"Hate Crimes" as Asymmetric Civil Warfare
We could all be exposed to a rising threat of sophisticated asymmetric civil warfare that is being fueled by white nationalist political leaders, uncertain economic conditions and too many guns
The very grisly mass shooting attack killing 5 people and injuring 19 at what was once considered a “safe-space” LGBTQ+ club in Colorado Springs, CO is reviving what has become a tragically repetitive conversation on “hate crimes.” But, is it really just that? It’s not just you: yes, “hate crimes” are on the rise. But with these incidents increasingly more frequent than in recent decades, the public conversation will need a dramatic readjustment on how it 1) defines violent “hate crimes” and 2) how it responds to them. There’s a reason for the quotation marks around “hate crimes.” Some thoughts …
We should, first, establish that these types of attacks - motivated by a hatred for specific marginalized Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian and other “people of color” groups, women, minority religious groups, and communities of a certain sexual orientation - are on the rise, at least according to the data we know.
The last federal hate crime report (from 2020) showed a substantial increase in reported “hate crimes” … or the “hate crimes” that we know of.
Northeastern University’s James Alan Fox - who is a national expert on tracking mass shootings, claims recently that 2022 is a notable year …
“I’ve been studying mass killings for over 40 years and I am quite confident that there has never been a year where we’ve had so many,” says Fox, the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern.
There have been 35 mass shootings in 2022, says Fox. The escalation has been driven by what Fox calls “an unprecedented surge” of 13 mass shootings resulting in four or more deaths since Oct. 3.
“That’s an average of about two mass shootings per week,” Fox says, “compared with the usual average of two per month.”
Meanwhile, there is a growing body of research showing how hate speech and vitriolic political rhetoric targeting vulnerable groups is on the rise, as was clearly seen during this most recent election cycle where both suggestive and direct white supremacist messaging was out in the open. The hate speech and the hate crimes seem to grow on parallel tracks.
The term “hate crime” can, arguably, diminish the magnitude of these trends. We need to talk about that. Most of the hate speech and hostile political messaging is coming from the same white supremacist space, which makes it seem more organized, coordinated and consolidated than we’re giving it credit for.
If it’s violence driven by political or ideological motivations then it’s not simply a crime - it’s terrorism. Full stop. Mass attacks like this where there’s a clear political intent or message should be readily classified as acts of terrorism. And these acts of terrorism are not new in American society - let’s not forget the years of tolerated and legalized mass violence against Black people, from the destruction of entire communities to the lynching of still countless thousands of Black citizens.
Maybe that would force, also, law enforcement, the criminal legal system and mass media to respond more forcefully to these attacks and the terrorists who commit them. Instead, society seems to shy to do that. Meanwhile, we keep seeing instances of white supremacist-motivated or affiliated “mass shooters” largely surviving the police response or getting relatively gentle and almost empathetic institutional treatment after an attack is done. Whether it’s the terrorist in Colorado Springs, CO or Buffalo, NY or Kenosha, WI, we keep seeing instances where law enforcement officers appear deferential to the shooters.
It’s concerning because we’re also seeing a growing amount of research pointing to the alarming “prevalence” - as Reuters recently called it - of white supremacists in law enforcement organizations. How many law enforcement officers are sympathetic to the motivations of white terrorists?
It all points to a rather comfortable and well laid out environment for dangerous white supremacist terrorist activity. How coordinated is that? Could it be a form of unconventional civil warfare being waged by white supremacist groups and organized fronts? Could the violence be encouraged in such a way where it’s not open kinetic warfare on a battlefield between nation-states, but it still achieves its stated goals and missions through multiple random attacks in public spaces against targeted groups? How much favorable treatment do domestic terrorists receive, and is that treatment normal for them?
Maybe if we acknowledge these attacks as, well, attacks (vs. “hate crimes”) and acts of terrorism, we get close to identifying the sources and addressing the broader problem more adequately. These are not merely “crimes,” which can minimize the severe nature of what we’re facing. We could all be exposed or vulnerable to a threat of sophisticated asymmetric civil warfare that is being fueled by white nationalist political leaders, dysfunctional politics, fluctuating economic conditions, rising hate speech and the unencumbered proliferation of guns. We need to wrap our collective heads around that and ponder on strategic solutions fast.