The mass shootings that this country has been reeling from are symptoms of the U.S. empire’s decline. When empires collapse, they experience waves of violence and instability. After the unraveling of the German empire during World War I, the populace was devastated by the blowback from capitalist exploitation and war, and society reacted by becoming more paranoid and aggressive. The discourse began saturated in antisemitic conspiracy narratives, with the Jews being blamed for “stabbing Germany in the back” and bringing it to its state of humiliation. Political polarization intensified, with fascists coming out to terrorize communities and the communists having to respond with force. Clashes between the Nazis and the original Antifa became regular, mirroring the street confrontations we’ve been seeing so much of in America.
Another parallel to contemporary America was the Beer Hall Putsch, the failed coup attempt by the fascists which resembled January 6th insofar as it was an act of impatience from the fascists. The vulnerable structure of bourgeois “democracy” would let the Nazis come to power in time, and the Putsch was a trial run for the decisive moment. What would give the Nazis this opportunity was the Great Depression, which discredited the liberal parties and let the extreme right fill the power vacuum.
Now that the U.S. has had its economic collapse, occurring through the compounding factors of the pandemic and the Ukraine conflict, similarities are again apparent. Biden has been discredited, his sanctions on Russia having cruel consequences for a U.S. population that’s already been devastated by the events of the last two years. And no doubt the 2024 election will be a vast upswing for our own fascists, who are already waging a war against women’s and LGBT rights. The big warning signs that we’re headed for a repeat of history are the violence that our society keeps getting pummeled with, and the state’s enabling of that violence.
Throughout Weimar Germany, right-wing terrorism was routine. And what would later allow it to turn into the Holocaust was the tolerance that the capitalist state had for it. Germany’s DW has written that “The law had turned a blind eye to the far-right. Between 1918 and 1922, it is estimated 354 political murders were committed by right-wing groups and 22 from leftist groupings. Punishments varied. Left-wing assassins were usually given prison sentences – or death sentences. But right-wing extremists were often granted clemency, or received prison sentences of just a few months. Political elites and the justice system in the Weimar Republic were unwilling to shine a light on the true nature of the assassinations. It had fatal consequences. Right-wing secret societies that had numerous connections to the military would later merge with national socialist organizations, spreading terrorism and hate as Hitler’s foot soldiers.”
Can you think of a clearer historical parallel to last year’s exoneration of Kyle Rittenhouse, the vigilante who killed two Black Lives Matter protesters and then successfully avoided consequences by saying he felt threatened? Under a capitalist state, especially a capitalist state that’s reeling from the pressures of mounting settler-colonial contradictions and economic crisis, the rules get redefined for fascists. The system grows more willing to enable them, viewing their terrorism from the charitable lens of occurring in response to supposed violence from society’s revolutionary elements. The ruling class embraces their brutal solutions to preempt revolution, which grows more plausible the more people’s conditions deteriorate.
This institutional enabling of violence is apparent at every level, from the White House’s funding for Ukrainian neo-Nazis to the court system’s legalization of vigilantism to law enforcement’s negligence on mass shooters. During the Uvalde, Texas shooting, police waited an hour for backup before intervening, despite panicked onlookers having begged them to enter the school where the massacre was taking place. The U.S. empire’s law enforcement, despite being intensely militarized throughout the last decade or so, remains unable to stop the kinds of crimes that the “Back the Blue” movement claims police are crucial for preventing. Due to the function of police under capitalism—which is not to prevent crime but to protect property—the descent into violence is accelerating.
This is only natural, because the imperialist social order behind law enforcement is what’s producing these shootings. At least one-third of mass shooters have been trained by the United States military. White supremacist mass shooters get radicalized by the propaganda channels that are made possible by the settler-colonial structure. Our culture of militarism is intertwined with our culture of misogyny and violent masculinity, which can potentially explain incidents like the recent one where a non-white man perpetrated a shooting; America’s conditioning of men to be violent impacts men of all colors. There’s data to support this. A study from last year showed that shooters have frequently committed domestic violence or even femicide prior to their largest crimes, stating: “We found that 59.1% of mass shootings between 2014 and 2019 were DV-related and in 68.2% of mass shootings, the perpetrator either killed at least one partner or family member or had a history of DV.” These men have a kinship with the police, in that domestic violence is around four times more common in law enforcement households than in the general population. And police are who we expect to protect children.
The U.S. leads the rest of the world in shootings by such astronomical levels not necessarily because of how many guns it has, but because the culture surrounding these guns is defined by the country’s role as the hub of imperialism. Mass shootings in the U.S. far outpace those in other rich countries because the U.S. is not just an imperialist country, but the core imperialist country, the one with a military budget that dwarfs those of its allies. When a country has been at war for virtually all of its history, with its very existence being dependent on one big war against the First Nations, this scars its collective psyche. Its people aren’t able to grow up in a healthy environment, and its men learn that they need to physically dominate women and other men. Constant war propaganda fuels this sense that in order to overcome one’s conditions, one needs to become a warrior, willing to annihilate others for the sake of being in control. This is the motivation behind femicide; “honor killings” is the phrase that’s often applied to when men murder women.
The fascist movement seeks to exploit this sick mindset. By putting forth racist propaganda and paranoid conspiracy theories, it’s trying to instigate stochastic terrorism, where lone wolf attackers instill fear among the population. If Nazi Germany repeats itself in the USA, these attacks are going to morph into something more coordinated, into a systemic mass murder campaign against the most vulnerable groups. These shootings are warning signs for something far bigger.
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