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More of the Same 10 min read

More of the Same

Mass shootings and white supremacy, politics over religion, black holes, crypto crashing, White House vinyl collections, and more

By Cary Littlejohn
More of the Same Post image

It’s a reality of doing a newsletter that, among other things, seeks to respond to the news: You’re going to stumble across topics more than once; you’re going to get a chance to revisit your own writing on those topics.

On Saturday in Buffalo, New York, an 18-year-old self-described fascist drove 200 miles to a predominantly Black neighborhood with the sole intention of shooting whomever he found in a supermarket when he got there. He killed 10 people and injured three more.

He wrote a hate-filled racist manifesto, which he posted online, and he livestreamed the shooting as he committed it.

I wrote about gun violence last year after a friend of mine was killed by a stray bullet fired into her apartment. In that essay, I said the following:

“Aviva’s death came after a recent spate of mass shootings in this country, the type that couldn’t claim to have been as random and senseless and unexpected. They were the results of determined shooters, people with specific intent to cause harm (and lots of it).

I can’t even begin to imagine how the friends and families of those victims felt about guns and gun violence in the aftermath. I think I’ve blocked out a lot of the specific pleas for change and reform because I intuitively agreed with them already and hearing the pain and anguish in their voices was too much. But after another senseless act of gun violence striking so close, I think I need to make it a point to listen more closely to those victims after the next (sadly inevitable) mass shooting takes place. Not to have my mind changed; their words don’t need to do that work. I just feel like I understand a little better how they feel, and there’s some sense of solidarity in that. They deserve my attention; it’s the least I can do.”

Like then, my response isn’t a screed against guns in America, though I think rampant gun culture is clearly a problem. Then, it was more a personal questioning, just wondering aloud how something like that could happen.

Now, the terribleness of the shooting itself doesn’t register as simply representative of the gun problem in this country, but somehow an even bigger, more fundamental problem: radicalization of internet-fueled racism and white supremacy.

Just last week, I wrote about the New York Times’ three-part deep-dive into the white supremacist messaging spouted on primetime cable by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson.

There have been so many stories related to this online radicalization. Two of the most prominent are previous mass shootings, like in El Paso and Christchurch and alt-right and white supremacist participation in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. But let us not forget the tiki torch marches through the UVA campus and the violence and death in Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally. This ideology is creeping more and more into mainstream conservative thinking and Republican lawmakers aren’t willing to denounce it because it represents a not insignificant portion of their base. The messages are being received by disaffected, mentally unwell young men, and they’re being sweetened by the fact that mainstream conservative figures aren’t rebuffing this rhetoric.

This is a moral failing on the part of those mainstream conservatives. It used to be the easiest questions one could pose to a politician: Do you reject Nazis and white supremacists? But ever since Donald Trump suffered no backlash after saying there were “very fine people” on both sides of things in Charlottesville, the race-baiting, fear-mongering has just gotten worse and worse. And that’s out in the light, for all to see; who can even imagine what’s being said in the darkest corners of the vilest sites on the internet.

Red-state America and blue-state America probably aren’t ever going to come together on the issue of guns, but can’t we come together on the low-hanging fruit, like denouncing the groups that infect young minds and churn out murderous fascists? It’s not enough to denounce the shooter; that’s the easy part.

Ten Worth Your Time

  1. The New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner interviewed Kathleen Belew, a University of Chicago professor of history, about the white supremacist language contained in the shooter’s manifesto, which emphasized the “great replacement” theory popular in white supremacist circles. The interview concludes with a pointed question about Tucker Carlson’s role in perpetuating that theory, and Belew’s answer was incredibly disheartening: “It’s very complicated, but here’s the thing: either Tucker Carlson and others, like Stephen Miller, like Donald Trump himself, are invoking this language in order to gin up frustration, violence, anger, and acts like this for their own purposes, or there’s a degree of sincere belief. I’m not in a position to know which one of those it is. I don’t know whether somebody like Stephen Miller, who was circulating ‘The Camp of the Saints,’ did that because he earnestly believes in the ideas that are in it, or whether it’s an operational, opportunistic move to access this particular, very active segment of extremist fervor. It’s hard to know.”

  2. The ugliness I wrote about last week is not so distant from the ugliness I’m writing about this week. There is a crossover happening, between ideas that are blatantly political being imbued with a sense of righteousness because they’re being adopted by the faithful. It’s not exactly fair to paint all religious types with the same brush, so I’ll narrow the focus: white evangelical Christians. As it relates to the abortion debate, this is nothing new; we all know that pro-life political stances are as staunch as they are because the believers are convinced of the holy and divine support of their position. Radically militant violence, like the shooting, isn’t far behind. I’m not saying the racist killer got his message and inspiration from an evangelical church, so please don’t mistake what I’m saying. But there are wildly popular fringe elements of the evangelical movement that take the notion of being an army for God to literal extremes. Consider this passage from a recent piece in The Atlantic by Tim Alberta that he witnessed in my home state of Tennessee:

    “Nestled in a wooded stretch of exurban Wilson County, Tennessee, the campus of Greg Locke’s Global Vision Bible Church feels more like a compound. Heaps of felled oak trees border the property, evidence of hurried expansion. A rutted gravel parking lot climbs high away from the main road. At the summit stands an enormous white tent. A sign reads this is a mask free church campus. Inside, men wearing earpieces and camouflage pants guard the entrance. Behind them, many hundreds of people jump up and down on a floor of cedar chips. Locke salutes them as ‘soldiers rising up in God’s army.’ Some hear this more literally than others: I spot a few folks carrying guns.”

    Alberta’s entire examination in the piece is how political ideology has become more vital to Sunday morning messages than theology in many evangelical churches. While Alberta knows that this particular Tennessee pastor represents the fringe of evangelical beliefs, his point is the same one I’m making: When the distance between the fringes and mainstream shrinks, it’s easy for lots of terrible things — in thought, in word, and in deed — to become not just acceptable but divinely inspired. Here’s Alberta again:

    “Let’s be clear: Locke belongs to a category of his own. He recently accused multiple women at his church of being witches (his source: a demon he encountered during an exorcism). That makes it easy for evangelicals to dismiss Global Vision as an outlier, the same way they did Westboro Baptist. It’s much harder to scrutinize the extremism that has infiltrated their own church and ponder its logical end point. Ten years ago, Global Vision would have been dismissed as a blip on Christianity’s radar. These days, Locke preaches to 2.2 million Facebook followers and has posed for photos with Franklin Graham at the White House.”

  3. The Intercept provided some valuable background in the likely overturning of Roe v. Wade by giving some context to the group that helped make it possible: The Federalist Society, a conservative legal pipeline from law schools to prominent places of power in government who promote originalism, a reading of the Constitution that believes it is fixed in meaning and rights conferred to whatever the original drafters meant at the time of drafting.

  4. Johnny Depp and Amber Heard have been in court and trading increasingly terrible tales of violent and abusive behavior. It appears to be two-sided; both have done despicable things to the other. But the online reaction to the testimony shows an interesting bias: Depp, the far bigger celebrity of the pair, is being defended and excused by many fans despite Heard’s explicit and detailed testimony against him. Claire Lampen in New York Magazine asks a timely question on the heels of the #MeToo movement: Which Women do We Chose to Believe? It seems irrefutable that Depp’s outsized fame is the X factor in this case, and it is so large and all-encompassing that it has a gravity all its own, bending the perceptions of those who hear about his misdeeds and blinding them to the truth that their beloved Captain Jack Sparrow might actually be a monster.

  5. Almost standing as a counterpoint to the fact that Heard’s testimony and accounts of the violence done to her is the ongoing trend in much of media that prioritizes trauma. In Real Life Magazine, Leo Kim explores a question that’s been bothering many as of late: Why is trauma equated with authenticity? From the article: “If trauma seems ubiquitous online, that’s because it has become the authentic experience par excellence — uniquely able to jar our scroll, hold our gaze, compel us to keep watching. This casual misuse, and the burnout it creates, shouldn’t distract from the fact that ‘trauma,’ fraught as the concept has become, refers to a real mode of experience that demands seriousness and consideration. That requires unpacking the ways it has become synonymous with ‘the real.’”

  6. Another week, another publication being laid to rest. I was not an avid read of Bitch Magazine, but from this heartfelt remembrance in Longreads, it’s clear that the magazine was dedicated to elevating female writers and writers of color and pushing the envelope when it came to topics covered and approaches considered.Mostly, I’m just sad another publication is shuttering. Newspapers and magazines used to be some of the main vendors in the “marketplace of ideas,” and it’s easy to see that the marketplace is a less vibrant and interesting place as more and more publications are unable to sustain operations.

  7. The photo isn’t even all that exciting, visually speaking. To the extent you can make out what’s in it, it mostly just looks blurry and out of focus. But the story behind the photo and, more importantly, what cosmic wonder it actually depicts is nothing short of remarkable. This week, the first-ever picture of the black hole in the center of the Milky Way was seen. In The Atlantic, Marina Karen writes beautifully about the photo, the black hole itself, and what it all means for our galaxy.“Einstein had predicted the existence of black holes—unseen points in the void where gravity warps the very fabric of space—more than a century earlier, and here, at last, was photographic evidence of one. That image marked a tremendous achievement in the field of science. But this one, of Sagittarius A*, feels a little different, more special. Astronomers believe that supermassive black holes are at the center of most big galaxies, which means that the universe is full of these objects. But this one is the closest to us. This one is ours.”

  8. From one hard-to-comprehend concept that literally helps bind the universe together to another hard-to-comprehend concept that mostly just makes me want to pull my hair out: crypto. If you’ve seen any news this week, before the shooting happened, at least, you likely saw or heard something about the crypto crash going on right now. It’s both simple to understand and impossible to understand, all at the same time, but NPR makes a valiant effort at giving you the basics of what’s going on right now.

  9. Did you know there’s an official White House vinyl record collection? If not, then check out this quirky little story from The Washingtonian about how one of Jimmy Carter’s grandsons was perhaps one the last person to listen to some of these albums in the White House.

  10. Some writers’ words just leap off the page, and if you’re lucky, you won’t know that fact ahead of time. It will be a surprise, delightful and sudden, and you’ll find yourself in the midst of something that’s all too rare in our short-attention span culture: captivated to the point of being unable to stop reading. That’s how I was when I came across Sam Anderson’s brilliant and charming and hilarious and relatable essay about weight loss in the New York Times Magazine. Just a sampling of the words (and more than enough to make you think): “What is the human relationship to the body? Is it like a roommate? A pet? A twin? A teammate? A rival? A parasite? A host? Is the body our essential self, or is it just an outer shell — and if so, is it more like a clam shell (homegrown, enduring) or a hermit crab shell (adopted, temporary)? Is it closer to a tamale husk or a hot dog bun or a pita pocket or the fluorescent cake-tube that wraps a Twinkie’s sweet cream center? Is the body the other side of the coin of the mind, or is the body the whole coin itself, and is the mind just the series of images and slogans stamped, superficially, on the exterior? Is the body an ancient piece of hardware designed to run the cutting-edge software of our souls? Or is it more like a hostage situation — is the body a time bomb strapped to our existence, the thing that will bring the action movie of our life to a sudden, unpredictable end?”

Culture Diary

Here’s a collection of what I’ve been watching in the past week.

Remember: The legend for my list was stolen from Mr. Soderbergh, where ALL CAPS represents a movie, Sentence Case is a TV show, ALL CAPS ITALICS is a short film, and Italics is a book. A number in parentheses after a TV show highlights how many episodes I watched. An asterisk after an entry means it’s a rewatch. The source of the movie or show, whether streaming service, physical media, or in theaters, is shown in parentheses as well.

5/9: Better Call Saul, S6 (AMC/AMC+)
5/10: We Own This City (HBO Max)
5/12: The Offer (Paramount+); Under the Banner of Heaven (Hulu); REALITY BITES (Tubi); Hacks (2) (HBO Max)
5/13: Atlanta, S3 (Hulu); UNDER THE SILVER LAKE (Showtime); Portlandia, S1(4) (Blu-ray)
5/14: Portlandia, S1 (2) (Blu-ray);
SNAKE EYES (Showtime)
5/15: THE BLING RING (Showtime); MARIE ANTIONETTE (Hulu); SOMEWHERE (VOD); Barry, S3 (HBO Max)

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