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Two separate gun massacres left 29 people dead this weekend in the United States. Americans went to sleep mourning the senseless murder of 20 people in El Paso, Texas and woke up to the news that nine more had been murdered in Dayton, Ohio.
So far this year in the United States, there have been 32 mass shootings, defined as a single incident where 3 or more people are killed,
This kind of bloodshed does not happen in a vacuum. It has roots in a political establishment that is fomenting white supremacy, allowing unprecedented access to high-powered weaponry, and demonizing anyone who attempts to address the problem.
Responsibility for white terrorism starts at the top, with President Trump and his purposely incendiary rhetoric. But the spread of this violent ideology also relies on a communications infrastructure provided by corporate America.
These tragedies must be politicized. They are the product of political dysfunction. They will not end without political action.
A website with a body count
The El Paso shooter left a 2300 word manifesto on the website 8chan minutes before beginning his deadly rampage. The shooter says he was inspired by the Christchurch killer, who also posted a manifesto on 8chan before murdering 50 people in New Zealand. Another shooter who targeted a synagogue in Poway, California posted to 8chan before launching his attack.
8chan is not just a receptacle for these screeds. It also provides the killers with a supportive audience for mass murder. These murders have been "gamified" by 8chan, whose users encourage people to beat the "high score" of prior shooters.
"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," journalist Robert Evans argues on the investigative website Bellingcat.
8chan requires cash to pay for the servers, bandwidth, and staff that keep 8chan running. It is able to stay afloat with the support of major corporations. In May, Popular Information reported that 8chan's owner, pig farmer Jim Watkins, monetizes 8chan, in part, through Amazon.
Watkins owns books.audio, a website that produces audiobooks, which he sells on Amazon.com. He then uses 8chan and related websites like The Goldwater, a news website that caters to the 8chan audience, to drive traffic to his products.
The books.audio audiobooks are sold through Amazon.com for a fee of between $3 and $17. They are also free if you sign up for an Audible.com subscription. If someone buys a books.audio audiobook through Amazon, books.audio gets a cut of 40 percent of the retail price. If the audiobook is downloaded by an Audible.com subscriber (who pays $15 per month for an all-you-can listen account), books.audio collects about 20 percent of the retail price. If someone subscribes to Audible.com and listens to a books.audio book as his or her first audiobook and then stays a subscriber for two months, books.audio gets a $75 new customer bonus.
Amazon is profiting from the 8chan audience. It could easily stop Watkins from financing 8chan through Amazon.com but has not acted.
Other corporations are also doing business with 8chan. Cloudflare provides the site's security and the domain is registered by Tucows. The CEO of Cloudflare told the New York Times on Sunday that he is "deliberating what to do about 8chan." A spokesman for Tucows said the company has "no immediate plans other than to keep discussing internally."
Shooter's manifesto draws from Trump's tweets, Fox News
The El Paso shooter's manifesto is a piece of political propaganda intended to inspire others to launch similar attacks, which is why this newsletter will not link to it. But it would also be a mistake to ignore the manifesto and how it parrots the hateful messages about immigrants regularly delivered by Trump and Fox News.
In the manifesto, the shooter says his attack is a response to the "invasion" of Hispanic immigrants into the United States. This is a term regularly used by Trump to demonize immigrants.
Trump has taken a cavalier attitude about the use of violence to "stop" immigrants. In May, Trump appeared at a Florida rally and talked about migrants coming to the southern border. Trump expressed frustration that border agents could not use weapons to deter them.
"How do you stop these people?" Trump asked. "Shoot them!" an audience member replied. Trump laughed and joked that "only in the Panhandle you can get away with that statement."
The manifesto contains several other phases favored by Trump, including "open borders," "free health care for illegals," and "fake news."
The El Paso shooter also said he was killing people to defend America "from cultural and ethnic replacement." He said that Democrats were conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration to replace whites and permanently seize political power. This is a racist conspiracy theory you can learn about on Fox News' primetime programming.
Here is Tucker Carlson talking about it in stark terms in December 2017:
Democrats know if they keep up the flood of illegals into the country, they can eventually turn it into a flood of voters for them...It's not a conspiracy theory, it's happening in public. You can watch it happen...Their political success does not depend on good policies, but on demographic replacement, and they'll do anything to make sure it happens.
It wasn't an isolated comment. Carlson and his guests regularly discuss how immigrants are trying to "replace" whites. Before the 2018 election, host Laura Inghram urged her viewers to vote Republican or face "a House dominated by Democrats who want to replace you, the American voters, with newly amnestied citizens and an ever-increasing number of chain migrants."
Dismantling efforts to combat white supremacy
In addition to provoking racial resentment, Trump has actively dismantled efforts to combat the rising threat of white supremacy. In 2016, the Obama administration created a grant program, the Countering Violent Extremism Grant Program, to counter domestic threats, including white supremacy. One of the grantees, Life after Hate, helps people escape white supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations. Another program, run out of the University of North Carolina, supported young people working to prevent their peers from adopting white supremacy. Shortly after he took office, Trump canceled both grants. He later effectively ended the entire program.
Trump famously said that some of the participants in a white supremacist march in Charlottesville were "very fine people." After the Christchurch massacre, asked if white supremacy was a "rising threat," Trump dismissed white supremacists as "a small group of people."
It's the guns, stupid
Virtually every country in the world has video games, movies, and mental illness. But no country has as many guns as the United States.
At the end of 2017, there were "more than 393 million civilian-owned firearms in the United States, or enough for every man, woman and child to own one and still have 67 million guns left over." No other country in the world has more than 71 million civilian-owned firearms, according to the 2018 Small Arms Survey.
The United States has 120 civilian weapons for every 100 people. The next highest rate is in Yemen, which has 53 civilian weapons for every 100 people. Another way to look at it: Americans "make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns."
In the aftermath of a day with two mass shootings, Republicans were quick to blame video games. But a study of "the world's 10 largest video game markets yields no evident, statistical correlation between video game consumption and gun-related killings." Countries "where video game consumption is highest tend to be some of the safest countries in the world," which is likely a reflection of national wealth.
A growing body of research suggests the "only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns."
Trump, however, is determined to demonize even modest efforts at gun control. Democrats have proposed universal background checks and banning some kinds of military-style assault rifles. As the El Paso shooting was occurring, however, the Trump campaign was running a Facebook ad falsely accusing Democrats of advocating the repeal of the Second Amendment.
Shortly after news of the El Paso massacre broke, this Facebook ad was set to "inactive."
UPDATE (8/5, 9AM): Cloudflare terminated service for 8chan.
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