Atlanta, Boulder and the exploitation of violence for political gain
Republicans are masters of the political false equivalency. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the context of ideologically-inspired violence. Indeed, many conservatives have long sought to distract from a surge in deadly right-wing extremism by drawing a false parallel to violence in “Democrat-run” cities.
But in the wake of the second horrific mass shooting in as many weeks, Republicans no longer hold a monopoly on exploiting violence for political gain.
Just last week, prominent news organizations and the ultra-liberal wing of the Twitterverse tripped over themselves to inject an unsubstantiated ideological motivation – anti-Asian racism – into a mass shooting in Atlanta, Ga.
While six of the eight victims were Asian-American or of Asian descent, no evidence has emerged that racial animus motivated the alleged shooter. That may well change as the investigation proceeds, but it appears that many liberals are now just as guilty as conservatives of exploiting violence to reinforce a political narrative.
And, on the topic of ideological narratives, many liberals chalk up a recent surge in attacks against Asian-Americans to “white supremacy.” While Donald Trump’s ugly xenophobic rhetoric undoubtedly bears blame for some of these horrific assaults, there is one glaring problem with this narrative: The majority of violent attacks against Asian-Americans are perpetrated by non-white offenders.
Preliminary data on hate crimes in New York City last year confirms this overarching trend, blowing an enormous hole in the “white supremacy” theory of anti-Asian violence.
In much the same vein, the Twitter mob rushed to slam the “white male” gunman who murdered 10 at a Boulder, Co., supermarket.
Many armchair commentators argued that white men are overrepresented among mass shooters. But, once again, there is a flaw in the narrative: Accounting for population, white men are underrepresented among mass shooters.
Of course, the supreme irony is that conservatives mastered the art of exploiting violence for political gain. Beyond drawing false equivalencies between surging right-wing extremism and violence in “Democrat-run” cities, Republicans continue to deflect from any mention of the pro-Trump insurrection on Capitol Hill by drawing comparisons to the racial unrest that followed the death of George Floyd.
Yet contrary to conservative mythmaking, extreme wealth inequality – not political ideology – lies at the root of the violence in America’s urban centers. Indeed, unlike right-wing extremists, gang members in “Democrat-run” cities are not killing in the name of their political beliefs (a crucial nuance that seems lost on many Republicans).
Moreover, the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Associated Press all found that political ideology played virtually no role in the looting and rioting after George Floyd’s killing. As several government assessments noted, criminal “opportunists” – not hordes of ideologically motivated antifa thugs – fueled the vast majority of last summer’s urban violence.
Ultimately, the exploitation of violence for political ends only deepens America’s cataclysmic political divide while squandering opportunities for progress on thorny issues.
Indeed, the injection of an unsubstantiated racial motive to the Atlanta attacks scuttled a rare chance for a frank discussion on the status of sex work in America. Ditto for a debate over draconian religious obligations that warp fragile minds into believing that murder is preferable to seeking help.
At the same time, the Boulder shootings could serve as a launching point for a national discussion on bullying, xenophobia and – perhaps most importantly – the catastrophic state of mental health care in America.
But by rushing to attack the “white, male” identity of the perpetrator, the Twitter mob made it far more difficult for some modicum of good to emerge from an unspeakably horrific act of violence.
Marik von Rennenkampff served as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, as well as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter @MvonRen.