It's Come to This: White Nationalism Is Inciting Mass Murder in America | Opinion

What more evidence do we need that white nationalist anger about race-mixing and being "replaced" by people of color is inciting mass murder in the United States?

Minutes before a gunman killed at least 20 people and injured dozens more in a shooting rampage on Saturday at the Cielo Vista mall in El Paso, Texas, a manifesto appeared online that celebrated the deadly attack on Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, and warned of a "Hispanic invasion" of the American Southwest. The document's author, authorities believe, is the 21-year-old white male suspect they have in custody.

The talking points of the manifesto—posted on 8chan, a message board simmering with racism, misogyny and xenophobia—are predictable, if clunkily presented, components of today's white nationalism. These ideas do predate Donald Trump, but the president is emboldening them. He is spurring a cadre of young, disaffected white men with easy access to military assault weapons who are convinced that the preservation of white America demands a vigilante war against racial others.

"How do you stop these people? You can't," Trump said in May at a rally in Florida. "Shoot them!" someone in the crowd yelled back, bringing a smile to the president's face.

The four-page document contains a hodgepodge of complaints about the direction of American society that, on first blush, might not seem related—but they betray the particular and dangerous permutations of contemporary white nationalism in the United States.

Unsurprising is the consternation expressed about demographic change in Texas, alongside anxieties about reduced economic opportunities for whites. Yet the manifesto also includes references to Dr. Seuss' eco-conscious tale-turned-film The Lorax and rants about the environmental destruction caused by plastic and garbage. Taken together, however, these reflect interwoven existential racist tropes about pollution and defilement, ostensibly wrought by an American lifestyle seen as pandering to diversity and multiculturalism, and enslaved to a culture of immediate gratification with little care for the future. Undergirding these apocalyptic fears is deep-seated nostalgia for a pristine white America that never was.

The manifesto reveals a fever dream of the ethnostate: that whites must create a homogeneous homeland where at least 90 percent of the population is purely white, with no drops of color. On this exclusionary map, the United States would be segregated into racially distinct territories where cultural and genetic similarity would reign supreme, reflecting the neo-fascist ordering that the alt-right commonly refers to as "human biodiversity."

The ethnostate is a cornerstone of white nationalism. It was first elaborated by the pseudonymous writer Wilmot Robertson in his 1992 book, The Ethnostate: An Unblinkered Prospectus for an Advanced Statecraft, in which he proposed that the only way to save white America was to divide the country into stark racial regions. Built out of anti-Semitism and xenophobia, and bolstered by eugenic visions of a flourishing land full of white women breeding at maximum capacity, Robertson's white ethnostate twisted ecological notions of bioregions into a racist topography.

The ethnostate is the pipe dream for white nationalists, explored in detail on websites such as Counter-Currents and the Daily Stormer, and mulled over in the toxic digital corridors of Gab and 8chan.

According to white nationalists, the foremost tactics for forging a white ethnostate are the forced and incentivized removals of non-white peoples, through repatriation and deportation, the revocation of birthright citizenship, ideally retroactively, as well as the annulment of naturalization of those lacking "good character." One especially horrific conceit of the proposed white ethnostate is the purging of non-white children, given that they embody America's multiracial future and portend the coming of "white genocide."

half staff flags Dayton El Paso shoootings
The American flag flies at half staff over the U.S. Capitol in memory of those killed in the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, on August 5 in Washington, D.C. Win McNamee/Getty

Over the past year, the logics of the ethnostate have become status quo on the U.S.-Mexico border, as witnessed by the marked rise in detention, family separations and attempts to make it all but impossible to apply for asylum. No groups have been more affected by these policies than Latinx communities, above all Mexicans and Central Americans, who have been dehumanized and harmed to the point of death. Just last week, a Salvadoran man died in U.S. Border Patrol custody.

Targeting Mexican American families shopping at a mall on the weekend before the start of school, the El Paso shooter unleashed the delirium of the ethnostate with lethal ammunition. The Cielo Vista massacre demonstrates that white nationalism has become a killing machine that shows no sign of abating. Just as we need to tackle gun control seriously and systematically, we also need to tackle and dismantle white nationalist ideas, for the sake of democracy and human decency.

Alexandra Minna Stern is a professor of American culture, history, women's studies, and obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan. Stern is author of the prize-winning book Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America. Her most recent book, Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate: How the Alt-Right Is Warping the American Imagination, was published by Beacon Press this summer.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.