Fault Lines

Licence to Hate: White Supremacy in the US

How did the racist ideology behind recent US white supremacist attacks seep into the country’s mainstream discourse?

In less than a year, the United States has seen two of the deadliest white supremacist attacks in its recent history.

In October 2018, a white supremacist gunman stormed the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The perpetrator murdered 11 worshippers in what became the deadliest attack on Jews in US history.

Just nine months later, a white supremacist opened fire at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 people and injuring dozens. Among the victims were new parents, grandparents, people from three different countries, a US Army veteran, and a 15-year-old high school student.

The attack was the deadliest in a growing string of violence fuelled by white supremacist ideology – a pattern that has ignited outrage and inflamed tensions across the US

“These aren’t just one-off events. They are part of a rising wave of action,” explains Kathleen Belew, a historian who researches the white power movement. “That’s important not only to understand the meaning of each of these acts of violence but to connect them together as part of a movement.”

In the wake of the El Paso attack, national attention turned to the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Trump administration and right-wing media, including Fox News.

The alleged attacker published a hate-filled manifesto online that not only referenced other recent white supremacist mass murders but also echoed the incendiary language of President Donald Trump and Fox News pundits, like Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham.

“They’re almost his words,” says one survivor of the El Paso attack, Marcela Martinez, about the parallels between Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and the alleged attacker’s manifesto. “What he says about the Texas invasion of Hispanics and that Hispanics were taking over the jobs and were taking over everything.”

Fault Lines travels to El Paso, Texas and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to meet the communities hit in the two deadliest white supremacist attacks of the past year. Through expert interviews, we examine the white supremacist ideology that connects these attacks and how racist discourse has seeped into the mainstream.