In which Keith Rosson implores y’all to consider how, in 2019, the “gun debate” and the growing, organized, violent white supremacist movement are irrevocably intertwined, and how deplatforming white supremacists is the best idea we have going right now.

The killer leaves a manifesto.

The killer almost always leaves a manifesto, doesn’t he?

(Because it’s almost always a he, isn’t it?)

He leaves a manifesto, or a litany of online hate speech, or a history of arrests and threats. Often, all three. This is the maddening aspect of the mass shooter in 2019, and how more and more often his is a life intertwined with what is a brazen and growing white supremacist movement that all too often erupts in brutal slayings. The fact that so many of these men are of a singular type, a type that becomes so recognizable after the fact, can no longer be discounted.

He was active and outspoken on far-right messageboards.

He had recently begun going to white supremacist events.

He was fired for a racist tirade at a coworker or customer.

He was arrested for domestic violence, or harassment, or assault.

He was radicalized online.

The killer, perhaps, finds validation in the most basic notion of white supremacy: the idea that he is special, anointed with righteousness, and that were it not for some other group (and there are no shortage of groups) all would be well. It’s the Other that is holding him down! That is reducing his country to the shadow of what it once was or might have been! Be it Muslims, feminism, immigrants, homosexuals, there is no shortage. (There has never been a shortage of ways to name the Other, to vilify the Other, to blame the Other.) If only things could be the way they were in 1950, or 1850, or 1150.

The killer finds solace in the online world, a kind of tertiary brotherhood built in rage, in the shared fluency of masking poison as sarcasm, irony. Memes become lexicon, their own language, a currency moored in gallows humor, in shock. Nothing matters and everything matters. (I don’t pretend to really know what lives in the heads and hearts of these guys, that toxic mixture of rage and sneering contempt and a pure, screaming disconnect from the world, but these things seem irrefutable: rage, contempt, and disconnection seem paramount, the building block of the white supremacist.)

And ultimately, the killer leaves a manifesto, and he gathers his guns around him, and he steps into the school. The mosque. The synagogue. And once the gun smoke clears and the body count ticks upward on the television chyron, we constituents are petitioned with thoughts and prayers, and we feverishly debate each other that mental health is the issue, or that, no, guns are the issue. (Both are true. Gun access and mental health issues are ensnared with each other in America, like a snake continually eating its own tail forever.)

Meanwhile, as blame is tossed back and forth and the days pass, the white supremacist movement grows. Larger, more emboldened. A movement that’s grown smarter, that understands the façade must be presentable: the days of the Hammerhead Skin as the symbol of white supremacy is long over. It’s polo shirts and nice haircuts and speeches on college campuses now. It’s calling for the genocide of non-whites – which at its core is the very definition of violence – and housing it under the auspice of free speech. After all, they are only words.

Until they aren’t.

He was radicalized online.

He was radicalized online.

So here’s the thing. We can keep coddling white extremists in the hopes of rehabilitating them. We can “honor their right to free speech.” We can politely disagree with them as they rally for white ethno-states, as they call Muslims subhuman, or they vie for wiping out LGBTQ communities. We can mutter our disgust as they camouflage their calls for murder in "edgy memes" and chatroom irony. Meanwhile, they will be actively and brazenly organizing online, and will continue to kill or plan to kill vulnerable groups as long as they’re allowed to. Please keep in mind that every single extremist killing from 2018 was based in white supremacy or far right extremism. Every single one. Like the gun debate, this problem is not going away any time soon, certainly not with an administration that – depending on which person you’re pointing a finger at – either tacitly or brazenly supports such extremism.

So what to do? Another option, besides continuing to hear them out and act is if their beliefs are simply another ingredient in the melting pot which is the Great American Debate, is for the media to deplatform the living shit out of them. For the pacifists among you, this is a nonviolent act. It’s not even akin to doxxing, if that’s a concern. But forcing their ideology into ever darker and danker corners of the internet, making it more difficult for them to expose their ideas to new recruits, has had concrete, applicable effects. If you want to call that censorship, that’s fine with me. The far right already has the "free speech martyrdom" angle on lockdown no matter how they're dealt with. It's how they work. They use the notion of ideological persecution as a key feature of their platform, even as they organize and commit violence. But remember, while we’re discussing the nuances of how to politely disagree with these folks, and how to honor their right to free speech in the grand marketplace of ideas, no matter what deadly things they espouse, they are actively organizing and recruiting.

As long as we consider white extremism and their calls for the murder of vulnerable groups an "opinion" that can be discussed or negated or rehabilitated, vulnerable groups will continue to be killed at a greater and greater rate. These are unrepentant people who hide behind "It's just a joke," even as people are murdered. There's no talking them out of it. They need to have their means of communication removed. Deplatforming works.

It’s not the be-all end-all solution. I know that. I know that mass shootings are a part of life now. I fear that the “gun debate” is now just a part of the American psyche, the price we all pay, whether we want to or not, for a country long-obsessed with fetishizing weaponry in the name of “family protection”, and the aggrieved entitlement of the white man seems just as built in to the fabric of the nation. But deplatforming seems like a start. You look at someone like Richard Spencer, the most erudite and photogenic and presentable the alt-right had to offer, their learned posterboy, and where is he now? I mean, I’m sure he’s still around, and I’m sure he still thinks quite highly of himself, but when’s the last time you heard of him? He’s been delegated to his darkened corner. Yiannopoulos has been shorn of the majority of his social media accounts and is now forced to sell off his possessions in something akin to an online garage sale, his speaking engagements continually fall through, he’s having auctions for dinner dates as a way of raising money. It goes on and on: if you expose these people to light, they stand there, blinking and diminished. 

He left a manifesto.

He was radicalized online.

He was radicalized online.

He was radicalized online.

This is the world we’ve been given. What do we do with it?  

deplatforming gun debate mass shooting media radicalized online white supremacist white supremacy