with the true aim of subjugating Americans to a communist international order.
What can we do? Show up.
We can do what people in Charlottesville and Boston did. They showed up and shouted down fascists. In the aftermath of a tragedy, there are accolades for it. How long will it be before pundits on the right and the left are back to dissecting the “problematic” nature of such direct action?
Show up. Pay attention. Talk back. Realize that white supremacists aren’t foreign invaders. They’re the result of a country that’s been hiding in the dark for decades
The videos are gut wrenching. I wouldn’t advise many people to watch them.
I would advise they watch one with their children every day for the rest of their term looting the government.
Jaron Lanier has worked on the cutting edge of computer programming since the 70s. His books, You Are Not a Gadget (2010), and Who Owns the Future (2015) are incisive, readable critiques of the most dominant digital networks. He’s not just talking about Uber and Facebook, but the architecture that underlies modern banks, news outlets, manufacturers, and just about everything else our standard of living depends on.
“A sufficiently copious flood of data creates an illusion of omniscience,
and that illusion can make you stupid.”
His 2010 Atlantic article, The Hazards of Nerd Supremacy, considers the case of Wikileaks and networks like Anonymous that claim to leak private information of individuals and institutions in the name of transparency. Lanier provides history on the evolution of some of the most influential cyber actors of our time and notes that most of them cultivate the kind of privacy protection they suggest the general population should learn to live without.
“Totally aside from whether Wikileaks has hurt the USA or anyone else, we should ask the question, “What has it done to us?” The hacker idea has gotten meaner, less sensitive, more combative, and more reactive. This is what I mean by the problem of nerd supremacy.”
Lanier is not a pundit or a guru. He’s a scientist who understands how computers work and how they’re profited from. He’s also a thoughtful person who doesn’t see profits and stability as mutually exclusive. His article is a much needed alarm for a public that insists that wealth created by apparent technological innovation is the only solution to society’s problems. The idea that political engagement and coalition building are viable tactics is at an all time low, creating fertile ground for cyber vigilantism and violence in real time.
I can’t recommend his books enough, even if you only skim a few chapters. There is plenty of jargon and abstraction to confront, but Lanier’s humor and insight boost the reader through. Even for a layman like me, the path tech giants are taking to economic hegemony becomes clear.
The refrain running through both works is that none of this is inevitable. It is the result of structural decisions that date back before the birth of the internet. Today we have the perspective to see what those early decisions by programmers locked us into. This can teach us what kind of structures we should avoid today, if we take the long view. Doesn’t sound much like markets/people, though, does it?
“Isn’t it clear that we tend to become
like what we mock and fear?”
All quotes from The Hazards of Nerd Supremacy: the case of Wikileaks. Jaron Lanier. The Atlantic. Dec 20, 2010. http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/12/the-hazards-of-nerd-supremacy-the-case-of-wikileaks/68217/ Accessed Jan 19, 1017.
All Images from jaronlanier.com