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As right-wing violence spreads, Republicans duck responsibility

Janate Ingram comforts Cariol Horne as they attend a vigil across the street from Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, N.Y., which was the site of a fatal shooting of 10 people.
(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

The killing of 10 people at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., by what authorities say is an 18-year-old obsessed with racist conspiracy theories, has refocused attention on white supremacist ideology, the role social media platforms play in spreading it and the fatal attraction it can offer to alienated young men.

Another issue deserves at least as much public scrutiny — the unwillingness, perhaps inability, of the Republican Party to confront the growth of right-wing violence and the toleration, even outright support, it gets among a significant share of the party’s voters.

A case in point: On Wednesday, the House voted 222-203 for a bill to expand the federal government’s resources to investigate, track and respond to domestic terrorism. Only one Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, voted in favor. The bill has virtually no chance in the Senate because of GOP opposition.

Republicans, who have blocked similar measures for the last five years, used a familiar argument to justify opposition: The bill unfairly targeted right-wing terrorism, not the left, they said.

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“This bill glaringly ignores the persistent domestic terrorism threat from the radical left in this country and instead makes the assumption that it is all on the white and the right,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista).

A growing threat of violence

That argument flies in the face of increasingly deadly facts.

Right-wing extremists have killed more than 330 people in the U.S. over the last decade, according to statistics compiled by the Anti-Defamation League. That’s 75% of all the deaths caused by political violence in the U.S. Islamic extremists accounted for most of the rest. Left-wing or anarchist violence made up 4% of the deaths.

Last year, terrorists killed 30 people in the U.S. — 28 were victims of right-wing attacks, according to a separate database maintained by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which has tracked domestic terror since 1994. The last two years had the largest number of attacks since the tracking began, Seth Jones, the director of CSIS’ international security program, told a congressional panel earlier this year.

There’s something awful about toting up numbers of deaths like entries in an ideological accounting spreadsheet, but it’s a sad necessity to highlight a critical point: There’s no symmetry here, no even balance of problems on both sides.

The U.S. has been hit for most of the last decade by a wave of right-wing violence, much of it committed by white supremacists and aimed at Black and Latino communities. And that wave continues to build.

The pattern resembles a similar violent upsurge in the early 1990s, which culminated in the bombing of the federal office building in Oklahoma City in 1995 by Timothy McVeigh, a right-wing militant who murdered 168 people, including 19 children, in what remains one of the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history.

In the aftermath of that attack, both parties supported action to find and deter domestic terrorists. The response from Republicans this time around has been denial — at best. At worst, some Republican elected officials have parroted extremist rhetoric.

“The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-semitism,” Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the former third-ranking member of that leadership, who has been exiled for her candor, wrote Monday on Twitter.

“History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse,” Cheney wrote. GOP leaders “must renounce and reject these views and those who hold them.”

They haven’t, and they probably won’t.

“Candidates want to win elections,” said UCLA political science Prof. Lynn Vavreck. The “old Republican party” that formed its identity around limited government and low taxes, “just doesn’t exist any more,” Vavreck added. Divisive issues of race, identity and culture have dominated debate for much of the last decade: “That’s what politics is now, that’s what we’re fighting over these days,” she said.

Unlike issues such as how much to raise or lower taxes, divides over culture and identity do not easily lend themselves to compromise. They’re readily framed as a contest of good versus evil. Perhaps as a result, even repudiation of violence, which might seem a simple line to draw, appears risky to many Republican elected officials. They fear to show any sign that they’re anything less than 100% committed to fighting the culture war.

That allows the most radical elements of the party free to grow unchecked.

How widely? Since the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, several organizations have surveyed the public in an effort to find out.

One critical number: 5%.

That’s the share of American adults who in a survey last year for the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Threats said they “strongly” agreed that the use of force was justified to restore former President Trump to the White House. A similar share said they strongly believed force may be needed to “save” the “traditional American way of life.”

That’s a small slice of the overall public, but a much larger share of the GOP. Even if the vast majority are merely loud talkers, it’s an ominous figure.

Strong believers in political violence, that 5%, are the hardest of the hard core. A larger group of Americans share a trio of beliefs that Robert Pape, the head of the Chicago project, uses to define what he calls the “insurrectionist movement.” Those beliefs are that the 2020 election was stolen, that President Biden is an illegitimate chief executive and that force may be at least somewhat justified to remove him.

Based on the survey data, Pape estimates support for the movement at about 8% of the adultpopulation — roughly 21 million people.

And those people “show up in huge numbers in primaries,” said Vanderbilt University political scientist professor John Geer. Many lawmakers worry far more about angering primary voters than about the general election since the lion’s share of congressional districts aren’t competitive in general elections, Geer said.

“Democracy rests on healthy competition, and right now, we just don’t have it” in most of the country, Geer said. Outsized influence for extremists is one of the consequences.

The insurrection movement centers on Trump and his efforts to overturn his defeat, but it’s tightly bound up with a combination of racism and nativism. Belief in the “great replacement theory” — the idea that a conspiracy of Jews, Democratic liberals and business leaders are deliberately trying to flood the nation with immigrants to dispossess native-born Americans — strongly predicts support for the movement. So does belief in the QAnon-related theory that the U.S. government is controlled by a secret cabal of pedophiles.

Support for those beliefs goes beyond the hard core of people who openly advocate violence. As I wrote last week, nearly 1 in 5 Americans believe two key tenets of replacement theory — that a powerful conspiracy to bring immigrants to the country exists and that native-born Americans are losing economic and political power because of immigration; that soars to about half of viewers of right-wing cable stations OANN and Newsmax and 3 in 10 regular viewers of Fox News.

About 1 in 6 Republicans said that America’s diversity of racial, ethnic and religious groups make the nation weaker, the Public Religion Research Institute found last year. Just 3% of Democrats feel that way. About 1 in 8 Republicans said they would prefer to have the country made up mostly of people of Western European heritage.

In retrospect, it’s easy to see how the U.S. slipped into its current bitter political divide. In a country rapidly shifting away from a majority-white past, a fight over identity politics may have been inevitable.

It’s a lot harder to see how the country gets out of it. A landslide loss for Republicans might jolt them into reconsidering their path, Geer noted, but that doesn’t seem likely — with inflation high and the public sour on Biden, the GOP almost surely will capture a House majority in this year’s midterm elections.

Eventually, said Vavreck, some new set of issues will come along to supplant the current political divide, but that will likely require a major jolt to the system. “You might have thought a global pandemic would do it, but it didn’t,” she said. “It will have to be something bigger than that.”

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The latest from the campaign trail

In the runup to Tuesday’s Republican primary for governor, an advertisement filled the state’s airwaves declaring that Sen. Doug Mastriano staunchly opposed abortion and mail-in balloting and embraced Trump’s lies about the 2020 election. “If Mastriano wins,” the ad declared, “it’s a win for what Donald Trump stands for.” Republican voters loved it. But, as Mark Z. Barabak wrote, the ad wasn’t paid for by Mastriano, who went on to win the primary, but by his Democratic opponent, state Atty. Gen. Josh Shapiro. Democrats paid for the ad because they believed Mastriano is so extreme that he’ll be easy to beat in November. It’s a risky bet with high stakes.

Lowell, Mass., a historic mill town about 25 miles northwest of Boston, has been home to successive waves of immigrants throughout its history. But until the 1970s, nearly all of them were white. Then, as Don Lee reported, Cambodians began to arrive in Lowell, fleeing the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge. They and their children now make up about one-fifth of the city’s population and have transformed its politics.

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The latest from Washington

President Biden stood next to the prime minister of Sweden and president of Finland at the White House on Thursday, declaring that the two nations have the “full, total complete backing of the United States of America” in their push to join NATO, Eli Stokols and Tracy Wilkinson reported. Biden asked Congress to quickly approve adding the two countries to NATO. Administration officials expressed confidence they could find ways to smooth over objections from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Biden is scheduled to spend the next few days in Asia, meeting with the leaders of South Korea and Japan, but, as Noah Bierman wrote in a preview of the trip, the war in Ukraine will dominate much of the visit.

During a college internship at the Orange County Public Defender’s office, Rachel Rossi was sent to the local jail to ask people who had recently been arrested what they needed. “‘Do you need medication? Is your family OK? Are your kids OK?’ In that role and seeing the racial disparities of people who are in the system, but also seeing just the humanity of the people, it sold me that this was where my passion, my fight would be,” Rossi told Sarah Wire. On Thursday, Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland announced Rossi will lead the newly reconstituted Office for Access to Justice, an Obama administration-era program to ensure poor defendants get legal representation in civil and criminal cases.

Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday framed the Supreme Court’s potential decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade as a government incursion on personal liberties, saying that if conservative justices follow through with the decision, other rights could be threatened, Erin Logan reported. Harris’ remarks, in a virtual meeting with doctors, marked the administration’s latest effort to mobilize Democratic voters around the abortion issue.

The latest from California

Except for governor, the most important statewide elective office in California is attorney general, George Skelton wrote in previewing the year’s hottest statewide primary. Incumbent Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta is all but certain to secure one spot in the November runoff. His chances of winning the general election will vary a lot depending on whether he faces Eric Early, a Republican who strongly supports Trump, Nathan Hochman, a Republican former federal prosecutor who won’t say if he voted for Trump, or Sacramento County Dist. Atty. Anne Marie Schubert, who left the GOP four years ago and became an independent. Bonta’s backers have been trying to help Early, believing he would be the easiest to defeat.

Schubert has a reputation for poring over long-forgotten cases and detailed DNA evidence. Her work drew national attention when it led to an arrest and conviction in the infamous case of the Golden State Killer, a serial rapist and murderer who terrorized dozens of victims throughout California in the 1970s and ‘80s, Hannah Wiley wrote in a profile of the independent candidate. “I like to help solve problems,” Schubert, 58, said. “And I’m pretty relentless.”

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuerquit the race for mayor this week, endorsing Rep. Karen Bass. Along with City Councilmember Joe Buscaino‘s dropping out last week, the decision sharply narrows the field. As Dakota Smith and Julia Wick wrote, that leads to a big remaining question: Does Councilman Kevin de León pick up support, or does the race rapidly become a two-person contest between Bass and Rick Caruso, the billionaire developer?

Los Angeles has a complicated relationship with wealth. The city is home to some of the world’s richest people, but, as Jessica Garrison and Alejandra Reyes-Velarde wrote, the city’s mayors have typically been cut from more modest, less glamorous cloth. Caruso’s campaign, they wrote, tests whether the city’s voters are willing to be governed by a billionaire.

The closest parallel to Caruso — and one his aides often cite — is Richard Riordan, the wealthiest person to win the mayor’s job to date and also the last Republican to do so. (Caruso, a former Republican turned independent, is now registered as a Democrat). On Thursday, Riordan endorsed Caruso, Benjamin Oreskes reported.

Mayor Eric Garcetti‘s goal of increasing the size of the Los Angeles Police Department to 9,735 sworn officers is not going to happen, David Zahniser wrote. The City Council reduced the size of Garcetti’s budget request for the LAPD after receiving a report that the hiring target would be almost impossible to meet. With the smaller budget, the LAPD likely will have around 9,500 officers by next June, city officials said.

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