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El Paso – the United States’ descent into xenophobic barbarism (part 6)

By Europaeus *

Continued from Part 5

In her 2018 book, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and paramilitary America (Harvard University Press 2018) professor Kathleen Belew links the rise in white power paramilitary violence in the decades preceding the Oklahoma City bombing to the Vietnam war, arguing that foreign militarism played a more significant role in driving domestic terror campaigns than any other factor. In tracing this history, Belew returns to the border repeatedly, telling the story of groups like the Klan Border Watch and the C.I.A.-linked Civilian Materiel Assistance, or C.M.A., which saw themselves as a bulwark against immigrants and communists making their way north.

While Belew’s period of study ended before the 11 September attacks, the ‘white power movement’ ’s relationship to the border did not. In the mid-2000s, with the Iraq war spinning wildly out of control and the economy collapsing, vigilante groups began cropping up along the U.S.-Mexico divide. They were driven by the emerging, post-9/11 Islamophobia lobby to which Mr. German referred, as well as conspiracy theories claiming that terrorists were sneaking across the border and Mexicans were plotting to regain control of the southwest through a mass migration campaign known as “reconquista.”

Daniel Denvir, a visiting fellow at Brown University’s Watson Institute and author of the forthcoming book All-American nativism: How the bipartisan war on immigrants explains politics as we know it (Verso 2020) argues that reconquista fearmongering was the notion at the core of Trump’s announcement that he was running for president – claiming that the people Mexico was “sending” were dangerous criminals – and has undergirded his approach to immigration ever since.

In building his administration, President Trump surrounded himself with the most hard-right figures in American politics. Stephen Kevin Bannon, the American media executive, political figure, strategist, former investment banker, former executive chairman of Breitbart News, became the White House Chief Strategist in the administration of President Trump during the first seven months of his term. Steve Bannon sources his views on migration to a racist novel beloved by ‘white nationalists’. It is: The camp of the saints – Le camp des saints, a 1973 French dystopian fiction novel by author and explorer Jean Raspail. It is a speculative fictional account which depicts the destruction of Western civilisation through Third World mass immigration to France and the West. Jeff Sessions, the former Alabama senator devoted to returning American law and immigration enforcement to a pre-civil rights era, was made attorney general. Sessions’ former aide, Stephen Miller, a college associate of the ethno-nationalist Richard Bertrand Spencer, became the powerful doctrinaire of the White House’s most aggressive immigration policies: author of President Trump’s travel ban, the administration’s reduction of refugees accepted to the United States, and President Trump’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents. Miller remains to this day at his place. Throughout the government, former employees of a handful of think tanks that the Southern Poverty Law Center has described as Washington’s “nativist lobby” took up key immigration posts.

This ultra-conservative collective has worked for more than two years to combat the “invasion” on the southern border, promoting the most aggressive anti-immigration agenda in recent history. But it is not just the far-right talking in terms of ‘migrant invasions’ and ‘immigrant criminals’. While national attention has rightfully focused on the link between President Trump’s words and the tragedy in El Paso – Denvir said – “what’s also very important and seldom mentioned is how mainstream, bipartisan politicians have for decades normalized this rhetoric.”

As the 2020 presidential election approaches, Mr. German worries about the possibility of dark days ahead. “If you look through history, levels of political violence tend to rise around election time,” he said. Professor Muñoz Martínez is similarly concerned.

A handful of whistleblowers, a congressional investigation, and efforts to pass anti-lynching legislation helped to stem the bloodshed on the border a century ago, but the operation was incomplete. “People weren’t prosecuted.” Muñoz Martínez said. The lack of accountability and closure – she argued – “shaped how people think about Mexicans as being perpetually foreign, as being undeserving of rights.” These ideas were repeated by lawmakers, historians, and members of the press in the decades which followed, “laying the foundation for the ‘draconian policies’ and ‘horrific forms of violence’ that the United States is now witnessing.

“I am deeply troubled that this won’t be curbed soon,” professor Muñoz Martínez said. (R. Devereaux, ‘From El Paso to the war on terror, the danger of historical amnesia’, The Intercept, 7 August 2019).

There appears to be one further problem: the far right in the United States changes its look every few years, cycling through hoods, shaved heads and boots, polo shirts, fashy haircuts and even three-piece suits. But one thing remains constant: its bigotry and scapegoating drive its followers to kill. And they do so again and again.

The El Paso manifesto is a stark example of a mass shooter making his ‘white nationalist’ ideology clear. He specifically said he was targeting “Hispanic” non-citizens. He started out saying: “I support the Christchurch shooter and his manifesto,” and making a reference to the same book, The Great Replacement, (Le Grand Remplacement, Paris, David Reinharc 2011) a work by the French writer Jean Renaud Gabriel Camus. The book argues that European élites are intentionally trying “to replace” the white European population by promoting immigration by people of colour. This conspiracy theory has become combined with a similar ‘white nationalist’ conspiracy theory about ‘white genocide.’ Its adherents believe that white people are facing extinction because of non-white small birth rates.

The El Paso manifesto is all about the shooter’s fears of the future. And though it does centre on immigration, it is not limited to this. Crusius is concerned that automation will make most jobs obsolete. And he bemoans that his generation of students will have high student loans, while only low-paying jobs await them – something for which he only partly blames immigrants.

Just as with the Christchurch shooter, Crusius has environmental concerns, and denounces urban sprawl and consumer waste. He accuses “corporations” of promoting immigration to have bigger markets. And he spends a long time on a conspiracy theory which can also be heard in the mainstream conservative circles – that the Democratic Party wants to open the borders and lure immigrants in with free health care, and thereby draw them into the party. In this way, according to the conspiracy theory, Democrats will supposedly turn Red states Blue. Last, like all ‘white nationalists’, Crusius denounces “race mixing“ and insists that racial homogeneity is an absolute necessity. He advocates that the United States be broken up into separate racial states, which would stop “race mixing” and grant all groups racial “self-determination.”

Dividing the county up into different ‘ethno-states’ has been a favourite proposal of American ‘white nationalists’ since at least the 1980s and is a clear sign of their ideological influence. Crusius’ anti-corporate and environmental concerns are also more common among ‘white nationalists’ than among more mainstream Republicans; but his other talking points reflect nothing more than a worldview happily at home in Trump’s Republican Party. A Twitter account which was suspected to be his contains posts supporting Trump, MAGA and building a border wall.

Crusius does not have any immediately apparent direct connections to ‘white nationalist’ groups. And unlike Dylann Roof, the racist perpetrator of the 17 June 2015 Charleston massacre, the El Paso manifesto is not a treatise concerning various points of debate among ‘white nationalists’; it sounds like what could come out the mouth of many Generation Y conservatives.

So, if that is the case, why express these views in a brutal mass murder ? Scholars of right-wing violence point to what is called “stochastic terrorism,” – also known as “random process” and as “scripted violence.” Here, a narrative is disseminated – often by public figures with large platforms – whose logical conclusion can be to commit murder in order to portray oneself as a redeeming hero in the face of an impending disaster.

As Dr. Spencer Sunshine wrote for Truthout in June 2017 (Writings on Antisemitism Spencer Sunshine) the use of scapegoating in political narratives often leads to attacks on the groups blamed for the society’s problems. John Foster ‘Chip’ Berlet, an American investigative journalist, research analyst, co-author with Matthew N. Lyons of Right-Wing Populism in America (New York, N.Y., The Guilford Press 2000), explains this dynamic in one essay by saying: “The leaders of organized political or social movements sometimes tell their followers that a specific group of ‘Others’ is plotting to destroy civilized society” and that “history tells us that if this message is repeated vividly enough, loudly enough, often enough, and long enough – it is only a matter of time before the bodies from the named scapegoated groups start to turn up.” So no direct call to violence is needed. Dramatic claims of impending disaster lead listeners to attack members of the scapegoating group. In this way, they see themselves as heroes who are helping to rescue society.

The use of scapegoating in political narratives often leads to attacks on the groups blamed for the society’s problems.

The El Paso shooter obviously was familiar with the prior mass shooters and their modus operandi , of writing a manifesto and posting it on 8chan. 8chan is an online messaging board which has been used by anonymous accounts to share extremist messages and cheer on mass shooters. It is rife with racist and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. But Crusius’ manifesto reeks with social anxiety about the future – his own future. He says he can see no future for himself because automation will destroy jobs, and he is terrified of people of color running the Texas government. He tries to position himself as the selfless hero of this scenario, saying, “I am honored to head the fight to reclaim my country from destruction.”

In the end President Trump acts as the gasoline for this explosion of murder, while 8chan – and other ideological ‘white nationalists’ – are merely the match.

So far 74 people have been killed in the three attacks the manifesti of which were all first posted on 8chan. Dealing with this fad is not going to be easy. President Trump and his consiglieri are clearly not going to help. In fact, they are doing quite the opposite. Recent attacks and President Trump’s tweet that antifa is a “major organization of terror” show that the administration is actually seeking to do the opposite: to enable the ‘white nationalist movement’.

Quite likely Crusius was not a card-carrying member of a ‘white nationalist’ organisation. But in the digital age, where racist propaganda is available at the click of a button, and discussion groups about the merits of ‘white supremacy’ are two clicks away, it no longer matters if the person was indoctrinated and trained in person by other far right activists.

Still, the digital platforms that ‘white nationalists’ use are overseen by human administrators and these platforms have bank accounts, social circles and legal obligations. The ‘white nationalist movement’ consists of writers, propagandists, artists and fundraisers who all have lives: homes, jobs, and friends. All of these are weak points where pressure can be applied to remove resources, and to try and get these people to move out of their current white nationalist political circles. In the end, when Twitter allows President Trump to use its platform to spread racism, these platforms enable violently toxic attitudes to fester. (S. Sunshine, ‘El Paso blood is on the hands of everyone who has scapegoated migrants’, Truthout, 5 August 2019).

The El Paso massacre is at least the third atrocity this year where a suspect is believed to have posted to 8chan in advance of an attack.

Before the mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March 2019, an account believed to belong to the gunman posted a link to an 87-page ‘white nationalist’ manifesto on Twitter and 8chan. The unsigned manifesto was filled with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments, as well as explanations for an attack.

Crusius expressed support for the shootings of two mosques in Christchurch.

Seventy-three minutes before the deadly shooting at Congregation Chabad synagogue in Poway, California, on 27 April 2019, someone identifying himself as the suspect in that attack posted a link to a hate-speech-filled manifesto hyperlinked on 8chan. Tipsters alerted the F.B.I. about the 8chan post approximately five minutes before the gunman began shooting, an F.B.I. official confirmed to C.N.N.

The manifesto talks about killing Jewish people without making reference to Poway or Congregation Chabad. Just like the El Paso-linked post, the person identifying himself as John T. Earnest said he was inspired by the Christchurch attacks. (G. Mezzofiore and D. O’Sullivan, ‘El Paso mass shooting is at least the third atrocity linked to 8chan this year’, C.N.N., 5 August 2019).

On 16 March 2019 a 28-year-old Australian-born man, Brenton Tarrant, appeared in Christchurch District Court, charged with murder for killing 49 people at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The attack is the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s history.

When ‘white nationalists’ gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, on 12 August 2017 chanting “they will not replace us” and “the Jews will not replace us”, few of the assembled extremists knew where those slogans came from. By contrast, Brenton Tarrant was more explicit when it came to his intellectual inspirations. In the 74-page manifesto he posted before the rampage, he praises the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik and drew on his work while noting his admiration for the interwar British fascist leader Oswald Mosley. Anders Behring Breivik is a Norwegian far-right terrorist who committed the 2011 Norway attacks. On 22 July 2011, he killed eight people by detonating a van bomb amid Regjeringskvartalet in Oslo, then shot dead 69 participants of a Workers’ Youth League summer camp on the island of Utøya. In July 2012, he was convicted of mass murder, causing a fatal explosion, and terrorism.

But French ‘ideas’ figure most prominently in Tarrant’s thinking. He cited watching “invaders” at a shopping mall during a visit to an eastern French town as the moment of epiphany when he realised he would resort to violence. His manifesto appears to draw on the work of Renaud Camus, including plagiarising the title of his book Le grand remplacement – The Great Replacement, words which have become commonplace in European immigration debates and a favourite of far-right politicians across Europe, including the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders and a group of younger far-right activists who call themselves “identitarians.” Tarrant wrote of initially dismissing stories of an invasion of France by non-whites whom he had encountered while still at home, but, once in France, he adds: “I found my emotions swinging between fuming rage and suffocating despair at the indignity of the invasion of France, the pessimism of the french [sic] people, the loss of culture and identity and the farce of the political solutions offered.”

Although Tarrant seemed eager to give Camus credit, the French writer was reluctant to concede that his ideas may have inspired carnage. Facing a barrage of criticism on Twitter, Camus himself responded by denouncing the attack. “I find it criminal, idiotic, and awful,” he wrote, while accusing the perpetrator of “abusive use of a phrase that is not his and that he plainly does not understand.” 

But Tarrant’s manifesto echoes Camus’s writing in many ways – most notably in the fear of demographic erasure by which a new population replaces an existing one, a process Camus insists is akin to colonialism. In his essay “Pegida, mon amour,” Camus praises the overtly anti-Islam German group Pegida as a “great hope rising in the East” and a “liberation front” that is fighting the “anti-colonialist struggle.” (Pegida stands for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident, abbreviated Pegida, is a German nationalist, anti-Islam, far-right political movement. Founded in Dresden in October 2014). For Camus there is no hope of living together in Europe when “there is a colonial conquest in progress, in which we are the colonized indigenous people” and the weapons of sheer numbers and demographic substitution are used to subjugate the natives.

Tarrant echoed these ideas. “Millions of people [are] pouring across our borders … [i]nvited by the state and corporate entities to replace the White people who have failed to reproduce, failed to create the cheap labour, new consumers and tax base that the corporations and states need to thrive.” he argues in his manifesto. “This crisis of mass immigration and sub-replacement fertility is an assault on the European people that, if not combated, will ultimately result in the complete racial and cultural replacement of the European people.”

Tarrant claimed that his goal was to “show the invaders that our lands will never be their lands.” He chose the mosques because the worshippers were a “large group of invaders, from a culture with higher fertility rates, higher social trust and strong, robust traditions that seek to occupy my peoples lands and ethnically replace my own people.”

As the world recoiled in horror from the carnage carried out in yet another house of worship, Camus spent much of the day distancing himself from the terror and defending his innocence. To be sure, he has never advocated murder. In a 2017 interview Camus elaborated on his theories, which are often cryptic in his writings. “Of course, if you change populations, you can’t expect the same civilization to hold on.” he said at the time. “The refusal to be replaced is a very strong feeling in man. … The will not to be replaced was at the center of resistance to colonialism. … People don’t want other people to come in their territory, in their country, and change their cultures and their religions, their way of living, their way of eating, their way of dressing.”

Camus also took great pains to distinguish between Nazism, that he deplores, and the ideas supporting ‘white nationalism’, for which he appeared to have greater sympathy. “I think races do exist and that they are infinitely precious. … I pray for the conservation of all races, beginning with those which are the most under menace.” When asked which race was most threatened, he replied: “Well, probably the white one, which is by far the least numerous of the old major classical ‘races.’” France, too, he insisted, “is fast losing its own territory, where its own culture and civilization is quickly becoming just one among others, and not the most dynamic, and which is rapidly being colonized.” While vigorously rejecting the use of violence as in Charlottesville, Camus maintained: “I totally sympathize with the slogan: ‘We will not be replaced.’ And I think Americans have every good reason to be worried about their country.”

In the 20th century, this fear can be traced to the apocalyptic visions of John Enoch Powell M.B.E., the British conservative politician, classical scholar, author, linguist, soldier, philologist and poet, better known for his anti-immigrant position. In the 1960s he famously envisioned rivers of blood in Britain brought on by immigration, and of the French author, traveller and explorer Jean Raspail – the two men whom Camus cites as “prophets” in an epigraph to Le grand remplacement.

Jean-Yves Camus – no relation to Renaud – a French scholar of the far-right, sees Tarrant’s ideas as more firmly rooted in Raspail’s thinking than in ‘great replacement’ theory. “The shooter is much more extreme than Renaud Camus,” he said. “Camus coined the term ‘grand remplacement’ to show his belief that the native European population is being uprooted by the non-Caucasian immigrants, especially the Muslims. Renaud Camus never condoned violence, much less terrorism.” And he added: “Raspail is another thing.”

Raspail’s dystopian 1973 novel, The camp of the saints, has become a beacon for far-right figures – from French politician Marine Le Pen to President Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon and ‘white supremacist’ Iowa Rep. Steve King. In 2015, during one of the Syrian refugee crises, Ms. Le Pen, who has known Raspail from her childhood, urged her millions of social media followers to read his novel in order to stop France from being “submerged.”

Raspail foresaw a Europe in which the arrival of refugees “would empty out all our hospital beds so that cholera-ridden and leprous wretches could sprawl between their clean white sheets. Another would cram our brightest, cheeriest nurseries full of monster children.” He was particularly afraid of miscegenation: “Another would preach unlimited sex, in the name of the one, single race of the future.”

At the time, Raspail was full of praise for the ‘white’ nations of the South Pacific [Australia?, New Zealand?], lauding them and their historically strict and racially-based immigration policies as “champions of the Western World stuck away in the far-flung hinterlands of Asia.”

Recent Australian Coalition governments have enthusiastically endorsed similar toughness. In October 2015, then Prime Minister Tony Abbott denounced Europe’s “misguided altruism” and warned that rescuing capsizing migrants at sea was “a facilitator rather than a deterrent” for mass immigration and that while a cold-hearted policy might “gnaw at our consciences … it is the only way to prevent a tide of humanity surging through Europe and quite possibly changing it forever” – a warning that cultural replacement might await. (M. Clarke, ‘Tony Abbott tells European leaders to turn back asylum seekers or risk ‘catastrophic error’, Tony Abbott tells European leaders to turn back asylum seekers or risk ‘catastrophic error’, A.B.C., 28 October 2015). Two Coalition prime ministers after Abbott, the situation remains the same.

Nearly five decades after he wrote the novel, Raspail has not changed his views. In an interview at his Paris apartment in 2016, he told interviewers that he saw a movement taking shape, much like the small band of men who face down the refugees at the end of his novel, gathering in an old stone house to keep a tally of the body count as they shoot down the “invaders.” “We’re fed up. We’ve seen enough. … There is going to be a resistance movement, and it has begun,” Raspail said. “If the situation becomes the one I predict – catastrophic – there will certainly be resistance that is both tough and armed.” he added. “People will want to liberate their city.” The simple fact, Raspail said bluntly, is that “without the use of force, we will never stop the invasion.”

Tarrant took that worldview to heart, while attempting to couch his racially inspired terrorism by drawing on the more palatable language of ethno-pluralism, a concept now popular in far-right circles as a method of deflecting charges of racism. “[T]he attack was not an attack on diversity, but an attack in the name of diversity,” Tarrant wrote in his manifesto. “To ensure diverse peoples remain diverse, separate, unique, undiluted [sic] in unrestrained in cultural or ethnic expression and autonomy.”

This concept reached its political apogee in a country that Camus and many ‘white nationalists’ are fond of citing as a warning of what is likely to come for the beleaguered ‘white race’: South Africa. From 1948 to 1994, the idea of autonomy for different races in different places was central to Pretoria’s policy of apartheid – literally, “separateness” – and was presented to the world under the name “separate development.”

It was the brainchild of Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, a Nazi-sympathising Afrikaner nationalist during the second world war who served as South Africa’s prime minister from 1958 until he was assassinated in 1966. After his death, the usually unsympathetic opposition newspaper Rand Daily Mail praised him for refining a crude ideology of white supremacy “into a sophisticated and rationalised philosophy of separate development.” Indeed, in the waning days of apartheid, the government sought to establish ‘independent’ black puppet states based on tribe and language in distant and undesirable locations. By so doing, the apartheid intelligentsia had hoped to externalise its race problem by stripping blacks of South African nationality.

Like Tarrant’s ideological smörgåsbord, the idea of a great replacement is not an original one. The concept has a long pedigree in France, dating back to the late 19th century, when nationalist authors such as Auguste-Maurice Barrès lamented rootless cosmopolitans and celebrated a France rooted in identity and lineage. He was a leading voice among the anti-Semitic propagandists during the ‘Dreyfus affair and warned of new French citizens who wanted to impose their way of life. At the time, the “invaders” he feared were Jews – not Muslims. “They are in contradiction to our civilization.” he wrote of the immigrants becoming French. “The triumph of their worldview will coincide with the real ruin of our fatherland. The name France may well survive; the special character of our country will be destroyed.”

In the 1920s, the businessman François Coty, who owned the right-wing newspaper Le Figaro, presented ‘the great replacement’ in more concrete terms. The internationalists had decided – he wrote in the paper – “to replace the French race with another race.”

Camus is not alone – for sure.

It is an odd argument for Camus to uphold – a man who, for all his faults, appreciates the power of ideas. Indeed, his writings are peppered with references to Bertolt Brecht, Sigmund Freud, and the French philosopher Ernest Renan while decrying “the disappearance of culture and identity” and railing against the “endless propaganda” of the “immigrationist and multiculturalist” system. Alain de Benoist de Gentissart – another French political philosopher who has long been a prominent figure in right-wing circles and who is, like Camus, linked with today’s ‘identitarian’ movement – has been more explicit and honest about the relationship between philosophical thought and action. De Benoist argues that white Europeans should not just support restrictive immigration policies; they should oppose such diluting ideologies as multiculturalism and globalism, taking seriously the premise that ideas play a fundamental role in the collective consciousness. For, if they do, then no matter how vociferously he condemns violence, Camus cannot easily walk away from the terror his ideas have now inspired. (S. Polakow-Suransky and S. Wildman, ‘The inspiration for terrorism in New Zealand came from France. The guman who massacred Muslims was inspired by ideas that have circulated for decades on the French far-right’, foreignpolicy.com, 16 March 2019).

Continued tomorrow … (Part 7)

 

* 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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  1. Andrew Smith

    Raspail has been far more influential, earlier, including Australia:

    ‘Raspail’s dystopian 1973 novel, The camp of the saints, has become a beacon for far-right figures – from French politician Marine Le Pen to President Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon and ‘white supremacist’ Iowa Rep. Steve King.’

    A prominent Australian academic and collaborator with Dr. Bob ‘Australia’s best demographer’ (according to Bob Carr/Sustainable Oz patron) Birrell, i.e. Dr Katherine Betts, had interviewed Raspail:

    ‘A propitious decision by The Social Contract Press to republish Jean Raspail’s prescient novel The Camp of the Saints has had long-lasting effect. It is the most popular title we handle, often assigned for college courses. In anticipation of that reprinting we asked Dr. Katharine Betts, during a visit to France, to arrange an interview with author Raspail. The result appeared in our Winter 1994-95 issue.’

    https://www.thesocialcontract.com/artman2/publish/tsc1504/article_1340.shtml

    The Social Contract Press was an idea of John Tanton (ZPG with Paul ‘Population Bomb’ Ehrlich and now expanded network of white nationalists):

    ‘The Social Contract Press (TSCP) routinely publishes race-baiting articles penned by white nationalists. The press is a program of U.S. Inc, the foundation created by John Tanton, the racist founder and principal ideologue of the modern nativist movement. TSCP puts an academic veneer of legitimacy over what are essentially racist arguments about the inferiority of today’s immigrants.’

    https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/social-contract-press

    Further, Tories and Brexit have been influenced in policies by the Ehrlich and Tanton linked Population Matters and worse, Migration Watch, the latter seemed to have influenced May’s ‘hostile environment’ for immigrants, and rent a quote for tabloids and Tory broadsheets.

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