September 16, 2019

El Paso Was Not Random or Senseless. It Was Xenocide.

In the midst of rage, it’s hard to think straight. After more than 30 people were murdered last week in three separate mass shootings, it’s understandable if our reaction was to scream: “Enough is enough!”

Once the rage dies down, however, we still need to think of solutions. It should be obvious that there is no one magical solution to this madness.

We need smart and effective gun control, better management of mental illness, closer monitoring of online activity for warning signs, better enforcement of laws to keep guns away from those prone to violence, media cooperation to starve killers of the fame they crave, a toning down of hateful and racist rhetoric, and so on. We need all of it and more.

But for a certain kind of crime, like the one at El Paso that targeted “Hispanic invaders,” we also need a new name.

When a murderer goes after a group based on race, ethnicity or religion, it’s not enough to call it a crime. When Hitler targeted the Jews for annihilation, we didn’t call it a crime or even terror. We called it “genocide,” which is the “deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a specific ethnic group or nation.”

A Jew-hater who walks into a synagogue to murder Jews is committing a type of genocide. So is a Muslim-hater who walks into a mosque to murder Muslims, or a white supremacist who walks into a Walmart to murder Latinos.

A Jew-hater who walks into a synagogue to murder Jews is committing a type of genocide. So is a Muslim-hater who walks into a mosque to murder Muslims, or a white supremacist who walks into a Walmart to murder Latinos.

This is not my idea. I heard it on Sunday from my friend Stephen Smith, who runs the USC Shoah Foundation and is UNESCO Chair on Genocide Education. As the nation was reeling from the latest shootings, he sent me a text with this idea for a column: “The manifesto-based killings are a kind of genocide … the killing of the outsider.”

As he further explains in his column this week, “In my 25 years of researching the Holocaust, Armenian, Rwandan and other genocides, there are certain similarities and themes that are consistent in every mass tragedy: ideology, dictatorial leadership, armed conflict and government perpetration.”

But what happens when it’s not a government that commits genocide but a lone killer?

“This presents a legal dilemma,” he writes, because “[t]he acts of these individual, radicalized men, and the ideologies behind their actions, are clearly genocidal in nature, but perpetrated by one person rather than a government. There are no obvious precedents of lone wolf genocidaires in Western society.”

Smith believes these “genocidaires” represent a new, 21st-century phenomenon unlike any other.

“Unlike international terrorism, none of these lone wolves is inspired by a centralized organization with a hierarchical structure.

“Unlike other mass shootings such as at Columbine High School in Colorado or the Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, this brand of killing isn’t indiscriminate: The shooters are targeting a particular group of people whom they deem a threat — Jews, Muslims, Christians, Latinos, etc.

“And unlike hate crimes, these acts are expressly homicidal, whereas a hate crime can occur without causing a scratch.”

In other words, we’re dealing here with a new kind of menace, and if we are to fight it effectively, we ought to start by finding the right name for it.

Smith suggests the term “Xenocide.” 

“[Xenocide] combines two Greek words to mean the killing of people perceived as foreigners or outsiders. It suggests, rightly, that the act is rooted in racism and xenophobia. It implies that the act is fundamentally different from other kinds of killing. It also implies mass killing, because the target is not an individual, it is a group.”

This new term is not meant to apply to all mass shootings. Rather, it recognizes that there’s something especially sinister about the deliberate targeting of a special class of people, whether by a country or an individual.

Smith believes these “genocidaires” represent a new, 21st-century phenomenon unlike any other.

Just as the legal term “genocide” gave the international community a special tool for prosecuting nations, the term xenocide can give law enforcement a special tool for prosecuting personal genocides at the local level.

What was the massacre at the Walmart in El Paso but a depraved individual committing a mini genocide against Latinos?

All gun violence is abominable, yes, and we must fight to eradicate it with every tool at our disposal. But we must also reserve special attention for the evil of evils, for killers who go after groups because of their race, ethnicity or religion.

Justice also means doing justice to the depravity of their act. Those killers are not just criminals or terrorists, they are guilty of xenocide, and it doesn’t get any worse than that. Just ask Hitler.