The System is Working As Intended
March 23, 2022
On Saturday afternoon, an 18-year-old self-confessed white supremacist went into a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and shot 13 people. Eleven were Black; ten died.
Hours later, Ted Nugent got on an Austin, Texas, stage as part of the “American Freedom Tour” and said, “I love you people madly, but I’d love you more if you went forward and just went berserk on the skulls of the Democrats and the Marxists and the communists.” The American Freedom Tour – in true scamapitalist form, the cash goes to the speakers and not any political action – features a number of right-wing luminaries like Donald Trump, Dinesh DeSouza and, of course, Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb. Nugent posed with Lamb for a photo and wrote:
Good people are magnetized to each other for maximum good in the world! Especially in America! 🇺🇸
The @americansheriff is one of those great Americans that was at the Trump rally last Saturday in Austin.
Don’t be afraid to get out there and support the causes you believe in!
Many writers connected the Buffalo shooting to so-called “great replacement theory,” a racist conspiracy theory often espoused by the right-wing punditry class, e.g. Tucker Carlson. Broadly speaking, adherents to this conspiracy believe that elite Democrats are masterminding a plan to “replace” white people with Black and Brown people. Sometimes the conspiracy is given a Protocols of the Elder of Zion flare by arguing that Jews are in charge. In Europe, “replacement theory” demonizes largely Muslim immigrants from Africa and Middle East. But the theory is firmly entrenched in America as well. During the Charlottesville white supremacist march in 2017, racists marched and chanted, “You will not replace us!”
When white men in fascist haircuts carry torches and chant about “replacement,” the undertones are pretty obvious. But in many ways, elected county sheriffs have been using the same conspiracy – sometimes tempered and framed as “demographic changes” and sometimes not – to advance their own agenda, which is more guns, more power, more money.
Sheriff Mark Lamb in Pinal County has a side gig as a immigrant hate doula for various politicians and media figures. He echoes the mantra of anti-immigration based on fears of “replacement,” albeit more subtlety. One of his hallmark moves is showing what he claims is the detritus of migrants, which he uses to support an eco-fascist form of anti-immigration politics. Look at this mess, he says with his gestures, warning visitors on the staged tour to watch for snakes. “They’re nasty,” he says. He doesn’t mean the snakes.
In a film he made with Matt Gaetz, what does Lamb say people should do about immigrants? Well, shoot them. “You can use force … deadly force,” he says with a smirk. (Remember when Lamb appeared with the President of the Border Patrol Union in an ad for Republican Senate candidate Jim Lamon in which they shoot at President Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Mark Kelly?)
When it comes to sheriffs on the U.S.-Mexico border or in rural areas, “replacement” is code for literal physical domination of space, which becomes the justification for more firepower or more surveillance. (This is not new, of course, since the U.S. was founded on the principle of stealing land, and replacing Native Americans and Mexicans with themselves, as has been well recorded in the history of Westward expansion.) These are big themes in “replacement theory”: the need to conquer space, to delineate divisions, to reclaim physical boundaries.
As another example, Sheriff Mark Dannels of Cochise County, Arizona, which shares a border with Mexico, has been inflating immigration statistics in his stump speeches as a way to inspire fear in his audience, repeating calling it a “national emergency” and a “surge.” Dannels also chairs the “Border Security Committee” for the National Sheriffs Association and has advocated for a “virtual wall.” Dannels has taken tens of millions of dollars from son of slightly reformed eco-fascist Warren Buffet Howard Buffet – and made him a “special deputy” – to buy guns, helicopters, trucks, and robots to “patrol the border.” The rhetoric and tactics – and most of the equipment – of the Buffalo shooter and “great replacement” sheriffs are the same. The only difference is the cloak of putative legal authority.
Racist shootings like that in Buffalo therefore can’t be solved with tweaks to the system, like more cops, more surveillance, or even more gun control. New York State has some of the strictest gun control measures in the country. And while it is true that the argument over gun ownership rights versus gun control rights is raging in this country (and gun control is losing), the thing to worry about isn’t whether local police are enforcing red flag laws or gun removal orders (they often don’t and why would they?) or whether gun sales need to be limited or whether a waiting period would help.
I don’t oppose any of those things, but they don’t get to the rotten root, which is that the history of this country is white men dominating space – at home, on the U.S.-Mexico border, in schools, on the street, or in a grocery store – through the use of violence. That can’t be solved by arming more police – more police who most likely will go home and commit more violence on their family members – or the “softer” equivalent, more surveillance. (One proposal suggests that “people need to report more of what they see and hear,” a demand for teachers, children, neighbors, and parents to become extensions of the police state.) Nor does calling perpetrators of racist violence and mass shooting “pure evil” and then denying that they are in fact citizens of this county do anything other than placing the burden of survival on schoolchildren forced to completely “active shooting drills.”
In the wake of shootings by white men, the public and the media often depict the problem as a “failure” of the “system.” In the case of the Buffalo shooter, there is extensive written evidence and a series of worried phone calls from the school that indicated a problem. What did he do? He made multiple trips to various gun shops to acquire an arsenal. In the case of the horrific shooting at Parkland High School, the shooter had been tracked, surveilled, and transferred between schools for years. What did he do? He went out and bought at least seven guns. What was Trayvon Martin doing when he was shot and killed by a man who had designated himself neighborhood security? He was eating Skittles.
The system appears to be working exactly as intended.