Amid the national debate over gun control in the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that left 17 people dead, there’s one detail that has received too little attention: the fact that the mass killer repeatedly made white supremacist and Nazi-like comments on social media.
Was it a coincidence? Or was the latest massacre – and several of the previous ones – somehow related to a rise of racism in America?
Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old shooter who mowed down students and teachers at the Parkland school with a semiautomatic rifle, had made frequent racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic remarks in a now-deleted Instagram group.
Cruz said in his conversation with five other youths in the group that he hated “Jews, n––-s, immigrants,” CNN reported. He also talked about killing Mexicans, keeping black people in chains and shooting gay people “in the back of the head,” among several other racist memes and videos.
Like several recent mass shooters, Cruz used an AR-15 rifle, which he was able to buy legally at age 18 – at a time when he could not legally buy a beer. And like many domestic terrorists, Cruz was a mentally deranged person with racist beliefs.
A new study by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a liberal group that tracks hate crimes in America, says that the number of hate groups in the country rose by 4 percent last year, to 954 organizations that spout racist views against Muslims, Jews, African Americans, gays and immigrants.
The SPLC’s annual Hate and Extremism Report says the vast majority of these hate groups – more than 600 – adhere to some form of white-supremacist ideology. The number of neo-Nazi groups grew from 99 to 121 in 2017, while anti-Muslim groups rose from 101 to 114 during the same period, the SPLC report said.
The SPLC lays part of the blame on President Donald Trump’s hate-mongering rhetoric.
“President Trump in 2017 reflected what white supremacist groups want to see: a country where racism is sanctioned by the highest office, immigrants are given the boot and Muslims banned,” said Heidi Beirich, a SPLC official. “When you consider that only days into 2018, Trump called African countries ‘shitholes,’ it’s clear that he’s not changing his tune.”
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox suggested in an interview with HBO’s Bill Maher that the Parkland school shooting was “what you get” when “you speak out of the White House this aggressive, violent language, when you discriminate, when you are a racist.”
I’m not going to go as far as to blame Trump’s rhetoric for the Parkland high school shooting, but Trump could certainly do much more to revert the growing wave of racism that is gripping America, and that is giving a pretext to some mentally deranged people to go out and randomly kill.
Trump could, among other things, stop demonizing immigrants, such as when he said that most Mexican undocumented immigrants are “criminals” and “rapists.” That was a blatant lie, considering that the rate of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants is much lower than that of U.S.-born Americans, according to the Migration Policy Center.
Trump could stop making racist comments, such as when he said that a U.S.-born Hispanic judge was unfit to rule over a case because “he’s Mexican,” or when he claimed that “Islam hates us,” as if all of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims were anti-American.
And Trump could stop being soft on neo-Nazis, such as when he blamed “both sides” for the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a white supremacist smashed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters and killed a woman.
More important, Trump should show leadership and call for a ban on semi-automatic weapons, instead of coming up with insane proposals such as arming some of America’s 3.5 million teachers. That’s exactly what the gun industry and the National Rifle Association would want: selling as many as 1 million additional guns.
No matter where you stand politically, the fact is that there is an epidemic of mass shootings in this country, alongside a rise in racism. Trump should start doing something to reverse them – they’re a dangerous cocktail.
Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.