A recent study showed that two-thirds of terrorist attacks in the US are carried out by far-right individuals and groups. Research by the Southern Poverty Law Center, meanwhile, shows that most far-right violence is unambiguously linked to white supremacy.
In spite of the obvious and continued threat of white supremacist terrorism, Western societies still arguably do not take the danger as seriously as they should. A recent New York Times report showed that for decades US’s “domestic counterterrorism strategy has ignored the rising danger of far-right extremism”, which, the report also noted, is tied explicitly to white supremacy.
Political movements may help explain why many Western societies do not take the threat of white supremacy as seriously as they should – many Western political leaders are themselves beholden to white supremacy.
White nationalism has taken firm root in both European and American political mainstreams. In Europe, white nationalists have gained political traction and influenced elections and referendums, including the United Kingdom’s 2016 Brexit vote, while in the US, President Donald Trump and numerous Republican politicians have been linked to white supremacy.
White supremacist and former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke explained why white supremacists voted for Trump in US’s 2016 presidential election, and Trump made headlines in 2016 when he refused to disavow Duke’s support. In 2017, Trump famously equivocated on the KKK and called white supremacists protesting in Charlottesville, Virginia “very fine people”. Earlier this decade, Trump spearheaded campaigns challenging the intelligence, grades, and citizenship of the US’s first black President, Barack Obama.
White supremacy isn’t always violent, at least not at the level of the individual. Some effects of white supremacy are more insidious, but also more widespread and common. Scientific studies on implicit biases show that white people view black people as intellectually inferior and more threatening, among other things.
Implicit biases help explain why, for example, black Americans have more difficulty in obtaining loans and getting jobs, even after all non-race variables are controlled for. Perhaps most relevant to today’s anti-Muslim massacres in New Zealand is research showing that large proportions of white people in western societies tend to view Muslims and other brown immigrants as subhuman.
Another problem directly relevant to today’s New Zealand massacres is media coverage. Western news media coverage of Muslims tends to be negative and highly stereotypical. Violent crimes carried out by Muslims are highlighted in reportage, while violent crimes perpetrated against Muslims are often de-emphasised or ignored.
One peer-reviewed quantitative analysis showed that acts of terrorism committed by Muslims receive 357 percent more news attention than acts of terrorism committed by non-Muslims. Additionally, the word ‘terrorism’ is often ignored in the context of non-Muslim violence and used exclusively in news reports describing Muslim crimes.
Political elites and media coverage, then, are two factors helping to explain the largely negative perceptions of Muslims, black people, immigrants, and other minorities in contemporary Western societies. Today’s shooters in New Zealand weren’t born to hate Muslims or any other minority group. They were taught, just as all other white supremacist terrorists are taught, via bigoted discourses which have attained hegemonic status in western societies.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘New Zealand mosque attacks and the scourge of white supremacy’.