America has a gun violence problem. It also has a problem with right-wing violence, and the two come together all too often in the form of massacres of nonwhites, LGBTQ people, and Jewish people. Given the trajectory of the country now, it’s only going to get worse over time. The recent mass shooting in Jacksonville, Florida, by a shooter carrying swastika-adorned guns, only serves to highlight the issue once again: The American right has a violence problem, and they’re in deep denial about it.
The United States has already missed the boat to limit violence by limiting access to guns. The gun control debate is effectively over: The Republican-appointed Supreme Court is whittling away what few restrictions on guns there are. This includes guaranteeing the rights of violent felons, domestic abusers under restraint orders, and the mentally ill to own assault rifles. Every time a massacre happens, Republican governors decide the solution is greater access to firearms via open carry and concealed carry without a permit.
Thus the only way to combat these sorts of politically motivated killings is to push back against the people letting them happen. Unfortunately, that would be lethal to almost any GOP politician, and as such they’re as likely to do so as Donald Trump is to announce that he’s giving away all his worldly possessions, taking a vow of silence and poverty, and becoming a monk.
Simultaneously, right-wing ideologies are behind the vast majority of politically motivated shootings. The Anti-Defamation League has tracked more than 450 politically motivated murders over the past decade. Right-wing extremists were responsible for 75 percent, and left-wing extremists were only responsible for 4 percent (which works out to three out of four, and one out of 25, respectively). These things are not the same, and attempts to equate them are among the worst of bothsidesism. (The remaining 21 percent is Islamic terrorism—18 percent—and uncategorized—3 percent.)
However, Republican leaders have convinced much of their base that it is in fact leftists who are responsible for the majority of politically motivated murders. Forty-seven percent of Republicans believe that the left is responsible for most political violence, when in reality it runs almost 19-to-1 in the opposite direction. To do this, they bend reality to their own ends, refusing to say things were racially motivated when they were, claiming that the shooters’ views weren’t aligned with the GOP as a whole, or engaging in fake whataboutism.
When presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy was asked about the Jacksonville shooter, he denied the existence of white supremacy, deflected to the Nashville shooter, who was transgender, and heavily implied that they did it for political reasons. He invoked the conspiracy theory that the unreleased writings of the Nashville shooter contained political leanings. He and his campaign have promoted this particular conspiracy theory for months.
These writing have not been released yet, based on the requests of the victims’ families. Police, and sources I have spoken with on condition of anonymity who have seen the writings, say that they are not political and are mostly admiration of previous mass killers and plans for how to attack the school. Tennessee Bureau of Investigations director David Rausch told local sheriffs that “the material finds that the killer did not write about specific political, religious, or social issues. In fact, a primary focus in the journals is on idolizing those who committed prior school shootings.”
It’s not just Ramaswamy, though. When Governor Ron DeSantis spoke about the Jacksonville violence, he looked like he’d rather be anywhere else. He called it “unacceptable,” but he made no mention of the broader implications of white supremacy. It wasn’t as bad as Trump calling the white supremacists at Charlottesville “very fine people,” but DeSantis’s silence was not so far removed from that. The GOP as a whole has gone to great lengths to lionize the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol on January 6 and turn Ashli Babbitt into their own Horst Wessel.
Perhaps the most maddening part of all of this is the GOP’s descent into framing crime and violence as completely legal activities. There have been over 1,000 people charged with crimes for storming the Capitol and smashing up the interior (plus urinating and defecating in lawmakers’ offices) on January 6 to overturn a lawful election. But to most of the Republican base, it is framed as Democrats turning peaceful protest into a crime, or the rioting is called “legitimate political discourse.”
This follows the same pattern as Trump proclaiming he did nothing wrong when, for example, he “asked” Georgia Governor Brian Kemp in a phone conversation to find him 12,000 votes, because phone calls are legal. This is pure sophistry; one could make the same argument for James Fields (who ran over Heather Heyer with his car and killed her in Charlottesville) by noting that driving a car is legal and why are Democrats trying to make it illegal to drive a car? This completely ignores what Fields did with said car while driving it, much as it ignores what Trump was trying to do with his phone call and what rioters in the Capitol were attempting to pull off.
Trump himself is no stranger to advocating violence. He has called for the beating of protesters at his rallies, for using the “Second Amendment” to deal with Supreme Court justices who issue rulings conservatives don’t like, and he wanted to use the National Guard to shoot protesters and immigrants and bomb Mexico. And he is of course accused in federal court of inciting the events of January 6. Trump is still up by 35 points in the GOP primary polls; barring something completely unforeseen, he will be the Republican nominee in 2024.
The GOP base itself is constantly primed for violence by both politicians and social media influencers. Consider Matt Walsh and Chaya Raichik (a.k.a. “Libs of TikTok”), who publish a steady stream of agitprop against schools and medical facilities that support LGBTQ youth. Almost without fail, whatever institutions they target are deluged with bomb threats. One school just outside Tulsa has been targeted for six straight days after its librarian was the subject of one of Raichik’s posts. Making this worse was that Oklahoma state Schools Superintendent Ryan Walters (a Republican) shared Raichik’s post. Though Walsh and Raichik claim that they have nothing to do with the bomb threats, they are almost surely the result of their actions.
One possible way to at least try to slow down right-wing violence would be if law enforcement agencies took the threat seriously and were willing to clamp down on it. However, the FBI has known for almost two decades that U.S. law enforcement has been infiltrated by far-right extremists and extremist organizations. Many in law enforcement are sympathetic to far-right organizations, and some actively coordinate with them. We saw this on video as police palled around with Kyle Rittenhouse right before he gunned two people down in Kenosha, Wisconsin. White supremacy is a unifying thread through these stories of police ties to right-wing militias and hate groups. Even the Secret Service, which requires full lifestyle polygraphs, has coordinated with the far-right Oath Keepers group. Expecting law enforcement to protect against right-wing violence is a bit like putting the fox in charge of guarding the chicken coop.
All of this adds up to a dangerous situation. Assault rifles and ammunition are readily available to everyone. The Republican base is convinced that leftists are the real threat of violence and political repression, despite the massive quantitative evidence to the contrary. GOP leadership downplays violence, glorifies it, or blames it on “those people” when convenient. The de facto leader of the conservative movement is a big fan of violence and has a pattern of inciting it. Law enforcement is permeated with links to right-wing extremist groups. There’s a federal election coming up, and Trump is facing jail time if he doesn’t win. If he is defeated, he will be in a position where he has nothing to lose from inciting more violence: Either his scheme succeeds and he avoids prison, or it fails and he spends the rest of his life there regardless of how many new charges are added.
We are going to see more stochastic political violence regardless of what happens with the election. It is a foregone conclusion. Too many deluded, angry people with guns being egged on by conservative media and leadership, constantly being told “those people” are destroying “their country,” means that the pace of such violence will only continue. The bigger question, to my mind, is if, and when, does this metastasize into something more directed?