Making Sense of Senseless Mayhem
By Shakeel Syed
Los Angeles, CA
20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr.’s high school teacher says he espoused Nazi ideals. He is now accused of killing Heather Heyer of 32 years and seriously injuring nineteen others.
One way to make sense of James’s journey of espousing hatred from his native Ohio to murder and mayhem in Charlottesville is to remind the mordant wit of the Sufi mystic who said, “I love the moon because it brightens the sky and helps us navigate the dark night. And I hate the sun because it only comes out during the day when it is bright anyway.”
Most of us are capable of missing what is perfectly obvious, especially when we allow our thinking to become fogged with strong emotion.
Yes, we should condemn the mayhem and mourn the loss of life but we should also struggle to open our eyes and discern the perfectly obvious patterned behavior here.
In 1995, twenty-seven-year-old Timothy Mc Veigh bombed the federal building in Oklahoma and killed 168 innocent people including 19 children and injured more than 500.
In 1995, Stormfront was born online with its slogan, “White Pride, World Wide.” A two-year long study by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report claims that the “registered Stormfront users have been disproportionately responsible for some of the most lethal hate crimes and mass killings since the site was put up in 1995. In the past five years alone, Stormfront members have murdered close to 100 people. The Report’s research shows that Stormfront’s bias-related murder rate began to accelerate rapidly in early 2009, after Barack Obama became the nation’s first black president.”
There is a pattern of why do so many of us always express utter shock and fail to see the inherent racism that exists in America. Neither Timothy McVeigh of the Oklahoma bombing (1995) nor James Alex Fields Jr of Charlottesville are exceptions, but they are an un-acknowledged new norm of America.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has also catalogued 1064 race inspired hate incidents in the first month after Trump won the presidency. This is an invaluable record of the new normal on Trump’s watch that includes misogyny, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, anti-Semitism, and anti-immigrant sentiment.
Among other valuable revelations, the report discloses that “a typical murderer drawn to the racist forum Stormfront.org is a frustrated, unemployed, white adult male living with his mother or an estranged spouse or girlfriend.” In a word, our mass killers are almost all profoundly isolated and alienated; they are lost souls who imagine they will “achieve” something through lethal violence. To no one does the lost soul pattern may apply more perfectly than to the twenty- year-old James Alex Field Jr.
Almost always when victim mentality is combined with toxic ideology, a radical is born. We cannot but ignore this factor at our peril.
As we recoil in this yet another recent horror, we also tend to remind ourselves that “we” are all good and decent, whereas “they” are all deranged haters. In an ever-more interconnected and interdependent world, this is a sure recipe for continuing disaster.
There is surely some irony in the fact that we who have learned to see so well in the dark – witness the marvelous three-billion-mile journey of New Horizons to Pluto – are still not able to see what is right before us in the plain light of day.
Until we learn to see that which is so obvious, we may continue to believe that sunlight is a waste because the days are always bright anyway.
(Shakeel Syed is executive director of the Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development)