Friday, Aug. 12, 2022|
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Charleston, 2015. Nine Black churchgoers killed.
Pittsburgh, 2018. Eleven Jewish worshippers killed.
El Paso, 2019. Twenty-three Latino shoppers killed.
Buffalo, 2022. Ten people killed, eight of them Black.
To these American atrocities, let us add two more that have served as models and inspirations from around the world.
Oslo, Norway, 2011. Seventy-seven people, mostly young, killed in a bomb attack and mass shooting.
Christchurch, New Zealand, 2019. Fifty-one Muslim worshippers killed.
What all these terrorist attacks share are perpetrators motivated by hatred and fear. Specifically, it is a fear kindled by something called “replacement theory.” The idea is that a shadowy global cabal, often associated with Jews, is systemically replacing white people with darker-skinned peoples. Accused Tree of Life shooter Robert Bowers believed this.
It’s a theory that capitalizes on the fear of lost power and privileges that comes with increased racial diversity. It gives people already given to distrust and hatred a focus for their animus. And an identity.
But there’s something else that unites the shooters, this time with the exception of the Pittsburgh killer: their youth. The Oslo terrorist was 31 at the time, but is said to have begun conceiving his plot a decade earlier. The Christchurch killer was 28, close to the age of Timothy McVeigh at the time of the Oklahoma City bombing. But the Charleston and El Paso shooters were each 21, barely old enough to get a legal drink. And the Buffalo shooter is 18 years old.
It is often thought that hate takes a long time to curdle into murder. But these young killers suggest something else: Hate can be an answer. The hate is all they have, and doing something about it is the only future they can imagine for themselves.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s called for restrictions on hate speech, which she compared to a virus. But as we’ve learned from the past two years, viruses can’t be regulated by law. They find a way to survive and thrive. No law can squelch all the niches of the internet where hate lives. Young men who want to hate will find reasons.
We need vaccination. A vaccine doesn’t kill the virus, but keeps those who’ve gotten it from getting sick.
It is clear beyond a doubt that the people most likely to catch the virus of hate are young men who lack secure social foundations: an intact family, close friendships, economic opportunity. The identity and purpose they should receive from these things, they find in hate, justified by racist ideas like “replacement theory.”
A vaccine for this social privation won’t be a “magic bullet” vaccine, a simple answer like gun control or censoring social media. It will be a societywide commitment to supporting families, to providing meaningful well-paying work for all who want it, to creating a culture of belonging rather than one of alienation.
The government can’t do it on its own. Every person and every institution in American society must administer it to those they can, and in so doing build a healthier, more peaceful world.
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