The horrific nature of the mass shootings over the past weekend and the unmistakable aim outlined in the El Paso shooter’s manifesto forced President Trump to make an uncharacteristic condemnation of white supremacy.
But efforts to reframe the tragedy to serve a far-right agenda can already be seen at the fringes of the political and media ecosystem.
On Tuesday, Trump addressed the nation in the lower-register voice and scripted platitudes he uses when a national tragedy requires him to say something comforting and unifying. He will undoubtedly revert to scapegoating, rage, division and insult in campaign speeches and on Twitter once the nation’s attention turns elsewhere.
“In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” the president intoned in his official address. “These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America.”
What he did not do is take responsibility for stoking the hate that rained a fusillade of bullets at Walmart in El Paso on Aug. 3, snuffing out 22 lives, including eight Mexican nationals.
The shooter used the word “invaders” or “invasion” to refer to people coming across the southern border to the United States seven times in the four-page manifesto posted to 8chan minutes before the attack. Notably, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter condemned a Jewish refugee assistance agency for bringing in “invaders” in his last post on Gab before he killed 11 people in October 2018.
Trump has used the words “invaders” and “invasion” over and over again during campaign speeches and tweets since he made fear of the migrant caravan the centerpiece of his efforts to thwart Democratic gains in the 2018 election.
During a rally in Grand Rapids, Mich. in March, Trump told his supporters: “We’re on track for a million illegal aliens trying to rush our borders. It is an invasion, you know that?”
In contrast to the El Paso shooter, the atrocity committed by his counterpart in Dayton — another young, white man, who left a body count of nine — does not easily yield political meaning. He was well known to his former classmates in the Dayton suburb of Bellbrook, who recalled that he drew up a “rape list.”
Toxic masculinity? Check. And the fact that his younger sister was among the victims suggests profound nihilism. But white nationalism, not so much. In fact, the Dayton shooter reportedly described himself as a “leftist” on Twitter and expressed approval towards antifascism and left political standard-bearers Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
He was also a member of a band that performed pornogrind, a metal genre that specializes in gruesome, sexually explicit and satirical lyrics.
On Monday, the right-wing provocateur-slash-journalist Andy Ngo tweeted that the “the black metal antifa band Neckbeard Deathcamp tweeted (then deleted) that the Ohio shooter was a member of the band.”
Will Carless, a respected investigative reporter with Reveal, replied, “This is untrue,” while inviting Ngo to read the band’s Twitter timeline. “Then delete and correct this,” Carless added. “That’s called ‘journalism.’”
Ngo’s profile rose exponentially last month when he was milkshaked and repeatedly punched in the face by a group of left-wing activists in Portland, Ore. His journalistic work to date consists of a highly questionable claim that Muslim immigrants in England have created “no-go zones,” attempts to expose hate crimes as hoaxes and “exposing what he sees as the underreported violence of antifa,” according to a report by Shane Burley.
On Tuesday, the New York Post published an op-ed piece by Ngo entitled, “Dayton shooter may be antifa’s first mass killer.”
Whether Ngo’s work qualifies as journalism or not shouldn’t be debated. Any person who collects facts and presents them in a narrative is a journalist. It’s not a licensed profession. Whether it’s good journalism or bad journalism is another question.
Prior to the El Paso and Dayton shootings, US Rep. Mark Walker, who represents Greensboro, posed for a photo with Ngo, while announcing a resolution “condemning antifa’s violence and engagement in domestic terrorism,” and accusing “antifa” of “attacks without equivocation at our First Amendment.”
The breathtakingly narrow tailoring of Walker’s resolution ignores the fact that violence against journalists goes far beyond “antifa”; significantly, a Trump supporter attacked a journalist during the Orlando rally. Also, “antifa” has yet to kill anyone (Ngo’s speculation about the Dayton shooter’s motives notwithstanding), while the FBI acknowledges that the far right and white nationalists are responsible for the highest share by far of domestic-terrorist violence in recent years.
Following up on the apparently jesting tweet that the Dayton shooter was a member of the band, the administrator of the Neckbeard Deathcamp account offered an explanation, showing strikingly more self-reflection than the president of the United States.
“I did not know Conner Betts [sic] personally, but the Midwest grind scene isn’t large and we [spent] a lot of time pushing pornogrind out of Chicago DIY,” they wrote. “For what it’s worth, men who cape hardline left politics who still treat women like shit are not exactly a new invention. It’s a monumentally larger problem than just this one dude, and disassembling it requires more than just patting ourselves on the back for booting scene rapists from shows until they move to another city.”