America, which used to be the country of the future, now seems to contribute mainly to what the philosopher of the Holocaust, Berel Lang, calls “the progress of evil.”’ The convergence of Hollywood and American “gun culture” is particularly horrific, such that we now have both far-right and apparently apolitical terrorists “live-streaming” their atrocities. The latest instance of the latter took place earlier this week in Memphis; in keeping with this blog’s practice, the killer will not be named here. How are we to understand this commission of heinous deeds, together with a thirst for notoriety that drives these killers to direct, produce, and act in their own “snuff films”? Even the Nazis thought it prudent not to boast openly of what they were doing.
This is not a strictly American phenomenon. The perpetrator of the New Zealand mosque massacre also live-streamed his crimes, and Islamist terrorists have used gruesome videos of their deeds to spread fear and blood lust for many years. But the Internet and social media were invented in America, and it is here that both celebrity worship and gun idolatry have reached their greatest extremes, so it’s not too much to say that this is a case of the United States exporting its social pathologies.
What goes on in the minds of the perpetrators, and how can we deter their attacks when they are so often willing to lose their own lives in the process of randomly, or not so randomly, dealing out death and destruction? The first thing to say is that, as in the related phenomenon of “suicide bombing,” the counsel of despair is false; it is emphatically not the case that nothing works and these attacks cannot be prevented. Israel suffered from numerous suicide attacks beginning in the mid-1990s, when I lived there, and reaching a peak during the so-called Second Intifada around 2002. But the country’s military and intelligence forces did eventually figure out how to stop them, although some of the solutions they came up with may work only in that unique context. The much-maligned wall running roughly along the Green Line between Israel’s sovereign territory and the West Bank seems to have helped, as does the practice of destroying dead terrorists’ families’ homes. But I suspect the most effective method is the very high level of human intelligence Israel’s security and intelligence forces gather in Palestinian society in the West Bank, Gaza, and within Israel itself, coupled with pinpoint military raids. The general conclusion is that it is possible to deter and fight back against “suicidal” attacks on civilians.
As to the motivation of the suicide bombers, the reverse of the thinking of Western progressives and Israeli peaceniks applies here; rather than suicide bombing being a “result of despair” among Palestinians, these attacks began during the Oslo Accords period, with the (ultimately successful) political aim of destroying the “peace process” and making a negotiated end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unthinkable for at least a generation. The general conclusion is that terrorism does work, so we must inquire into the terrorists’ motives, even if it offends somebody’s deeply held political or other beliefs.
How then can we apply these two principles to the American “mass shooter”? As already mentioned, these perpetrators must be divided into two categories: racist or religious attackers who harbor a genocidal desire to drive entire groups out of American society, and apolitical murderers who seem to harbor mainly a desire for infamy. To address both categories of killer, an essential first step is to reduce the flood of high-powered weaponry available in American society. Thus, a more carefully defined “assault weapons” ban that does not allow the loopholes of the 1994-2004 ban is crucial. On the motivation side, we have two choices for the apolitical perpetrators: either bar the publication of killers’ names, legally or by means of severe social sanction, or we must expose them, whether they are captured dead or alive, to merciless ridicule, so that those who might be tempted to follow in their footsteps understand that shame and not fame will be their legacy. It seems to me that these same methods would work as well against the one-man Nazi killing squads, with the added necessity of putting Fox News and its imitators out of business and ending all genocidal talk of racial “replacement” and the like. None of this will be easy, but we cannot allow ourselves to surrender to helplessness and hopelessness.