May 17, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
When rightwing politics is made respectable, rightwingers kill
Case in point is the Buffalo massacre.
Last weekend, my neighborhood in New Haven hosted a small arts festival. Friday was for adults. There was beer. There was loud music. There was a fashion show. All but one model was Black or of color. The audience was a third white, a third Black and third everyone else.
I was reminded of why I love the Elm City.
It was a feeling white-power terrorists dream of killing.
No one like Payton Gendron showed up, thank God. But the fact that I’m thinking about it, after the 18-year-old massacred on Saturday 11 Black people in Buffalo, illustrates the reach of political violence.
It doesn’t stop with victims.
It doesn’t stop with victims’ families.
It reaches across time and space to colonize our minds.
One can only imagine what reporting might look like had the press corps covered the Buffalo massacre as a deadly outcome of rightwing politics rather than an abstract problem for the president to solve.
“I am terrified to be a Black woman walking around in America,” tweeted Anna Gifty, an economist and writer. “We are literally afraid to live our lives because some random person feels entitled to taking it. I map out exits before I enter stores. I have nightmares about dying.
“And no one cares,” she added. “No one really cares about us.”
The public might care were members of the Washington press corps to take white political violence as seriously as they do Al Qaeda’s or the Islamic State’s. As it is, reporters like the Post’s Matt Viser evidently see white political violence as if it were just a part of the politics game.
Joe “Biden ran for president pledging to ‘restore the soul of America,’” Viser wrote this morning. “A racist massacre raises questions about that promise, and his visit Tuesday will signal how he will respond.”
Put another way, Biden: They’re out to kill us.
Rightwingers: We’re out to kill you.
Matt Viser: How will Biden’s response impact the midterms?
The public: Maybe the rightwingers have a point.
One can only imagine what reporting might look like had Viser (and his colleagues) covered the Buffalo massacre as a deadly outcome of rightwing politics rather than an abstract problem for the president to solve. If more Americans understood violence is an end to itself in rightwing politics, more Americans might put blame where it belongs.
The problem is more complex than that, though.
The Buffalo massacre would not have been possible without the many editors, reporters and opinion writers who legitimized a white-power backlash against political gains made in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a white cop. Those gains amassed into a voting coalition larger than any in US history that put Joe Biden in the White House.
After Biden’s election, after which the threat of fascism seemed to fade, these editors, reporters and opinion writers began chipping away at the anti-racism that animated the president’s winning coalition.
They produced reams of news stories and opinion pieces about “wokism,” “cancel culture” and “critical race theory,” terms that were defined in bad faith by the enemies of anti-racism but taken as good faith by editors, reporters and opinion writers of elite publications.
Cancel culture (no quotes) is a status quo by which the powerful stomp the weak, usually without consequence. George Floyd’s murder was the exception. As the exception, it promised to upend the status quo.
But after Biden’s election, the way was clear for the rightwing to “flip the script,” as they say. The wielders of power were cast as the victims of power. The victims of power were cast as the wielders of power. These editors, reporters and opinion writers chose to believe it.
As a result, just weeks after Inauguration Day, anti-racist and anti-sexist attempts to hold the powerful to account, as George Floyd’s murderer was, were met with loud bipartisan outrage. The press corps ignored the coming rightwing danger. After all, how dangerous can something be when editors, reporters and opinion writers say it’s not?
No matter how much rightwingers threatened to resort to violence in order to protect kids from “critical race theory,” these editors, reporters and opinion writers managed to convey to the public that rightwingers vowing to resort to violence might have a point.
The press corps could have tried understanding anti-racism (from which true critical race theory comes). It could have decided against believing people who don’t mean anything they say. Instead, the press corps chose to play along, though “critical race theory” is “replacement theory” in rightwing politics – though Payton Gendron said “critical race theory” is a Jewish plot that justifies murdering Jews wholesale.
In truth, “wokism,” “cancel culture” and “critical race theory” are empty terms reflecting fear and anxiety felt by (mostly) white men situated at the centers of power. They include the very obscenely rich owners of the world’s most lucrative media properties. These editors, reporters and opinion writers of elite publications ultimately answer to them.
Elite fear and anxiety of being “replaced” matched well with Payton Gendron’s fear and anxiety of being “replaced.” Elite interest aligned with white-power interest, creating ideal conditions for a third of Americans to believe the Democrats are trying to “replace” them – creating ideal conditions for Payton Gendron’s mass murder.
There’s a debate currently going on about what inspired Payton Gendron to kill in cold blood. Was it Tucker Carlson, the Fox host who’s been mainstreaming “replacement theory.” Or was it 4chan, the digital leech bed from which arose sewage like the QAnon conspiracy?
The debate will never be resolved.
Its participants – members of a Washington press corps that helped legitimize and make respectable a white-power backlash against anti-racist political gains made in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a white cop – are not looking for answers where they should be.
They should look at themselves.
Meanwhile, the rest of us think about getting killed.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.