George Orwell wrote that “in our time political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.” His words could not better describe far-right conservatives spinning fantastical theories about who and what is to blame for the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
Take the members of the right-wing intellectual community who are embarrassing themselves with convoluted and spurious arguments in defense of the president like Julie Kelly, an editor of the Trumpist website American Greatness. While Kelly is perhaps a minor figure in the conservative community, she has been getting much airtime from Sebastian Gorka, one of her major admirers. Like Tucker Carlson, who said on his program Tuesday night that a white nationalist threat “is just like the Russia hoax,” Kelly asserts that anti-Trump forces have “invented another imaginary threat they hope to weaponize against the president… ‘white supremacist’ terrorism.” According to Kelly, this “imaginary threat” exists only to pressure voters “into defeating Trump… next year.”
She calls conservative writers who do not support her views like National Review writer David French, “a never Trump promoter of the white supremacist fallacy” and also objected to National Review editor Rich Lowry’s call for the FBI to go after white supremacists like it once went after the Klan. To Kelly, the FBI is led by partisan holdovers from the Mueller-Comey era, which means that of course they too would manufacture a white nationalist threat. The real threat are “strong-arm tactics that will… violate the free speech” of Americans. She actually fears that Republicans and even the president could be banned from social media for tweets that others say help the racists.
Even more shocking is the lengthy analysis in Frontpagemag.com—the website of the David Horowitz Freedom Center—by historian and American classicist Bruce Thornton, who is also a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a Shillman Fellow at the Horowitz organization. Author of many books, Thornton is a smart man who should know better. Yet he argues that it is only the progressives who are “politicizing the murders,” claiming that while the bodies of the victims of the shootings lay in the morgue the “progressive ‘carrion-picking crows’ started to politicize the murders.”
Thornton goes on to claim that its a lie that gun control laws of any kind will lessen such murders, pointing to among other things, the failure of Prohibition. If someone is determined to get a gun they will do so, he says, ridiculing Democrats presidential candidates who want to pass “common-sense gun safety legislation.” According to him, those words“have become anti-gun-nut mantras designed to exploit the suffering of the victims and the ghoulish spectacle of the crimes.” One wonders if he thinks regulations on drivers of cars have made the roads safer.
Another lie, according to Thornton, is the “sinister power of ‘white nationalism.’ ” You cannot call it that, he writes, because it is the same phenomenon that Boston Brahmins like Henry Cabot Lodge backed in the 1920s. As he points out, these establishment Republicans of their era favored “racial purity,” eugenics and the restrictive immigration law of 1924 that limited arrivals from Eastern and Southern Europe. Certainly, the arguments to keep out Jews and Italians from the United States were very similar to the racist theories today about Mexicans and others coming from “shithole countries,” as our president referred to them; Trump would much prefer our immigrants to come from Northern Europe.
Even if the shooter is a white nationalist, Thornton argues, he is not part of “a larger, organized group with any national following or influence;” simply a “deranged loner” whose fantasies and actions “do not bespeak a widespread ‘white nationalist’ threat.” He notes that the Klan today numbers perhaps 6,500, nothing compared to the four million who belonged to it in 1920. While his statistics are correct about the Klan, he ignores how ideologies are propagated in the digital age. As David French puts it, today “the deadly challenge comes from a connected, radical, online-organizing community of vicious white- terrorists [who are] every bit as evil as jihadists” and who “radicalize in much the same way.” Loners are perhaps the most vulnerable.
Using the same analysis as Julie Kelly, Thornton insists that there is simply no white nationalist threat, despite the fact that FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress that the Bureau “made about 100 arrests for domestic terrorism in the first three quarters of this year—and most were linked to some form of white supremacy.” And that anyone who points out that fear and division are emanating from the White House, as do Jay Inslee, Pete Buttigieg, and now Joe Biden, are “Trump-hating Democrat primary candidates” peddling a meme that Trump is a racist.
Indeed, lawyer and author Joseph Klein writes in Frontpagemag that “loony leftists” are trying to smear Trump and to blame the shooting on “the lack of effective gun control measures.” So, if you are among an ever-growing group of Americans who favor a ban on heavy round magazines for military-style rifles, and a ban on the sale of those weapons, you are per se a “loony leftist” to Klein.
What I find truly loony, however, is the claim that “Trump has tried to bring the country together in the wake of the weekend mass shootings,” and will actually follow through on his call for “bipartisan solutions to address the underlying causes” of mass shootings, which he claims are mental illness and the glorification of violence in video games, “reinforced by hateful social media sites.”
Just don’t expect our president to champion background checks and legislation to outlaw the use of military-style weapons, policies that just might minimize the number of people injured or killed in the next mass shooting.