Pipe Bombs, synagogue shooting, and the demise of civility in America by angry white men
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” – Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Letter From a Birmingham Jail
I write this essay with a heavy heart. I have had to console so many friends over these past few years that suffered tremendously due to hate-related gun violence. There have been too many unnecessary deaths because of hatred that it makes me want to cry.
I saw close friends from the Jewish community shed tears on October 27. It breaks my heart to see this pain.
People from my community have been victimized over the years. As blacks we walk around with a target on our backs, never knowing when some person full of hate will express their rage violently. I visited Mother Emmanuel Church last year while in Charleston, South Carolina. To see the scene of such horrific violence was disturbing.
We have seen over this past week the power of hatred in America. The mυrder of two innocent African American senior citizens in Kentucky on October 24 was followed by the massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue, where eleven Jews lost their lives during worship services. These tragedies were occurring in the wake of over a dozen pipe bombs being mailed around the country to people seen as opponents of the President. All three of these events have a common denominator: the perpetrator was an angry white man.
We love to say politics does not matter in these types of tragedies. We are less than two weeks away from the midterm elections. The national election results could shift control of the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate from Republican to Democratic control. The governor’s campaign in Wisconsin could wrestle control of the office from Scott Walker to Tony Evers. There are critical elections around the country.
In the midst of all of the divisive political commercials we are missing the bigger point. There has been a rise in hate speech and it has found its way into our political discourse. People are dying as a result of the current political climate.
As Donald Trump has found a way to blame the mainstream media for the pipe bombs being sent through the U.S. Mail. Fox News has disseminated an idiotic theory of the bombs as a hoax to make Trump look bad. We need to wake up to the reality of the rhetoric’s impact. There has been a rise in hate groups nationwide since Barack Obama became president in 2008. This has accelerated since Donald Trump won an election under the banner of “Making America Great Again” (MAGA).
If this past week is an example of a nation becoming great, we are in a lot of trouble. Just over a week ago Donald Trump spoke at a political rally in Montana. During the rally he praised Montana Republican Representative Greg Gianforte for body slamming Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian. Trump even made a gesture mimicking a body slam as the crowd roared their approval and laughed. Gianforte was convicted of assault and later apologized for the attack but still won the election. Trump praised him in Montana by saying “any guy who can do a body slam, he’s my guy.”
The President of the United States finds it appropriate to mock a journalist being assaulted in the same week that we discover the gruesome details about the mυrder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. His constant attacks on the mainstream media as “enemies of the state” and “fake news” is helping to divide an already deeply divided nation.
The elephant in the room is the angry white man. For those who joked about the angry testimony given by now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh at his confirmation hearing, it is time to stop laughing. It is not funny. We have a tendency as a nation to allow and dismiss acts of anger by white men. We are deathly afraid of “angry black men and women” yet seem to be completely oblivious to the growth of angry white men in America. We are reticent to call them terrorists.
The 51 year-old Gregory A. Bush attempted to forcibly enter the First Baptist Church in Jeffersontown, Kentucky. He was unsuccessful only because Wednesday services had ended earlier and the doors were locked. Ten members of the church were inside. He then went to a nearby Kroger grocery store, calmly pulled out a gun a shot 69 year-old Maurice Stallard in the back of the head as he shopped for supplies for a school project with his 12 year-old grandson. He continued to fire more rounds after Stallard fell to the ground. His grandson ran out of the store screaming for help after seeing his grandfather mυrdered.
Bush then left the store, walked outside and fatally shot 67 year-old Vickie Jones in the parking lot. In the aftermath, it seems we learn more about the mυrderer than the victims. We have been told that he has a history of mental illness, as if that is an excuse for mυrdering two people because of the color of their skin.
Cesar Sayoc, 56 years-old and an ardent supporter of Donald Trump, mailed no less than 14 pipe bombs to people opposed to Donald Trump. The bombs were sent to former President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Vice President Biden, Democratic Party backer George Soros, actor Robert De Niro, U.S. Senator Corey Booker, Representative Maxine Waters, and others. A constant victim of Trump tweets, CNN was also targeted. According to law enforcement, the packages included pictures of the intended victims with a red X across their faces.
Sayoc was arrested in Plantation, Florida on October 26. A former boss of Sayoc said, “He spewed a lot of hatred.” Political commentator Rochelle Ritchie reported a Twitter user earlier that day for making threats against her, after she appeared on Fox News. She tweeted a screenshot of Twitter’s response, which said that the company found “no violation of Twitter Rules against abusive behavior.” The person who sent the threat was Sayoc.
Also on October 26, Trump spoke about the bombs being sent during a political rally in Charlotte, North Carolina. He said: “the media has a major role to play, whether they want to or not.” The crowd then chanted “CNN sucks,” as Trump looked on. He had the audacity to inflame his followers with hate-filled messages over the past two plus years, and then blame the media because a fan of his sent bombs is nonsensical.
His anti-media rhetoric has gained a lot of traction among his supporters. Although we don’t have a clear understanding of why Sayoc sent the bombs, the targets make it clear that he was attempting to kill those who oppose the President.
Robert Bowers, 46 years-old, entered the crowded Squirre Hill synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and spent twenty minutes mυrdering eleven people and injuring many others. As he was leaving the synagogue he got into a gun battle with police. We was shot and eventually arrested. Five minutes before entering the synagogue, Bowers posted on his Gab.com social media account that he “can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” He had posted many anti-Semitic remarks in the past. He falsely posted that Jews were helping transport members of the migrant caravans, people he referred to as “invaders.”
According to CNN reports, “seventeen days before the attack, Bowers posted a web page from HIAS (a Jewish refugee advocacy group) that listed a number of Shabbats that were being held on behalf of refugees, an official said. On that list was a Shabbat address that is less than a mile away from the Tree of Life Synagogue.”
Bowers criticized Trump for being surrounded by too many Jewish people and said he did not vote for Trump. He posted on October 25 that “there is no #MAGA as long as there is a k*** infestation.”
According to the criminal complaint, as he was being questioned by police, Bowers told a SWAT officer he wanted all Jews to die and also that “they (the Jews) were committing genocide to his people.”
Trump had the temerity to blame the victims at the synagogue by saying, “If there was an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop him.”
The rise in hate crimes against, Jews, Muslims, immigrants, Latinos, and blacks in the past two years is alarming. The social media rhetoric is manifesting itself in overt acts which include a ridiculous number of whites calling 911 on blacks for simply going about their lives and doing things which are apparently sinister in the minds of some white people. Now we have seen this rhetoric escalate to attempted mυrder and mυrder multiple times in the past several years.
Now is not the time to pretend these things are disconnected from the actions and remarks of the President. There has been a reluctance to address the role that anger within white men has played in all of this. Going back to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August of last year and the mυrder of nine black parishioners at Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina by avowed white supremacists Dylann Roof in 2015, we have seen white supremacist white men flaunt their power in violent ways.
The fear they express about losing “their country” tells us clearly that they do not like the current path the nation is on. The “Make America Great Again” slogan sends a clear message to those who are not a part of the “great” America, which once existed. That America where white men ruled and controlled the spaces people of color were allowed to occupy is what they long for. The battle by Trump to remove immigrants who have been here for decades and to keep others out from what he called “s*ithole countries” is a clear sign of the America these people want to have again.
When the anger of these white men is expressed at rallies around the country, our constitution protects their rights of free speech. Far too few of our leaders have condemned these actions. Dr. King criticized white moderates in his famous Letter From a Birmingham Jail.
“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”
It is time we pay more attention to the simmering anger of white men and the threat that they pose to our society. We have endured too many mass shootings carried out by heavily armed white males from Еrіc Harrіs and Dylаn Klebоld in the Cоlumbіnе mаssаcrе in 1999; the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February in Parkland, Florida which left 17 dead students and staff by Nikolas Cruz; the massacre of 26 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012 by Adam Lanza; the mυrder of 12 and injuring of 70 others at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in 2012 by James Holmes; the mυrder of 58 and injuring of nearly a thousand by Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas last year; to the mυrderous events of this past week.
We are in a very dangerous place in the nation’s history. Let us not just mourn these victims and then go back to business as usual, as we continue to do. All of this violence is connected by a common thread. We must stop ignoring it.
If we have learned anything from these tragedies, we must make a purposeful effort to deal with the continuous fear mongering by politicians and trolls on social media. Those conditions continue to spawn and escalate social violence of unbelievable proportions. There seems to be nothing that can serve as a wake-up call for America.