We are living in very sick times. But make no mistake—the group that is most obsessed with violence, that worships firearms, defends gun rights to no end and fantasizes about civil strife, is the far right.
By late Sunday, everyone across America who had a TV or internet connection had heard about the latest mass gun-led slaughter. This time it was in a church in Texas. Twenty-six people were killed and more may die from critical injuries. The gunman, as the Washington Post reported Monday, was not just a military veteran dishonorably discharged because of a history of domestic abuse. Apparently, his mother-in-law attended the targeted church.
The reaction from Texas Republican politicians was what you would expect—they said more people should have carried guns into church, as if that would have ended the carnage. President Trump said the tragedy had nothing to do with guns. InfoWars said the shooter was denied a gun permit, to raise the tired NRA talking point that only the good people legally access weapons.
Why bring up InfoWars, one of the most irresponsible and repulsive right-wing propagandist sites at a serious moment like this? Because as America lurches from one crisis to the next, as has been going on for weeks now (hurricanes, fires, nuclear war threats, health care repeal, another mass shooting, and now this), we shouldn’t forget what far right crazies were hoping would happen this past weekend: They were eagerly anticipating a different conflagration.
Saturday was supposed to be the start of another apocalyptic showdown that was the secular far right’s domestic version of modern end times. As the leftist anti-war group Refuse Fascism was planning rallies in blue cities and states across America, the far right went nuts, telling all who saw their online messaging to get out their guns and get ready.
As the Washington Post noted last Wednesday—which might as well be a light year away in today’s saturation crisis news environment—“Infowars has warned ‘Antifa Plans “Civil War” to Overthrow the Government.’ The John Birch Society put out two recent videos warning Americans to ‘stay home and tell your children to do likewise’ on Saturday. YouTuber ‘A Glock Fanboy’ notched more than 400,400 views for a clip raising the alarm about ‘the first day of the revolution or whatnot.'”
The report continued, “’Honestly, I’m happy,’ the YouTuber told his followers. ‘Dude, we’ve been on the verge of the great war for what seems like forever and I’m just ready to get it going.’”
Skip the fact—yes, fact—there was a hashtag, “#civilwar2017,” and instead focus on the “ready to get it going” fantasy.
What separates the Sutherland Springs shooter from these far right yahoos? He was more than ready to get it going, obviously, and as the Post and other mainstream media reported, imposing his will by violence had long been his practice—just not on this scale, shooting dozens instead of targeting more solitary domestic victims.
The answer to what separates those who fantasize about violence and those who pull the trigger is thin. In the Trump era, the already thin skin of civilized behavior has been stretched to a tearing, if not breaking, point. People may say America has always been violent, and that’s true. But each era has its dark side and last weekend showcased it.
In the Post’s report last week on the anticipated Antifa conflagration, which didn’t happen, it quoted YouTube clips that went viral:
“The end game here is martial law,” one video warns, “is provoking Republicans, patriots, whatever, you and me, into this huge battle, whether it’s just fighting or whether it’s guns. What they will do is they will throw up their arms and say, ‘I told you so, they’re violent’….They want us out there, with our weapons so the government will commence with martial law. And then, I believe, serious gun control-slash-confiscation.”
The Post report continued:
“Make sure you got enough ammo, make sure your guns are ready,” another poster advised in a clip with more than 110,000 views. “You have to understand these are vicious, vicious people. Your life means nothing to them. In fact, if you’re a white man, you don’t deserve to live.” Infowars provocateur Alex Jones announced in a video that antifa was “going to lose on November 4 and every day after that, because they’re a bunch of meth-head pieces of crap.”
This swarm of messaging is vile and repugnant, a sick fantasyland where too many people are anticipating and embracing armed conflict, or using their cloistered microphones and online platforms to urge others to be ready to be violent and shoot first. This is the new normal in Trump’s America and it’s not good.
While healthier and saner people grimace over the country’s latest mass shooting, and wring their hands over what we all know will be no meaningful federal response via new gun controls, we have to acknowledge what’s happening in America. Violence is growing in our cultural and political vocabulary. News reports keep battering the public with one crisis after another. What’s missing? Restraint. Voices of reason. Perspective. Knowing the difference between dark fantasy and tragic realities. What is the difference between the far right’s provocateurs and the Sutherland Springs shooter? Very little. Just stepping out and squeezing the trigger.
Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).