August 29, 2023 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Jacksonville shooter was one of ‘the chosen people’

A guerilla fighter in a slow-motion, one-sided and covert civil war.

Courtesy of KDFW.
Courtesy of KDFW.

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Sarah Palin got a lot of attention after Donald Trump’s fourth indictment and arrest. On Newsmax, the former governor of Alaska asked: “Do you want us to be in a civil war? Because that’s what’s going to happen. We’re not going to keep putting up with this. I like that you suggested that we need to get angry. We do need to rise up and take our country back.”

Palin’s remarks indicate that “many, many, many attention-starved MAGA straphangers, in or at the periphery of national politics, are going to have a new mantra,” Ed Kilgore wrote. “Having burned through more conventional measures to ‘take our country back’ via normal electoral or legislative activity, Trump’s surrogates are embracing their leader’s increasingly incendiary talk about past, present, and future setbacks that must be avenged or prevented by any means.”

Before we fear a civil war in the future, let’s properly assess and appreciate the one in the present. Then, perhaps, we can prevent matters from getting truly worse.

All this talk about civil war has lots of people worried, and justifiably so. But I think we should consider the fuller context, to wit: we are already in a sort of civil war. It’s slow-motion, one-sided and covert, to be sure, but it’s plainly visible if you’re willing. Before we fear a civil war in the future, let’s properly assess and appreciate the one in the present. Then, perhaps, we can prevent matters from getting truly worse.

Since the beginning of the year, there have been more than 475 shooting massacres in the US, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit. In most instances, 10 people or fewer died. By July, according to CNN, the US had “eclipsed the number of mass shootings recorded each year from 2013 through 2018. Should the current pace continue, 2023 will see more mass shootings than in 2019 through 2022.”

I don’t see anyone using adequate words to describe death on this scale. Either it’s “the price that we pay for our freedoms” (often the Republican view) or it’s “senseless” or “crazy” or “barbaric” (often the Democratic view). But in any other time and place, in any other part of the world, we’d call this out for what it really is. It’s guerilla warfare. 

Last weekend’s massacre in Jacksonville is a case in point. A 21-year-old white supremacist entered a Dollar Store, armed with a semiautomatic rifle (AR-15) and pistol (Glock), and shot to pieces three Black people before shooting himself to death. He left behind copious writings explaining why political murder was a legitimate recourse against enemies bent on taking away the God-given birthright of his people.

The shooter, whose name I won’t use, was one of “the chosen.” That’s Thomas Jefferson’s turn of phrase. These are people who are usually considered the realest, according to Jason Opal. Parties and presidents have since the founding, he said, “flattered and favored the [old] rural majorities. American culture identified farm folk and small towns as the most authentic and virtuous parts of the nation — or, as President Andrew Jackson put it in 1837, ‘the bone and sinew of the country.’”

The Chosen controlled all of politics until the revolutions of the 1960s. That’s when the federal government stopped balancing the country, by force of law, on the backs of Black people. And that’s when “the heirs of Jefferson’s ‘chosen people’ lost their status as the most American of Americans,” Opal wrote. Since then, “the new, diverse America enrages tens of millions of people who predominantly live in small towns and in the South and mostly identify as white, straight and Christian.” 

The Chosen call themselves by another name — “Realamericans,” I said in March. “Realamerica is not the real America. Realamerica, according to its adherents, is a ‘nation’ inside the real nation. It is a confederacy of the mind and spirit, made of pure makebelieve. Realamericans live according to God’s law. They share the goal of ruling, in God’s name, the real America. If Realamericans can’t dominate real Americans lawfully, they must take ‘the law’ into their own hands. With the proliferation over two decades of semiautomatic rifles, they have.”


With so many weapons of war at their disposal, these Realamerican guerrillas have prosecuted their insurgency. They “hit soft targets – schools, churches, nightclubs, Walmarts – anything that can’t fight back,” I wrote last year. “They foment anarchy. Spread chaos. Create an air of insanity. Voilà! The status quo is upheld by establishing an atmosphere of dread and fear that’s designed to prevent reformers from using democratic politics to reform the existing order.”

I don’t mean to suggest that all of the more than 475 shooting massacres that the US has seen since the start of the year have been committed by white supremacists who identify themselves as Realamericans who are fighting to protect the orders of white power against liberal values and democratic politics. That’s not the case. 

However, these Realamericans – and the Republican legislators who serve them — set the tone for everyone else. Since 2013, after the country produced a second term for its first Black president, they have deregulated firearms at a breathtaking pace, enabling any man of any color to “solve” all of his problems with a gun. Moreover, that some shooters are nonwhite in effect hides the fact that more than 475 shooting massacres in under a year, more than the total of the previous four years combined, constitute white-power guerilla warfare.

For which Republicans like Sarah Palin should be grateful. However much she and other “attention-starved MAGA straphangers” might pine for open civil war, that’s not what her party wants. That would mean coming out of the shadows to take on the United States government fully. There’s no chance of winning that fight. It’s better to remain hidden beneath the veil of plausible deniability. As long as the civil war is slow-motioned, one-sided and covert, the Republicans are winning. 

Which is why we must see what’s really going on. This isn’t only about “the ideology of hate” coming to the surface to kill people, though it’s obviously about that. This is about a minority faction of the country going to war, literal war, with a majority faction. We should say so.


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

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