Editorial: GOP insufficiently committed to stopping domestic terrorism

Editorial: GOP insufficiently committed to stopping domestic terrorism

What’s the matter with white people?

Or at least those white people who are white supremacists or members of other like-minded groups that have committed the majority of terrorist attacks in the United States this year.

And what about  Republican officials who either encourage these groups or stand silent in the face of their hate?

“The House G.O.P. leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy and antisemitism,” Rep. Liz Cheney tweeted.

We don’t hold whites or any other group groups responsible for the misdeeds of individuals  – as say Muslim Americans were after 9/11. That, by definition, is bigoted.

But it is important to try to understand what is fueling the rise of hate crimes by white nationalists and extremists.

The most recent racially motivated attack, which took place in a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket, claimed the lives of 10 black people and seriously injured three other black people.

The 18-year-old gunman left behind a 180-page, hate-filled manifesto that said white Americans were at risk of being replaced by people of color.

An annual assessment by the Department of Homeland Security warned that violent white supremacy was the “most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland” and that white supremacists were the most deadly among domestic terrorists in recent years.

U.S. intelligence officials have cited domestic extremism and white nationalism as threats to national security.

Gunmen like the alleged Buffalo shooter have referenced the racist idea, known as “replacement theory,” during a string of mass shootings and other violence in recent years committed by white people.

The term replacement theory was once associated with the far-right fringe, but has become increasingly mainstream, pushed by politicians and popular television programs, including one featuring Tucker Carlson, the Fox host with the highest-rated program on cable television.

Elise Stefanik, a representative from Upstate New York who is the No. 3 Republican in the House, had recently echoed the racist “great replacement” theory.

“Radical Democrats are planning their most aggressive move yet: a PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION,” reads a Facebook ad posted by Stefanik, which shows a reflection of migrants in sunglasses Biden is wearing.

“Their plan to grant amnesty to 11 MILLION illegal immigrants will overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington,” the post reads.

The apparent assumption by Republicans is that immigrants will vote for Democrats. Why? What is it about their candidates and message that they think new Americans would reject them? That part is unexplained.

Stefanik, it should be noted, took Cheney’s place in the House leadership after Cheney joined the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The term replacement theory was also used by a white man with a history of antisemitic internet posts who gunned down 11 worshipers at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018, blaming Jews for allowing immigrant “invaders” into the United States.

The next year another white man, angry over what he called “the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” opened fire on shoppers at an El Paso Walmart, leaving 23 people dead. He later told the police he had sought to kill Mexicans.

The idea that black people were replacing white people in America is absurd on its surface, given that black people began arriving in what is now the United States against their wishes as slaves beginning in 1619 – long before most white people came here.

But in light of efforts to suppress the vote in many states in 2022, it makes perfect sense. If black people are allowed to vote, they will have an equal say in who gets elected and how the country is governed and therefore more power.

Efforts to suppress the vote of blacks and other minorities have often been the case in America – something that opponents of so-called “critical race theory” don’t want to be taught in our schools.

But whites as a group cannot be blamed for the country’s ugly history on race. Many whites have believed in the idea that all men (and women) are created equal. They literally fought for the rights of blacks to be citizens during the Civil War and later in legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul said following the shooting in Buffalo that “domestic terrorism is the most significant threat we face as a state” and signed an executive order creating new domestic terrorism units for the state counterterrorism division and state police.

Their mission would include tracking white supremacists using websites and social media to organize and recruit new members.

She also called on lawmakers to pass legislation closing gun law loopholes and fine-tuning red-flag laws intended to prevent people with mental health problems from possessing firearms.

Hochul’s executive order and proposed reforms are sensible responses, but still fall woefully short of what is really needed to put an end to this violence.

New York already has some of the toughest gun laws in the country.

But other states have little or nothing in place to restrict the sale of guns, which then find their way to New York and other states with reasonable gun laws.

National legislation to bar the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, which has become mass shooters’ weapon of choice, as well as universal background checks have been blocked in Congress year after year – even though a large majority of Americans support them, including gun owners.

Now add that to the volume of firearms in this country, which has now been estimated to be more than 400 million, and you would be excused if you did not know what to do.

Don’t expect much from Congress unless Senate Democrats agree to do away with the filibuster, an undemocratic practice that gives a minority of states and population the ability to override the will of the majority on gun safety measures.

In fact, Senate Republicans are now expected to reject legislation passed along party lines in the House to prevent domestic terrorism.

Rep. Lee Zeldin, a congressman from Suffolk County who is the Republican Party’s choice for governor, is even less helpful. He said in the wake of the Buffalo shooting that New York should dump its red flag law, loosen permits for concealed weapons and allow New Yorkers to “stand your ground.”

This after Aaron Salter Jr., a former Buffalo policeman trained in the use of firearms who was working as a security guard, was killed when his shots failed to penetrate the armored vest of alleged assassin Payton Gendron and the suspect returned fire, killing Salter.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who spent 20 years on the police force, has repeatedly called for ways to restrict the flow of guns into New York and get what’s already there off the streets.

Rep. Tom Suozzi, who is running against Hochul for the Democratic nomination for governor, offered a mixed message at best following the shooting in Buffalo.

He issued a laundry list of legislative changes he’d like to see related to mental health and gun laws but cited bail reform as a priority in response to the Buffalo shooting.

Suozzi, echoing state Republicans, has routinely blamed the state’s reform bail reform on rising crime in New York. Like Republicans, he has not backed up his claim with statistics, but even if this is a legitimate debate, what did it have to do with the Buffalo shooting? Nothing.

But more important than gun laws in the attacks by white supremacists are our nation’s politics as practiced by one party. The simple reality is that most Republicans in the country either support or accept the racist language and policies of their party’s leader – Donald Trump.

Trump began his campaign for president by questioning the birthplace of the country’s first black president. He kicked off his campaign by saying Mexicans coming into the country were rapists bringing crime with them. He invoked a Muslim ban as his first act as president. He referred to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries.”

He said there were good people on both sides when protesters confronted white supremacists and neo-Nazis chanting “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville, Va.

He incited a riot on Jan. 6 led by white supremacists and neo-Nazis on the Capitol in an effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election based on the Big Lie that it was not a free and fair election.

We wouldn’t say white people are insufficiently committed to thwarting domestic terrorism.

But we will say that many Republicans are.

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