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Connor Betts, the alleged Dayton, Ohio, shooter, had left-wing political views, believed in socialism, supported Elizabeth Warren's candidacy, and regularly inveighed on Twitter against various personages on the right (including, it turns out, me).

This has some conservatives fuming that liberal media is conveniently ignoring the progressive ideology of one shooter while obsessing over the far-right ideology of another--Patrick Crusius, who posted an anti-immigrant manifesto shortly before police say he murdered 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso.

Sorry, but the comparison doesn't wash.

The Dayton victims did not fit any political or ethnic profile: They were black and white, male and female, an immigrant from Eritrea and Betts' own sister. Crusius' victims, overwhelmingly Hispanic, did: They were the objects of his expressly stated political rage.

What happened in Ohio was a mass shooting in the mold of the Las Vegas massacre: victims at random, motives unknown. What happened in Texas was racist terrorism in the mold of Oslo, Charleston, Pittsburgh, Christchurch and Poway.

The former attack vaguely implicates the "dark psychic force" that Marianne Williamson spoke of in last week's Democratic debates. The latter directly implicates the immigrant-bashing xenophobic right led by Donald Trump.

Conservatives have cited the decline of civil society, the effects of the de-institutionalization of the mentally ill, the paucity of prayer and the ubiquity of violent video games--in sum, the breakdown of "the culture"--as explanations for mass shootings. This is the right-wing equivalent of the left's idea that poverty and climate change are at the root of terrorism: causes so general that they explain everything, hence nothing. Why not also blame Friedrich Nietzsche and the death of God?

Get real: The right's attempt to downplay the specifically ideological context of the El Paso massacre is a transparently self-serving attempt to absolve the president of moral responsibility for his demagogic rhetoric. This, too, shouldn't wash. The president is guilty, in a broad sense, of a form of incitement.

No, Trump did not specifically incite anyone to violence, as characters like Yasser Arafat once did. ("To Jerusalem we march, martyrs by the millions!") He will not, as Palestinian leaders still do, offer financial rewards to the families of terrorists. His scripted condemnation Monday of white supremacy was, at least, a condemnation.

But incitement takes many forms. In June 2018, Trump tweeted the following: "Democrats are the problem. They don't care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13. They can't win on their terrible policies, so they view them as potential voters!"

The tweet is significant precisely because it is almost forgotten. It does not even rank in a top 10 list of Trumpian outrages. Yet it's all there: The imputation of bad faith to his political opponents. The conspiracy theory about "potential voters." The sneaking conflation of immigrants in the country illegally with violent gang members.

And the language of infestation. In the early 1990s, Hutu propagandists in Rwanda spoke of the Tutsi as "cockroaches." The word served as a preamble to the 1994 genocide in which over half a million people died.

In today's America, the dissemination of the idea, via the bully pulpit of the presidency, that we are not merely being strained or challenged by immigrants in the country illegally, but invaded and infested, predicated the slaughter in El Paso.

It's worth noting that the Walmart massacre is, as far as I know, the first large-scale anti-Hispanic terrorist attack in the United States in living memory. On current trend, it will surely not be the last or the worst. The language of infestation inevitably suggests the "solution" of extermination. As for the cliche that sensible people are supposed to take Trump seriously but not literally, it looks like Patrick Crusius didn't get that memo.

The main task for Democrats over the next 15 months won't be to convince America that they need yet another health-care reinvention, or that the economy is a mess, or that the system is rigged, or that the right response to Trump's immigration demagoguery is an open border. It's that the president is a disgrace to his office, an insult to our dignity, a threat to our Union, and a danger to our safety.


Bret Stephens is a New York Times columnist.

Editorial on 08/09/2019

Print Headline: Conservative denial


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  • 23cal
    August 9, 2019 at 7:20 a.m.

    False equivalency is the right wing mantra.

    August 9, 2019 at 9:22 a.m.

    Waiting for BSC ABB to blame video games and anti-depressants again.

  • SeanJohn
    August 9, 2019 at 4:30 p.m.

    Racial comparison. No. But, that doesn’t mean the Dayton shooter wasn’t inspired by an ideology. This shooter was pro socialist and pro more government control (e.g. gun control. This socialist was so fanatical that he was willing to shoot up a night life area in order to bring his cause to the forefront of everyone’s mind. And, he succeeded. Make no mistake about it, he used guns and killing in hopes of bringing about more gun control. Brilliant. Sick, but brilliant.

  • SeanJohn
    August 9, 2019 at 4:33 p.m.

    This was a more perverted example/version of what Jussie Smollet attempted, but failed to do. How do you bring about awareness to something like racism and indiscriminate shootings... you become the player. Well played Dayton shooter. Well played.