March 23, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Massacres are what happen when a republic solves its problems by militarizing itself

Boulder is the latest in a 20-year process.


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I don’t know what kind of name Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa is. I’m no more familiar with Middle Eastern names than most white Americans are. What I do know is the debate over gun control, mass shootings and domestic terrorism is about to flip upside down now that the Boulder shooter had been identified as a man of Middle Eastern descent.

First, the facts. Alissa, 21, is alleged to have entered Monday a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado, with a “rifle.”1 Ten people are now dead. It looks like he shot himself, the damn fool. Pictures of him being frog-walked to a squad car with blood running down his leg have gone viral. The massacre took place a week after another in Atlanta, where a white man is alleged to have murdered eight people, including six Asian women.

The reason I say things are about flip upside down is because of the right-wing media apparatus. It warps so much of our understanding of political reality. When it came to Robert Aaron Long, the Atlanta shooter, he was a “sex addict,”2 not a domestic terrorist whose alleged crimes demand action. When it comes to Alissa, however, the right-wing media narrative will be quite different, though it’s too soon to say how. What’s certain is that his identity will be the focus of attention, not his alleged crimes.

The problems of democracy should be solved democratically.

Put another way, his identity as a Muslim3 will be the real crime, according to the closed-circuit logic of Fox and other fascist media outlets. That he’s alleged to have committed mass murder is subsequent, and therefore secondary, to the larger, original crime. Whatever action should be taken by the government should be about his Muslim-ness, not the ubiquity of access to military-style weapons of death. The goal, for Fox et al., will be protecting white men, who are always the good guys with guns.

In short, the fascist media machine is about to get really loud. It’s going to proclaim, in no uncertain terms, that Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa is a terrorist.4 That might suggest a turning of the debate over gun control and mass shootings. Many of us—you know, me—have been calling these massacres a form of domestic terrorism for years. Many of us—you know, me—have been calling on the government to take action for as long. But Monday won’t change things just because Tucker Carlson now uses the T word. It will mean, instead, the polar opposite. The right-wing solution to democratic problems is militarized violence. Given the horror of this massacre, lots of respectable white people may be tempted to agree. Militarized violence, however, is how we got here.

It’s impossible to know what a President Al Gore would have done after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. We might have gotten mired in endless war anyway. Safe to say, however, a Democratic administration would not have presided over the deep, lasting and destructive militarization of civil society and domestic affairs, which is what happened under the conservative leadership of President George W. Bush.

Over the course of 20 years, periodic spasms of the democratic spirit—“Occupy Wall Street,” Keystone Pipeline demonstrations, protests against the murders of Michael Brown and George Floyd—have been met with a militarized response by the state. Militarization has seeped so deeply into civil society that we expect it in places where military action is almost never wanted: schools, churches, library and parks. Instead of teaching us courage in the face of fear, the Bush years taught us to fear everything. The former president’s decision to let the assault weapons ban expire in 2004 launched a new era of mass death in which people of all colors, but mostly white men, reflected the militarized state by reacting to democratic outcomes with militarized violence.

The Democrats, however, are not going to take the bait the way they did 20 years ago. And they are not going to take the bait the way they once did, because they now know the Republicans have no interest in protecting Second Amendment freedoms. Indeed, the canniest among them suspects the Republicans have an interest in maintaining the feeling of national crisis so their military solutions to the problems of democracy seem like commonsense instead of what they really are—making nearly everything worse. The problems of democracy should be solved democratically, not militarily. But in solving them militarily, the Republicans create an unbroken circle of cause and effect that protects the few, oppresses the many, and transforms a republic into a hellscape.

So follow the lead of people like US Representative Joe Neguse, a star Democrat whose district includes the scene of Monday’s crime. He told “CBS This Morning” today that “enough is enough.” He added: “The time for inaction is over. It does not have to be this way. There are commonsense gun legislation reform proposals that have been debated in Congress for far too long. The gun lobby and so many others have stopped the ability to make meaningful reforms in the past, but that’s no excuse. I think the American people are tired of excuses. So it’s time for us to roll up our sleeves in the Congress and muster the political will power to actually get something done.”

If we all follow his lead, the debate really could take a turn for the better.

John Stoehr

Postscript: As I was writing this, the president called on the Congress to immediately pass “legislation that would close loopholes in gun background checks and ban the purchase of assault weapons,” according to USA Today. That is a huge BFD. Joe Biden could have chosen to double down on “national security.” Instead, he’s doing this. Attention will now turn to Joe Manchin. That, however, is a story for later. —JS

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.


  1. Jim Prevatt on July 30, 2021 at 11:41 pm

    Excellent comments! Yes, Biden’s response is a BFD. No doubt about it. It won’t surprise me if he moves more towards doing away with the filibuster. He served in the senate long enough to see the value and the worthlessness of minority misrule. The nra has become a terrorist organization and should be banned from the face of the earth. Gun control should be stronger than ever before. Single shot muskets should be the only gun allowed and those should be allowed to people who have passed multiple psychological tests prepared by psychotherapists who believe in the morality taught by the great teachers like the Buddha and Jesus as well as Martin Luther King, Jr. And of course the morality taught by such people as Socrates and Plato. So much needs to change in America and the rest of the world. John, please keep writing about this.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 11:41 pm

      I will! Thank you.

  2. MIGriffin on July 30, 2021 at 11:41 pm

    Hi John! I was scrolling through Twitter late last night looking for real-time updates on the latest tragedy. I saw one post that said something to the effect of “all hell will break loose when this shooter turns out to be a left-wing radical,” so I was worrying that this guy might not be the stereotypical white-male-loner-with-AR15 before we found out the murderer had a Muslim-sounding name.

    In a sane country, it wouldn’t matter what ideology fed the shooter’s murderous rage. In fact, diversity among killers could bring warring factions together to focus on the source of the problem–the body shredding automatic weapon. But, I think your prediction is correct when it comes to how the RW broadcasters will spin this. Sigh.

  3. EllTeacher on July 30, 2021 at 11:41 pm

    Yes, President Biden’s response is remarkable. And John, you are so spot on about “militarized violence” being the answer to everything… I would argue that Republicans have shown mastery in the way they frame gun violence as “regretful” and offering their “thoughts and prayers,” while always defending gun ownership as a 2nd Amendment issue.
    Republicans are masters of inflammatory language. In other words, they dominate the battlespace. Think of President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” initiative, which resulted in a law that upended educational practices, but was never fully funded to support the mandated changes. But how could a legislator vote against the bill? To do so would mean that the legislator didn’t care if children were left behind in their studies. *
    The evidence is already gathered now. We know there should be universal background checks.
    We know automatic weapons aren’t used for hunting deer. They have one purpose and one purpose only: to kill people. **
    Now is certainly the time for Congress to act. We may never have this opportunity again.
    Certainly, we won’t if Mitch McConnell has anything to say about it. Democrats and President Biden need to reframe the issue, such as: Military Weapons Responsibility and Realignment. The focus must be on crafting a sensible message that can be both tweeted and expounded upon. The message makes the truth.
    The idea of “realignment” may be used in “police reform” as well. Calling to defund the police just isn’t sensible; however, we must look at the role of police… is it law enforcement or keeping the peace or service and protection? Can enforcement include de-escalation?
    These are issues of life and death, issues that can’t be cured with a vaccine. We must act. If not now–when?
    *To meet the NCLB requirements, many school districts abandoned social studies and the arts to focus on reading and mathematics instruction because those were the subjects being tested in order to determine which schools succeeded and which failed. No History. No Geography. No Civics.
    **One of the most horrific examples I know of is the tragic case of a young girl who was being given “lessons” on shooting with one of these guns, at a range, and when she fired, the power of the weapon overwhelmed her and she lost control. Accidentally, she killed the instructor.

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