|Image from The L Magazine.|
‘A good man with a gun’
These angry white men are doing their best to bring back an idealized past that never really existed
“The only thing that stops a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun.” — Wayne LaPierre, National Rifle Association
Paul Anthony Ciancia believed he was that good man. He believed he was a warrior against the traitors who were taking over our government, bankrupting our currency, and trying to establish a New World Order.
On Friday, November 1, Ciancia walked into the Los Angeles airport and began firing an assault rifle, killing Transportation Service Administration (TSA) officer Gerardo Hernandez and wounding several others, until police officers were able to bring him down with several rounds to his midsection.
Ciancia’s duffel bag contained a handwritten, signed letter stating that he had “made the conscious decision to try to kill” multiple TSA employees and that he wanted to “instill fear in their traitorous minds.” The note said he would be happy if he managed to kill just one TSA agent. “Black, white, yellow, brown, I don’t discriminate.” It also mentioned fiat currency and NWO (the New World Order).
One official, who was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the note referred to how the gunman believed his constitutional rights were being violated by TSA searches and that he was a “pissed-off patriot” upset at former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Austin’s Alex Jones, a popular right-wing conspiracy theorist, host of Infowars.com (“because there is a war on for your mind”), had ranted weeks before about how the government had always meant to arm TSA agents as part of the plan for the New World Order’s authoritarian and socialist domination of America.
The Southern Poverty Law Center explains:
The New World Order refers to a longstanding conspiracy theory that today, in its most popular iteration, claims that global elites are plotting to form a socialistic “one-world government” that would crush American freedoms. Often, the root of the alleged conspiracy is traced to the 1913 creation of the Federal Reserve and the adoption of fiat currency — paper money that is not backed by gold, as it once was in the U.S.
So-called Patriots also increasingly see the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which produces intelligence assessments of extremists that are distributed to other law enforcement agencies, as an enemy and even a collaborator in the New World Order conspiracy. Many believe DHS has targeted their movement and is somehow connected to the alleged construction of concentration camps by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The purported camps are thought to be meant for those Americans who resist a coming national seizure of all weapons from U.S. citizens.
The TSA, short for the Transportation Security Administration, is an agency of the DHS charged with ensuring the security of transportation, most notably air transportation. Although it has not been widely singled out by Patriots, it has been subjected to criticism by far-right homophobes, among others, who have alleged that TSA agents engaging in hand searches are really sexually groping travelers.
In his note, Ciancia called former director of DHS Janet Napolitano a “bull dyke.”
In many ways, Ciancia is no different from the other crazed lone gunmen who went berserk: Jared Loughner and the Gabrielle Giffords shooting; Wade Michael Page randomly killing six people in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin; Adam Lanza and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings — all young white males who couldn’t find their place in the world, couldn’t find work, couldn’t find meaning.
Michael Kimmel, an authority on male violence against women and the author of No Safe Place, says, in an interview with PBS:
The traditional model of masculinity has been around for an awfully long time, basically it posits that men have to be… well the basic rules of manhood, if I were to put them this way are, no sussy stuff, that’s the first rule. You can never do anything that even remotely hints of femininity. The second rule is to be a big wheel. You know, we measure masculinity by the size of your paycheck, wealth, power, status, things like that.
The third rule is to be a sturdy oak. You show that you’re a man by never showing your emotions. And the fourth rule is Give ‘em Hell. Always go forward, exude an aura of daring and aggression in everything that you do. And this model of masculinity has been around for an awfully long time.
I think Kimmel is right in his psychological assessment, and the actions of these men can be seen on the one hand as a grand and deluded burst of masculine assertion. As if by this one act they will redeem their lives.
But it would be wrong to ignore the political content of their actions. Jared Loughner was attempting to assassinate a Democratic Congresswoman. In January 2011, I wrote:
Kelly [Gabrielle Giffords’ opponent in the last election] was supported in his campaign by ALIPAC (Americans for Legal Immigration PAC). John McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said of the group, “It is backed by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and anti-Semites.” He was also supported by Sarah Palin. She appeared with him on Fox News and said, “ I don’t feel worthy to lace his combat boots.” Giffords’ congressional district was one of 20 Democratic districts that McCain carried in 2008 where the incumbent voted for health care reform.
On her website, Palin said, “We’ll aim for these races and many others. This is just the first salvo in a fight to elect people across the nation who will bring common sense to Washington.” Their districts were on a U.S. map located by crosshairs. After the shooting, Palin’s campaign denied the crosshairs were meant to appear as targets, even though she had also said on March 23, “Don’t Retreat, Instead, RELOAD!”
The imagery and the rhetoric is clear, and it’s consistent with Republican rhetoric throughout the 2010 campaign:
- Robert Lowry, Republican candidate in Florida, fired at a target with his opponent’s initials written on it.
- Rep. Allen West’s first choice for chief of staff, Joyce Kaufman, said, “If ballots don’t work, bullets will.”
- Sharron Angle talked about Second Amendment remedies in her race against Harry Reid in Nevada.
- Michele Bachman said she wanted her supporters “armed and dangerous.”
Jesse Kelly held a fundraiser in June where he advertised: “Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.”
Minimum donation: $50.
Wade Michael Page could justify randomly killing six people in a Sikh temple because he believed they were a threat to racial purity in America.
Law enforcement officials told CBS that Adam Lanza may have been motivated by a desire to outdo Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian Neo-Nazi who killed 77 people, mostly children, in July 2011.
These acts, then, can be seen as part of a tradition begun by Timothy McVeigh, who detonated a truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, that killed 168 people. A militia sympathizer, he hoped to inspire a revolt against what he considered to be a tyrannical federal government.
These angry white men are doing their best to bring back an idealized past that never really existed — where white male authority was unquestioned, where there was order in society and everyone knew their place, where God and the flag were respected.
In many ways the right is imitating the left-wing armed revolutionaries of the ’60s, Che Gueverra and the Weather Underground. What is needed now is not to react to this violence with more violence. What is needed is to help these people chill out.
Liberals and left-wing progressives don’t spend much time listening to right-wing talk radio. Any spare time for the mass media is reserved for The Daily Show or Stephen Colbert or Saturday Night Live. And the reward is a self-satisfied smirk and a feeling of superiority. It must be how the artists and intellectuals in Weimar Germany felt when they laughed at that funny man with the little mustache.
We should not try to fight fire with fire. We need to fight fire with water. We need to listen to right-wing talk radio. We need to call up Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Alex Jones and gently pour water on their incendiary ideas. The alternative is continued violence, continued killings, continued chaos. It is up to us to make sense of it and help our right-wing brothers and sisters to simmer down.