Let’s be honest, if just for a few moments, and call out the story of the racist massacre in the Buffalo grocery store for what it is.

In many ways, in too many ways, that story is the story of America, circa 2022.

Mike Littwin

It’s not only the growing “poison” of white supremacy that Joe Biden pointed to during his visit to Buffalo on Tuesday. Or even the complicity of those who stay silent about the poison.

“What happened here is simple, straightforward terrorism,” Biden said. “Terrorism, domestic terrorism, violence inflicted in the service of hate and the vicious thirst for power that defines one group of people being inherently inferior to any other group.”

It’s not only the sewer that flourishes in the dark reaches of the Internet that has all but eradicated the “lone wolf” theory of such attacks. The plan for this attack by an 18-year-old that led to 10 deaths in Buffalo was born in El Paso, in Pittsburgh, in Charleston, in Christchurch, New Zealand. It’s all in the shooter’s manifesto, which is meant to be a model for the next one. And there will be a next one.

And whatever Congress might do or say to try to clean up parts of the Internet, there is that tricky question of the First Amendment and free speech, and there’s also the fact that Congress couldn’t possibly keep up with the technology. We’re told that only 22 people watched the shooter’s video live, but that, despite efforts to take the video down, millions have viewed it since.

It’s not only the normalization of the so-called great replacement theory — the one-time fringe notion that Democrats supposedly want to open the borders so easily manipulated brown immigrants can replace white American voters — by the likes of Tucker Carlson and the usual far-right suspects in Congress, including, of course, Lauren Boebert, who offers up her own, uh, understanding of the issue on Twitter.

And it goes even further than that. I never thought I’d be agreeing with Liz Cheney, now the anti-Trumpist Republican heretic, but once again, that’s where I find myself. Here’s her tweet:  “The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-semitism. History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse. @GOP leaders must renounce and reject these views and those who hold them.”

Carlson denounced the shooting, of course, but also denounced any attempt to connect his ideas to those of the shooter. But Washington Post columnist Max Boot provides us with a slightly different take.

He quotes the shooter from his manifesto: “Why is diversity said to be our greatest strength? Said throughout the media, spoken by politicians, educators and celebrities. But no one ever seems to give a reason why. What gives a nation strength? And how does diversity increase that strength?”

And then he quotes Carlson from 2018, while noting there are years’ worth of such quotes: “How, precisely, is diversity our strength? Since you’ve made this our new national motto, please be specific as you explain it. Can you think, for example, of other institutions such as, I don’t know, marriage or military units in which the less people have in common, the more cohesive they are?”

You don’t have to blame Carlson for the shooting. We don’t even know if the shooter had ever heard of Carlson. But it’s easy to understand the damage that Carlson has done with his highly-rated Fox News show and the damage he continues to do.

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It’s not only guns, of course, even though it’s always about guns. Like Colorado, New York has a so-called red-flag law, which allows for an appeal to a judge if someone is seen as too dangerous to possess firearms. The white shooter, who traveled hours from home to find a grocery store he knew would be packed with potential Black victims, had been flagged at his high school just the year before upon saying that his future plans included “murder-suicide.” 

The state police were notified, and they took the shooter for a medical examination. He was evaluated and cleared, and no one involved thought to invoke the red-flag law. And so he was able to legally buy a semi-automatic assault rifle that killed 10, but only after he had modified the gun to make it an illegal automatic assault rifle. Apparently, making the change is not much harder than turning on your laptop. And while the red-flag laws are meant to stop just this kind of shooter, the truth is that the guns used in most mass shootings have been purchased legally.

And it wouldn’t be 2022 if we didn’t mention the bogus political issue du jour — critical race theory — which Republicans have turned from an obscure postgraduate discourse into an excuse to ban teachers from saying anything that might influence students to wonder if the long history of racism in America is in any way systemic or, for that matter, really anyone’s fault. If the laws passed in several states — as in Virginia, as in Texas — against teaching honestly about race in America take hold, future students will not be told the truth of “great replacement theory” or of the 10 dead in Buffalo. I can’t wait to see, though, what they’ll say about Black Lives Matter.

And then there’s the worst of it. In 2022 America, as in 2021 America, and any recent year in America, the nation is shocked by the deaths in Buffalo, as America has been shocked by so many mass shootings over so many years. And yet in 2022 America, as in 2021 America and any other recent year in America, Congress will do nothing about that other poison still infecting America — gun violence, which long ago moved from the epidemic stage to pandemic, without a vaccine, much less even the hint of a cure, in sight.

Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.

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