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The El Paso mass shooting is a far-right terror attack

It's another incident which is as infuriating as it is predictable.

Armed Policemen gather next to an FBI armoured vehicle next to the Cielo Vista Mall as an active shooter situation is going inside the Mall in El Paso on August 03, 2019. (Photo by Joel Angel JUAREZ / AFP)
Armed Policemen gather next to an FBI armoured vehicle next to the Cielo Vista Mall as an active shooter situation is going inside the Mall in El Paso on August 03, 2019. (Photo by Joel Angel JUAREZ / AFP)

It’s the same story, over and over again.

An individual is radicalized online into believing that the white race is under attack from a perceived “other”. That individual then uses easily-accesible, high-powered weaponry to carry out an attack against an undefended target of the “other”. In order to attract more attention he posts an outline of his plan on an extremist website, where he is rapidly venerated and turned into a martyr.

Over the last year alone, this story has played out in Pittsburgh, San Diego, Christchurch New Zealand and now El Paso. On Saturday a 21-year-old gunman armed with an AK-47-type rifle entered a crowded mall in this majority-Hispanic city and opened fire, killing at least 20 and injuring dozens more. He was taken into custody by responding officers without incident.

Prior to the shooting, the gunman, who was identified as Patrick Crusius from Dallas, is believed to have posted a four-page manifesto on the website 8chan — the same website the Christchurch and San Diego shooters used to post theirs. In it he goes through a laundry list of white nationalist talking points, decrying the “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” praising the Christchurch shooter and saying that “America will soon become a one-party state” thanks to increased immigration.

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The manifesto has not yet been officially confirmed by law enforcement, however the timing of the post, coupled with the corroborating details inside it, match up with the shooter. El Paso police chief Gregg Allen said that the suspect’s attack “has a nexus to a potential hate crime”. El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles put things even more bluntly.

“This Anglo man came here to kill Hispanics. I’m outraged and you should be too. The entire nation should be outraged,” Wiles said in a statement. “In this day and age, with all the serious issues we face, we are still confronted with people who kill another for the sole reason of the color of their skin.”

Wiles added that he was “sick of people jumping in front of the cameras offering prayers and condolences as things just keep getting worse.”

President Donald Trump, who held a rally in El Paso in February where he lied about how immigration had made El Paso a dangerous city, offered his condolences after the shooting. “Terrible shootings in El Paso, Texas. Reports are very bad, many killed,” he tweeted. “Spoke to Governor to pledge total support of Federal Government. God be with you all!”

Trump then followed up said tweet with a picture of him and a mixed martial arts star, before then tweeting pretty much the exact same thing when news of a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio broke.

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Democratic Presidential candidates were quick to condemn the shooting. “America is under attack from homegrown white nationalist terrorism. That ideology is evil,” Mayor Pete Buttigieg tweeted. “It is being condoned at the highest levels of our government. Enough is enough. We have an obligation to act.” Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), who represented a district that includes El Paso, flew back to the city and specifically called out Trump for helping to create an environment in which these sort of incidents occur.

“It does not just offend our sensibilities, it fundamentally changes the character of this country,” O’Rourke said. “And it leads to violence.”

In recent months the FBI has specifically warned of this sort of terror threat.

“We are most concerned about lone offenders, primarily using firearms, as [they] represent the dominant trend for lethal domestic terrorists,” Michael McGarrity, the FBI’s assistant director of counterterrorism, told the House Committee on Homeland Security in May. “Frequently, these individuals act without a clear group affiliation or guidance, making them challenging to identify, investigate, and disrupt.” In July, FBI director Christopher Wray told the Senate that the majority of the bureau’s 100 domestic terror arrests since October 2018 have involved white supremacy.

But, gun control dreams aside, quite how you handle this de-centralized radicalization is a question which is both extremely pressing and extremely difficult.

As ThinkProgress has previously noted, each new manifesto creates more sources of inspiration and knowledge for other-would-be attackers, which are in turn amplified by extremist websites like 8chan. But the First Amendment means that these manifestos, while vile, are not illegal unless they are likely to inspire “imminent lawless action” in others.

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What’s more, 8chan is based in the Philippines, which has less restrictive moderation policies, meaning that it won’t necessarily bow to the same sort of pressure that forced websites to remove far-right posters and content in wake of the Unite the Right rally in 2017.

Meanwhile, rather than tamping down on violence, it appears that Trump’s mere presence incites it. As the Washington Post noted in March, counties which hosted Trump rallies — including El Paso — saw their hate crimes level skyrocket by more than 200 percent.

Some of this rhetoric appears that it might have rubbed off on the El Paso shooter. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center the shooter had a Twitter page where he regularly espoused pro-Trump rhetoric, including liking an image where nine firearms are used to spell out Trump’s name.