What Happened Today: July 5, 2022
Nation rocked by weekend of shootings; rural South losing hospitals; The Rise of Memetic Terrorism
The Big Story
A weekend of gun violence has left dozens of people dead or injured throughout the nation. In Highland Park, Illinois, a sleepy suburb 25 miles north of Chicago, six people were killed and at least 25 suffered gunshot wounds at a Monday afternoon Fourth of July parade when a gunman opened fire from a rooftop into the crowd below. Home to a large Jewish population, as of this writing there is no evidence that the shooting was motivated by prejudice. The 22-year-old man taken into custody as the primary shooting suspect had distributed several music videos online that made explicit reference in their lyrics and images to shooting incidents and confrontations with police, including one in which a cartoon figure with similar physical attributes to the suspect carries out a shooting as the suspect raps, “I need to just do it. It is my destiny.”
The suspect’s videos and online presence incorporate both left- and right-wing political symbolism, fueling online commentators who present the shooting as evidence of culpability by whichever political faction they deem worthy of the blame. But as a musician who claimed to have worked previously with the suspected shooter tweeted yesterday, he “was never a white nationalist. And was never a leftist” but rather “gravitated towards aesthetics he found interesting,” which suggests that the shooting might have been carried out with no larger political project or ideological goal in mind.
The Highland Park killing was one of seven mass shootings nationwide on Monday in which four or more people were shot or killed, pushing the U.S. mass shooting total to 309 this year. In Chicago alone, 57 people were shot over the weekend; New York City saw three dead and 13 injured in shootings; six people suffered gunshot wounds at an incident in Kansas City, Missouri, with the same number injured at a shooting in Richmond, Virginia; and playing in a bounce house at a barbecue in Indianapolis on Monday, a 10-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl were shot in an attack called “unprovoked” by the police captain there. “The suspects arrived on scene and opened fire on a crowd.”
In Philadelphia, two police officers were shot and crowds dispersed in a stampede at the city’s iconic Fourth of July fireworks celebration. The incident adds to Philadelphia’s 1,176 shootings this year, on pace to crack last year’s record number of shootings. As The Scroll has previously reported, despite the surge in shootings, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, led by DA Larry Krasner, has actively declined to prosecute illegal gun cases in the city and argued that locking criminals up on gun charges is not “a viable strategy to reduce shootings.” At a press conference Tuesday, Philadelphia’s Mayor Jim Kenny told reporters, “I’ll be happy when I’m not here—when I’m not mayor, and I can enjoy some stuff.” The mayor’s candor was a product of both his term expiring in 2024 and the lack of success by local officials to stem the gun violence. “I’m waiting for something bad to happen all the time.”
In the Back Pages: The Rise of Memetic Terrorism
→ The nonprofit organization known as Mission Neighborhood Centers has sued San Francisco after the city severed two contracts worth $3.7 million on the grounds that members of the group “sold drugs, slept on the job, harassed residents, and generally failed to carry out their duties,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Ostensibly tasked to help the city’s homeless find jobs and housing while dealing with drug addiction, the group says it was fulfilling its end of the bargain and denies the city’s claims. “There is a lot of hearsay but no evidence of any wrongdoing,” said Richard Ybarra, the group’s director. In city documents obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request, the Chronicle found several instances that would seem to justify the city’s concern. In an email, one mayor’s office staff member wrote that he’d received “reports of a worker selling drugs while on the clock and ‘catcalling’ women.” Another report obtained in the request documented a staff member of the group who was “both selling marijuana out of a large paper bag and smoking it with another person.”
→ If you google Big Tech’s most prominent academic supporter, you’ll learn that he’s on Google’s payroll. Professor Anupam Chander of Georgetown University Law Center recently authored an open letter “observing that the American Innovation and Choice Online bill, in current form, will have negative implications for hate speech and disinformation.” The bipartisan American Innovation and Choice Online Act would target Big Tech’s monopolistic practice of controlling the digital marketplace and privileging its own products, but now Chander is rallying an army of academics against the bill. According to The American Prospect, however, not only has Chander “disclosed Google funding in 10 separate research papers, but a source with direct knowledge of the situation told the Prospect that Chander also was reimbursed by Google for trips to three Asian countries in the mid-2010s to promote his work at conferences, and worked with PR firms with relationships with Google to place op-eds about his research.”
→ MAP OF THE DAY:
The rural South is losing hospitals at a precipitous pace, with 13 hospitals shuttering in 2020 alone. This map documents the decline, which is leaving millions of Americans marooned and without access to adequate health care—especially in emergencies. “One person mentioned that right now, the nearest hospital is 25 miles away. And the community is deflated and angry, because it feels like nobody cares if they die,” said Kinika Young, a director at the Tennessee Justice Center.
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→ Seemingly less out of love for their children than because of the cost of childcare, parents are choosing to work less and stay home with their kids more, and mothers are doing so almost six times more often than fathers. For American households with average incomes, childcare costs eat up 20% of net household income, incentivizing parents to trade their careers for full-time parenting. For many, this is not a happy exchange: 3 out of 5 mothers, according to The Economist, would go back to work if they could only find suitable and affordable childcare. Nationally, the average cost of childcare is $16,000 per child per year; in New York City, the average is $21,000.
→ Spotify users will once again be able to stream Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Guinnevere” and “Wooden Ships” after the band ended its five-month boycott of the platform because, according to Graham Nash, Spotify has “taken a positive step by adding a Covid content advisory to podcasts that include a conversation about Covid, directing listeners to a Covid information hub.” The CSN Spotify boycott came after Neil Young, who joined the band following its debut album to form CSNY, first pulled his catalog from the platform because one of Spotify’s biggest podcasters, Joe Rogan, hosted guests that Young found to be “spreading fake information about vaccines.” In February, CSN backed Young and “agree[d] with him that there is dangerous disinformation being aired on Spotify’s Joe Rogan podcast.” But that dangerous disinformation isn’t so threatening now that Spotify has added a content warning to its episodes. For the first month, CSN will donate its Spotify money to charity. After that, the streaming revenue will be the band’s to keep.
→ TWEET OF THE DAY:
→ The Oregon Health Authority, a tax-payer funded agency that oversees most of the state’s public health policies and institutions, recently rescheduled a meeting between state health groups because, as Danielle Droppers, regional health equity coalition program manager, explained in an email, “[W]e recognize that urgency is a white supremacy value that can get in the way of more intentional and thoughtful work, and we want to attend to this dynamic.” That email was met with some rather urgent responses. “[A]s a person of color,” one community member wrote, “I am calling BS!” A similarly confused state official responded to Droppers’ email, saying that they’d done a bit of research and found a widely circulated PDF, “White Supremacy Culture,” that might shed light on the situation. Used by many organizations and institutions, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., the document argues that possessing a sense of urgency—as well as preferring quantity over quality, wanting things to be written down, perfectionism, and becoming defensive—are all white supremacist traits.
→ Albany’s Good Cause Eviction law—which was passed earlier this year to protect renters from rate hikes greater than 3% and from being evicted without a justified reason—was voided by a state judge, who found the law to be a violation of the state’s laws governing property use. The law bars landlords from evicting tenants purely because they might be able to lease the property to another tenant for higher rent, and was intended to help give home renters greater security. The law’s voiding comes as rents are surging statewide—in some cases by more than 70%—and evictions are hovering near their highest rate since the pandemic-era federal eviction moratorium lapsed in January 2022. With Albany’s law now voided, similar laws in other parts of New York are sure to follow suit.
→ Airlines and their airline unions continue to battle it out for better pay and benefits, just as disruptions caused by labor disputes and some unfortunately timed software errors continue to wreak major headaches for travelers over the summer season. More than 1 in every 4 flights on American Airlines were delayed over the Fourth of July weekend, after a failure in the airline’s computer scheduling system saw flight crews withdrawing their shifts for at least 12,000 scheduled flights on Friday. The union representing the airline employees wants American Airlines to fork over more money for the flight crews needed to fill the gaps, citing a similar incident in 2017 when the airline offered major bonuses to pilots covering dropped shifts. So far American hasn’t budged after it recently acquiesced to a salary bump for its pilots. Scandinavian airline SAS ran out of runway in its own negotiations with its pilot union, filing for bankruptcy protection in the United States after failed labor talks triggered a strike by its flight crews. The SAS strike will pile on more delays and cancellations for European travelers and cost the airline at least $10 million a day until the pilots take flight once again.
→ QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“The Mafia have evolved along with society. Gays can be accepted now, even as foot soldiers, so long as they don’t parade it in public.”
Nicola Gratteri, an Italian prosecutor who has spent years eavesdropping on the powerful ’Ndrangheta mob, which controls 80% of the cocaine that flows into Europe. Gratteri learned that the mob, which used to disappear men it suspected of being gay, has become a more inclusive organization—a discovery he happened upon when he intercepted some “passionate” letters between a lieutenant and boss.
Additional reporting and writing provided by The Scroll’s associate editor, David Sugarman
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Today’s Back Pages on “Memetic Terrorism,” written by Scroll editor Jacob Siegel, was originally published here on May 16, in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York. We are republishing it in light of the shooting in Illinois because its underlying themes about the evolving nature of terrorist violence continue to be relevant.
The Rise of Memetic Terrorism
What if the standard accounts of terrorism are no longer valid to explain the acts of radical violence being incubated in the chaos-loving message boards online? The assumption—after attacks like the ones in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 2018, Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019, and Buffalo, New York, last weekend—is that the murders are inspired by and intended to serve an actual ideology. But what if this is not true? What if the terrorists in these cases are only adopting the language of political struggle to enact the motivations of the arsonist or the suicide? If that’s the case, then political radicalization, as it’s conventionally understood, may not be the best framework for understanding and dismantling the processes driving these attacks.
“I told myself that eventually I was going to kill myself to escape this fate. My race was doomed and there was nothing I could do about it.” The words come from the manifesto written by the 18-year-old resident of Upstate New York who is now in police custody after traveling to Buffalo to ambush Black people at a supermarket. He livestreamed himself killing 10 shoppers before he was stopped. His manifesto reads partly like an elaborate suicide note written to an imagined community online instead of his actual family and partly like an imitation of previous manifestos written by other notable neofascist terrorists, whom he cites in his letter.
“I’ve only been lurking here for a year and half, yet what I’ve learned here is priceless. It’s been an honour [sic],” wrote the 19-year-old who opened fire on the Chabad of Poway in California in April 2019—exactly six months after another fever-brained racist fixed on the idea that Jews are engineering the demise of the white race opened fire on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg, killing 11 people. The honor described by the Poway shooter referred to his time on the message board 8chan, where he had first encountered the “replacement ideology” and became steeped in the lore of other far-right terrorists like the shooters in Pittsburgh and Christchurch.
A political movement in which every member pens their own individualist political manifesto is, needless to say, incapable of accomplishing anything since it contains no common agenda beyond resentment and the will to murder. Yet, ironically, the desire to become the author of a manifesto, which can provide a way of blathering on into near eternity because the media amplifies its message, is proving to be a powerful motivation to murder.
Terrorism evolves. The 19th-century European terrorists who were active in London, Paris, and other cosmopolitan cities, but most of all in Tsarist Russia, were militant secularists, often anarchists, associated with one variety or another of left-wing liberationist ideology. Rather than all being bloodthirsty nihilists, some of these early political terrorists were more like assassins. In the United States, the prominent terrorists of the 19th century did have a religious character insofar as the Ku Klux Klan and nativist groups attacked Catholic immigrants and Jews as well as Blacks. But the religious motivation for the KKK was essentially sectarian. It was not, as it would be for later waves of Islamic terrorists, an absolutist worldview summoning apocalyptic violence.
What the 19th-century anarchist bomb throwers, the KKK, later nationalist movements like the Tamil Tigers and PLO, and Islamist groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS have in common is a canonical doctrine that identities the movement’s ultimate goals and its sources of authority. The new wave of white nationalist terrorism, which struck again in Buffalo, has identifiable beliefs and designated scapegoats but no set ideological program or fixed doctrine, let alone a political map for how to achieve its aims.
The killer in Buffalo wrote in his 180-page manifesto that his radicalization came from searching the internet when he was bored in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ideology he concocted for himself is similar to the one espoused by the Christchurch killer and other “memetic terrorists” in that it is devoted above all to the cause of white birth rates but makes its cause using a pastiche of left- and right-wing political tropes.
Rather than being built around zealots steeped in religion or ideology, the new internet-driven “memetic terrorism” of the far-right seems to appeal to marginalized men who see themselves as victims and seek affirmation from the online social networks in which they were radicalized. They kill not to accomplish anything in particular but to imitate the ritualized murder sprees of the racist killers who came before them and achieved “internet fame.”
“I have to do this before I lose my nerve,” wrote the 21-year-old Texas resident who opened fire at a supermarket in El Paso, Texas, in 2019, killing 23 people. “I figured that an under-prepared attack and a meh manifesto is better than no attack and no manifesto.” The audience for the shooter’s missive was his fellow board members on 8chan.