Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Smart People Saying Smart Things About Terrorism, "Lone Wolves", Punishment, Religion, and Race

We are in the second week of our annual December fundraiser. I would like to thank the kind folks who have already donated. We caught up last week with where I hoped we would be during those first seven days. I would like to thank the folks who made that happen.

During the beginning of the second week of the fundraiser, we are way off where we were at this point last year. I know that we have four full weeks--I will end the fundraiser and pull in the begging bowl once our goal is met--but gentle nudging is necessary. In my best NPR fundraising voice, if you can and are able to throw some offerings into the begging bowl it would be much appreciated.

Those monies will be used to get the equipment necessary to start a video podcast to supplement what we are doing here and to take the next big step for the online community we established here almost 8 years ago.


The commentariat class is finally discovering--or at least willing to publicly admit--that the Republican Party is a racist organization and that Donald Trump is not an outlier or strange case. He is what the Republican Party has been since at least the late 1960s. Trump, the proto  fascist is not willing to hide his racist and nativist bonafides; he knows they are a viable path to electoral victory.

Before a system collapses--the regime of Whiteness that has ruled the United States since its inception--there will be a last gasp, a lashing out, in the face of impending obsolescence. Trump's ascendance is that moment.

When I have had opportunities to do interviews on radio or television, I consistently use the language that "conservatism and racism are now the same thing" (I did that tonight on the RT Network) and "the Republican Party is a white supremacist organization". This is not a default to a familiar phrase that I feel works as a soundbite. No, it is an effort to state a simple truth with the hope that viewers and listeners can use that framework to better understand our current political moment.

My ideas do not come out of the ether. I am channeling the work of other folks who are far smarter than me.

One of the reasons I started this website almost 8 years ago was to create a salon and virtual bar where smart and interesting people could dialogue with one another. To that end, I try to share academic articles and other resources that folks may not be aware of and could potentially find helpful.

As the mainstream media is still trying to process last week's San Bernardino mass shooting-terrorism event (and to a lesser degree the Planned Parenthood shootings...as we all know a white Christian terrorist is almost always less interesting to the American people than two "Muslim" shooters) in the short-term, there is interesting new research that takes a systematic view of the connection between guns, terrorism, race, religion, and criminality in the United States. 

You may find these articles of interest.

Public health experts have been trying to go beyond the anecdotal observation that white mass shooters and domestic terrorists are treated differently by the news media, the public, and elites as compared to "Muslims" and people of color.

The article Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms was published in the February 2015 issue of The American Journal of Public Health. It offers a great survey of the thinking on the topic. One of the article's most powerful conclusions:

However, in the present day, the actions of lone White male shooters lead to calls to expand gun rights, focus on individual brains, or limit gun rights just for the severely mentally ill. Indeed it would seem political suicide for a legislator or doctor to hint at restricting the gun rights for White Americans, private citizens, or men, even though these groups are frequently linked to high-profile mass shootings. Meanwhile, members of political groups such as the Tea Party who advocate broadening gun rights to guard against government tyranny—indeed the same claims made by Black Panther leaders in the 1960s—take seats in the US Congress rather than being subjected to psychiatric surveillance.

Social scientists have been investigating how "Muslim terrorists" and white "lone wolf" domestic terrorists are prosecuted by the American legal system. 

More attention has been paid to the U.S. Far Right in recent years, but the media and federal representatives rarely use the word “terrorism” to describe their actions...In the nearly 14 years since 9/11, more people have died in the U.S. from politically-motivated violence perpetrated by right-wing militants than by Muslim militants..Right-wing militants, in contrast, benefit from the power of mainstream conservatives. 
While the discourse of terrorism situates Muslims accused of violence as part of a worldwide terror network, their right-wing counterparts are usually depicted as “Lone Wolves,” acting alone. As a result, the social and organizational contexts for right-wing violence are systematically erased...
Law enforcement action shows two substantially different patterns in relation to Muslims and right-wing activists. The (appropriate) concern for protecting free speech and association expressed in law enforcement materials on right-wing organizations and activists stands in stark contrast to the criminalization of both speech and association among Muslims. Reports by the Columbia and NYU schools of law describe the targeting of vulnerable individuals and communities, with informants building relationships with men who have expressed certain political or religious beliefs but who have not independently voiced an intent to commit violence. The cases of the Newburgh Four and the Fort Dix Five illustrate the centrality of informants and the lack of evidence of independent violent action—or the necessary resources for such—in the prosecution of these cases. These cases stand in sharp contrast to the large weapons caches and self-organization of right-wing activists, who, like Larry Raugust, are more likely to give explosives to an informant than to acquire them from one. 
White privilege and the racialization of crime applies to white folks across all areas of crime--even when they are accused of political violence.

In Understanding the lone wolf terror phenomena: assessing current profiles, Orlandrew E. Danzell and Lisandra M. Maisonet Montanez complicate the flat and one-dimensional understanding of the "lone wolf" model for understanding mass shootings, terrorism, and violence.

These researchers argue that people who commit such acts are not necessarily "alphas" or possess a dominant personality:
We believe, however, that this research offers another approach toward identifying or profiling potential lone wolf terrorist by identifying several common traits omitted from previous research. As the Internal Pack Conflicts theory shows, pack conflict is a common feature among the examined cases in this study (Kaczynski, McVeigh, and Hasan). These individuals experienced internal pack conflict at different points in their lives and the outcomes (even among such varied cases) were similar acts of lone wolf terror. By no means does this finding justify their horrid attacks on innocent people. Yet, it underscores the argument posited by Moghaddam (2005) that terrorists in general often go through phases or stages of transformation. 
The approach advanced in this research should be used as a viable tool in understanding the behaviors of a lone wolf terrorist. Contrary to existing theory that characterizes the lone attacker as sophisticated (i.e. alpha personalities), this study shows that, in fact, lone wolf terrorists are often betas who evolve similarly to the animal hierarchy. The hierarchical framework further addresses the constant debate about whether or not a lone wolf can receive assistance from other lone wolves or other individuals. A benefit from evaluating lone wolf terrorists from the approach taken in this paper is that it gives the pack (society) many opportunities to identify traits akin to the process of dispersal otherwise omitted from the scholarship.
The mainstream news media and commentariat class take complicated ideas, oversimplify them, and remove all nuance for ease of digestion. The social ills we are facing in this moment--terrorism, gun violence, a broken economy, racism, etc.--will not be solved by simple thinking that leads to incorrect solutions.

In my online and other work I am always trying to signal to the bigger ideas that motivate my analyses and conclusions. As Ta-Nehisi Coates is fond of saying, it is important to "show our work" so that folks know how we came about first principles, arguments, and conclusions.

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