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Not too soon.
May 16, 2022
[Audio version here]
On Saturday, a white nationalist terrorist gunned down ten Americans because they were Black. Before saying anything else, we should say their names:
Celestine Chaney, 65, of Buffalo;
Roberta A. Drury, 32, of Buffalo;
Andre Mackneil, 53, of Auburn, NY;
Katherine Massey, 72, of Buffalo;
Margus D. Morrison, 52, of Buffalo;
Heyward Patterson, 67, of Buffalo;
Aaron Salter, 55, of Lockport, NY;
Geraldine Talley, 62, of Buffalo;
Ruth Whitfield, 86, of Buffalo;
Pearl Young, 77, of Buffalo.
It is not too soon.
The mass killing in Buffalo on Saturday represents the inevitable convergence of major trends animating the Republican Party as it desperately clings to power: white nationalism, gun worship, internet radicalization, and hate speech masquerading as First Amendment absolutism. It is not “too soon” to assign responsibility for the hate-fueled attack: The racist, antisemitic, white nationalist terrorist targeted Black Americans because he was told by the internet—and now believes—that the white race is in danger of being replaced by Black Americans. The ugly chant at Charlottesville in 2017—“Jews will not replace us”—has morphed into Republican dogma that re-imagines the demise of a morally bankrupt party as a heroic battle between the white race and Black Americans. See Washington Post, ‘Great replacement theory,’ cited by Buffalo shooter, has long history.
I have not read the screed released by the mass murderer (and I don’t intend to), but descriptions by the press make clear that major themes in the “manifesto” parrot talking points frequently found on Fox News, Tucker Carlson, right-wing radio hosts, and QAnon-believing politicians. See, e.g., NYTimes, How Tucker Carlson Stoked White Fear to Conquer Cable. Per the Times,
Night after night, hour by hour, Mr. Carlson warns his viewers that they inhabit a civilization under siege — by violent Black Lives Matter protesters in American cities, by diseased migrants from south of the border, by refugees importing alien cultures, and by tech companies and cultural elites who will silence them, or label them racist, if they complain.
The Buffalo mass murderer did not cite Fox News or Tucker Carlson in his screed, but he described the venom they inject into the internet on a daily basis. There, it had its intended effect: It motivated an angry, impressionable, possibly mentally ill young man to act. Fox and Carlson, and others will claim shock and surprise, pretending they do not mean to incite violence. That is beside the point: they intend to stoke hate, the necessary precondition for violence. Having prepared the battlefield for violence, they cannot disclaim responsibility for the killings that inevitably follow.
It is not too soon to say (again) that no private citizen in America needs an assault weapon designed to maximize killing humans. The Bushmaster assault rifle used by the domestic terrorist in Buffalo advertised its killing power by saying, “If it’s good enough for the professional, it’s good enough for you.” The implication is obvious. The military version of the Bushmaster (the M16) is used by “professionals” to kill people in war, so it is “good enough” for amateurs to kill people, too.
It was not always the case that Americans possessed an unfettered right to purchase assault rifles. For nearly a century, the Supreme Court held that the right to bear arms “applied in the context of militias, the right of states to protect themselves from federal interference.” But in 2008, Justices Scalia, Roberts, Thomas, Alito, and Kennedy overruled seventy years of precedent and held that individuals have a constitutional right to own a firearm without regard to the limiting phrase in the Second Amendment, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State . . . .”
It is maddening that Justice Alito overrode the explicit language in the Constitution in 2008 to create a novel, unbounded right to bear arms and is poised in 2022 to eliminate an existing, limited right of women to control their reproductive choices. The mass killing in Buffalo took place on the day that Americans mobilized in protest to express their anger over the impending demise of Roe and Casey. Although tens of thousands of Americans (or more) participated in those protests, they garnered relatively sparse coverage from the media. See NBC for coverage of the protest on the National Mall. Nationwide protests draw thousands in support of abortion rights. (If you attended a protest over the weekend, thank you! Can you please send me a note describing your experience? I want to share with other readers.) Clearly, the protests over the weekend are just the beginning.
The confluence of the mass shooting in Buffalo, outrage over the Supreme Court’s anticipated opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health, the increasing radicalization of candidates in GOP primaries, and fear over yet-to-materialize losses in the midterms are making Democrats anxious (or worse). We appear to be at another inflection point in our history as crosscurrents of social change are roiling the waters of democracy.
Take hope from the fact that the vast majority of Americans recoil in horror and disgust at the white nationalism that prompted the killings in Buffalo, that most Americans demand commonsense gun safety legislation, and that the Republican Party has finally said “Too far, too much, too extreme” to some of the MAGA candidates seeking office in 2022.
And take heart from the growing tide of activism in response to the elimination of an existing constitutional right. The protests over the weekend point the way forward—and we should follow.
Putin’s war on the people of Ukraine.
Mitch McConnell led a US delegation to Ukraine to meet with President Zelensky. Good! The visit prompted McConnell to speak out against “the voices of isolationism” in the Republican Party. Importantly, McConnell also said that the US should be “first in line” to support the NATO applications of Finland and Sweden.
The Institute for the Study of War reports that “Russian forces have likely run out of combat-ready reservists, forcing the Russian military command to amalgamate soldiers from many different elements, including private military companies and proxy militias, into ostensibly regular army units and naval infantry.”
The English tabloids have been running headlines claiming that the Kremlin is “divided” about the war in Ukraine and that there is a slow-rolling coup against Putin. On close inspection, the stories do not appear to support the sensationalist headlines. Few reputable outlets have repeated the headlines to date, and most simply repeat the tabloid reports. If you see a reference to an alleged “coup” or “division in the Kremlin,” scrutinize those stories. To date, there appears to be scant support for the tabloid rumors. If the reports are accurate, more evidence will emerge over time.
Justice Alito and Thomas make intemperate remarks, further undermining public confidence in the Court.
No one should ever accuse Justice Alito of caring about maintaining the appearance of impartiality. Alito’s draft opinion in Dobbs repeatedly claims the forthcoming ruling will not undermine other privacy-based rights. But in comments before the Antonin Scalia School of Law last Friday, Alito harshly criticized the Court’s holding that extended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to gay and transgender workers. Alito called the ruling, “indefensible.” See Talking Points Memo, Alito Calls Decision Expanding LGBTQ Rights ‘Indefensible’
Also on Friday, Justice Thomas used shocking language to describe the protests near the homes of Supreme Court justices. In his remarks, Thomas clearly betrayed his partisan alignment with political conservatives, using the terms “we,” “us,” and “our” to distinguish between conservatives and abortion protestors. Thomas said,
You would never visit Supreme Court justices’ houses when things didn’t go our way. We didn’t throw temper tantrums. I think it is … incumbent on us to always act appropriately and not to repay tit for tat.
So much for maintaining the appearance of impartiality.
Thomas also called the peaceful protests near the homes of justices “temper tantrums,” but failed to make the obvious comparison to the violent assault on the Capitol when “things didn’t go our way” in the 2020 election. It is not the “leak” that is damaging the Court. The Court’s lawless opinions and wildly inappropriate comments by the justices are eroding public trust in the Court every day.
A reader sent a note about attending a Shabbat service celebrating the confirmation of young men and women in his temple. He noted that many of the students spoke about wanting to “repair the world.” They understand that the world is broken, but they have not given up hope. It is comforting to know that the leaders of the next generation are willing to rise to the challenges of a broken world. They are looking to us for guidance and encouragement. On a very difficult day, we must find the strength to light the way for the next generation.
Stay strong and keep the faith!
Talk to you tomorrow!