This past weekend, the first of two mass shootings occurred when a man who feared a “Hispanic invasion of Texas” was replacing white Americans opened fire in a Walmart in El Paso, killing 22 and wounding dozens of others. This incident was the most recent example of the trend of domestic terrorism being carried out by white nationalists.
Here are five facts you should know about this ideologically motivated crime:
1. White-nationalist terrorism is a form of domestic terrorism that is carried out by those who espouse a white nationalist ideology. White nationalism is a political view that merges nationalism (i.e., devotion to the interests or culture of a particular nation-state) with white identity (i.e., the belief that white people have interests in common based on race that must be defended). White nationalists are racial separatists who believe that to preserve the white race, other racial groups must be excluded or marginalized in “white states” (i.e., countries or regions that have historically had majority-white populations). White nationalists are frequently concerned about miscegenation and nonwhite immigration because it contributes to what they consider to be “white genocide” (i.e., the replacement of the “white race” by other racial groups). The terms white nationalist and “alt-right” are frequently used as synonyms—such as in the 2017 SBC resolution “On the Anti-Gospel of Alt-Right White Supremacy”—since they both espouse white identity. (In rebutting these beliefs, Christians must be careful not to reduce them all to mere “white supremacy.” It’s natural to a want to use that term and apply it to the entirety of an evil movement. Because of the long, despicable history of white supremacy in America, that term retains considerable cultural weight. But if we imply that the problem with the movement is only the elements of racial superiority, then those on the alt-right who can effectively avoid that charge will be let off the hook.)
2. Domestic terrorism is defined in federal law as an act that occurs primarily within the jurisdiction of the United States that is dangerous to human life and that is a violation of the criminal laws of a state or the U.S., if the act appears to be intended to: (i) intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping. Despite this definition being included in the U.S. legal code, there is no specific federal law against domestic terrorism. (On Tuesday, the FBI Agents Association, which represents more than 14,000 active and former bureau agents, called on Congress to make domestic terrorism a federal crime.) Acts such as those carried out in El Paso would normally be prosecuted under federal hate crimes and firearms charges. A bill introduced by Congressional Democrats in March, the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2019 would, “authorize dedicated domestic terrorism offices within the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to analyze and monitor domestic terrorist activity and require the Federal Government to take steps to prevent domestic terrorism.”
3. White-nationalist terrorism is a transnational movement that appears to be on the rise in the U.S. Last month FBI Director Christopher Wray said his agency has made about 100 domestic terrorism-related arrests since October 2018, and the majority were connected to white nationalism. Wray’s predecessor, former FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe, told CNN on Monday that there is "a very alarming connection between domestic terrorist attacks here in the United States and domestic terrorist attacks abroad," and that, "It's not uncommon to see attackers referencing [other attackers abroad] in their manifesto." In his four-page online manifesto, the El Paso shooter referenced the terror attack in New Zealand in March by a white nationalist that killed dozens of Muslims.
4. In the past, many acts of white-nationalist terrorism were connected to white supremacists organizations, such as the Ku Klux Klan or neo-Nazis groups. Increasingly, though, the acts are carried out by people who associate online, especially on websites that host user-generated message boards such as 8chan and 4chan. The El Paso shooter, for example, announced his killing spree on 8chan’s /pol board just prior to the attack. He also attached a four-page manifesto to his post, along with a document that included his real name. “The most important takeaways from the El Paso shooting are twofold,” says journalist Robert Evans, “(1) 8chan’s /pol board continues to deliberately radicalize mass shooters. (2) The act of massacring innocents has been gamified.” Studies have shown that sites like 8chan encourage “copycat” terrorism. As the FBI warned on Sunday, “U.S.-based domestic violent extremists could become inspired by these and previous high-profile attacks to engage in similar acts of violence.” A Florida man was arrested that same day after allegedly calling a Walmart near Tampa and telling an employee he was minutes away from the store and planned to shoot it up. The local sheriff said the would-be terrorist “was intrigued with the shootings over the last couple of days.”
5. In a recent article on “White Nationalist Terrorism and the Gospel,” ERLC President Russell Moore said,
White nationalism is not just another ideology, in a world filled with competing opinions. White nationalism is a manifestation of an ancient evil that we as Christians, of all people, ought to recognize immediately. White nationalism emerges from what the Bible calls “the way of the flesh.” This is a form of idolatry that exalts one’s own creaturely attributes, making a god out of, for instance, one’s ancestral origins or one’s tribal culture.
This is not incidental to the gospel of Jesus Christ, but is precisely what the gospel everywhere in the Bible confronts and condemns.