August 30, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
For the Republicans, shooting massacres have practical use
If the party can’t dominate democratically, it can attempt to by empowering white vigilantes to take “the law” into their own hands.
Earlier this week, Republican Ron DeSantis attended a candlelight vigil that was held in memory of three Black people who were shot to pieces over the weekend at a Dollar Store in Jacksonville by a young white supremacist.
Florida’s governor did what he could to avoid bringing up the true cause of the massacre. He called the shooter “a major-league scumbag” and said “we are not going to let people be targeted based on their race,” despite creating, wrote Monique Judge, “a sunny Utopia for anti-Black white supremacists to flourish.” He’s telling his base, she said — through both words and actions — “that he is as anti-Black as they are, and he’s going to do all that he can to uphold white supremacy.”
While his hypocrisy is worthy of attention, getting the most attention was the crowd’s reaction to him. According to the AP’s reporting at the scene, “DeSantis — who is running for the GOP nomination for president, who has loosened gun laws in Florida and who has antagonized civil rights leaders by deriding ‘wokeness’ — was loudly booed as he addressed the vigil.” So “anti-woke” is anti-Black.
And everyone knows it.
While his hypocrisy is worthy of attention, getting more attention was the crowd’s reaction to him. According to the AP’s reporting at the scene, “DeSantis — who is running for the GOP nomination for president, who has loosened gun laws in Florida and who has antagonized civil rights leaders by deriding ‘wokeness’ — was loudly booed as he addressed the vigil.”
The scene is worth dwelling on. On the one hand was a Republican presidential candidate who has promised, implicitly, to uphold the orders of white power while denying that he’s made any such promise. On the other hand were people at the bottom of that order who saw through the charade. They were raising some hell as a consequence.
The scene demonstrates something fundamental – that there’s no stopping democratic politics, however much people would like it to. Even in a state “where the governor legislates anti-Blackness,” as Monique said, and where some white people “feel comfortable acting on [their] anti-Black urges,” Black people are gonna raise some hell.
This scene illustrates the futility of a politics that does not seek to engage the opposition democratically so much as force it to shut up.
That’s the practical use of shooting massacres, all 476 of them, according to the Gun Violence Archive, since the start of the year. The threat of mass death can establish a climate of fear and loathing that silences dissent among people who endure the greatest burdens placed on them by the orders of white power. If censorship can’t be done legitimately, it can be by sanctioning otherwise illegitimate behavior.
It’s a pattern seen around the world. Political groups forge informal relations with society’s Very Worst People in order to harass, intimidate or terrorize a much larger faction into thinking that it’s too dangerous to act politically or that there’s no point in trying. You can see this in some countries whose middle classes don’t trust authorities to protect them, because the authorities are in cahoots with the criminals.
You could say that the Republicans have done something similar. Since the reelection of the country’s first Black president, they have flooded their communities with guns, thus empowering society’s Very Worst People, and in doing so, actualizing crimes (ie, mass murder) where only criminal potential had been. If the Republicans can’t dominate democratically, they can attempt to via other means, specifically by empowering white vigilantes to take “the law” into their own hands.
It’s here that we see the essential nature of shooting massacres. They are antipolitical politics in distilled form. They are an expression of a party that no longer trusts democratic politics to produce desired results, and that can no longer afford to engage the opposition in a free and fair contest, because democratic politics is no longer in full alignment with the orders of white power that it represents. Shooting massacres are an attempt to do what can’t be done democratically.
So there was more going on in that vigil than the loud booing of a presidential candidate who denies promising to uphold the orders of white power that caused the deaths of three Black people. It was antipolitical politics going toe-to-toe with democratic politics.
I don’t mean to suggest that democratic politics always wins in the end. More than 330,000 shootings, over nine years, according to The Trace, makes optimism like that a luxury. I do mean to suggest that democratic politics never stops. There’s no silencing people who refuse to be silenced. But while that demonstrates the futility of antipolitical politics, futility never stopped people like DeSantis from trying.
And in the trying, there’s dying.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.