What happens in Vegas does NOT stay in Vegas. Domestic terrorism is a national issue. I often write about how the byproduct of economic dislocation is an increase in violent attacks. When people feel they have little to lose, they lose their socialization and their humanity. The result is a rise in domestic abuse and acts of violence on strangers, whether individually or in crowds. The anger and divisiveness that now permeate our culture take the phenomenon beyond the disenfranchised. Incidences like this attack on a concert in Las Vegas parallel the rise of traditional terrorism and are symbolic of the desire to deconstruct society.
I cannot accept the explanation of mental illness which implies that this massacre is just a single individual with no takeaway that impacts the country. Nor can I accept that Las Vegas was punishment for criticizing Trump and not standing for the national anthem, as one religious figure is saying. Neither denial nor incitement should be acceptable if we are to confront domestic terrorism in our midst.
There is, and always has been, a dark underbelly of our future-oriented aspirations. Those who feel left behind, their lives disposable and without hope, can be whipped into a destructive rage. Today, we can look at social as well as economic dislocation as a source of rage. Isolation and tribalism fester in individuals and sub-groups where perceived attacks lead to violent attacks. Open societies are particularly vulnerable to those whose desire for vengeance is fueled by religious fervor. We have witnessed inhuman attacks in movie theaters, on college campuses, in shopping malls, in concerts, and community festivals. Are we going to become isolated communities hunkered down in our homes to protect ourselves?
In 2015, I insisted that we focus on the alienated, desperate and hopeless among us. They are easy targets for recruitment and the spread hatred as if it were a toxic chemical spill. The escalation of hatred is the result of a constellation of societal issues resulting from economic displacement and a “nothing-left-to-lose” mentality. It is the perfect storm that brings drugs and gangs to our streets. Hate speech has become common in our society and on social networks. It fuels our political debate, but it also encourages violence, with violent responses in a seemingly never ending upward spiral.
In 2017, we’ve seen a ramping up of lone wolves lashing out. Violent expressions of hate like driving a car into a crowd in Charlottesville may appear mild as new incidences occur. Social media continues to be the medium of choice for recruitment and incitement. Expressions of extreme nationalism are emerging from the fringes to overlap with anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim movements. Attacks on Jewish institutions and Muslim centers now number in the hundreds. Nazi salutes have become acceptable, even inspirational, among some far right groups that are verge on mainstream.
The backlash against all that is foreign and different has gone global as cooperative, multinational arrangements are seen as invasive. A disturbing element of this growing nationalism is the shift away from democratic ideals and towards a toxic combination of autocratic rule. The likelihood that the strongman approach will lead to world peace and prosperity is not great. Instead, the cycle of death and destruction may continue at a more intense level with every year, fueled by technology’s reach.
There are those who have seen the challenge and are addressing the root causes of this violence. They need and deserve visibility, support, and funding. These efforts are based in religious institutions, community centers, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies. They provide food, health care, and shelter to those who have no access to basic necessities. Mentoring programs that target our youth are key to preventing their recruitment by hate groups. Kudos to the sports figures and other celebrities who bring attention to these efforts. We know from past experiences, that once the shock of a violent attack dissipates, fear, hatred, anxiety, and rage sink ever deeper into our national psyche.
We must consciously seek to diminish the rage and violence that is threatening to destroy us.
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