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When a 28-year old white supremacist murdered 50 Muslims as they gathered for Friday prayers in Christchurch, New Zealand, many right-wing politicians and media figures recoiled in horror—and almost immediately began trying to weasel out of any responsibility for decades of stoking anti-Muslim revenge fantasies. Since the 9/11 attacks, there has been an unspoken understanding that anything we do to the terrorists is justified, because they’ve been brainwashed by bloodthirsty zealots who pray for the destruction of the West. The massacre in Christchurch has forced the right to grapple with their responsibility for creating such an Islamophobic world, and to nobody’s great surprise, they’re trying to cover it up.
But it’s impossible to wage war against “radical Islam” for almost 20 years—and to frame this as a defense of our fundamental values—without conveying the implicit message that violence against Muslims is, if not exactly justified, then at least understandable. This is what the right has been mumbling under its breath since the turn of the century. Now they have been exposed, and the evidence is damning. Still, it would be ludicrous to expect the right to care (or, even more unlikely, to change).
Instead, the right is employing the Panicked Squid Defense: Spewing a vast number of obfuscatory storylines onto the internet is an attempt to confuse and distract the public until we all throw up our hands, say that it’s complicated, and go back to feeling hopeless and annoyed. Luckily for them, the aftermath of a tragedy like the Christchurch shooting is quite conducive to such a strategy, as the narrative offers an endless number of nooks and crannies into which the unwary reader can be led.
By luring the left into fighting an endless number of semantic skirmishes (ex. the finer points of firearm terminology, the proper phrasing of a condolence tweet, the tone of a young activist’s voice), the right hopes to avoid a reckoning with its well-documented support for the Christchurch shooter’s worldview. They don’t want you to spend too much time thinking about how the shooter’s contempt for the idea that “diversity is our strength” reads like it could’ve been taken almost verbatim from Tucker Carlson’s book. They don’t want you to see any connection between the shooter saying, “we must deal with both the invaders within our lands and the invaders that seek to enter our lands,” and Donald Trump saying, “people hate the word ‘invasion,’ but that’s what it is,” at an Oval Office event where he insisted that immigration has created a national emergency. They want you focused on fights that, even if you win, will only matter to niche communities on social media.
If we don’t fall into that trap, the Christchurch massacre could force the West to take a long, critical look at the stories it has been telling itself about Islam—and to take action against the people and institutions (both conservative and liberal) who’ve used those stories to excuse the murder, torture, and starvation of millions of Muslims. Opportunities like this don’t come along often, and when they do, it’s usually only in the wake of a hideous tragedy. This is to say: We need to do this properly.
The right is going to bombard us with a thousand types of rotten takes over the next several weeks. Three of them in particular are worth watching out for, because they’re more persuasive and/or effective than most.
I Have So Many Feelings Right Now
As seen in: National Review’s “After Christchurch Mosque Attacks, Combat Evil With Love” by Kathryn Jean Lopez
Lopez truly believes what she’s saying, this much is clear. What isn’t clear is what the fuck she’s actually saying. The tone is set in her first paragraph, which includes this memorable phrase:
“The blood of those who were murdered cries out for our hearts to be poured out in love— including in prayer—wherever we are in the world.”
Lopez is ostensibly writing about love…but love of whom, exactly? She claims to have “[wept] to God in love for those people I have never met,” yet she doesn’t seem the slightest bit interested in who those people actually were.
In a story about 50 Muslims being murdered by a white supremacist, Lopez doesn’t bother to mention the religion of the people who were murdered, or why someone decided to murder them (nor how many of them died). She doesn’t say the name of a single victim. She doesn’t say the names of their mosques. She doesn’t (and this is almost impressive) use the words “Muslim” or “Islam” even once.
She does, however, find the space to mention “the martyrdom of Fr. Jacques Hamel,” a French priest who was killed by two Muslim men claiming allegiance to ISIS (the link she uses goes to an article titled, “Father Jacques Hamel, Europe’s first 21st-century martyr”). Apropos of nothing, she also takes the opportunity to inform readers that counter-terrorism police once inspected the cathedral she attends as she waited for Confession. And in a moment of deep piety, she quotes a prayer from St. Aelred about the death of Jesus: “he was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and like a lamb before the shearers he kept silent, and did not open his mouth. Who could listen to that wonderful prayer…. and hesitate to embrace his enemies with overflowing love?”
A painful thing has happened, and Lopez feels that pain in its most vague and shapeless sense. Events have occurred, and they’ve made her reconsider What Really Matters. She’s had enough of the violence and hate and intolerance, and she’s ready to “take action,” which in this case means “begging God for His continued mercy on our world with so much of its misery.” Has her faith been strengthened? Has she realized that our differences are not so important after all? Dear reader, how did you guess?
Lopez’s story is one of the more spectacularly egregious examples of the “I’m Having So Many Feelings Right Now” subtype, but they all contain similar themes. A disregard for the proportions of violence is one of them: Lopez’s reference to Fr. Hamel’s murder (the only victim whose name is written) is meant to deflect attention from the Muslims who were killed at Christchurch and redirect it to someone Lopez finds more sympathetic. A preoccupation with one’s own personal journey of discovery is another: For Lopez, “the brutality of what happened in New Zealand” is simply a backdrop for her own realization that people need to pray more. The very first sentence of Lopez’s piece says it all—“My soul is forlorn.” Her focus is entirely on herself, and just because she uses the word “love” a lot does not make her underlying selfishness any less ugly.
Pieces like this are dangerous for two reasons. First, they’re read very differently by people on the right and left. People on the left will read this and think, “This woman obviously does not give a shit about the murder of Muslims.” People on the right will read it and think, “Wow, she’s really bared her soul—she’s right, we should pray more!” As a result, she appears either so cynical or so inoffensive that both her critics and supporters are primed for battle.
In the end, we end up focusing more on her hypocrisy than the real problem she’s trying to hide: The right is perfectly fine with violence against Muslims.
Check Out That Motherfucker
As seen in: Daily Wire’s “Australian Right-Wing Senator Slammed for Vile Response to Mosque Shooting” by Ashe Schow
Fraser Anning, better known as the racist politician who was hit with an egg, is a genuine piece of shit. While paramedics were still searching for bodies in the aftermath of the Christchurch massacre, this is what the Australian senator told the media in a statement:
The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to immigrate to New Zealand in the first place. Let us be clear: while Muslims may have been the victims today, usually they are the perpetrators.
This is not-a-very-big-step away from Anning openly saying he was glad someone shot a bunch of Muslims. To strain any plausible deniability even further, he then tweeted, “Does anyone still dispute the link between Muslim immigration and violence?” At the time of this writing, he hasn’t yet pulled the hijab off an old woman’s head and pushed her in front of a bus, but all signs indicate that he’s probably thinking about it.
That’s why it means absolutely fuck-all that the Daily Wire pretends to disapprove of Anning’s Islamophobia. Remember that its editor-in-chief is Ben Shapiro, who once claimed that 800 million Muslims were radicalized (i.e., terrorists), and that “Arabs like to bomb things and live in open sewage.” It’s also worth pointing out that, aside from the headline, there’s little actual criticism directed at Anning, aside from a few mentions of him as a victim-blamer.
In fact, the snippets of Anning’s statement that are scattered throughout the article seem chosen to elicit sympathy for the senator. For example, consider the following paragraph:
Anning goes on to say that the “left-wing politicians and media” will attack gun laws or nationalists for the shooting, calling it “cliched nonsense.” The real cause, according to Anning, is New Zealand’s immigration policies that have allowed “Muslim fanatics” to enter the country.
The vast majority of Daily Wire readers will scan that paragraph, pick out words like “left-wing politicians” and “gun laws” and “Muslim fanatics” and conclude that Anning is a straight shooter with a bit of a wild side. An asshole, maybe—but an honest one. Obviously, he pushes the anti-Muslim rhetoric a little too far, and he’ll probably have to apologize, but…
Much like Steve King, the American senator from Iowa who wondered why white nationalism has such a bad rap, Anning is an indispensable gift to the right. He acts like a sponge, soaking up criticism for anti-Muslim attitudes. Anyone on the right who isn’t an actual Nazi can look at him, say, “fuck that guy,” and become a liberal darling. Meanwhile, they can continue believing the same things he believes and promoting the same goals that he promotes.
Technically, The Killer Prefers to Consider Himself a ____________
As seen in: Breitbart’s “New Zealand Shooter Hopes for U.S. Civil War: ‘Conservatism is Dead, Thank God’” by Allum Bokhari
Don’t be impressed by the right’s willingness to call out their own—they don’t really mean it, and it doesn’t matter anyway.
Did you know Hitler was a socialist? Did you know slavery was the Democrats’ idea? No? Then you’ll be blown away by the revelations found in the shooter’s manifesto.
Our story begins with a tasteful bit of ass-coverage: The reader is informed that the manifesto itself “will not be linked to here,” ostensibly because of journalistic ethics about amplifying the voice of a mass murderer. Fortunately, Bokhari is on hand to interpret this dangerous and inscrutable document for us, as a medieval priest might interpret the heavens for his illiterate flock.
It’s a tough job. The shooter “appears to ascribe to a number of ideologies,” according to Bokhari, who says:
The document is riddled with white nationalist talking points, and the shooter describes himself as a “fascist.” He also castigates Muslims as “the most despised group of invaders in the west.‘
Yet elsewhere in the document, the shooter describes himself as a socialist, “depending on the definition.” The shooter also declares his support for “environmentalism,” “worker’s rights,” and “responsible markets.”
The shooter’s psyche appears quite complex indeed. In fact, the only thing he appears to not identify as is conservative (as gleefully noted in the headline). Bokhari says that “the shooter disparages conservatism and declines to identify with it.” According to Bokhari, he hates conservatives because they’re not racist enough, which might be why he tried to smear conservative pundit Candace Owens by claiming her as an inspiration.
From Bokhari’s interpretation, which is helpfully supported by many quotations from the manifesto (though most of them are curiously short), it’s easy for the reader to conclude that the shooter was hostile to right wing values and rather promiscuous about almost everything else. There’s no link between the shooter’s obsession with falling Western birthrates and the right’s obsession with increasing immigration, and his nostalgia for traditional gender roles and family structures is, clearly, nothing like the right’s nostalgia for the exact same thing.
Yet if one reads the shooter’s manifesto without Bokhari’s assistance, some confusing discrepancies emerge. For example, when the shooter asks himself a rhetorical question about supporting socialism, his full answer is, ”It depends on who those workers are, their intents, who currently owns the means of production, their intents and who currently owns the state, and its intents.”
Socialism, by definition, does not ask those questions. Support for workers doesn’t depend on their race—socialism is antiracist. Opposition to oligarchs doesn’t depend on their niceness—socialism is egalitarian. And no matter who owns the state, if they oppose either of those things, they’re not socialists.
So it appears that in reality the shooter is not much of a socialist either. But is he an environmentalist? Again, Bokhari’s attempts to paint him as such don’t hold up to scrutiny. Consider the following from the manifesto:
For too long we have allowed the left to co-opt the environmentalist movement to serve their own needs. The left has controlled all discussion regarding environmental preservation whilst simultaneously presiding over the continued destruction of the natural environment itself through mass immigration and uncontrolled urbanization.
Read in its entirety, the shooter’s attitude toward the environment is undeniably conservative, with echoes of the “blood and soil” philosophy favored by ecofascists like Nazi agriculture minister Richard Walter Darré. Like all ecofascists, the shooter is more worried about hordes of unwashed “invaders” tainting the pastoral beauty of some mythic European heartland than he is about rising sea levels and changing weather patterns. But preferring the smell of flowers to the smell of garbage doesn’t make someone an environmentalist.
There’s no mystery why pieces like Bokhari’s exist: Nobody wants to be associated with a murderer who killed 50 people as they sat down to pray. It must be jarring to realize that the killer’s worldview is essentially the same as your own, just dialed up a notch or two.
That’s why it’s so important to maintain plausible deniability. Like most right-wing outlets, Breitbart has never published an article titled “Why It’s Fine to Kill Muslims.” But look at some of the articles they have published recently: “Mentally Disabled Christian Beaten by Muslim Mob in Pakistan,” “Expert: Media Downplay Islamic Slaughter of Nigerian Christians,” or “Iran Commander: All of Israel Within Missile Reach.” The message doesn’t have to be said directly to be clear—Muslims are violent maniacs who want you to die.
Going further back into the Breitbart archives provides a tidy snapshot of what conservatives think about Islam. Every article primes the revenge-pump: stories like “Cry Freedom! Saudi Ex-Muslim in Canada Hopes Her Experience Inspires Others” and “Christian Converts from Islam Regularly ‘Bullied’ In Netherlands” all serve to cultivate an idea of Islam as a violent cult (and the West as a refuge from it, albeit a vulnerable one). Other articles encourage the reader to imagine potentially grisly self-defense scenarios, like, “Imam Who Converted to Christianity: My Own Family Wanted to Kill Me” or “Man Killed Sister’s Boyfriend ‘Because He Was French and Non-Muslim.’” It’s not that these stories didn’t necessarily happen (although many didn’t, or at least not as sensationally described), but that these are the stories Breitbart chooses to amplify about Muslims, and to usually ignore when the perpetrators are white men. (And remember, there are few if any “moderate” Muslims and terror is “an expression of mainstream Muslim values,” so “How do we know which of our co-workers and neighbors aren’t bloody jihadists in the making?“)
At no point in any of these articles does anyone write, “Personally, I just don’t like Muslims and I half-wish some of them would kidnap my wife/daughter/beloved pet so I could go on a totally justifiable Liam Neeson-style rampage.” Part of this is for legal reasons, but it’s also because the people who make conservative news aren’t stupid. They know how their audience views themselves: hardworking, common sense folks with big hearts and Ph.D.s from the School of Hard Knocks who aren’t afraid to stand up for what’s right (or make murderous “jokes” in the YouTube comments section). Can they be prickly? Sure. Have they been known to hold a grudge? Of course. Would they kill a fellow human being? Well, they wouldn’t be happy about it, but push them too far…
Conservative media pundits have spent the better part of two decades nudging their fans to imagine what might come next. They have no right to act surprised when someone listens to them.