Three high-profile atrocities have occurred on American soil in the span of five weeks. On October 1, a man opened fire from a Las Vegas hotel window and shot more than 600 people, killing 58 of them. On October 31, a man drove a truck into a crowd in New York City and killed eight people. And on November 5, a man shot and killed 26 people at a church in the small town of Sutherland Springs, Texas.
At least since 9/11, the protocol for atrocity in America is militarism and nationalism if the perpetrator is a dark-skinned Muslim, thoughts and prayers for the victims if the perpetrator is white. In these recent events, President Trump’s tweets gave us a healthy sample of each.
The New York terrorist, a Muslim man from Uzbekistan who was allegedly affiliated with or radicalized by ISIS, received the harshest tweets. Trump referred to the suspect as a “Degenerate Animal,” called for the death penalty, and lamented that the criminal justice system might not deliver it swiftly enough (New York actually abolished the death penalty in 2007). He also called for “tougher Extreme Vetting Procedures,” citing the law under which the man immigrated to the US in 2010.
None of Trump’s tweets about the New York attack offered sympathy to the victims. Instead, Trump focused on the identity and origins of the perpetrator. He immediately seized the opportunity to bring the conversation back to his long-sought “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” which has repeatedly been deemed unconstitutional. His message was dehumanizing, polarizing, and more than a touch racist.
After Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs – attacks carried out by white men – Trump’s tweets had a decidedly different character. Despite 10 times as many Americans losing their lives in the incidents, Trump tweeted about them fewer times than the New York attack. His message was the polar opposite of his divisive attacks on immigrants. On Sunday Trump tweeted, “Americans do what we do best: we pull together. We join hands. We lock arms and through the tears and the sadness, we stand strong.” He addressed Las Vegas in a single tweet: “My warmest condolences and sympathies to the victims and families of the terrible Las Vegas shooting. God bless you!”
Trump refers to the “terrible shooting” almost as if it was a natural disaster. Indeed, a tweet about Hurricane Maria, sent just two days before his Las Vegas tweet, was extremely similar: “We must all be united in offering assistance to everyone suffering in Puerto Rico and elsewhere in the wake of this terrible disaster.”
American society has become inured to the fact of white terror. It goes unstated, but it is almost as if white people have a right to, on occasion, go crazy and murder dozens of their fellow citizens. Bill O’Reilly referred to the massacre in Las Vegas as “the price of freedom” and repeated that phrase after Sutherland Springs. It’s unlikely that O’Reilly views Islamic terror as the price of freedom to practice religion or freedom to immigrate to the United States.
In the Washington Examiner, columnist Siraj Hashmi argues that “both sides” hypocritically score political points in times of tragedy. True enough, liberals who demand gun control after white mass shootings often argue against bans following Muslim terror attacks. But the difference is fairly obvious – guns are not human beings. After attacks by Muslims, Trump’s reaction is to scapegoat and oppress an entire group of people. The liberal reaction to mass shootings is to restrict Americans’ shopping choices.
Some liberals cross their fingers after an attack and hope the perpetrator isn’t Muslim, for fear of what fascistic policy Trump may try to push through in its wake. White people need fear no such reprisals when a member of their tribe is the suspect. Even gun owners have little cause for concern. Nowhere has this hypocrisy been more blatantly displayed than on the Twitter feed of President Trump this past week.