No lone wolf truly acts alone.
The Walmart in El Paso was crowded with back-to-school shoppers when a shooter opened fire and murdered twenty people, including a five-month old infant. Just moments before, a twisted manifesto, titled “An Inconvenient Truth,” was posted online.
“I am against race mixing because it destroys genetic diversity and creates identity problems,” the manifesto posted on 8Chan reads. The “inconvenient truth” it refers to is the theory of “great replacement” taken from the title of the manifesto by the gunman who took 49 lives in a live streamed attack on a New Zealand mosque. The fear of demographic replacement, or “white genocide” comes from a conspiracy theory which suggests that white people are being pushed into non-existence by miscegenation, immigration, and low birth rates. In the words of the Walmart shooter, “Actually, the Hispanic community was not my target before I read The Great Replacement […] In short, America is rotting from the inside out, and peaceful means to stop this seems nearly impossible.”
El Paso came right on the heels of a mass shooting in Gilroy, California, where another white supremacist, infatuated with the social darwinist volume Might is Right, took an AK-47 to a crowd of festival-goers, killing three people, including two children. Gilroy occurred right after Christchurch, New Zealand, which came right after the shootings at Chabad of Poway and Tree of Life synagogues. Towns like Gilroy and El Paso, Charlottesville and Charleston, become forever impacted by these instances of cruel violence. Their names become ghosts, as if their identities have been swallowed and what remains is the visage of the worst thing they have ever seen.
Each shooting provokes the public’s fascination with motivation. “We must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace,” said Donald Trump in his public statement the Monday after the El Paso shooting, doing his hardest to avoid the real causes. In past years, motivations like bullying, mental illness, family problems, and even social collapse were thrown around.
This story is different. We know what is motivating the killings. The shooter wrote 2,300 words of explanation.
And he was not the only one. This rapid succession of mass shootings is happening as hate crimes and global temperatures rise, inequality and precarity loom, and fascism returns to the political stage. There is an eschatology to current affairs under these conditions. People feel the sense of a looming apocalypse because the institutions that once protected them are falling apart. In this moment of crisis we can choose how to respond, with solidarity or with barbarism.
This is Guerilla War
This is the moment of lone-wolf violence where white supremacist anger has found a tactic. Even in eras of extreme racial terror, the perpetrators tried to espouse their crimes and lynchings with a logical jurisprudence, as if they were punishment for imagined crimes. Today, the shooters revel in their violent acts, as if the current state of the world is sufficient self-evidence that executions are necessary.
8Chan and forums like it have given a platform to this process. Radicalization through formal leadership, white nationalist publications, or organizations has limitations. Fascist media outlets can argue for mass violence, but they can be easily catalogued and marginalized, and social media sites usually take them down. 8Chan, on the other hand, has a smokescreen of millions of anonymous postings providing cover for racist propaganda. So someone can be hit with a barrage of messages encouraging them to turn to violence before the public is even aware that such arguments exist.
“Their names become ghosts, as if their identities have been swallowed and what remains is the visage of the worst thing they have ever seen.”
“Until law enforcement, and the media, treat these shooters as part of a terrorist movement no less organized, or deadly, than ISIS or Al Qaeda, the violence will continue,” Robert Evans, a journalist with the collective Bellingcat, warns. “There will be more killers, more gleeful celebration of body counts on 8Chan, and more bloody attempts to beat the last killer’s ‘high score.’” And the statistics of the total deaths in US mass shootings since the 1990s indicates that he is right.
There is a discernible pattern to white nationalist violence that has played out since the early twentieth century. Slightly more moderate right-wing ideologues help push more explicit fascism into the mainstream. Once they do, the fascists ride a wave of success on hot-button issues, such as integration, school bussing, and immigration control. These issues give way to political platforms, which allow fascism to have a moment of organizational and ideological influence. Eventually, antifascists put the squeeze on them, their own incompetence gets the better of them, their slightly more moderate counterparts betray them, and they are cast out into the wilderness. This is the moment where the fringe of the fringe picks up arms and prepares for war.
“Too many people still think of these attacks as single events, rather than interconnected actions carried out by domestic terrorists. We spend too much ink dividing them into anti-immigrant, racist, anti-Muslim, or anti-Semitic attacks. True, they are these things. But they are also connected with one another through a broader white power ideology,” writes Kathleen Belew, the author of Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America, in the New York Times. “Likewise, too many people think that such shootings are the goal of fringe activism. They aren’t. They are planned to incite a much larger slaughter by ‘awakening’ other people to join the movement.”
The alt-right saw the most immediate success of any white nationalist movement in the past forty years, which is why the last two years of decline hit them so hard. Their influence departs significantly from traditional white nationalist movements, like the Ku Klux Klan or Aryan Nations, because they manage to reach a mass audience through social networks rather than through bland meetings at an Elks Lodge. This has made their impact even more persistent such that, although their formal organizations and media outlets have taken a huge hit, an invisible cadre of angry young white men are still biting the ideological bait.
In the world of neo-fascist esoterica, you might hear the term “Wolf Age” bandied about. This is supposedly the period we are in. Wolf Age comes from the Odinic way of saying “Kali Yuga”, a term appropriated by fascists from the Vedic prophecies. Kali Yuga is the last of four ages and is the stage when humanity is at its lowest form, separated from enlightenment and social bonds. Racist “Traditionalist” philosophers like the ultra-fascist Julius Evola reinterpreted this as Nazi cosplay, seeing the Kali Yuga as the end time defined by degenerate identities, particularly non-white people, women, and secularized Jews. The Kali Yuga, or Wolf Age, has become a catch-all for the era of decline that members of the far-right think we are living in, an idea often built on paranoid delusions about the “traditional family” or “white survival.”
The Wolf Age is named as such because it is when wolves emerge. Evola wrote that in the Kali Yuga, people have to become spiritual warriors and “men against time,” living out their principles in total war against the system. Neoreactionaries, another form of pseudointellectual fascism popular in Silicon Valley and found in abundance on 8Chan, claim that these spiritual warriors need to recede from the Kali Yuga, build subsistence farms, and wait for the Golden Age to return.
Other men can’t wait. Instead, they emerge as wolves wanting to live out a vision of themselves as soldiers fighting for their tribe. In a world where the fate of “your people” is on the line, little else can seem to matter. White genocide is a fable told to gain recruits and illicit impulsivity. It determines the course of people’s lives, and adds to their despair.
This white panic has been years in the making, but is only now beginning to reach a critical mass. In 2001, Pat Buchanan, a figure at the heart of the American conservative movement and a check-in station for people on their way to full-blown white nationalism, released the Death of the West. The book posits that America is losing its identity due to “mass immigration,” the de-emphasis on Christianity, and the move towards multiculturalism. It is no accident that it almost replicates the title of Oswald Spengler’s 1922 The Decline of the West, a German conservative revolutionary book that set about a nationalist worldview in Europe and helped solidify this persistent gothic fantasy that the “West” is under assault and must be defended at all costs.
“We may deny the existence of ethnonationalism, detest it, condemn it. But this creator and destroyer of empires and nations is a force infinitely more powerful than globalism, for it engages the heart. Men will die for it. Religion, race, culture and tribe are the four horsemen of the coming apocalypse,” Buchanan writes in his 2011 book Suicide of a Superpower. He places ethnic nationalism right where he wants it, as the essential driving force of geopolitics.
“We are trying to create a nation that has never before existed, of all the races, tribes, cultures and creeds of Earth, where all are equal. In this utopian drive for the perfect society of our dreams we are killing the real country we inherited—the best and greatest country on earth.”
“As the pace and scope of fascist mass murders increase, the counter narrative about frightful antifascists surges alongside it.”
The identitarian movement, which is the European version of the alt-right, has created a mass movement targeting migrants and refugees. The identitarians have reframed history as an ethnic struggle so as to subvert the way participants see themselves and their mission.
“We are returning to the archaic, that is, the eternal condition of mankind, which the brief parenthesis of ‘modernity’ made us forget, in other words, the rivalry of peoples, of ethnic and cultural blocs and of civilisations,” claims Guillaume Faye, one of the perennial leaders of the European New Right, in his manifesto titled Why We Fight.
Buchanan has been joined by a whole range of authors and figures that exist in the grey area between the GOP and something else, sometimes called the alt-lite, sometimes national populists, and sometimes simply the people who take genocidal ideas and coat them in Americana.
The stories here, whether by Spengler, or Buchanan, or on 8Chan all send the same message: White people are finite. They have finite land, finite cultural space, finite populations. And finite time to do something about it. This is not a proposition that results in public policy or seasoned debate; it demands the kind of action that the shooters know the public would condemn but they imagine history would venerate. Sometimes you have to become a wolf to protect the flock.
That Liberal Media and Motivations
These shootings are always covered in the same way by media outlets: placing the individual front and center. The shooter is the center of the news stories, and the police, reporters, and community are charged with the task of getting to the heart of why they did it. In the better stories, the survivors are there too, but understanding personal motivation is still key: Who are they? What were they thinking? What drove them to it? Fascism is not about mental illness, but about ideas and anger. While the stories will certainly talk about the influence of white nationalist movements, they still focus on how a shooter drove nine hours to El Paso to kill, and went into Walmart because he was lost and hungry.
In the wake of a violent attack, the news is at the mercy of law enforcement, who sets the tone for how a crime is dealt with. The social factors that lead to these events mean nothing in a courtroom, and are often missing from the reporting.
In a letter to Franz Mehring, Friedrich Engels writes that “ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, it is true, but with a false consciousness. The real motive forces impelling him remain unknown to him; otherwise it simply would not be an ideological process. Hence he imagines false or seeming motive forces.”
We often understand lone-wolf shootings as the act of a single individual, without seeing the structural and ideological forces taking place behind their backs. But we also implicitly understand that when a lone-wolf killer is acting on white nationalist ideas, they are never truly alone. To explain that people often seek formal connections between the killer and white nationalist organizations, yet in an era where formalized organizations are becoming less central to political and social action, the effort could be in vain.
This does not mean, however, that these shootings are simply outbursts of the deranged. They are part and parcel of a white insurgency that has found its voice in an emerging fascism. There are people responsible for this beyond the shooters themselves. White supremacy is real and undergirds the rise of mass shootings. White nationalism has created an impetus for violence, teaching the how and the why by building an ideology, an apocalyptic scenario, and a method of action. One person pulled the trigger, but thousands took part in reconfiguring their worldview. It is therefore important to reject these singular narratives about the individual and see it in its larger context. The shooting is one moment in a guerrilla war that white nationalism has staged with all of us as combatants.
This era of lone-wolf killings is a sign of where we are at in the US and what we can expect for the future. The Armageddon imagined by white nationalists is one of their own making, but we all have to live in it if they continue to try to make it real.
First as Tragedy, Then as Farce
Shortly after the attack, and when the casualty numbers were still being calculated, the Lt. Governor of Texas Dan Patrick released this warning to Antifa: “Stay out of El Paso. Stay out of Texas […] scratch Texas off your map and don’t come in […] it is not the time and place for them to come at any time […] stay out of Texas.” This comes directly after Texas Senator Ted Cruz introduced a resolution to declare Antifa a “domestic terrorist organization.” Over the past several weeks Antifa panic has reached record heights. While the body count for the white nationalists piles up, Antifa is charged with minor scuffles at protests.The threat of white nationalist violence is, right now, at its absolute peak, yet we live in a world of inversion. Right-wing rhetoric has painted the left as the terrorists.
In a recent House Homeland Security Committee hearing, FBI’s Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Michael McGarrity acknowledged that nearly 90 percent of terrorist plots under federal investigation came from the far-right, yet the agency makes no particular distinction between left-wing and right-wing violence, lumping anti-racist activists together with neo-Nazis.
“US law enforcement doesn’t do enough about violent racists because as an institution, it itself is violently racist and contains white supremacists in its ranks,” says Natasha Lennard in The Intercept. “The new categories give the FBI further cover for the same bad practices.”
When Trump came into office, one of the first moves he made––maybe out of spite for Obama––was to shut down the Countering Violent Extremism Program, which allocated $10 million a year to fund organizations fighting white nationalism, including a $400,000 annual grant to Life After Hate. The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Community Partnerships was also cut to a small fraction of what it was before, further tamping down the possible interventions by law enforcement that could actually stop white supremacist murders.
“What is not yet decided is whether the breaking apart of capitalist hegemony will be liberatory or despotic.”
Since the 1990s there has been a nationwide shift in priorities from the focus on the radical right to a cynical focus on targeting Muslim immigrants and left-wing agitators. The radical right is Trump’s base, and making enemies out of the left and minorities is better political theater come election time.
At the same time, the institutions that help incubate this violence remain unchecked because there is really no way to check them. 8Chan is a literal safe space to signal your rage, and it takes real-world antagonism that comes from white nationalist propaganda and Trump’s dog whistles to compress them into their purest form: a mass shooting.
“The El Paso shooter’s manifesto was filled with dread for the future, including his own. These fears have been stoked by Trump, while 8chan has given them a specific expression in the form of a public massacre,” counter-far right researcher Spencer Sunshine told me. “These murders will continue regularly as long as Trump is in office and 8chan is online.”
8Chan may be offline soon because Cloudflare, which provided the security services that keeps websites like 8Chan online, cut the cord on the site. Now 8Chan is dealing with service outages as cyberattacks are common, which may limit its life. Trump also suggested that more aggressive action should be taken against white supremacist terrorism, an unlikely statement if there ever was one. There is an inherent limitation to both as no one expects Trump to provide any meaningful solutions for stifling the growing white nationalist movement, and if 8Chan is shut down the admins can simply hop to another service, and another, and another. Liberal solutions lack the teeth to take out white nationalism at its roots because they fail to understand that this exists in every community and radicalization happens from a thousand sources at once.
The Death of the West
As the earth thus becomes crowded with a corrupt population, whoever among any of the social classes shows himself to be the strongest will gain political power. ––Srimad Bhagavatam 12.2.7
As the pace and scope of fascist mass murders increase, the counter narrative about frightful antifascists surges alongside it. The reality of the violent threats we face is met with denial. The rhetoric that inspires violence has the power to grow in the years ahead. If “Send Her Back”––the frequent chant at Trump rallies that refers to Ilhan Omar––is now part of an acceptable political theater, what’s next?
There is a certain reality to the Wolf Age prophecy: we are living in the Death of the West. The decline of the economic hegemony of Western countries is real. And so too falls white hegemony piece by piece. We are the generation of collapse where every falsehood about how the world works (economically, ecologically, politically) is turned on its head. What is not yet decided is whether the breaking apart of capitalist hegemony will be liberatory or despotic. Meanwhile the masses of our coworkers, our friends, and our neighbors are polarized in both directions, making even the most banal of places unsafe.
White supremacy is the autoimmune disease of the working class. It can overpower instincts and make a working-class person think they are fighting against competition and scarcity when really they are killing off their only defense: class struggle. As the crisis deepens, which it undoubtedly will, white supremacy will attempt to offer racist ideology as an answer to working-class problems. This could lead to an insurgency which, with the toxic mix of national populism, conspiracy theories, economic implosion, and 8Chan, could be a recipe for explosive violence.
Crisis creates a break with the normal flow of politics and identity. Ideology redirects that break towards its prescribed narrative. This is why when a white worker looks at the bleak future, they are presented with a number of ideological ways forward. They could blame the bosses, the capitalist class who has created perpetual instability through deregulated global capitalism, and find socialism as the solution. They could also look at the same precarious life and decide to punch down, to blame other non-white workers. White supremacy drives this undying appeal to the basest instincts of the white masses, creating a machine based entirely on resentment and blame rather than the ability to see who is really causing our woes and why.
“The problem is that the desire to liberate and the desire to oppress are the same fucking desire,” Kevin Van Meter, the author of Guerrillas of Desire, told me once late at night years ago. He was echoing Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, who write in Anti-Oedipus that “the masses were not innocent dupes; at a certain point, under a certain set of conditions, they wanted fascism.” That desire is inside us, and can go a number of ways depending on the conditions we create.
Whether it is Donald Trump, Alex Jones, the churches we grew up in, our fathers, or our friends, a culture of violence has been teaching us that the only way to be truly free is to accept an ideology of tyranny. That lie has become so persistent that it doesn’t take 2,300 words to understand why someone brought a rifle into a crowd. The given script was simply played out with brutal efficiency.
Within hours of the El Paso shooting another shooter opened fire in a popular nightlife spot in Dayton, Ohio, killing nine people. There is no reason to think this will stop.
The lines for this type of violence have been drawn, and every economic factor that inspires it has grown. In the face of this apocalypse we could easily embrace nihilism, a strategy of emotional survival, but that misses the real story. The conditions of crisis are also creating an insurgent counterculture that demands a different world. A generation who grew up with this crisis-driven inequality and injustice refuse it on a mass scale.
“I was just thinking about if I had a child and, you know, if I wasn’t around, how I would want another man to react to seeing my child running around. So I just jumped fast and got as many kids as I could,” said Glendon Oakley, a bystander who saw a huge crowd of kids in and outside of the mall where the El Paso shooting occurred, and decided to take action.
“I didn’t even think. I just grabbed as many kids as I could and ran five stores down to the exit,” he told Task and Purpose. “We got there and ran into a whole batch of police pointing their guns at us. I wasn’t focused on myself, and I wasn’t focused on my surroundings . . . I was just focused on those kids.”
“I got all the people that I could, I even found a little girl that was missing from her parents, and I got her, too. I tried to get as many people as I could out,” said Leslie, a Walmart employee who was saving kids, to a local news station.
While the fragmentation is growing, so is the passionate response of people in communities across the country who refuse to join white supremacist terror and commit instead to mutual aid. This is the choice offered to us in this moment of crisis. We have to make choices about which impulse to indulge.
While there is a tendency to see legislative reforms as the solutions to the problem, it is the committed struggle of people in communities that has the ability to seed something different. Community support, defense, solidarity, and organizing has the ability to not only confront the far-right, but also undo the conditions that lead to its growth in the first place. This doesn’t mean that reforms are useless, but they are not the end. We are.
The metaphor of wolves and sheep has become popular in white nationalist corners of the Internet, using “alpha male” analogies for the zero sum game they imagine the world to be. In the period of the Kali Yuga, you are either one or the other. This dynamic of superior and inferior, they argue, will drive us into a restoration of the world’s proper order. That is the world we live in because it is the world that white supremacist terrorists live in, but we don’t have to leave it like that.
Instead we can commit to a vision of a different world entirely, one made more possible today because of the cracks in the current social system, and we can spread it. Just like Oakley, we have to move with our herding instinct to save as many lives as possible, even if that feels alien to the situation around us, and step forward to build institutions of safety, support, and interconnectedness. Without our action, the far-right will write a horror script for the future.