El Paso – the United States’ descent into xenophobic barbarism (part 5)
By Europaeus *
Continued from Part 4
In the United States, the Immigration Act of 1924 – which established the Border Patrol – was another piece of legislation based on the principles of ‘racial purity’ and ‘white supremacy’. Hitler praised this law when he said: “Compared to old Europe, which had lost an infinite amount of its best blood through war and emigration, the American nation appears as a young and racially select people. The American union itself, motivated by the theories of its own racial researchers, has established specific criteria for immigration … making an immigrant’s ability to set foot on American soil dependent on specific racial requirements.”
Eugenics was the only way in which ‘real Americans’ exerted control over fronterizos, meaning ‘border’ communities. Around the same time, vigilante lynch mobs and extrajudicial murders by the Texas Rangers took hundreds of lives. Scholars have identified at least 600 lynchings in the United States of persons of Mexican descent by white mobs between 1848 and 1928. But these numbers do not include the murder of ethnic Mexicans by the Texas Rangers. The 28 January 1918 massacre outside the village of Porvenir in Presidio County, Texas, when Texas Rangers, Cavalry soldiers, and local ranchers marched 15 men and boys out of town and shot them in cold blood, was one of many acts of state-sanctioned terrorism against people of Mexican origin along the Rio Grande Valley during the early 20th century. As Benjamin Heber Johnson writes in Revolution in Texas (Yale University Press, 2003): “Even observers hesitant to acknowledge Anglo brutality recognize that the death toll was at least three hundred. Some of those who found human remains with skulls marked by execution-type bullet holes in the years to come were sure that the toll had been much, much higher, perhaps five thousand.”
Low-intensity warfare against people of Mexican descent has been going on for a long time on the border. Some of the current policies by the Trump Administration echo the practices at the border a century ago. For instance, just not long before the El Paso massacre U.S. customs agents began publicly to inspect the heads and bodies of border crossers for lice at the Santa Fe International Bridge.
But not everything is repetition. What is new is the staggering acceleration of events currently aimed at fronterizo communities. El Paso has now become ground zero for a lighting-speed war waged by the Trump government against fronterizos. It seems every week, sometimes every day, Americans are bombarded with new twists and turns to the ruthless measures aimed to prevent ‘the browning of America’: detention camps for children, mass deportations, threats to revoke birthright citizenship, calls for “sending back” American citizens of colour who speak out against Trump’s policies, threats to shut down all traffic at the border as a form of political blackmail. Some of these strategies are reminiscent of psychological warfare operations which are meant to keep besieged communities feeling confused, fearful, overwhelmed, and in a constant state of shock. Things are moving so fast it is hard for fronterizo populations to know how to respond. (D.D. Romo, ‘To understand the El Paso massacre, look to the long legacy of anti-Mexican violence at the border’, The Texas Observer, 9 August 2019).
According to The New York Times, the Christchurch mass murderer referenced: “a white supremacist theory called ‘the great replacement.” The theory has been promoted by a French writer named Renaud Camus, and argues that elites in Europe have been working to replace white Europeans with immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa.”
It is obvious that this ‘theory’ is framed around stoking the fears of ‘white nationalists’. But psychologically, on what factors do those fears play?
First comes to mind narcissism/tribalism. Clearly, a mass murderer has crossed into sociopathic/psychopathic territory in terms of an extreme lack of remorse and empathy, but the root of the problem can be found in narcissism.
At its core, narcissism is an overvaluation of self and a devaluation of others. It runs along a spectrum. There is a great deal of overlap among the following categories, though, and unclear boundaries clinically speaking. And conditions can push the examination around the spectrum. What is absolutely true is that one knows to be with a narcissist by how one makes one feel.
Grandiose narcissists, malignant/oblivious as they may present, have a very firmed belief in their superiority. This makes the narcissist envious, competitive, and antagonistic to anyone who threatens their sense of superior self. They are routinely stuck in cycles of social comparison. They are likely to twist reality in pursuit of ‘power’ over others; they are manipulative, and they feel privileged/entitled. They inherently feel that all relationships are competitive and ‘win-lose’ instead of mutual or interdependent. They have a problematic view of relationships and can act on it by taking advantage of others.
Vulnerable or fragile narcissists are insecure, thin-skinned, and likely to lash out if criticised. They have a turbulent inner life with powerful “undercurrents of inadequate feelings, negative affect states, and loneliness.” They can also feel that relationships are inherently competitive and antagonistic.
Highly functioning, charming or exhibitionistic narcissists also have an exaggerated sense of self-importance, but these individuals are also outgoing, energetic and articulate. They apparently use their narcissism as strong motivation to succeed, and are interpersonally adept and achievement-oriented. But these narcissists can, like other narcissists, exhibit low empathy, and can also view relationships as utilitarian.
A person provided with healthy narcissism has a healthy sense of self-worth, combined with empathy and concern for others’ feelings and well-being.
Narcissism leaves a wake of damaged relationships, because “narcissists are extraordinarily insecure about their capacity to love and be loved and are frantic in their search for others who will admire them, be impressed by them, empathize with their needs, validate their specialness, and/or serve as an idealized object who will never shame them or humiliate them.” (Definitions and quotes from G. O. Gabbard and H. Crisp-Han, Narcissism and its discontents, American Psychiatric Association Publishing 2018).
Fundamentally, narcissists do not really appreciate the mutuality of relatedness, and this can lead to their ‘frantic search’ and feeling like they can only be valued for their attributes. They may not believe they are acceptable as they are, in their basic humanity. Narcissists suffer and cause suffering.
The ‘white nationalist’ has, by definition, grandiosely overvalued her/himself and devalued others in pursuit of power or security. They may also be overcompensating for feeling shamed or, as s/he might frame it, ‘losing their honour and privilege,’ or what others might call their ‘entitlement.’
The logical outcome of a deep-seated lack of relatedness and security in the relational world is nihilism. Existential nihilists argue that life is without objective meaning, purpose or value. Moral nihilists assert that ‘there is no inherent morality’ in life, and that ‘accepted moral values are contrived.’
It is understandable that during times of social change and upheaval, traditional meanings and concerns fall into doubt, and some go ‘into their heads’ to deconstruct meaning. Without being grounded in relationships, nihilism – some times to the point of sociopathy – results. The nihilist ignores or abandons a hundred thousand years of human history, and millions of years of mammalian and primate evolution.
Unfortunately, the Internet is a profoundly disturbing catalyst for disconnecting from real world relatedness and the real world search for belonging, diverting some into a self-radicalizing spiral of hatred and ungrounded fear and hatred. Yoda, the fictional character in the Star wars franchise created by George Lucas, and first appearing in the 1980 film The empire strikes back, might say of 8chan and the like “path to the dark side this is.”(See K. Roose, 8chan,megaphone for gunmen, has gone dark. ‘Shut the site down,’ says its creator’, The New York Times, 4 August 2019; R. Chandra M.D., D.F.A.P.A., ‘El Paso massacre: nihilism, narcissism and white nationalism – What psychological and philosophical factors underpin white nationalism?,’ psychologytoday.com, 4 August 2019; see also: L. Charlton, ‘What is The Great Replacement?, The New York Times, 6 August 2019).
And who would at this point think of Donald John Trump?
President Trump was embarrassed online for refusing to call the El Paso massacre an act of ‘white supremacist terrorism’. He could only say this: “Today’s shooting in El Paso, Texas was not only tragic, it was an act of cowardice. I know that I stand with everyone in this country to condemn today’s hateful act. There are no reasons or excuses that will ever justify killing innocent people,” and then: “Melania and I send our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to the great people of Texas.” (B. Brigham, ‘Trump ripped for calling El Paso massacre ‘act o cowardice’ instead of white supremacist terrorism’, rawstory.com, 3 August 2019).
An entire paragraph of the manifesto is dedicated to environmental degradation and Malthusian claims about the need to “get rid of enough people” to protect ever dwindling resources.
Crusius’ manifesto abounds with Trumpian racist nationalism. “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” notes the text, published shortly before the massacre. The manifesto, which decries “race-mixing,” states: “some people will blame the president or certain presidential candidates for the attack. This is not the case. “noting that the author’s convictions “predate Trump.” One would be correct to place blame at the feet of President Trump, whose lurid anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies have emboldened violent ‘white supremacists’.
Yet a number of motivations cited by the attacker sit outside the typical remit of racist MAGA fear-mongering. An entire paragraph of the manifesto is dedicated to environmental degradation and Malthusian claims about the need to “get rid of enough people” to protect ever dwindling resources. The author cites the Christchurch shooter’s lengthy manifesto, titled ‘The Great Replacement’, as an inspiration, reiterating the paranoid fears of demographic shift and white decline. The Christchurch shooter self-identified as an “eco-fascist,” writing, “there is no nationalism without environmentalism.”
Against the perilous climate change denialism typical of Australian as well as of American conservatives, environmental decimation is broadly seen as a liberal and left concern. But eco-fascism has seen a notable re-emergence among far-right groups and festering corners online in the United States and in Europe. While campaigning for the European elections, Ms. Marine Le Pen of France’s far-right National Rally party promised to make the “first ecological civilisation” of a “Europe of nations,” claiming that “nomadic” people with “no homeland” do not care about the environment. Neo-Nazi Richard Bertrand Spencer, a ‘white supremacist’ and the president of the National Policy Institute, a ‘white supremacist’ think tank, as well as Washington Summit Publishers, wrote in a 2017 manifesto: “We have the potential to become nature’s steward or its destroyer.”
It is beholden on those fighting for climate justice to ensure that not a centimetre be given to those who would use environmental degradation as grounds for racist nationalism and, as the El Paso and Christchurch shooters encouraged, genocide. This means maintaining a vigilance not only against the most explicit eco-fascists and their Blut und Boden – ‘blood and soil’ sentiments, but also against arguments around population control and the threat of mass migration to resources both economic and environmental.
“The American lifestyle affords our citizens an incredible quality of life. However, our lifestyle is destroying the environment of our country,” the El Paso manifesto notes, adding: “Everything I have seen and heard in my short life has led me to believe that the average American isn’t willing to change their lifestyle, even if the changes only cause a slight inconvenience. … So the next logical step is to decrease the number of people in America using resources.” For Crusius non-white immigrants are not the cause of resource depletion, but their demise en masse is the solution.
Eco-fascism is not new and finds its origins in Progressive-era linking of environmental preservation and eugenics. Eco-fascism’s founding father, the previously mentioned Madison Grant – an American lawyer, writer, and zoologist known primarily for his work as a eugenicist/racist and conservationist, bestselling author – was a renowned preservationist, friend of Theodore Roosevelt, and an inspiration to Hitler. He was director of the American Eugenics Society and vice president of the Immigration Restriction League, while also credited as the creator of modern wildlife management. Claims of a people’s mythic connection to their land combined with bunk race science form the basis of eco-fascism, which can today call upon the very real threat of climate change to double down on its racist, nationalist agenda.
The so-called deep ecology movement, claiming to argue for the intrinsic value of all living things, insists that the flourishing of non-human life is impossible without decreasing the human population. Deep ecologists like David Foreman – an American environmentalist and co-founder of the radical environmental movement Earth First! – in the 1980s welcomed famine as a means of depopulation; his fellow eco-fascist contemporaries saw a similar boon in the AIDS crisis. Pentti Linkola – a radical Finnish deep ecologist, ornithologist, polemicist, naturalist, writer – deploys perverse “lifeboat ethics” to argue for eco-fascist measures, including an end to all immigration. “What to do when a ship carrying a hundred passengers suddenly capsizes and there is only one lifeboat?” Linkola wrote. “When the lifeboat is full, those who hate life will try to load it with more people and sink the lot. Those who love and respect life will take the ship’s axe and sever the extra hands that cling to the sides.” Yet such cheap metaphors for preservation through decreased population leave unsaid the profound ‘white supremacist’ undergirding of all such eco-fascist positions. Marginalised, colonised, impoverished, and displaced populations are always the last on the lifeboat.
According to new statistics from the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the population of people on Earth displaced by conflict or persecution reached 70.8 million in 2018 – more than double the number recorded in 2012. Disasters fuelled by climate change were responsible for at least 18.8 million internal displacements in 2017, as well as bolstering cross-border migration, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. In another recent report ‘Climate change and poverty – Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights’, 25 June 2019A/HRC/41/39, prepared by the U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, an Australian law professor, warned of a “climate apartheid” in which “even if current targets are met, tens of millions will be impoverished, leading to widespread displacement and hunger.” (N. Lennard, ‘Don’t let the Far-Right co-opt the environmental struggle,’ theintercept.com, 5 August 2019).
Much of the rhetoric about ‘Mexican invaders’ may aid at diverting one’s attention from the memory of that critically important facet of United States history: the systematic lynching and murder of Mexicans by white border vigilantes and law enforcement a century ago.
The pretexts for the atrocities varied, professor Monica Muñoz Martínez, a native Texan, explained in an interview after the massacre, but the underlying motives for the Texas terror campaign were bound up in white settlers’ longing for power and control over a population they deemed inferior. The killers sought to break apart and divide communities like El Paso through violence, to disenfranchise Mexican American voters, and to relegate them to manual labour.
A century later, the forces of violent displacement and division are again at work in the borderlands.
When historians will look back on the Trump years, El Paso will stand out.
Dr. Stephen Flaherty, director of trauma at Del Sol Medical Center, would liken the injuries he saw during the weekend to wounds he treated as a medical surgeon in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. Details about the 22 people who died in the attack, and the lives they lived, continued to emerge. So far, the youngest reported victim was 15-year-old Javier Amir Rodriguez. The oldest was 90-year-old Luis Juárez. Two dozen others were wounded, including two-month-old Paul Gilbert Anchondo, whose parents, Andre and Jordan, were killed shielding their baby boy from the gunfire.
At least eight Mexican nationals lost their lives. “We consider this an act of terrorism against the Mexican-American community and the Mexicans living in the United States,” Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Secretary, said in a statement.
When historians will look back on the Trump years, El Paso will stand out. It was the place where the government first tested its family separation policy and, more recently, it has been the focus of outrage and horror directed at ghastly conditions experienced by immigrants, including children, held in federal detention facilities. But El Paso is more than that. In the face of the Trump Administration’s border crackdown, the city has provided a model of compassion and empathy toward migrants. That those features made it a target for a ‘white supremacist’ attack, one of the deadliest massacres of Mexicans the state has ever seen, is particularly devastating, professor Monica Muñoz Martínez said.
“People in El Paso have had to do the work of trying to pick up the pieces of the violence of these policies,” she said. “When hundreds of people are released overnight at bus stations in places like El Paso … it’s the local residents that mobilize to provide support for recent arrivals, and for refugees, and for children. They not only have carried the burden of trying to provide humanitarian aid,” she said, “but now they’re also being targeted with violence.”
In the wake of the El Paso’s attack, there were calls to reorder and expand the government’s long-running war on terrorism. Six former National Security Council counter-terrorism directors added their names to a statement calling on the Trump Administration to approach domestic terrorism with the same urgency, resources, and strategic vision as the post-9/11 effort to combat international terrorism.
Well-intentioned though they might be, a dangerous bit of historical amnesia undermines demands to replicate the war on terror on U.S. soil. For one, there has been a war on terror at home for nearly two decades. It has been felt in Muslim communities infiltrated by undercover informants, and it has been expressed in the militarisation of police departments across the country. Second, the existing war on terror shattered entire regions of the world, fuelled the growth of the very groups it sought to eliminate, killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, created black sites where Americans – and their allies, such as Australians – engaged in torture, resulted in the creation of a perpetually troubled constellation of agencies known in the United States as the Department of Homeland Security, spawned secret watchlists used overwhelmingly against Muslims, and paved the way for the president of the United States to execute an American citizen without trial. (G. Venturini, ‘No more due process – Just ‘targeted killings’, countercurrents.org, 13 October 2011).
“The last 18 years have shown us that existing terrorism authorities have been and are used to target communities of color and other marginalized communities,” Ms. Hina Shamsi, director of the A.C.L.U.’s National Security Project, said in an interview. “They’ve resulted in bias-based, over-broad suspicion that infringes on the fundamental rights of minority communities, who have asked for safeguards and reform without getting them. Policymakers must learn the right lessons from ongoing abuses and not entrench or enhance authorities that have resulted in the violation of First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights of communities they want to protect. There’s something so profoundly bleak about the idea of using the terror frame and the war on terror, that is still going on and is clearly a failure and disaster, as a positive template for dealing with this.”
The impulse to call for an expanded war on terror in response to mass killings is an extension of the United States’s entrenched relationship to guns, says Dr. Patrick Blanchfield, an academic, journalist, and an associate faculty member at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research. He is the author of the forthcoming Verso pamphlet Gunpower: The system of American violence. “People really like to think that there will always be a good person with a gun,” Blanchfield explains. “That, in essence, is the national security framework.” It is a process of self-soothing – he said – as expressed by a population which feels, on an individual level, helpless in the face of ongoing gun violence: “Because no one individually feels that they can do something, then it must be the authorities who have to do everything.”
The problem is not just rhetorical. When American current and former federal law enforcement officials are asked about their approach to policing the kind of violence seen in El Paso, they sometimes suggest that they lack the authorities to address the problem, often pointing to the absence of a federal law against domestic terrorism. But the problem is more seriously complex.
What the F.B.I. lacks, Mr. Michael German, a former F.B.I. agent who is now a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice maintains, is the will to target and investigate the ‘far-right’ with anywhere near the zeal it has historically reserved for Muslims, leftist dissidents, and environmental activists. If the F.B.I. made a genuine effort to apply the ample authorities it already has to investigate and prosecute domestic terrorism crimes – rather than attempt to predict them – they could confront a truly violent and dangerous movement, Mr. German said. He is the author, with Ms. Kimberly Atkins, Senior Washington News Correspondent, of Disrupt, discredit, and divide: How the new F.B.I. damages democracy, New York, N.Y., The new press 2019).
“Unfortunately, I think the war on terror itself was a failed methodology that has driven a lot of the fear and anger and xenophobia that is crystalized in white nationalism.” he reflected. “What you saw was the growth of this anti-Muslim lobby that eventually merged with the white supremacist movement, which was focused on the border already. … It’s not surprising that when a right-wing populist comes along that he can stoke them up in way that is quite dangerous.”
What the former F.B.I. agent today would find ‘far more scary’ is seeing the ‘white power’ movement’s goals and ideology reflected in government policies.
“All you have to do is look down on the southern border now to see it,” Mr. German said, explaining that a government built around an ideology of racist power, one seeking to change the country’s demographics by force, can do more harm to more people than the white power movement could ever dream to. “It’s a very different kind of a problem.”
“This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” reads the four-page manifesto Crusius posted online shortly before his attack in El Paso.
The idea is not new. President Trump himself has repeatedly used the word “invasion” to rally his base around policies aimed at curtailing non-white immigration, both legal and illegal. Fox News has done the same.
Continued tomorrow … (Part 6)
* 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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I continue to condemn the naming of any and every perpetrator of mass assassinations. Could the editors consider requesting that authors of these topics use the standard reference of “the perpetrator” when identifying the person allegedly responsible for these cowardly acts. This practice would follow the example of NZ PM Jacinda Ardern.
Truly this article shows that the “American Dream” has morphed into the “American Nightmare on Every Street” in the USA (Unitied States of Apartheid).