This article originally appeared in The Generation Spring 2020 print edition. The theme for this edition is “Youth Voices.” A link to our online version of the print publication can be found here: https://www.flipsnack.com/thegen/the-generation-spring-2020.html
Americans generally assume that racism is dying a generational death, and that its last vestiges can be found in an older, more backwards demographic.1 The youth, it is generally thought, are more tolerant than their elders and may even be the generation to achieve full racial harmony and equality in the United States. Indeed, recent research indicates that young people in the United States today are quantifiably less likely to hold racially prejudiced attitudes than those surveyed in prior years.2
However, since the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, hate crimes targeting racial minorities have become substantially more frequent across the United States. Between 2016 and 2017 alone, the FBI reported a sharp 17% spike in total hate crimes, including a 37% increase in crimes targeting Jews and a 16% increase in crimes targeting African-Amerians.3 This report came only two weeks after the deadly shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, in which 11 congregants were gunned down.
A January 2018 study by University of Alabama economist Griffin Sims Edwards and Loyola University law professor Stephen Rusher found strong empirical evidence that the election of Donald Trump increased the number of subsequent hate crimes motivated by white supremacy, validating what other commenters had referred to as the ‘Trump Effect.’4
Based on this information, one might reasonably draw the conclusion that recent perpetrators of ‘Trump Effect’ hate crimes skew older. Robert Bowers, the shooter who killed 11 Jews in Pittsburgh, was solidly middle-aged at 46 years old. (October 2018)
But that’s not the whole story.
Brenton Tarrant, an Australian man who live-streamed on Facebook Live as he murdered 51 and wounded 49 worshipping Muslims during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, was only 28 years old.5 Tarrant had previously remarked that he viewed Trump as a “symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”6 (March 2019)
John Timothy Earnest, who shot and killed Lori Gilbert-Kaye in Chabad of Poway on the last day of Passover 2019, was only 19 years old. Earnest was no fan of the Trump administration, calling the president as “Zionist, Jew-loving, anti-White, [and] traitorous,” echoing Pittsburgh shooter Robert Bower’s disdainful characterization of Trump as a Jewish puppet.7 (April 2019)
Patrick Crusius, who drove from 10 hours from Allen, Texas to El Paso in order to specifically target Hispanics and subsequently murdered 22 people in a Walmart, was only 22 years old.8 Though a Trump supporter, Crusius explicitly clarified in his manifesto that his prejudices predated Trump’s involvement in politics.9 (August 2019)
Stephan B., a 27 year old German, failed to gain entrance to a synagogue in Halle, Germany on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, and instead shot and killed a nearby woman and a man in a kebab shop.10 (October 2019)
Clearly, violent white supremacism is not the sole-province of over-30s. In fact, relatively young white men across the Western world seem to be picking up assault rifles and murdering ethnic and religious minorities with relative frequency. Although the shooters’ views on Trump vary wildly, with some portraying him as a savior of embattled American whites and others as a race traitor under the influence of a global Jewish cabal, there is much similarity between their worldviews and methods.
Bowers, Tarrant, Earnest, Crusius, and the as-yet anonymous Stephan B. were all clearly motivated by a virulent identification with whiteness and a belief that violence was necessary and justified to guard against an invasion of non-whites and Muslims orchestrated by Jews. Indeed, many of the later shooters intentionally referenced the manifestos and actions of their predecessors.
Earnest (Poway) cited Bowers (Pittsburgh) and Tarrant (Christchurch) as explicit inspirations for his own shooting. Tarrant (Christchurch) was the first to livestream his shooting to a live audience using Facebook Live, and was later imitated by Stephan B. (Halle) on gaming livestream platform Twitch. Crusius (El Paso) explicitly claimed inspiration from Tarrant’s (Christchurch) actions in a manifesto posted to controversial message board 8Chan.
By reading each manifesto, one can see the gradual evolution of a sort of white nationalist terrorist canon, with increasingly complex self-referential citations and behaviors. The sheer number of shooters, necessitating parentheticals to explain who murdered who and in which city, is incredibly disturbing. Even more concerning is the high likelihood that, eventually, another white man under the age of 30 will soon write a manifesto in which the above names are mentioned, copy certain elements of previous shootings (perhaps a third livestream), and in some way innovate on the established theme.
But if the phenomenon of white supremacist mass shootings is novel, the foundational references that they cite aren’t.
Collectively, the manifestos frequently allude to the Great Replacement conspiracy theory, named after the 2011 book by French white nationalist Renaud Camus, which alleges a concerted effort by Jews to force immigration of non-whites into majority-white countries so as to effectuate a gradual “white genocide” by demographic change.11
Camus, in turn has cited as inspiration British MP Enoch Powell’s 1968 “River of Blood” speech criticizing mass immigration and 1973 French dystopian fiction novel Le Camp des Saints [The Camp of the Saints], which depicts an apocalyptic flood of immigrants from the Global South into Europe and happens to be one of Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s favorite and most frequently referenced books.12 Other allusions to 1930s British, fascist politician Oswald Mosley, Adolf Hitler, lone-wolf Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik, and others underline both a pervasive European influence, especially that of Europe’s 20th century far-right, in the ideology of American white supremacism and the deep historical roots of the racial hatreds that post-2016 shooters proclaim.
So, if their ideas are decades old, why are young white nationalists killing now?
A growing network of self-described “identitarian” (read: neo-Nazi) organizations like Patriot Front, American Vanguard, and Identity Evropa, recently rebranded as the American Identity Movement, are actively recruiting young people, especially by distributing propaganda and recruitment information on university campuses.13 In fact, college campuses, despite their association with liberal and left-wing politics, have become targets for white nationalist organizations seeking new members. According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were 868 documented incidents of white nationalist flyering on American college campuses in 2018, and 672 incidents in the first five months of 2019.14 White supremacist flyering on campuses increased 77% from the 2016-2017 school year to 2017-2018, and 7% from 2017-2018 to 2018-2019. White supremacists have targeted California campuses including UC Davis15 and UC San Diego16 by posting flyers, disrupting lectures, and even threatening faculty.
At least one major white supremacist organization of the 2010s – the Traditionalist Worker’s Party – was born on a university campus: at Towson University in 2013. Initially formed as a “White Student Union”17 by student Matthew Heimbach, the TWP gained notoriety for its participation in the deadly “Unite the Right” Protest and was arguably a top-ten organization in the United States until Heimbach was arrested and disgraced for assaulting his wife and father-in-law, also his spokesman, after he was confronted for having slept with his mother-in-law.18
It is also important to not understate the radicalizing effects of YouTube, the world’s most popular video sharing website, on young white men across the world.19 Until very recently, YouTube’s algorithm tended to suggest successive videos of increasing political extremism to continue to hold its viewers’ attention and maximize revenue made by showing them as many advertisements as possible.20
For instance, consider the case of an average American teenage boy who mostly likes to watch Youtube videos of people playing and discussing video games that he enjoys. Suppose that he watches videos on the “Gamergate” controversy in 2014, which was an extremely toxic internet debate about the role of progressive social movements like feminism in the gaming community and attempts made on Youtube to critique popular video games from feminist or racial justice perspectives.21 He is told, over and over again, that liberals and feminists are threatening his harmless gaming hobby and, perhaps, American society and culture as a whole.
Very soon, this imagined teenage boy is watching videos made by self-described anti-feminists and laughing at compilations of overemotional ‘social justice warriors’ screaming at smug speakers on college campuses. From there, he is suggested videos by mainstream conservative YouTubers like Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson, and then videos by edgier commentators like Steven Crowder and Milo Yiannapolous, and then videos by Stefan Molyneux, Richard Spencer, and Laura Southern, all of whom promote white nationalist ideas.
It is very simple, in other words, for young people to innocently stumble into a “radicalization pipeline” of increasingly fringe and reactionary views just by watching Youtube’s suggested videos. The internet’s pervasive influence on the new generation of white supremacists is undeniable. Tarrant, the Christchurch shooter, included in his manifesto ironic references to common internet memes and a call for readers to “subscribe to Pewdiepie,”22 an extremely popular YouTuber named Felix Kjellberg (best known for his video gaming videos), who has been accused of trafficking in racism for comedic purposes.23
There are no easy solutions to this new epidemic of historically-minded but Internet-savvy millenials committing acts of terrorism in the name of white supremacy. YouTube has begun the process of removing some explicitly white nationalist videos, though a vast majority still remain.24 While this may limit young people’s exposure to the most contemporary of racist media personalities, this will not erase the long history their movement draws from. As any brief visit to the YouTube comments section will demonstrate, there are still thousands of people who idealize Oswald Moseley and his British Union of Fascists, insist that Adolf Hitler was the wronged party in the Second World War, and gleefully celebrate physical violence against leftists, minorities, and women. Any effective effort to confront this newest iteration of a centuries-old tradition of bigotry must first confront misinformation and miseducation about the historical legacy it claims.
E N D N O T E S :
1 Leah Donella. “Will Racism End When Old Bigots Die.” NPR, January 14, 2017. Accessed November 17, 2019, https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/01/14/505266448/will-racism-end-when-old-bigots-die.
2 Tessa E. S. Charlesworth and Mahzarin R. Banaji. “Patterns of Implicit and Explicit Attitudes: I. Long-Term Change and Stability From 2007 to 2016.” Physiological Science, January 3, 2019. Accessed November 2017, 2019, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956797618813087.
3 Michael Balsamo. “FBI report shows 17 percent spike in hate crimes in 2017.” Associated Press, November 13, 2018. Accessed November 17, 2019, https://www.apnews.com/E5e7bb22f8474408becd2fcdc67f284e.
4 Griffin Sims Edwards and Stephen Rushin. “The Effect of President Trump’s Election on Hate Crimes.” Social Science Research Network, January 18, 2018. Accessed November 17, 2019, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3102652.
5 “Police with the latest information on the mosque shootings.” Radio New Zealand, March 17, 2019. Accessed November 17, 2019, https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/384896/police-with-the-latest-information-on-the-mosque-shootings.
6 Kristen Gelineau and John Gambrell. “New Zealand mosque shooter is a white nationalist who hates immigrants, documents and video reveal.” Chicago Tribune, March 15, 2019. Accessed November 17, 2019, https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-mosque-killer-white-supremacy-20190315-story.html.
7 Seth J. Frantzman. “Anti-Trump antisemitism: The link between Pittsburgh and Poway.” The Jerusalem Post, April 28, 2019. Accessed November 17, 2019, https://www.jpost.com/
8 Vanessa Romo. “El Paso Walmart Shooting Suspect Pleads Not Guilty.” National Public Radio, October 10, 2019. Accessed November 17, 2019, https://www.npr.org/2019/10/10/769013051/El-paso-walmart-shooting-suspect-pleads-not-guilty.
9 Tim Arango, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, and Katie Benner. “Minutes Before El Paso Killing, Hate-Filled Manifesto Appears Online.” The New York Times, August 3, 2019. Accessed November 17, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/03/u s/patrick-crusius-el-paso-shooter-manifesto.html.
10 Thomas Escritt and Stephan Schepers. “Gunman kills two in livestreamed attack at German synagogue.” Reuters, October 9, 2019. Accessed November 17, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-shooting/gunman-kills-two-in-livestreamed-attack-at-german-synagogue-idUSKBN1WO1AT.
11 Lauretta Charltone. “What is the Great Replacement?” The New York Times, August 6, 2019. Accessed November 17, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/06/us/politics/grand-replacement-explainer.html.
12 Nina Burleigh. “The Bannon Canon: Books Favored By The Trump Adviser.” Newsweek, March 23, 2017. Accessed November 17, 2019, https://www.newsweek.com/bannon-canon-books-trump-adviser-572835.
13 Nate Heygi. “White Nationalist Groups Increase Recruiting and Propaganda Across the West.” National Public Radio, March 19, 2019. Accessed November 17, 2019, https://www.npr.org/2019/03/19/704586335/white-nationalist-groups-increase-recruiting-and-propaganda-across-the-west.
14 Kristin Lam. “Recruiting hate: White supremacist propaganda rises for third straight year on college campuses, ADL says.” USA Today, June 27, 2019. Accessed November 17, 2019, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/06/27/white-supremacist-recruiting-rise-college-campuses-report/1590886001/.
15 Colleen Shalby. “White supremacy group’s fliers plastered across UC Davis campus.” Los Angeles Times, September 25, 2019. Accessed November 17, 2019, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-09-25/white-supremacy-group-fliers-uc-davis-campus.
16 Gabe Schneider. “White Supremacist UCSD Student Disrupts Lecture.” The Triton, January 29, 2018. Accessed November 17, 2019, http://triton.news/2018/01/white-supremacist-student-disrupts-lecture/.
17 “White Student Union.” VICE News, December 25, 2013. Accessed November 17, 2019, https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/znqpye/white-student-union.
18 Kelly Weill.”Neo-Nazi Group Implodes Over Love Triangle Turned Trailer Brawl.” The Daily Beast, March 14, 2018. Accessed November 17, 2019, https://www.thedailybeast.com/matthew-heimbachs-traditional-workers-party-implodes-over-love-triangle-turned-trailer-brawl.
19 Kevin Roose. “The Making Of A Youtube Radical.” The New York Times, June 8, 2019. Accessed November 17, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/06/08/technology/youtube-radical.html.
20 EJ Dickson. “Study Shows How ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ Is a Gateway to the Far Right.” Rolling Stone, August 28, 2019. Accessed November 17, 2019, https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/youtube-far-right-radicalization-study-877061/.
21 Jay Hathaway. “What is Gamergate, and Why? An Explainer for Non-Geeks.” Gawker, October 10, 2014. Accessed November 17, 2019,https://gawker.com/what-is-gamergate-and-why-an-explainer-for-non-geeks-1642909080.
22 Aja Romano. “How the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto used memes to spread hate.” Vox, March 16, 2019. Accessed November 17, 2019, https://www.vox.com/culture/2019/3/16/18266930/christchurch-shooter-manifesto-memes-subscribe-to-pewdiepie.
23 Aja Romano. “YouTube’s most popular user amplified anti-Semitic rhetoric. Again.” Vox, December 13, 2018. Accessed November 17, 2019, https://www.vox.com/2018/12/13/18136253/Pewdiepie-vs-tseries-links-to-white-supremacist-alt-right-redpill.
24 Elizabeth Dwoskin. “YouTube will remove more white supremacist and hoax videos, a more aggressive stance on hate speech.” The Washington Post, June 5, 2019. Accessed November 17, 2019,https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/06/05/youtube-will-remove-more-white-supremacist-hoax-videos-greater-hate-speech-effort/.