He Killed My Child: Meditations on Christchurch and the Sociopathy of White Supremacy

March 19, 2019

There’s a response mode I go into when there is a mass killing, especially one by a white supremacist. I am called to write and comment on the news about toxic masculinity or my long research on right-wing extremists who want to spark joy among racists and launch a revolution to make America and Western Civilization “great” again. I give good soundbites to translate complex issues for the armchair sociologist. I’ve been through the drill dozens of time. “Something horrible happened in the world. I’m gonna be busy.”

The double mosque attack in Christchurch on Friday that killed 50 worshipers felt different. And not just because it happened in the violence-averse island nation of New Zealand. Maybe it was that I had just been to a meeting at the Muslim Education Trust (MET), a local Muslim school, community center, and mosque. We were starting to plan an educational event on the issue of Islamophobia. Maybe it was because I have to Muslim students in my Friday sociology class from Libya and Iraq. It certainly wasn’t because there was anything unique about the attacker. He was cut the white nationalist playbook, half Dylann Roof, half Timothy McVeigh.

I think it was the news about the victims. Many were refugees who had come to New Zealand to escape the horrors of endless wars. But among them were children. Three and four-year-olds, including a boy my daughter’s age, a refugee from Somalia named Abdullahi Dirie. He was shot in the head by the killer, who, according to new reports, was on his way to a Muslim school to kill more children when police stopped him. It’s next to impossible not to put your child in Abdullahi’s little shoes. But what do you do with that emotion?

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The reports of the attack were relatively fresh on Friday when a community gathering was called at MET, attended by local mayors and police officials who dutifully reassured the Portland-area Muslim community that their safety was a priority. Members of many faiths led us in prayer, but I don’t think the reality of the horror on the other side of the planet had sunk in. I wanted to believe the God was Great. Allah akbar.

I got called into media rotation on CNN, where there were, of course, questions about Trump’s role in the rise of right-wing extremism around the globe. It did not help (as usual) that Trump stupidly (as usual) said that white nationalism was not a rising threat (Fact: It is) and then went on whining about whatever had is panties in a wad. I managed to get this gem on a global broadcast – “Either Trump is knowingly inflaming white supremacists, a Manchurian Candidate for the alt right, or he is completely clueless to the real threat level and growing bodycount from right-wing extremists. I’ll let your viewers decide which it is.” 

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By the third sit-down with CNN, I didn’t want to talk about Trump or guns or the looming Aryan revolution. I just wanted to talk about Abdullahi Dirie and  the slaughter of innocents. Saturday afternoon I was on with Ana Cabrera, who wanted to discuss the rambling 70-page “manifesto” of the shooter. I just wanted to talk about how it takes a sociopath to shoot children my daughter’s age in the head. And how the world of right-wing extremism is a magnet for sociopaths. If you get your kicks from cruelty, who better to idolize than Hitler? The shooter referenced various fascists (and Trump) in his rambling declaration of war on non-whites. 

I’ve had a foot in this world long before I began my field work on Nazi skinheads in 1988. I grew up around Klan members in Stone Mountain. I know exactly what kind of bullies gravitate to that darkness. They think the earth (or America or New Zealand) belongs to them, and everyone else is an “invader.” Invaders from Mexico, from Turkey, or like 4-year-old Abdullahi Dirie, from Somalia. This is “their land” and the invaders must be vanquished by any means necessary.

On Sunday, I was a guest on a radio show in New Zealand and begged them not to let the divisive rhetoric of the United States infect their small country. Keep the focus on what unites people.

We don’t know enough about sociopathy to cure it or prevent it, but we know plenty about the world that magnifies it. Contrary our clueless president’s claim, the counterculture of white nationalism is growing at an alarming rate. There will be more victims. Timothy McVeigh ended the lives of 19 children in a daycare facility when he ignited his truck bomb in front of a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Like the Christchurch terrorist, he did time in the sick world of white supremacy and believed the white race was “endangered.” Neither were “lone wolves” but products of a global subculture of hate.

There is no white race, only a human race. But there is a race war and our children are being slaughtered.

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On not dying youngish

March 5, 2019

Somewhere sometime in my twenties I wrote that my motto was, “Live fast die young, and leave a pretty corpse.” It seemed cool at the time. When your heroes are dropping off at 27, the romantic exit seems, well, romantic.  Now, not so much. Hitting 90 seems both horrific and preferable.

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This week’s deaths of Luke Perry (3 years younger than me, from a stroke) and Let’s Active drummer Sara Romweber (same age as me, from brain cancer) is a reminder that we continue to shed our peers at a rate that only accelerates. A large percentage of the Gen X elders that I inhabited the world with when I was twenty are gone. My aging icons will leave more rapidly. I’m ready of Bob Dylan and the rest of the lions of my youth to slip from this mortal coil. But so will those younger than me. Kids in tornadoes. Generation Z teens texting while driving, running over millennials talking on their iPhones. Then us.

George Harrison once said that death is like getting out of one car and getting into another. That’s sweet. I had a student who once asked the class what do people remember from before they were born. Silence. “That’s what death is like,” she said. Who knows? Nobody. That includes people who write hokey books about dying on the operating table and coming back to life. People buy that shit up hoping for proof that they well never cease to exist.

Sociologists will tell you that as people get old, they get more religious. I had a professor at Emory, Martin Levin, who called it the “nearer my God to thee” thesis. My father recently told me he’s just coasting into heaven. I hope so, Dad. It sounds so much nicer than just being unplugged by time. All those old friends waiting for you.

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Me, I know that I don’t know. In all likelihood, this is it. No pearly gates, no Casper the Ghost, no singing with Aretha or jamming with Hendrix. (Poor dead Hendrix.) And that’s OK. That means heaven is right here. In the excised Gospel of Thomas, one of the gnostic texts that was removed from the New Testament by the patriarchal church, hipster Jesus told his peeps that the kingdom of heaven is not in the sky somewhere. “Rather, the kingdom is within you and it is outside you.” I can dig that. Heaven is in a living room in Portland. Awesome, because I’m already there.

The bottom line is to make the most of the time while you are here. Make the place you are in full of love and light, not anger and darkness. And do it for as long as you can, because there might not be a tunnel to a “better place.” Stay healthy, don’t smoke, get check ups, get off the couch, be kind, and keep the memory of those who have past alive in your minds.

One of my favorite poems is by Liverpool poet Roger McGough, enticed “Let Me Die a Young Man’s Death.”

Let me die a youngman’s death

not a clean and inbetween

the sheets holywater death

not a famous-last-words

peaceful out of breath death

When I’m 73

and in constant good tumour

may I be mown down at dawn

by a bright red sports car

on my way home

from an allnight party

Or when I’m 91

with silver hair

and sitting in a barber’s chair

may rival gangsters

with hamfisted tommyguns burst in

and give me a short back and insides

Or when I’m 104

and banned from the Cavern

may my mistress

catching me in bed with her daughter

and fearing for her son

cut me up into little pieces

and throw away every piece but one

Let me die a youngman’s death

not a free from sin tiptoe in

candle wax and waning death

not a curtains drawn by angels borne

‘what a nice way to go’ death 

Sounds like heaven to me.