Toxic White Supremacist Culture: Extremism Playing Out in Real-Time
This week on democracy-ish, “It’s just another brilliant day in America where extremism is rearing its head,” says Danielle. Daily Beast columnist and “Go Back to Where You Came From” author Wajahat Ali is back to commiserate about white extremism and WTF to do about it.
Ethan Crumbley, the 15-year-old gunman who murdered four classmates and injured seven others at his high school in Oxford, Michigan, has been charged as an adult with terrorism, murder, assault and possession of a firearm. His parents have now been charged with involuntary manslaughter as well.
The Daily Beast published an open letter Crumbley’s mother posted on social media back in 2016 that expressed her support for Trump.
What does this letter tell us about the mindset of GOP voters? How can we combat this toxic white supremacist, extremist culture?
This week, we learned more about the victims of the mass shooting at a high school in Oxford, Michigan, as well as the tragedy itself.
“We saw videos of students escaping out of windows,” says Waj. “And now we hear more and more stories of students acting like superheroes. Like the football player who went in to protect his fellow classmates and was killed. Because that’s what we expect of our kids now.”
We also learned that Ethan Crumbley, the 15-year-old gunman, wrote about his plans in his journal and posted incriminating videos on social media before he murdered four classmates (and injured seven others).
He was charged as an adult with one count of terrorism, four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with intent to murder, and 12 counts of possession of a firearm. And as it turns out, Ethan’s parents, Jennifer and James, were clearly complicit in their son’s crimes.
“His dad went out on Black Friday to get a discount on a murder weapon,” says Danielle, referring to the 9mm Sig Sauer handgun Ethan used in the attack.
Apparently, both parents were called to the school for a face-to-face meeting with administrators about their son’s behavior — the very morning of the murders. But perhaps the most damning clue about WTF happened is contained in an open letter, published by The Daily Beast, that Crumbley’s mother posted on social media in 2016 expressing her political views, including her support for Donald Trump.
Waj and Danielle think this latest school shooting, steeped as it is in Trumpist culture, is a red alert for us all. How can we move forward with hope when we’re dealing with a new generation of white, armed and rage-filled teens? And how is this rise of white extremism affecting marginalized communities, womens’ bodily autonomy — and our democracy itself?
Episode Highlights — The Rise of White Extremism
Mrs. Crumbley’s ‘Dear Don’ letter
“I’m just going to quote some juicy parts of this exquisite letter,” says Waj.
Jennifer Crumbley wrote: “As a female and a Realtor, thank you for allowing my right to bear arms … Allowing me to be protected if I show a home to someone with bad intentions. Thank you for respecting that Amendment.”
She complained about parents at other schools where the “kids come from illegal immigrant parents” and “don’t care about learning.”
The Daily Beast story adds that Jennifer Crumbley “was in favor of Trump’s long-promised border wall” and that she insisted wasn’t racist “because her grandfather came straight off the boat in Italy.”
It was signed, “A hard working Middle Class Law Abiding Citizen who is sick of getting fucked in the ass and would rather be grabbed by the pussy.”
“I did not make any of that up,” says Waj.
(The Daily Beast did not report whether Ms. Crumbley pressed charges against anyone for either ass-fucking or pussy-grabbing).
The vacuous victimhood of the GOP voter
“As I inhale that insane fuckery right now, I cannot believe that she believes — with her capital [letters] middle class — that she is a good person,” Danielle replies.
“What kind of person arms their child and sends them into school? … And who thanks the 45th President of the United States for their right to bear arms, as if he was in the room writing the Constitution? I’m so confused about the ways in which they have deified this man.”
Waj thinks the letter, co-signed by the boy’s father James, “just exquisitely captures the mindset of the modern Republican voter: the fears, the victimization, the paranoia, the conspiracy theories, the excusing of misogyny.”
As Waj points out, “two parents who think like this raised a son who took a gun, and with premeditation shot four people. He wanted to kill more people. But thankfully, he was stopped.”
With parents like this…
Waj asks: Can you imagine what they would’ve done if Ethan Crumbley was Black?
“We don’t even have to,” Danielle replies. “Because the Black children you mentioned, who were murdered, were victims. And they weren’t even allowed in death as victims to be humanized as victims.”
As Waj notes, many news outlets did not use Crumbley’s mugshot. Instead, they chose childhood snapshots of “this harmless little pudgy, white baby who just happened to be middle class and normal … This is what we do with white murderers. We want to see Crumbley in his little tuxedo, looking so innocent.”
That’s because hate is learned — and taught, says Waj.
“The letter [Ethan Crumbley’s] mom wrote … makes sense” in the context of “the culture this kid comes from,” he adds.
“I’m sure he has mental health issues as well, but why did he turn out the way he did? Parents like this.”
What teaching hate looks like
Waj covered a Trump rally in Maine for the Huffington Post about two weeks before the 2016 election. The pussy-grabbing Access Hollywood tape had just come out. His assignment was to ask white women why they still supported Trump.
“I spent nine hours there,” he recalls. “And it was like a buffet of whiteness. Every white under the sun: senior whites, biker whites, young whites. And I’m telling you, the women loved this guy. I’m talking about wealthy women, middle class women, educated women. When I said, Why are you against Hillary Clinton, they said: Aw, locker room talk. He keeps it real. He’s politically incorrect. He shoots from the hip. He’s an equal opportunity offender.”
He says he was “one of the darkest things in that entire place — it was mike stands, speakers and me.”
The warm-up act, Rudy Giuliani, didn’t even speak in complete sentences, Waj recalls. Giuliani just yelled MAGA catchphrases — “lock her up,” “build the wall” and anything related to Trump’s proposed “Muslim ban” were the biggest applause lines.
Waj vividly remembers the people in front of him at the rally — a father and son who looked to be middle- or upper-middle class. As the father applauded, his son did as well — looking up to his father for validation every time.
“And his father looked down on him and nodded,” says Waj. “I’ll never forget that. This type of hate is taught.”
Will the Oxford shooter’s parents become right-wing martyrs?
At the time this episode was recorded, Jennifer and James Crumbley were not yet charged with any crimes connected to their son’s murderous rampage. And they were not cooperating with law enforcement. But Waj predicted they would.
“Maybe I’m being way too cynical, but you tell me,” he says to Danielle. “Will these parents end up being GOP martyrs, victims and heroes?”
That’s precisely where she wanted to shift the conversation. The Daily Beast’s publication of Jennifer Crumbley’s letter to Trump makes a connection that Danielle thinks mainstream cable news will not, because they’ll say: We don’t know what’s in people’s hearts.
“Well, she told you,” Danielle says. “Clearly, in black and white. She is an extremist … who believes there are too many immigrants in this country who don’t care about their kids. She doesn’t want to be around ‘big pharma,’ so we shouldn’t have Obamacare. Those are right wing talking points.”
‘Christian Sharia’ is Islamophobia
Danielle thinks Jennifer Crumbley could be the next Chief of Staff for Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Islamophobic, conspiracy-theory-touting congresswoman who has been censured by her own party.
“Is it time to start talking about extremism in the media?” she asks.
“It has been time,” Waj replies.
“I can’t imagine how you feel as part of a community that is not only marginalized, but is targeted as part of the ‘Axis of Evil,’” she says, pointing out that the Bush-era concept “basically put a red Sharpie around a part of the world where Brown people are and said, They’re evil. They need to be put down.”
“Why do they have to bring Sharia law into this at all?” Danielle asks.
The ‘DNA of extremists’ is a match
“I’m glad you mentioned that,” says Waj. “Because in order to to describe it, we completely villainize and demonize everything that is Islam, because Muslims are inherently seen as terrorists. That’s why they attack Ilhan Omar, a Black woman who simply wears hijab.”
That’s why he keeps telling people: “Nope — this is white, Christian America. Don’t bring Sharia into it. Muslims aren’t doing this.”
Even though he makes the analogy between white supremacist groups and groups like ISIS and the Taliban, he always makes clear that it’s just that, an analogy — and it’s apt, “because the DNA of extremists is so similar,” he adds.
“If you take away the superficial veneer, there are very similar pathways towards radicalization: the hatred towards women … the romanticization of the past, the perpetual victimhood, the rationalization of violence to achieve their Valhalla on Earth.”
‘The dark, beating heart of America’
The similarities between Muslim and Christian extremists are striking, but we “have to name it,” says Waj. “And the reason why we don’t want to name it is because it will reveal the dark, beating heart of America that people don’t want to confront.”
And if we confront it, we have to rationalize it — which includes rationalizing our own roles in “either perpetuating it or being against it,” he says. “No one wants to have that conversation.”
So instead, we refer to terrorists like Crumbley as “lone wolves,” who are “disturbed,” usually because they were bullied. But it’s simply white Christian supremacy at work.
Danielle thinks Mama Crumbley’s letter reflects the obsessions of high-profile GOP extremists like Marjorie Taylor Greene: “Big Pharma” (leading quite naturally to an anti-vax stance), the fetishization of the Second Amendment, the demonization of “illegal aliens.”
Where’s Madame Vice President? In the basement
Danielle wants to know why she only sees President Biden on TV talking about the latest variant and other COVID news.
“Why aren’t we also seeing Kamala Harris, who was supposed to be leading up the vaccination rollout?” she asks. “Why are we just seeing him talking about Build Back Better, when he has another mouthpiece, the Vice President of the United States?”
It makes Danielle feel like Harris’ candidacy was a “prop” — “We will put her up there, she looks good, we’ll get your 81 million votes. And then we’ll hide her in the basement, because we don’t want white people to be reminded of the fact that our vice president is a woman of color,” she says.
“It’s the tokenization of Black and Brown voters who represent the base of the Democratic Party, especially in national elections,” Waj says. “But then once [the party] is in power, it will always put them second to the aggrieved white voter in the Rust Belt, who will never vote for them again.”
Stacey Abrams cannot be ignored
That’s why candidates like Stacey Abrams, who Waj says “had to literally will herself like a dynamo and hand-deliver Georgia just to be finally respected,” are so critical right now.
The Democrats “cannot ignore” her, which is why the recent announcement that she’s running for governor again against Brian Kemp — “one of the architects of massive voter suppression in Georgia,” Waj notes — has been welcomed by the party faithful.
“They’re forced to welcome it,” Waj adds. “Imagine Stacey Abrams three or four years ago. They wouldn’t have welcomed her. But now they realize: We need this Black woman; we can’t get Georgia without her.”
Meanwhile, the attitude toward other prominent Democratic women seems to be: “Cori Bush, go eff off. Kamala Harris, stay in the basement. AOC, stick with your Instagram. And Ilhan Omar, never tweet,” he says.