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Massacres a symptom of America’s ugly identity crisis

Elad Nehorai
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Published: 19 August 2019

Last updated: 4 March 2024

AMERICA WAS RECENTLY ROCKED by two major mass shootings. One was in El Paso, where a young white nationalist drove seven hours just so that he could kill what he believed was a “Hispanic invasion.”

The other was a young man in Dayton who had displayed many of the characteristics we have come to associate with non-politically motivated massacres: an obsession with violence (he showed his ex-girlfriend a video of the Tree of Life massacre on their first date), intense misogyny, and an abusive past.

All of this is in the context of a much larger mass shooting epidemic in America, as well as a rise in hate crimes.

All of this is particularly relevant to the Jewish community here, where underneath all our national news of mass shootings, there are nearly daily occurrences of anti-Semitism, from a shooting in front of a Miami synagogue to a tyre slashing spree that targeted 100 Jews in Lakewood (both of these occurred in only the last month).

Statistically, anti-Semitic incidents have doubled since 2015, all of which coincides with the vast increase in hate and violence in America over the last few years.  In other words, we are a nation in chaos, and Jews are getting caught in that chaos.

When I see others look at America from the outside, I hear a sort of bewilderment.

“Why can’t you just do what the rest of us do and increase gun control?”

“What is wrong with you over there?”

“America is going mad.”

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And they are all fair emotions.  Most of us feel the madness here deeply, and are in bewilderment about gun control and other issues as well.

But there is something more happening, and it would do well for the world to understand it.

Why is it that America seems unable or unwilling to do anything about these massacres, despite how horrific they become?  Why is it that we seem to be going further down a dark tunnel with no sign of escape?  And why are so many young men so committed to destroying not only the lives of others, but their own?

There are the usual answers, and all of them are accurate.  Our gun obsession has allowed for the proliferation of weapons that can kill nine people in 30 seconds (that’s what the Dayton shooter was able to accomplish before being shot himself).  White nationalism here has gotten more extreme, as it has in many other nations.  Misogyny has been linked to most such killers.

But there is something else, and in the constant debates that overtake our nation, it is often hard to see, both from within and from without.

We are a nation that is going through an identity crisis.
There are those holding desperately onto a time when white Christian men were the only truly emancipated. They are willing to sacrifice even their lives and the lives of others.

Who are we?  Are we the great conquering nation of the past?  Are we the same country that just elected its first black president? Or is there some new inevitable identity emerging?

These questions have existential qualities for many Americans, who identify with their country in specific ways, and in ways that differ so greatly that many see them as impossible to coexist.

In many ways, these are the questions Americans have grappled with since the day our nation was created.  When Thomas Jefferson wrote the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” he knew that what he wrote was in direct contradiction to how his new country would actually operate.

It is this constant conflict between the better dreams of America and the old seeds of inhumanity that still live with us here. There are those holding desperately onto a time when white Christian men were the only truly emancipated, and in so doing, they are willing to sacrifice even their lives, and, as is the case with these radical shooters, the lives of others.

In other words, while America itself would have an epidemic of massacres on its hands without the rise of white nationalist radicalism, this new radicalism is the most extreme form of its tortured soul gasping for an identity.

In understanding this, we can get a better grasp of the nature of the young men who are committing these crimes against humanity.  While many have tried to pin these acts on things like mental illness and video games, the truth is that neither is predictive of a tendency to murder minorities en masse.  Rather, it is simply political radicalism.  As with other terrorists, there is a logic to their hate, even if the logic is evil and deranged.

And sadly, the logic is one that is not un-American, but rather radically American.  It is the old illness America still holds, in which a protected class of men believed that they could create a state built on the notion of equality and justice for all while denying most of its citizens those same rights.

What will we become from here?  In honesty, I do not know, and I think anyone who claims to own a knowledge of this should be seen with suspicion.  We are in a moment of turmoil, one that may set us on a road to either one side or the other.

Perhaps it is our awareness of that turmoil, and the two options it represents, that has caused us to go even further into turmoil.  To be schizophrenic is one thing.  It is another to realise that one is schizophrenic.  It is a moment where a choice must be made.  Where the very awareness itself means a change, and where the choices afterwards will always be informed by that awareness.

Perhaps we will recover.  Perhaps we will go further into dysfunction.

Only one thing is clear: there are no other choices.

Ohio white nationalist arrested for threatening Jewish community centre (CBS News)
New Trump admin rule would let religious employers fire LGBT, Jewish employees, critics warn (Haaretz)

Photo: Mourners take part in a vigil near the border fence between Mexico and the US after a mass shooting in El Paso August 3 (Reuters)

About the author

Elad Nehorai

Elad Nehorai is founder of the American Jewish creative community Hevria, Executive Director of the Orthodox Jewish activist organisation and community Torah Trumps Hate

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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