By Europaeus *
2019 El Paso Massacre
On the morning of 3 August 2019 a mass shooting occurred at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, United States. El Paso, population 700,000, has been described as one of the largest small towns in the United States. It spreads on the American side of the Rio Grande, across from Ciudad Juárez, population 1,400.000 in the Mexican State of Chihuahua. El Paso is a predominately-Hispanic, tight-knit community, that residents regard like one large family combined with sister city Ciudad Juárez.
The Walmart at the centre of 3 August shooting has long been a hub for shoppers from Juárez, as it sits just minutes away from international ports of entry. On weekends, licence plates from Chihuahua, one of Texas’ neighbouring Mexican states, can be seen scattered through the parking lots surrounding the Cielo Vista Mall where the shooting took place and the neighbouring Sam’s Club, two shopping centres which are within walking distance of each other.
El Paso and Ciudad Juárez are in such close proximity to each other that it is possible accidentally to take the wrong exit in El Paso and end up facing border agents at a port of entry into Juárez. The two cities are so entwined that children cross the border daily to get to school in El Paso though they live in Juárez, and many El Paso residents cross the border into Juárez for affordable health care on a daily basis.
When one thinks/speaks about El Paso, one applies the same process which happens when one thinks about Brownsvlle and Matamoros, or Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras. They are clusters of human civilisation which spill into one another, sharing space across a border drawn not that long ago, which has come to mean a lot in recent years. There a gunman shot and killed 22 persons and injured 24 others. Nineteen of the victims had a Spanish surname. The Mexican victims had come from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua Municipality and Torreόn, Coahuila.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation – F.B.I. began investigating the massacre as an act of domestic terrorism and a possible hate crime. (‘Texas Walmart shooting: El Paso attack ‘appears to be hate crime’ ’, B.B.C. News, 4 August 2019; S. Romero, M. Fernandez and M. Padilla ‘El Paso shooting: 20 people are dead in massacre at Walmart’, The New York Times, 4 August 2019).
Patrick Wood Crusius, from Allen, a suburb of Dallas, Texas was arrested shortly after the shooting and charged with capital murder. He is described as a 21-year-old white male, last known to have lived in his family’s home in Allen, about 1,050 kilometres from El Paso. A graduate in 2017 from Plano Senior High School, he was enrolled at Collins College from 2017 until spring 2019.
Shortly before the attack, he had published a ‘white nationalist’, anti-immigrant manifesto on the website 8chan, citing inspiration from the 15 March 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand and invoking the white genocide conspiracy theory. (B. Barrouquere, ‘El Paso shooting suspect may have authored manifesto containing white nationalist talking points’, Hatewatch, Southern Poverty Law Center, 3 August 2019).
It was the deadliest mass shooting in the United States in 2019, the seventeenth-deadliest since 1949, and the third-deadliest in Texas. (H. Phil and K. Rosenblatt, ‘Horror in El Paso another in a long list of mass killings plaguing the nation’, N.B.C. News, 5 August 2019).
Just before 10.30 a.m. Crusius had walked into the store carrying a WASR-10 rifle, a semi-automatic civilian version of the military AK-47.
An eyewitness claimed that Crusius was firing on customers in the parking lot before entering the store. The store manager issued a ‘code brown’, designating an active shooter, to his employees after witnessing the gunman begin to fire in the parking lot.
Calls to 9-1-1 were placed, and first responders began to arrive within minutes of the initial call. The F.B.I.’s El Paso field office SWAT Team – a unit within a police force which is trained to deal with situations of unusual danger, responded to the happening along with the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Border Patrol’s BORTAC unit.
After the shooting, Crusius drove to a nearby intersection, where he identified himself as the shooter and surrendered to Texas Rangers and an El Paso motorcycle officer.
Among the dead, aged between 15 and 90, were thirteen Americans, eight Mexicans and one German. (A. Jackson, E. Grinberg and N. Chavez, ‘These are the victims who have been identified in the El Paso shooting’, C.N.N., 6 August 2019).
According to Robert Evans on Bellingcat, an investigative journalism website, Crusius’ Twitter account portrayed a ‘relative normal Trump-supporting Republican’ up to April 2017, when the account stopped posting. Olice said that he had legally bought the gun used in the attack. Two law enforcement officials told A.B.C. News that, after Crusius was taken into custody, “he told investigators that he wanted to shoot as many Mexicans as possible.” (C. Attanasio, J. Bleiberg and P.J. Weber, ‘Police: El Paso shooting suspect said he targeted Mexicans’, A.B.C. News, 9 August 2019).
This was his ground: “In general, I support the Christchurch shooter and his manifesto. This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas. They are the instigators, not me. I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.”
Police said that they were “reasonably confident” that a document published 27 minutes prior to the shooting on the website 8chan‘s /pol/ board titled The Inconvenient Truth, was linked to the suspect. 8chan moderators quickly removed the original post, though users continued sharing copies. The post expresses support for and inspiration by the Christchurch mosque shootings, along with worry about a Hispanic invasion, military imperialism, automation, large corporations, and environmental degradation. (R. Evans, ‘The El Paso Shooting and the Gamification of Terror’, Bellingcat, 4 August 2019).
The manifesto promotes the ‘white nationalist’ and far-right conspiracy theory of The Great Replacement. (T. Arango, N. Bogel-Burroughs and K. Benner, ‘Minutes before El Paso killing, hate-filled manifesto appears online’, The New York Times, 3 August 2019) The New York Times characterised the manifesto as racially extremist, noting the passage: “Hispanics will take control of the local and state government of my beloved Texas, changing policy to better suit their needs.” It states that Hispanics and their intermarriage with whites would cause the loss of ‘purity of race’. It criticises strict gun control laws in Europe, arguing these would make governments unable to repel immigrants. It criticises both the Democratic Party and Republican Party, saying that their politicians are either complacent or involved in the “takeover of the United States government by unchecked corporations.” However, the manifesto states that “at least with Republicans, the process of mass immigration and citizenship can be greatly reduced.” ((Y. Abutaleb, ‘What’s inside the hate-filled manifesto linked to the alleged El Paso shooter’, The Washinton Post, 4 August 2019). It warns that “heavy Hispanic population in Texas will make us a Democrat stronghold.” (S. Romero, op. cit.) It also states that the Democratic Party’s appeal to an increasing number of Hispanics in the country would ultimately ensure Democratic Party dominance in the United States, a notion which has been promoted on right-wing radio shows. According to the document, the attack was meant to provide an incentive for Hispanics to “return to their home countries”, thus dissolving “the Hispanic voting bloc” in the United States. (Y. Abutaleb, op. cit.).
The manifesto identifies the type of weapon used in the attack; the suspect’s name was revealed in a separate document in the original 8chan post. (R. Evans, op. cit.).
On his arrest on 4 August, Crusius relinquished his ‘Miranda rights’ – which is a right to silence warning given by police in the United States to a criminal suspect in police custody (or in a custodial interrogation) before s/he is interrogated to preserve the admissibility of her/his statements against her/him in criminal proceedings – and confessed to detectives that he targeted “Mexicans” during the attack. (R. Moore and M. Berman, ‘El Paso suspect said he was targeting ‘Mexicans’, told officers he was the shooter, police say’, The Washington Post, 9 August 2019). On that same day it was disclosed that a San Antonio criminal defence attorney had been appointed to represent Crusius.
In 2019 the United States has repeatedly made international headlines with a series of mass shootings. According to the Gun Violence Archive, as of 6 August, the U.S. has experienced 253 such incidents since the beginning of the year – an average of more than one shooting a day.
On 3 August Crusius became responsible for the country’s worst massacre of Latin people. In his anti-immigrant and racist manifesto, he decried the “Hispanic invasion of Texas” and praised the architect of the New Zealand mosque massacre. On social media, Crusius favoured the pro-Trump hashtag #BuildTheWall and posted a photo in which he used his guns to spell ‘Trump’.
Later the following day, Connor Betts, 24, used an assault rifle capable of holding 100 rounds of ammunition to kill nine people – six of them black – in Dayton, Ohio. According to the F.B.I., he was exploring “violent ideologies” before the shooting.
Advocates of inaction on gun control offered yet again empty ‘thoughts and prayers’, and insisted that America’s gun problem is the result of untreated mental illness or video games. However, research shows that only three per cent of violent crimes are committed by people with mental illness, who are actually far more likely to become victims of crime than perpetrators.
The United States stands alone among the nations of the world as a global leader and outlier in civilian gun proliferation and mass shootings. While America should not and must not continue down this unsustainable path towards self-annihilation, it is necessary to understand how the “land of the free” became the most armed nation on Earth in the first place.
The madness of American gun violence thrives on a lethal combination of four elements: 1) the nearly limitless access to guns, which is unparalleled in the world; 2) the corruption on the part of elected officials who receive financial contributions from the arms lobby to enact irresponsibly lax gun legislation; 3) the unwillingness of American society to address racism, and 4) the refusal of its leadership to confront the role of ‘white supremacist’ domestic terrorism as the ultimate threat to the nation and a growing global concern.
Amnesty International has issued a travel warning for the United States, advising that the government is unwilling to protect people from gun violence, and that, “People in the United States cannot reasonably expect to be free from harm – a guarantee of not being shot is impossible.”
According to The Brookings Institution, “Gun violence in America has become a national security emergency,” with the number of American lives lost to guns over the past two decades rivalling the number of U.S. military deaths since the first world war.
There are more guns than people in the United States, a country accounting for five per cent of the global population yet 45 per cent of the world’s privately owned firearms. Firearms are the second-leading cause of death for children and teens in the U.S., and the leading cause for black youth, while nearly one million women have been shot by an intimate partner.
The ten American states with the highest gun homicide rates have some of the weakest gun regulations in the nation. Gun restrictions and federal government research on firearm violence as a public health issue have been thwarted due to the corruption of the U.S. political system, and the power of the gun lobby which pays politicians to do its bidding.
Its current internal turmoil and alleged Russian ties notwithstanding, the National Rifle Association – N.R.A. continues to spend millions of dollars to promote its interests. In 2016 it gave $30 million to help elect Donald Trump; in the months before the most recent massacre, the N.R.A. spent $1.6 million lobbying the U.S. Congress against laws requiring stricter background checks for gun owners.
Bipartisan universal background check legislation which passed the House of Representatives in February 2019 is stalled in the US Senate, whose majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell has received $1.26 million in N.R.A. donations.
The N.R.A. has supported ‘stand your ground’ deadly force laws which encourage racial violence, and opposed all gun restrictions; it has promoted a reinterpretation of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – on the people right to keep and bear arms – to provide for a nearly unlimited individual right to bear arms.
The United States is a nation where white men have lived and died by the gun. The gun facilitated the genocide of the Native people and the enslavement of American people, and allowed white people to steal land and seize control. Take away the gun, and society begins to chip away at the myth of ‘white supremacy’.
Continued tomorrow … (link to Part 2)
* Europaeus landed in Australia over fifty years ago. Except for the blue skies and starry nights between 02.12.1972 and 10.11.1975 the place has been constantly overwhelmed by what Hannah Arendt called the ‘sand storm’ – a metaphor for totalitarianism.
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