EL PASO, TEXAS - AUGUST 06: A woman touches a cross at a makeshift memorial for victims outside Walmart, near the scene of a mass shooting which left at least 22 people dead, on August 6, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. A 21-year-old white male suspect remains in custody in El Paso, which sits along the U.S.-Mexico border. President Donald Trump plans to visit the city August 7. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) ***BETSPIX***
Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images
Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

'If you see something, say something' should apply to white supremacists, too

The 2,300-word “manifesto” believed to have been written by the young man responsible for the massacre in El Paso on Saturday is not a rant. It is not a screed.

However twisted, it is a relatively cogent description of a belief system that justifies mass murder in the name of race and ethnicity. “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” reads the second sentence in the document entitled “The Inconvenient Truth About Me.”

Some omissions are worth noting. African-Americans are not referenced directly – only immigrants and brown people. More important, God receives only two lower-case mentions. Once as a curse. And that struck a chord with me.

In late 2015, ISIS was at the height its geographic reach in the Middle East, stretching toward Baghdad in Iraq and eating up much of northern Syria. On the internet, young American Muslims were being targeted by Islamic state recruiters. One Georgia teenager had taken the bait and was caught trying to enter Syria.

Earlier in the year, a 24-year-old American Muslim had shot and killed four U.S. Marines and a sailor at a Navy reserve facility in Chattanooga. That December, FBI Director James Comey and his agency had finally concluded that Mohammad Abdulazeez had been “motivated by foreign terrorist organization propaganda.”

And so on New Year’s Day in 2016, I was at Masjid al Furqan — West Cobb Islamic Center to hear Arshad Anwar, an imam from Roswell. Anwar was a practiced debunker of radical ideology, and had developed a lecture on how parents could keep their teenagers from falling for the darkness offered via social media.

Federal law enforcement authorities now say white nationalists on the internet are using the same jihadist tactics now that Anwar warned against three years ago.

Both promise an ideal society achieved through violent martyrdom. “Purity” — whether racial or religious — is a mutual goal. Forbidden viral videos are a common tool. ISIS had its beheadings. White nationalists now have the Christchurch, New Zealand, shooter with a helmet camera.

One thing in particular that Anwar told the congregants three years ago has stuck with me. “The targets are people who don’t know much about their religion, converts who have problem with their parents or friends at home,” the imam said. They were the ones most easily talked into blasphemy.

The established religions of white America deserve no pass when it comes to matters of race or ethnicity. But they do express ideals that, if adhered to, can serve as guardrails. So can family. And the right friends.

The El Paso shooter’s guardrails — the foundations of his personal theology — apparently were “The Great Replacement,” a 2017 book alleging “white genocide,” and perhaps Thanos from the “Avengers” movie series. “If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable,” the shooter allegedly wrote.

But there is an important difference between what we’re facing now, and what those at Masjid al Furqan were dealing with in 2016.

We like to say that we don’t believe in collective guilt, but the people in that mosque understood that a single off-kilter young man — or woman — who digested the wrong kind of internet tripe could put their entire Cobb County community at risk. Such was the hostility and suspicion they were faced with.

On Monday, after denouncing white supremacy, President Donald Trump said his administration had “asked the FBI to identify all further resources they need to investigate and disrupt hate crimes and domestic terrorism.” One tool would be to make domestic terrorism an actual federal crime. Foreknowledge of a violent event would then create accomplices who could be charged.

Patrick Crusius (FBI)
Photo: FBI/TNS

“In the same way that honorable members of mosques report people who express violent designs, so, too, should people report violent white nationalists to the police,” Rod Rosenstein, the former deputy U.S. attorney general, told the New York Times.

That approach would require congressional action — which grows more unlikely as 2020 approaches. But there might be something to that end that doesn’t require Congress’ approval.

In the past, one reaction to these mass murders has been to consign the evil-doer to anonymity. The perpetrators have been engaged in a macabre game of one-upsmanship, the theory goes. Refuse them their infamy, and you deprive them of a motive.

I get that. But I also wonder if, by disappearing these men — and so they nearly always are — we are also hiding them away in a metaphorical attic, sparing the community that surrounded them the uncomfortable burden of wondering what it might have done to identify and stop them.

The alleged killer of 22 shoppers at a Walmart in El Paso on Saturday has been identified as 21-year-old Patrick Crusius of Allen, Texas.

That information is not a matter of collective guilt, but collective responsibility. Texas authorities are now pointing to a Lubbock woman who turned in another young man — her homicidal-suicidal grandson — last month.

The real inconvenient truth about Crusius is that “if you see something, say something” shouldn’t just apply to people with immigrant roots. It should apply to those around murderous white nationalists, too.

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About the Author

Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.