Mourners leave tributes ahead of Donald Trump's visit to El Paso. Image: The Republic/Madeleine Cook

Utoya… Christchurch… El Paso… that shrieking sound is the strings tightening, to snapping point. Three major white supremacist massacres, with a number of “smaller” ones, attacks on churches and synagogues, interspersed. As violent Islamic extremism has been contained and demobilised in the West — although it may be a pause, rather than a cease — hard-right white terrorism has become patterned and regularised.

Anders Breivik and the killers that have followed him have, at some point, made the decision to be lethal, but have deliberately distanced themselves from groups they’ve been involved in, in order to be more effective. Thus they look like loners, and can be written off as such, when they are in fact one-man cells: the ultra-violent wing of the broader political right, owned by it, and in dialogue with it.

The right should own up to that, and start to deal with their own garbage. Instead, they’re making every spurious bad argument they can, to separate themselves from what is an extreme expression of their movement.

First bad argument: the mental illness excuse, that anyone willing to kill multiple strangers is crazy by definition. That ignores the fact that civilian-directed lethal terrorism has been a tool, possibly the tool, of politics in the 20th century, applied by every side. White solo-cell terror is in that tradition. Breivik’s aim was to open a war against “cultural marxism”. Brenton Tarrant’s aim was to focus that war on Muslims in the West and turn out new cells. Patrick Crusius’ was to transform a porous border town of low violence into a racial war zone. They’ve all succeeded to a degree. They’ve all refined their predecessors’ methods. Their allegedly “rambling” manifestos are clear and effective propaganda. They are ruthless, bloodthirsty, but rational actors towards an end.

The second spurious line of defence: that the left is violent too. This has become truly pathetic. As the body count has mounted from solo killers with de-facto machine guns, the right looks for a stray punch-on by a couple of Antifa squaddies and exaggerates attacks.

One example is the entirely fictional suggestion that Portland right-wing journalist Andy Ngo had been attacked with liquid cement — he was hit with coconut milk. Those in the right-wing media promote the suggestion that the silly practice of “milkshaking” is somehow equivalent to suicide bombing. What’s remarkable is not any left violence, but the lack of it. In a multi-branching global movement with no central command, or even line, no group has yet fallen to the temptation of targeted, systemic lethal violence against the right.

The third prevarication? Because these killers make the occasional statement about environmental destruction, they’re eco-terrorists. No they’re not. If they were eco-terrorists, they’d kill indiscriminately, targeting people. They target leftists, Muslims, brown and black people, and Jewish people (portrayed as the puppet-masters of anti-elite forces).

Fourth and finally? This is “identitarian” violence, the right say. Yes it is. It’s right, white identitarian violence, following on from the identitarian violence of radical Islamism, which shares the white right’s social conservatism. What we don’t have is mass killings of the right or conservatives by LGBTQ terror groups or a lethal black supremacist movement.

Increasingly desperate, the right has tried to make the Dayton shooting — the day after El Paso, by a 21-year-old expelled from school for rape and death threats — a political event. This is because the shooter had made some pro-left, pro-antifa online comments (as well as a host of “incel” material). But he shot up a bar of random strangers (and his sister). It was a standard random/family killing, apple-pie American, with zero real political content.

It’s not the identitarianism that marks out political killings; it’s, as I may have mentioned, that they’re on the right.

It’s the right. It’s the right. These deliberate killers are theirs. They own them. For more than a decade now, the mainstream right have been pumping out “enemy within” politics directed at anyone with a mildly progressive agenda. They have spruiked racialised crime panics, and the “white replacement” arguments which — rather than fantastic neo-Nazi white supremacism — is motivating killers like Tarrant and Crusius. The outer-reaches of such commentary has connected with an actively violent subculture.

Really, there’s plenty of right-wing terrorists of yore to compare it to: Italian neo-fascists, Latin American death squads, Ulster sectarian killers. But let’s make it crystal clear by comparing it to the radical left terror of the ’70s. In that sorry episode, theories of imperialism, the state and the media as repressive institutions became crudified, and then, for a tiny minority, licensed a “strategy of tension” — the idea that a few atrocities would cause greater state repression, leading to increased working-class and other militancy. The proposition that such analysis licensed arbitrary lethal violence was condemned by the broader radical left of the time. It’s time the mainstream conservative right did the same now.

That most likely won’t happen, because the symmetry is limited. The left remains a rational movement, for all its missteps. The right we have today is a meltdown, an enraged shriek at the world coming into being, and a retreat into fantasy. Right-wing violent terror is disavowed — not disowned or condemned — by the right-wing establishment, but a “middle group” of people get satisfaction from it, and are happy to condone the strategy of tension that it expresses.

But that’s the thing about a strategy of tension. It tightens both ways. The lack of fragmentation on the left regarding targeted violence has been extraordinary, given the provocations. The more the right foment right-wing violence by omission or commission, the more likely they make the break-off of groups willing to renounce any implicit ban on violence.

Milkshakes is leftist violence, but machine-gunning Latino people in a Walmart is identity politics/craziness/eco-warriordom? Keep it up folks and it will snap, not in the direction intended.

Do mainstream conservatives need to act on this issue? Write to [email protected] and let us know. 

Peter Fray

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