'White power ideology': why El Paso is part of a growing global threat

Photograph: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

bipartisan calls for the US to treat the threat of domestic “white terrorists” as seriously as the threat of attacks by supporters of al-Qaida or Isis.” data-reactid=”16″>Reports that the suspected gunman at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, saw his mass shooting as “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas” has prompted bipartisan calls for the US to treat the threat of domestic “white terrorists” as seriously as the threat of attacks by supporters of al-Qaida or Isis.

But experts who study racist violence say the attack must be understood not just as a domestic problem within the United States, but as part of a global network of white nationalist radicalization and violence.

175 people killed worldwide in last eight years in white nationalist-linked attacks” data-reactid=”18″>Related: 175 people killed worldwide in last eight years in white nationalist-linked attacks

The escalating global death toll from white nationalist attacks puts a spotlight on the social media companies that have allowed white nationalists to organize on their platforms with little interference, as well as on the clear parallels between white terrorists’ justification for their attacks, and the racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric of some mainstream politicians. Donald Trump has repeatedly referred to immigrants and refugees as an “invasion”.

A global problem

A “manifesto” that appeared to be linked to the El Paso attack on Saturday described the growing number of Latinx people in Texas as an “invasion” that threatened the political power of white residents. The shooting, which left at least 22 people dead, is being investigated by federal officials as an act of domestic terrorism.

Perpetrators of other recent attacks around the world indicated that they, too, believed that white people were under attack, and that immigrants, refugees and other people of color are “invaders” who put the white race at risk.

Supporters of the National Socialist Movement, a white nationalist political group, give Nazi salutes while taking part in a swastika burning in Georgia on 21 April 2018. Photograph: Go Nakamura/Reuters

Quebec in January 2017. The American man who plowed his car into a crowd of protesters after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, later that year. The 46-year-old American who allegedly attacked a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018. The Australian man who allegedly killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, this March.” data-reactid=”34″>The Canadian man who opened fire at a mosque in Quebec in January 2017. The American man who plowed his car into a crowd of protesters after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, later that year. The 46-year-old American who allegedly attacked a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018. The Australian man who allegedly killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, this March.

Many of these attacks inspired even more acts of violence. The suspected Christchurch shooter, who is accused of livestreaming his murder of dozens of innocent people in New Zealand in March, appears to have inspired at least two additional mass shootings in the United States within five months. In April, another young white man opened fire at a synagogue in Poway, California, killing one woman and injuring three other people. He cited the Christchurch attacks as his model, prosecutors said. On Saturday, the manifesto linked to the El Paso shooting, too, referred to the Christchurch massacre as an explicit inspiration.

“Too many people still think of these attacks as single events, rather than interconnected actions,” the historian Kathleen Belew, author of Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America, wrote in an opinion column on Sunday. “We spend too much ink dividing them into anti-immigrant, racist, anti-Muslim or antisemitic attacks. True, they are these things. But they are also connected with one another through a broader white power ideology.”

Defining white nationalism

At the center of contemporary white nationalist ideology is the belief that whiteness is under attack, and that a wide range of enemies – from feminists to leftwing politicians to Muslims, Jews, immigrants, refugees and black people – are all conspiring to undermine and destroy the white race, through means as varied as interracial marriage, immigration, “cultural Marxism” and criticism of straight white men.

More than half of the dead were teenagers.” data-reactid=”41″>77 killed in a bomb attack, followed by a shooting targeting the island summer youth camp of Norway’s Labor party. The shooter, Anders Breivik, wanted to prevent an ‘invasion of Muslims’ and deliberately targeted politically active young people who he saw as ‘cultural Marxists’. More than half of the dead were teenagers.

frustrated neo-Nazi‘ who had played in white power bands, was a regular on racist websites. He had previously talked to one colleague in the US military about a ‘racial holy war that was coming’.” data-reactid=”48″>Six worshippers, including the temple president, Satwant Singh Kaleka, are killed. The shooter, a ”frustrated neo-Nazi‘ who had played in white power bands, was a regular on racist websites. He had previously talked to one colleague in the US military about a ‘racial holy war that was coming’.

Rapper and anti-fascist activist Pavlos Fyssas was stabbed to death. A senior member of Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party was imprisoned after confessing to the killing.

former Ku Klux Klan leader shot and killed three people at a Jewish centre and retirement home. One of them just 14 years old. He said he believed Jews were destroying the white race, and that diversity was a kind of genocide. None of his victims were Jewish, but he said he considered two of them to be accomplices to Jewish people.” data-reactid=”56″>A former Ku Klux Klan leader shot and killed three people at a Jewish centre and retirement home. One of them just 14 years old. He said he believed Jews were destroying the white race, and that diversity was a kind of genocide. None of his victims were Jewish, but he said he considered two of them to be accomplices to Jewish people.

The shooter, a self-avowed white supremacist, said he wanted to start a race war.” data-reactid=”60″>Nine people killed during Bible study at a historic black church. The nine victims included elderly longtime church members at the Mother Emanuel AME church, and Clementa Pinckney, a state senator. The shooter, a self-avowed white supremacist, said he wanted to start a race war.

15-year-old Ahmed Hassan, who was born in Somalia and had recently moved to Sweden.” data-reactid=”65″>Three killed in an attack on a local high school. The attacker stabbed students and teachers, targeting those with darker skin, police said. Three died, including 15-year-old Ahmed Hassan, who was born in Somalia and had recently moved to Sweden.

convicted of killing her, a white supremacist obsessed with the Nazis and apartheid-era South Africa, shouted: ‘This is for Britain,’ ‘Keep Britain independent’ and ‘Britain first’ as he killed her.” data-reactid=”69″>Labour MP Jo Cox shot and stabbed to death. A supporter of Britain staying in the EU, Cox was attacked a week before the EU referendum vote in 2016. The man convicted of killing her, a white supremacist obsessed with the Nazis and apartheid-era South Africa, shouted: ‘This is for Britain,’ ‘Keep Britain independent’ and ‘Britain first’ as he killed her.

aggressive online troll with anti-Muslim, anti-refugee and anti-feminist views.” data-reactid=”73″>Six people killed and nineteen injured during evening prayers at a mosque in a shooting which the gunman said was prompted by Justin Trudeau’s tweet that refugees were welcome in Canada, and that ‘diversity is strength’. The shooter, who said he feared refugees would kill his family, had previously been known as an aggressive online troll with anti-Muslim, anti-refugee and anti-feminist views.

Timothy Caughman stalked and killed by a white supremacist with a sword. His killer, an American military veteran, said he targeted a random black man on the street in New York City as a ‘practice run’ for a bigger attack, and as part of a campaign to persuade white women not to enter into interracial relationships.

Two men were killed and one injured after they tried to intervene to protect young women on a public train who were being targeted with an anti-Muslim tirade. Their alleged killer shouted ‘Free speech or die’ in the courtroom, and ‘Death to Antifa!’

The killer shouted ‘I want to kill all Muslims – I did my bit’ after the van attack, according to witnesses. He had been radicalised online and over Twitter, a judge concluded, and avidly consumed anti-Muslim propaganda from prominent rightwing figures.” data-reactid=”85″>One killed and 12 people injured after a van ploughed into worshippers outside a mosque. The killer shouted ‘I want to kill all Muslims – I did my bit’ after the van attack, according to witnesses. He had been radicalised online and over Twitter, a judge concluded, and avidly consumed anti-Muslim propaganda from prominent rightwing figures.

The killer had been obsessed with Hitler as a teenager, according to a former teacher. In phone calls from jail, he was recorded criticising Heyer’s mother as a ‘communist’ and ‘one of those anti-white supremacists’.” data-reactid=”89″>Heather Heyer killed and dozens injured after a car ploughed into anti-Nazi protesters. The killer had been obsessed with Hitler as a teenager, according to a former teacher. In phone calls from jail, he was recorded criticising Heyer’s mother as a ‘communist’ and ‘one of those anti-white supremacists’.

Man attempted to enter black church before allegedly killing two black people in a supermarket. A witness said that during the attack, the alleged shooter said: ‘Whites don’t kill whites.’

11 killed in a mass shooting targeting the Tree of Life synagogue. The alleged shooter had an active profile on an extremist social media site, where he accused Jewish people of trying to bring ‘evil’ Muslims into the US, and wrote that a refugee aid organisation ‘likes to bring invaders in that kill our people’.

51 people were killed and 49 injured in two consecutive attacks on mosques during Friday prayers. The gunman live-streamed the first attack on Facebook Live. They opened the live stream by urging viewers to ‘subscribe to PewDiePie’, a meme used by the online alt-right and white supremacists.

“open letter” posted on the 8chan extremist message board before the attack included white nationalist conspiracy rhetoric and said the shooter was inspired by the gunman who had opened fire on Muslims at two mosques in New Zealand the month before.” data-reactid=”105″>One person killed in mass shooting targeting a synagogue in Poway, California, US. The alleged shooter, 19, from California, opened fire in a synagogue during Passover services, killing a 60-year-old woman and injuring three others. An“open letter” posted on the 8chan extremist message board before the attack included white nationalist conspiracy rhetoric and said the shooter was inspired by the gunman who had opened fire on Muslims at two mosques in New Zealand the month before.

To people who believe in white supremacist conspiracies, demographic change is an “existential threat to white people”, said Cynthia Miller-Idriss, a professor of education and sociology at the American University, and a senior fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right.

chants of Charlottesville marchers, since being coined by a French white nationalist writer and conspiracy theorist in 2011.” data-reactid=”109″>These conspiracy theories refer to demographic shifts in dramatic, violent terms, as a kind of “genocide” or a “great replacement” of one people with another. The idea of “replacement” is central to this movement: “You will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!” white nationalists and neo-Nazis chanted as they marched with flaming torches through Charlottesville, Virginia. It has echoed in the manifestos of mass murderers, and the chants of Charlottesville marchers, since being coined by a French white nationalist writer and conspiracy theorist in 2011.

People take part in a rally against hate a day after a mass shooting at a Walmart store, in El Paso, Texas. Photograph: José Luis González/Reuters

But in many of the countries where white nationalist radicalization is a threat – including the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – white people are, in fact, not the native population, and are not being displaced.

Despite this, recent racist violence in the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Europe, is linked by the shared conspiracy that “white people are being displaced from their home countries”, said Heidi Beirich, the intelligence director at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an organization that monitors American hate groups.

“At the extreme end of white supremacy you have this group of people who believe that the only way to create change is to create a violent societal collapse, that will lead to apocalyptic end times, and a race war, and then eventually to restoration and rebirth,” Miller-Idriss said.

Attacks closely linked to mainstream politics

at least 16 high-profile attacks linked to white nationalism around the world since 2011.” data-reactid=”125″>Though antisemitism is at the heart of white nationalist conspiracy theories, many different groups are labeled as enemies. In the past decade, deadly attacks linked to white nationalism have been carried out against Muslims, Jews, African Americans at Bible study in a historic black church, leftwing activists and politicians in the United States and across Europe. More than 175 people have been killed in at least 16 high-profile attacks linked to white nationalism around the world since 2011.

And although politicians often label white nationalist violence as “senseless”, analysts suggest that hate crimes often spike alongside political events like elections. Many of these “senseless” attacks have been carried out during key moments of mainstream political debates over immigration and refugee policy.

mass sexual attacks. Cox’s killer shouted “Britain first!” as he shot and stabbed her to death.” data-reactid=”127″>Jo Cox, a British member of parliament, was assassinated by a far-right extremist in June 2016, in the run-up to the Brexit referendum. Pro-Brexit campaigners claimed at the time that voting to remain in the European Union would would result in “swarms” of immigrants entering the UK, and that it would prompt mass sexual attacks. Cox’s killer shouted “Britain first!” as he shot and stabbed her to death.

Jo Cox, a British member of parliament, was assassinated by a far-right extremist. Photograph: Jo Cox Foundation/PA