October 22, 2019

The Wrong Way to Fight White Supremacy

“In June, Buzzfeed published the findings of the Plain View Project, a systematic investigation into white supremacist sympathies among police officers nationwide. The project searched the Facebook pages of officers in a dozen cities, including Phoenix, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Dallas. It turned up an extraordinary—if not exactly startling—amount of posts with violently racist imagery, language, and memes. In Philadelphia, 327 officers—of 1,073 who could be identified on Facebook—had posted white supremacist content, more than a third of whom had one or more federal civil rights lawsuits filed against them. At least 64 of the officers were in leadership roles. Almost all of those identified have remained on the force since the investigation.

I’ve thought of these numbers in recent days, as liberals and leftists have demanded more rigorous investigation and severe prosecution of white supremacist terrorism. In the wake of the massacre in El Paso, allegedly committed by a white man in revenge for what he called a “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” countless op-eds and tweets implored federal and local law enforcement to treat such terrorism with the same severity it has historically treated the threat of Muslim extremists. Many on the left thus applauded when the FBI announced domestic terrorism investigations into both the El Paso and Gilroy shootings.

These demands were understandable. Amid such tragedy, there is always a desire for cathartic action, for a reparatory response commensurate with the degree of the injury. Even people who typically mistrust the violent deputies of state power fantasize that the state might, for once, deploy them for the purpose of righting a catastrophic wrong. Moreover, America is a philosophically retributivist society. The worst deeds must be met with the worst punishments, and the worst word we have for an act of violence—the deed for which the worst punishments are reserved—is “terrorism.””

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