Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 513, 18 May 2022

The US: Another racial attack highlights the deep divide within
D Suba Chandran

In the news
On 14 May, in the US, in a racially motivated attack, a young white male opened fire in a supermarket, killing ten people, most of them belonging to the African American community. The shooting took place in Buffalo; a report in the New York Times read: "drove more than 200 miles to mount his attack, which he also livestreamed, the police said, a chilling video feed that appeared designed to promote his sinister agenda."

On 14 May, the US president, in his statement on the shooting, said: "... we don't need anything else to state a clear moral truth: A racially motivated hate crime is abhorrent to the very fabric of this nation. Any act of domestic terrorism, including an act perpetrated in the name of a repugnant white nationalist ideology, is antithetical to everything we stand for in America. Hate must have no safe harbor. We must do everything in our power to end hate-fueled domestic terrorism."

On 18 May, a report in the New York Times read explained how the killer "had posted racist and antisemitic memes and messages and updated his plans on the internet forums. He was able to buy an assault-style weapon despite having been held for a mental health evaluation in 2021 after making a threatening remark at his high school."

Issues at large
First, the continuing violence in the US. A New York Times report, referring to data prepared by the Gun Violence Archive, mentions that in 2021, there were more than 690 shootings in which there were four or more fatalities in 28 incidents. According to the same data, in 2022 until so far, there were more than 200 shootings where more than four or more were either injured or killed. Of those shootings, nine involved four or more fatalities.

Second, the hate crimes in the US. While the above data refer to mass shootings by gunmen, the US has been witnessing hate crimes. The violence against the people of colour in the US has a recent history; the shooting in Buffalo was not the first one. In August 2019, a young white gunman shot 23 people in a supermarket in El Pasa, Texas. The victims were mainly from Latin America, and the shooting was considered a hate crime motivated against the migrants.

Third, the racial divide inside the US vis-à-vis the efforts to address them. The recent US history highlights the increasing racial faultlines and violence against minorities. On the other hand, the Black Lives Matter movement also highlights the increasing awareness of the racial divide within and the need to address hate crimes. The recent trial over the murder of George Floyd also underlines the systemic issues within the US state apparatus.

Fourth, the "replacement theory," white radicalization, the internet and lone wolves. The "replacement theory" refers to the threat of replacement of a people by another set of people of different colour/race/ideology. The causes that have motivated the killers in the above incidents are complex and should underline the impending threat and the inadequate responses. From the attack on mosques in New Zealand (2019) to the recent attack in the US, there is a trend linked with the above – a hate literature, its easy availability online, internet radicalization, and lone-wolf attacks. The ready availability of such literature in the open online domain makes it easier for young individuals to get radicalized online and become lone wolves. Social media provides the space to publish their views/manifesto and even allows them to stream online the hate attacks.

In perspective
First, the warning. What is happening in the US is only the beginning. The hate crimes are likely to expand, given the literature available, violent ideology, new media and access to weapons. There would be more lone wolf attacks as witnessed in New Zealand, the US and elsewhere.

Second, the need to build a narrative countering "the replacement" argument. The idea of "replacement" is gaining across the world; the violence and crimes against the minorities in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Europe and the US can be traced back to this argument, which feeds into a violent ideology and taking action.

Third, the tools of violence – from easy availability of weapons to literature online. Neither is an easy task; so is the task to fight racial crimes and ideology. The fight against the crime has to start with fighting the ideology that feeds the radical individuals.

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