I don’t know about you, but I’m still trying to make sense of last week in America. I spent my ink in this newsletter dissecting the omicron variant — what we know and what we don’t. At the time I thought, “This is it. This is this week’s story.” After all, what could be bigger news than the fact that the worst pandemic in modern history might just have gotten longer?
But COVID isn’t the only pandemic disease we’re dealing with. First it was headlines about one congresswoman’s overt racism and Islamophobia against another. And then a boy shot up his school, not 35 minutes from where I grew up. Hate and violence had claimed yet more innocent lives. The once unheard of has come to feel so common to be almost mundane.
While there is no direct link between a violence-obsessed congresswoman’s hate and a teenager’s murder spree, it’s worth identifying the way it contributes to the ecosystem that normalizes hate and violence.
Lauren Boebert, the reactionary radical right-wing Coloradan congresswoman and Twitter troll, implied Representative Ilhan Omar might commit an act of terrorism in the Capitol, saying she was part of a “Jihad Squad.” After two videos of her sharing an uncorroborated story leaked, Boebert did all she could to keep the story alive on social media. She called Omar privately, refused to apologize publicly, and after Omar hung up on her, publicly reiterated her racist claims. Boebert understands, like Donald Trump before her, that conflict drives attention, attention raises money, and in American politics, money is power.
Perpetuating hate is in keeping with Boebert’s general brand. Boebert is the proud owner of Shooters Grill, a gun-themed restaurant of questionable food quality. Boebert’s political persona is founded on the notion that America is a dangerous place, and that “real” (read white, Christian, and rural) Americans should be arming themselves to the teeth to protect themselves from the oncoming threat. Boebert is by no means the only one. Thomas Massie, another reactionary Republican congressman, posted a Christmas photo featuring his entire family, including his underaged children, each posing with an assault rifle.
That photo was posted just days after a 15-year-old boy killed four kids and injured seven others in Oxford, Mich., using the semi-automatic pistol his parents had bought him four days earlier. Indeed, he had been sent to the office earlier that day for a series of blood-curdling sketches he’d drawn. A few days earlier, a teacher caught him searching online for ammunition for his gun. In response, his mother texted him: “LOL I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.” In an open letter she posted the day after Donald Trump’s election, Ethan’s mother, a realtor, wrote “thank you for allowing my right to bear arms. Allowing me to be protected if I show a home to someone with bad intentions.” The shooter was raised by parents who not only sanctioned, but implicitly glorified violence.
His parents have since been charged with involuntary manslaughter for facilitating their son’s rampage. Some might argue that the Crumbleys shouldn’t be held accountable. They didn’t pull the trigger, after all. Sure they didn’t … they just bought a 15-year-old a gun, left it available for his use, and ignored his homicidal thoughts. Imagine what the Crumbleys’ apologists might be saying if the Crumbleys were instead the “Ahmeds,” or if they were Black?
Neither Lauren Boebert nor Thomas Massie pulled triggers either. But when leaders in positions of power express hatred and sanction violence, they normalize it. And people are listening. Just ask the marchers carrying shields that read “Victory or Death” at the “Patriot Front” rally in Washington, D.C., this weekend.
In a hyperconnected world, when violence-obsessed political leaders amplify and normalize hate and violence, it foments the echo chamber in which people like the Crumbleys decide to buy their little boy a gun — and it normalizes the kind of violence he commits with it. Because here’s the brutal irony: The consequences of his actions then ricochet around the world, validating the notion that the world is an unsafe place where people need to be armed to the teeth.
The spiral takes another turn.