“It’s Not What You Think: Reflections on Extremism and Violence” – Friday, July 15, 2016

It seems to be a pattern lately: When tragedy strikes anywhere in the world, the Jewish and Israeli press seem to get the information out first. And they have deeper and different information than anybody else. After Orlando and Dallas – and even today after Nice and Turkey — the stories that showed up first in my Facebook news feed were from Israeli and Jewish media outlets.

I don’t know why that is. Maybe we’re just so used to responding to tragedy that we’ve gotten pretty good at it.

Anyway, in this week when we’re trying to make sense of events that seem to defy it, it was an article in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency feed earlier this week about the Dallas sniper that gave me some perspective.

While the mainstream American media have focused mostly on Micah Johnson’s military service, the JTA pieced together some other crucial details.

Johnson was, over time, loosely affiliated with a number of hate groups including some affiliated with Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic Nation of Islam. And he seems to have been, for a time, a member of what’s called the New Black Panther Party. He joined them in Houston a few years ago and attended several protests and other events. This is a group that espouses confrontation, and even violence – and it’s not just anti-white but it’s also anti-Jewish. It’s one of the hate groups that spread those horrific stories that Zionists were responsible for the attacks of 9/11, and that thousands of Jews new about the attacks in advance.

In fact, the Southern Poverty Law Center calls the New Black Panther Party, “a virulently racist and anti-Semitic organization whose leaders have encouraged violence against whites, Jews, and law-enforcement officers.” The Anti-Defamation League calls it “the largest organized anti-Semitic and racist Black militant group in North America.”

And here’s why this is important. Micah Johnson was involved with groups like this because Micah Johnson is a hater. Haters hate. That’s what they do. The fact that he was involved with, or a follower of, groups that hate whites, Jews, cops – that just confirms that hate travels in all directions. He said that day that he wanted to kill cops – but he just as easily might have aimed his weapon at Jews.

And Micah Johnson is not unique.

Take Dylann Roof, the young white man who murdered nine black people at Mother AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina last June. Much attention was paid to the fact he was wearing the insignias of white-supremacist groups. Much less attention was paid to a Facebook page connected to him that included a hate-filled manifesto railing against “Blacks,” “Jews,” “Hispanics,” and “East Asians.”

And then there was Omar Mateen, who slaughtered 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando. He claimed he was doing it in the name of Islam, but the groups he pledged allegiance to don’t really work together. So maybe he hated gays. Maybe he hated himself, since he was known to frequent the club. His former co-workers reported him to be angry at a lot of people a lot of the time. And his ex-wife said he was unpredictably violent at home and often beat her.

Violence against women is another common thread here, since the Dallas shooter had left the army after a sexual harassment complaint.

Haters hate. That’s what they do. There is something dark and evil and  very frightening inside such people that can lead them to confrontation and violence. And if you only examine one facet of the hatred – if you don’t look at the anti-Semitism or the violence against women – then you miss the bigger picture.

I don’t know what makes some people hate other people because of their color, their religion, their gender, or their sexual orientation, or all of the above. But I do believe that they are more dangerous than ever. First, because social-networking allows them to be bombarded by, and inspired by, the constant chants of hatred as never before. Ironically, it can make them feel both oppressed and empowered. Second, because our laws allow them access to weapons of mass destruction that are far deadlier than ever before.

That another hater will commit another mass murder is entirely predictable. That too many of our elected officials seem committed to doing nothing to stop it is also predictable. Congress has recessed for seven weeks without even passing a pretty toothless bill that says people on the no-fly list who are suspected of terrorist links cannot buy a gun. No fly, no buy. House Speaker Paul Ryan insists that some people might be on the list mistakenly and doesn’t want their second-amendment and due process rights violated. But where’s the due process for children who are slaughtered in their school, worshipers in their church, or young people in a club? Why isn’t the priority on protecting life?

We’ve all heard in the last few weeks the contention by some gun-rights advocates that what we need are more guns – that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. But according to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, there were 20-30 protesters legally, openly carrying their guns in that Black Lives Matter demonstration when Micah Johnson opened fire and the crowd scattered in all directions. “In the middle of a firefight,” the mayor said afterward, “It’s hard to pick out the good guys and the bad guys.” Open-carry made the situation more complicated, more confusing, and potentially more dangerous than it had to be. One innocent protester was wrongly identified as the shooter and arrested.

And a new study out this week from the American Journal of Public Health shows that the higher the rate of civilian gun-ownership, the more likely that police officers will face potentially life threatening situations. Line-of-duty homicide rates among police officers were more than three times higher in states with high gun ownership compared with low-gun ownership states.

You want to protect both black and blue? Here’s what the International Association of Chiefs of Police wants: A reinstatement of the federal ban on assault weapons. Expanded background checks. A national gun-offender registry. The vast majority of Americans – even the vast majority of NRA members – support expanded background checks. And even Justice Antonin Scalia, who penned the Heller case that upended the District of Columbia’s handgun ban, also wrote in that same decision that:

korotkin_headshot“Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

“Yes, guns can be properly and effectively used in self-defense,” wrote the Washington Post editorial board on Monday. “But saturating the nation with firearms also primes the country for deadly violence, making many situations more likely to end in death. Potential suicides are more likely to succeed. Deranged and angry people, such as Johnson, can murder trained law enforcement officers from a distance.

“Curious children accidentally shoot themselves, their friends, or their parents. Domestic abusers kill family members before tempers cool or authorities arrive. Police officers see or fear guns in the cars they pull over, and their adrenaline starts pumping.”

Columnist Eugene Robinson wrote that the solution is not more guns. The solution, he said, is to end the undervaluing of lives, both black and blue.

But that’s what haters do. They undervalue the lives of others who are different. And if they have the means to harm, to destroy, to murder, some of them will do it. Our Torah commands: You shall not hate another in your heart. But if we cannot force the hatred out of peoples’ hearts, we can at least make it harder for them to act on it.

Ken yehi ratson. Be this God’s will and our own. As we say together: Amen.

©2016 Audrey R. Korotkin


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