We witness, yet again, the horror of innocents going about their daily routines murdered en masse by a piece of human garbage. Twice in one day, in El Paso and Dayton.

The history of such events cautions us to take our time in our pursuit of understanding, to avoid jumping to early and easy conclusions based on incomplete or possibly incorrect information, and to data-gather before we start talking about the why, the what, and potential responses.

However, we need not be entirely silent, especially when some of the early information gives us a good starting picture. We know a few things about the El Paso shooter. Notably, a motive, as declared in a “manifesto.”

The El Paso shooter (who I shall not name) declared that he is “defending [his] country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.” This is the ugly variant of nationalism that’s born of bigotry, plain and simple.

It is also terrorism, plain and simple. The “book” tells us that terrorism is “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.” A political aim has been declared. Its illogic, its insanity, its utility, and its consequences are of only tangential relevance: the shooter’s motive was to make a statement in pursuit of a particular political policy.

None of this should be controversial.

Unfortunately, terrorism has, as have so many other matters in today’s political landscape, become tribalized. Many of a certain political leaning fixate on Islamic terrorism, and diminish, discount, or dismiss other forms, including domestic white-nationalist terrorism, of which this is an obvious example. Many of a different political leaning fixate on domestic white-nationalist terrorism, and dismiss Islamic terrorism. There are other “flavors” of terrorism out there, but this is the primary bifurcation. It’s a problem rooted co-identification: if your political tribe leans a particular way or has sympathy for a particular viewpoint, your political foes will look to associate you with those who corrupt it with murderous purpose. It’s a natural reaction to respond defensively to such accusations, try to downplay the prevalence or existence of that flavor of terrorism, and engage in whataboutism by pointing at the other flavor.

We also witness near-immediate efforts to shove this asshole (or whichever previous asshole was in the news) into existing political cubbyholes, especially those associated with “the opposition,” even when the facts don’t really fit the labels. So, left-wing partisans find stuff that marks him as a right-wing extremist, right-wing partisans find stuff that can connect him to socialism or other progressive ideas, and the realities that don’t fit the labels are conveniently ignored.

Why is it not enough to denounce him as a terrorist? Why must the acts of a savage or an asshole or a madman immediately be crammed into the existing partisan divide? What greater societal good is achieved by tagging him as “the other tribe’s” terrorist? Is it productive to simply declare a large swath of Americans as having commonality with a terrorist, instead of collectively rejecting him en toto? Does the pursuit of political victory, at any cost, override everything else?

Everyone claims to want a better and more civil society. That’s not going to come from a politician, or from ten, or from a hundred. That’s got to come from us. Politicians reflect what we want. When we immediately try to associate the actions of a sociopathic murderer with tens of millions of our fellow citizens, we are not advancing toward the goal of a better and more civil society. When we scream and point and say “this is your fault for believing or excusing X!!!,” we only increase the partisan rancor that’s made having a rational and reasoned discussion nigh-on impossible in the public spaces.

And, in doing so, we detract and distract from the discussions we should be having, including why young men are doing such things in the past few decades, when they weren’t doing them before.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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