Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Pro-Deathers And Why We Are Looking For Answers In The Wrong Place

August 7, 2019 – 11:05 am ET 
By Rich Weissman, San Francisco, California (

With the recent series of terrorist shootings, we should be fearful that the national dialogue is focused on the wrong discussion, one that denies us the ability to go forward and address this issue in a meaningful way. Many, including the media, are looking at the psychological underpinnings of these events. Trump and the GOP leadership, along with their followers, have already spoken about the killers’ motives, blaming mental illness, personal isolation, video games and other individual psychological factors which detach the blame and attention from the sociological issues that underly this pattern of hatred and violence in America today. The cause of these terrorist acts goes beyond the psychological profile of killers and cults. Instead, it is based on systemic racism, systemic hatred of the other, and systemic adoration of violence and death, emanating from a deep-rooted culture of intolerance, fundamentalist religion, hyper-masculinity and misogyny in which guns and brutality are viewed positively and are seated values emanating from religious, educational, and political belief systems held by many in today’s America and presented by the current Trumpian ideology. It's about a larger pattern of  “pro-deathers” (a term I developed to identify this pattern), a cultural belief system that creates and incites bullying and hatred as normative, with a disdain for civility and a belief that life is not precious. It’s not about the vulnerability of the killers themselves as casualties of personal damage, or recipients of group damage in economic or demographic terms. No, it’s a phenomenon where the LEAST vulnerable groups are the MOST likely to participate in such group terrorist behaviors. That's the point. Terrorism in the U.S. is a white, Christian, heterosexual and male phenomenon, not one stemming from those minority groups who are vulnerable or from social or political groups that are marginalized. It’s white pride, Christian pride, straight pride and male pride. It’s a belief that only the lives of those who are of the majority matter, and those who are otherwise are not worthy of life. And Trumpism has given this culture an avenue and green light for expression.

The harsh reality is that those in power are engaged in terrorism, and that reality is a hard one to internalize, where race, religion, sexual orientation and gender are weaponized by those who are in control of our nation.

We like to think of terrorism as something from the outside and something committed by those without power. But that’s not the case. As with the Nazi concentration camps in WWII Europe, as with the Khmer Rouge killing fields in Cambodia, as with the Serbian atrocities in the former Yugoslavia, and as with other such locations in which blood thirsty butchery was rampant, these came from the MAJORITY group who was not under attack from the minority, but who believed in a culture of tyranny and violence and who were given a time in history to express that culture. That’s the point. It was an opportunity for nations to turn against themselves through a culture of brutality, a “pro-deathers” culture. We can examine the individuals involved, from Hitler to the men who killed this weekend, but we won't learn anything important, because their psychology is not the driver; rather, the social forces within nations that create a Hitler and a Trump and the like are the drivers, and the killers are simply part of a larger sociological force. That's the danger, and all the chatter about the murderers' psychological profiles and histories are GOP talking points meant to divert attention away from the root cause of this violence. Nazism isn't about Hitler; Trumpism isn't about Trump; and today's American terrorism isn't about these specific home-grown white, Christian, heterosexual males. It's about something much bigger than their individual stories.

They live in a culture of hate which comes directly from their religious, educational, political and normative belief systems. It's who they are as a people, and when given the social climate to express those belief systems, they engage. Hannah Arendt's 1963 book "Eichmann in Jerusalem - The Banality of Evil" shows how otherwise "simple" and "ordinary" people like Eichmann become monsters, not because of their psychological profiles, but because of the cultural values and the social forces in which they live. Simply saying that it's "anger" or “mental illness” personalizes the phenomenon and takes away from the dangerous sociological underpinnings which are at work. It's more than a psychiatric diagnosis; it's a Trumpian culture, it’s systemic, and it’s based on the worship of war, hate, religious extremism, guns and violence. It's pernicious. If we want to understand what drives these horrific acts, look no further than Trump rallies, children in cages, bans on religious minorities, references to those who are different as “animals” and “rat infested,” admonishing those who are of color by telling them to “go back to where they came from,” insisting that schools teach the Christian Bible, spewing hate from the pulpits of many Christian churches, and all of the new normative acceptance of the vile tweets, repulsive talking points and depraved behaviors from those in power, including heterosexual male sexual predatory behaviors which are now no longer beyond the pale of acceptability. That’s the issue.

The deplorable white supremacist, right-wing Christian, anti-LGBTQ, male-dominated culture is on the rise in all forms, and it is all-consuming. It’s no accident and it’s anything but random that mass shootings and hate crimes are typically against African Americans, Latinxs, Asians, Native Americans, Jews, Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ people and women, and that these are growing exponentially since Trump took office. Our nation is divided, and that divide is along these lines. It's not economic, it's not about specific issues or platforms, and the issue-based arguments (e.g. anti-universal medical care, anti-choice, anti- same sex marriage, etc.) are smoke screens to allow those currently in power and their base to claim a legitimate political position, masking their agenda to create a culture of oppression. It's far deeper and bifurcates the nation into two very different cultures which are fundamentally at odds and which are ultimately incompatible. One treasures life and liberty, while the other treasures death and destruction, willing to step over the bloody corpses in the name of their belief systems that do not value life and reject any of those activities that support life – science, medical care, vaccines, food assistance, minimum wage requirements, housing, education, etc. Their passion is for death to those who are different. Not economic or rational self-interest, just death to those who are different. That's the wake-up call we all need to hear. We need to understand that this is war – a cultural war of opposing values with no middle ground – and until we confront that truth there will be more attacks, and we’ll never reach a point where we can deal with gun violence and civility in a meaningful way. We’re on the path of the Nazis, Khmer Rouge, Serbs and other examples where history took the wrong turn and created cultures that were rotten to the core and engendered the persecution and murder of millions who were not like them. And today, we face a similar crossroad and potential endpoint.

The implications for our 2020 election are clear. We can ignore the sociological pattern and focus on the shooters, and nothing will change, massacre after massacre. Or, we can talk about the cultural war that the GOP, NRA, right wing Christian churches, and the organizations and companies that support them have propagated, not just issues, not just legislation, but how we must eradicate this kind of culture and the belief systems that support it from our society so as to embrace a belief system based on life and liberty. And maybe, just maybe, this group of white, Christian, heterosexual males will own up to the blood on their hands and their roles in this culture of terror, but don’t hold your breath, and if nothing more we can at least silence their voices and effectuate change. With or without them, we need to focus on a new cultural proposition that eviscerates the repulsiveness of the “normal” we now witness.