This is America: three mass shootings in less than a week. Just days after a 19-year-old gunman killed three people at a Gilroy, California, garlic festival, a 21-year-old in Texas opened fire at a mall on Saturday, murdering at least 20 people. The next day in Dayton, Ohio, a 24-year-old killed nine people. All of the shooters were young white men.
Minutes before the El Paso attack, the shooter released a screed saying it was “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” echoing racist statements made by the president and referencing the “cultural and ethnic replacement” of white people. Similarly, before the teenage shooter in California went on his rampage, he published a post on Instagram recommending a novel popular with white supremacists. A motive has yet to be identified in the Ohio shooting, but the killer’s former classmates note he was suspended once for writing a list of girls he wanted to rape.
These shootings are just the latest in what has become a horrific American trend of mass murders motivated by racism and misogyny. Think of the Isla Vista mass shooting in 2014 (committed by a young man who left behind a 140-page document railing against women), the 2015 white supremacist shooting in a black church in Charleston, and the Poway synagogue murders in April — the young white men committing these crimes are not anomalies or “lone wolves.” They are terrorists: disaffected, radicalized online, seeped in racial and gendered resentment, and hoping for lasting glory.
This is a national emergency, and if any other demographic were so wholly responsible for mass murders in the United States, we would be talking about it every single day.
But right now, even daring to mention the connection between these shootings draws ire. Last month, for example, Rep. Ilhan Omar was blasted for pointing out that the biggest domestic terrorist threat in the United States is white men, despite the fact that the FBI director had recently said the same.
Continuing to ignore what is happening in this country — and what is happening to young men — is only going to get more people killed.
Why the disdain for discussing the obvious, especially when it’s women or people of color arguing for change? Because talking about how these shootings are motivated and encouraged by white supremacy and misogyny would mean addressing how Donald Trump’s behavior and language incites violence; it would mean holding racist politicians to account; and it would mean admitting that the biggest danger to Americans isn’t immigration, socialism, campus activists, or progressive congresswomen — it’s a system that leads young white men to become violent and deadly.
Continuing to ignore what is happening in this country — and what is happening to young men — is only going to get more people killed. Recognizing the nature of the crisis doesn’t mean demonizing young white men; it means helping the ones who are in danger of becoming radicalized and violent, and thinking preemptively instead of scrambling to do something after a tragedy.
In 2013, San Quentin State Prison launched Guiding Rage Into Power, an initiative that aimed to teach incarcerated men about gender roles and how their behavior is shaped by traditional ideas about masculinity. In a HuffPost article, training facilitator George Luna described the oppressive culture of hypermasculinity to which these men — and many others — are exposed: “Society says the male dominates. They try to breed it in you that you can’t be anything else, except a masculine, hardcore, callous person, but men can be loving and have compassion.”
The program has been a huge success. Participants have much lower recidivism rates, and the program has shifted the way men think about themselves. One participant said, “It’s giving me back, once again, my humanity.”
Imagine similar programs or interventions for teenage boys: classes that debunk cultural messages that warn against showing emotion, lessons that help young men to process complicated feelings, and spaces where boys can talk with each other without fear of one-upmanship or humiliation. And most importantly, interventions into common but dangerous cultural messages around race and gender — especially vital during a time when the country’s most powerful leader repeats them almost daily.
I’ve written before about the lack of resources for young men during critical times in their lives. What feminism does for women — providing girls with alternative media, cultural norms, and a language to understand sexism — is what we need for boys and young men.
I don’t believe young American men end up in racist and sexist online spaces — spaces that radicalize — because they are innately bigoted. They end up there because they are confused and seeking out community, and no one else is providing an alternative.
If we want to prevent the next mass shooting, we have to be proactive. That means smart gun control policy, a clear-eyed recognition of who is most at risk of becoming radicalized, and proactive steps to stop that downward spiral. These tragedies don’t have to be inevitable.