The myth of the outsider in the U.S. history of violence

I usually don’t post much about individual politicians, or partisan politics. I think there’s so much online chatter about these matters already, and I’d rather talk about values, ideas, poetry, and what I had for breakfast. But I’ll make an exception to point out that Trump’s call for the US to ban all Muslim immigration has nothing to do with Islam, and everything to do with the “United” States’ terrible history of hating the outsider. Donald Trump and his ilk are nothing new, they have always been a feature of American political life. In the 19th and 18th century, Donald Trump would have been joining in the chorus calling Irish Catholics a “scourge” and saying they are responsible for most of the crime and violence in America. Italian Catholics got the same treatment. In the 18th century, it was Baptists, Quakers and other “unusual religions” who were considered unfit to be a part of America, and were preached against regularly. In past centuries the Trumps of this world would have supported the anti-semitic tide of public opinion, no doubt rejoicing in General Grant’s order that Jews be expelled from Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky. There were plenty of politicians who profited politically from fear of the Chinese (and many who still do) – Trump is basically calling for a reinstitution of the Chinese Exclusion Act, with one word change. While claiming to not be “politically correct”, Trump is 100% completely and utterly politically correct in the only sense the word can justifiably be used to describe the history of American politics: using the prevalent jingoisms of the day to win votes. The long-held idea that black people are responsible for the nation’s violence Trump has already bought into: in November he tweeted that blacks cause 82% of white homicides (the actual number is 15%). His fear and suspicion of Mexican-Americans is well documented. And does anyone really doubt that Trump would have joined the call to “fight back” against Native American violence, who threaten our way of life?

This hatred of the outsider takes a familiar form every time: a claim that these outsiders are irreconcilable to the “American way of life” (a sort of idealised European Protestantism), and a highlighting of acts of violence committed by these groups. Now, it’s true: violent acts have been committed by Irish and Italian Catholics, Baptists, Jews, Chinese-Americans, African-Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans and Muslims. There were even criminal gangs comprised from each and every one of these groups. But this fearmongering almost always ignores violence committed by “god-fearing whites” (note that Irish, Italians and Jews were not considered “white” in America until the early twentieth century), and the culture of violence that has been a hallmark American life since before its founding. For a recent example of this, here’s a list of the mass shootings with 4 or more deaths in America, along with Trump’s response:

Date, place, shooter Was shooter Muslim? Trump’s response

1/9, San Francisco, unknown Unlikely (gang violence in non-Muslim neighbourhood) none

1/24, NYC, J. Walker No none

1/29 Georgia, T. J. Lee No none

2/1 NC, unknown Unlikely (rural, believed to be murder-suicide) none

2/7 GA, C. Prather No none

2/22 Fort Hood, A. Giffa No none (but others, citing killer’s dark skin and “unusual” name, blame Muslims)

2/27 Missouri, J. J. Aldridge No none

2/28 NC, Ian Sherrod No none

3/24 Indianapolis, unknown Unlikely none

3/30 S. Khamitkar No none

4/16 Phoenix, unknown Yes (family shooting from business dispute) none

5/3 Wisconsin, M. Del Toro No none

5/12 Tucson, C. Carillo No none

5/13 Anchorage, unknown No (domestic murder-suicide) none

5/17 Waco, multiple shooters No none

6/7 Montana, M.A. Bournes No none

6/13 Ohio, R. L. Adams No none

6/17 Charleston, D. Roof No calls it “senseless attack”,

attacks Clinton for blaming him for it, says “politicians are just no good.”

6/21 Utah, R. Smith No none

6/27 Florida, N. sheffield No none

7/5 N.C., R. Moore No none

7/15 S.C, unknown Unlikely (drug dispute) none

7/16 Chattanooga, M. Y. Abdulazeez Yes blames gun-free zones

7/22 Georgia, M. Fields No blames “gun-filled zones” (kidding: no response)

8/7 Vermont, J. Herring No none

8/8 Houston, D. Conley No none

9/1 New Jersey, L. Beharry No none

9/8 Minneapolis, B. Short No none

9/8 Washington, B. Sedano No none

9/13 Louisiana, R. Chemin No none

9/17 S.D., S. Westerhuis No none

10/1 Oregon, C. Harper-Mercer No “These things happen” &

“What are you going to do, institutionalize everybody?”

10/31 Colorado, N. Harpham No none

11/1 N.C., unknown Unlikely (rural area) none

11/4 Maine, H. Derico No none

11/13 Jacksonville, G. R. Wilson No none

11/15 Texas, W. Hudson No none

11/17 Kentucky P. Arellano No none

11/23 Ohio, B. Kirk No none

12/2 California, S. Farook & T. Malik Yes calls for Muslim immigration to be banned

Do you see a pattern in this chart? If so, does the pattern have anything to do with Islam?

Just to recap, there have been 30 shootings killing four or more in the United States this year. Three were perpetrated by people who claimed to be Muslim. I don’t know how many of the other 27 claimed to be Christian, but I’m sure it was a lot more than 3.

Now, people may say I am discounting the fact that groups like Al Qaeda and Daesh want to kill us. I am not. These are vicious, violent people. Daesh are bad guys straight out of central casting: Hitler salute, white hoods, the whole bit. But I don’t condemn all white people because of the Nazis; nor do I condemn all Protestants because of the KKK. I hope we don’t have to make national security an excuse for hatred yet again. I fear we will, yet again.

About bobjanisdillon

Unitarian Universalist minister, poet, husband, father, three-chord guitar wonder.
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