People like Payton Gendron, Dylann Roof, Patrick Wood Crusius and Robert Bowers all clearly think they are engaged in a civil war of a sort.
Their acts of racist and xenophobic terrorism have aimed to cower the potential political and economic power a Black and Brown majority population in the US could wield by the 2040s.
Roof, Bowers, Crusius, Gendron and so many others hold a collective belief in the so-called Great Replacement Theory. They willed themselves to slaughter Black worshippers at church service, Jewish worshippers at temple, Latinx shoppers at a Walmart, and white protesters against police lethality. These heinous acts are their way of saying that white men are at war with this changing US. For them, the very existence of white people and Western civilisation, American style is at stake.
The self-described “eco-fascist national socialist’s” murder of Black folks in zip code 14208 was merely one skirmish in the civil war playing out in his and others’ minds. Many who are Black, Brown, and Indigenous – queer and straight – have already sensed this change in the world. It certainly is reflected in the so-called manifestos and everyday posts of these mass killers. Gendron was partly correct when he said in the Q-and-A section of his blatherings that he is not a mainstream, party-affiliated conservative. “No, conservatism is corporatism in disguise, I want no part of it…conservatism is dead,” he wrote.
Gendron was also correct in identifying himself as a “fascist”. He sees himself and his homicidal compadres as united through fascism, because it “is one of the only political ideologies that will unite Whites against the replacers”. Fascists aren’t just ultra-conservative, racist, misogynistic, and queer-phobic. They’re also reactionaries, folks who ultimately want a fantastical reset of society in their favour and glory, often through the use of violence.
As Americans have seen increasingly over the past 15 years, there are scores of politicians on Capitol Hill and across the US who espouse similar views. Many already see themselves in rebellion against the greedy politicos of both parties and refuse to accept a nation many once saw as a “white man’s country” turning into a majority-of-colour land. They are yearning for the days when parties ran on slogans like “White Man’s Country. Let White Men Rule” (the Democratic ticket’s slogan in the 1868 Presidential Election).
So many Americans have labeled Gendron’s shoot-em-up spree as yet another example of a hate-fuelled racist incident perpetrated by a mentally-ill person. But racism is fundamentally about power and wealth – it is the exploitation of the marginalised with the assurance that those who are marginalised will never hold enough power to negate the power and wealth of those who benefit from racism every day.
Hate is the residue of this constant quest, especially among the white males who believe in white supremacy nakedly and narcissistically. Hate is just the tip of a gigantic iceberg. Gendron’s ideas may seem fringe, and his actions sickening and abhorrent, but they are not stemming from a mental illness, a toothache, or some other individualised excuse. No, terrorism through violent racism has always been a part of the American fabric, from slavery to chain gangs, from beatings to lynchings to vigilantes and police officers.
The Gendrons, Bowers and Crusiuses of the US have dialled it up a few degrees, and already see themselves at war, with Americans of colour and Jews, with everyone who isn’t a white male supremacist. Hatred helps fuel their violence, but ultimately, hatred is mostly a consequence of their beliefs in white supremacy, and less a cause of it.
It took nearly 74 years for the US to go from the crafting of the US Constitution in 1787 to those first cannon volleys Confederate rebels launched at Fort Sumter in Charleston harbour in South Carolina in 1861. In the threescore and 14 years between, Congress, presidents, and the Supreme Court all kicked the can of slavery and its absolute necessity for the growth of the US economy down the road with one half-baked compromise after another. All while the country – and slavery with it – continued to expand, along with the quest of white men for wealth and power through the enslavement of human beings.
The push toward the Civil War intensified once it became obvious more and more people wanted to abolish chattel slavery. The terrorism beyond the horrors of slavery that began in the 1830s in response to Nat Turner’s Rebellion continued not only in the form of the Civil War. Terrorism as an outlet for white male racist narcissism has morphed into racist organisations, from the Ku Klux Klan to neo-fascist movements, from extralegal police actions to vigilante mass murderers like Gendron.
As a nation, the US has endured more than 50 years of white males who have refused to accept the victories of the Civil Rights Movement, of second-wave feminism and of queer movements. They defy the demographic trends that would have them as a minority in the US. Some may find such thinking alarmist, but the US is much closer to the conditions that led to its Civil War in 1861 than most Americans would dare admit. Gendron is yet another example of where the US could be headed if it continues to do nothing about white male supremacy and the pro-gun, anti-Black, and patriarchal politics that foment it.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.