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Gilroy. El Paso. Dayton. How Long Before We Call it What it Really Is?

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People attend a vigil for victims of the mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival on July 29, 2019 in Gilroy, California. Three people were killed and at least a dozen wounded yesterday before police officers shot and killed the suspect. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

This past Sunday, as I left the San Francisco Ballet’s performance at Stern Grove, and as my daughter quickly fell into a nap in the backseat of my car, I took a second to check my phone.

There was a text from my mother, asking if I was in Gilroy.

The horrible event that took place—a shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival that left three dead, including two minors, before the suspect shot and killed himself—is bad enough on its own. But when you look at all the details that’ve emerged, from the ethnicity of the victims to the political views reported thus far of the assailant, a heinous crime quickly becomes a building block of our new, disgusting reality.

Two days after the shooting, a federal law enforcement official told the San Francisco Chronicle that investigators found reading material on white supremacy and radical Islam in the shooter’s Nevada home. An Instagram account reported by the Associated Press to be the gunman’s contained posts just hours before the shooting denouncing “hordes of mestizos,” and promoting the book Might Makes Right, a popular text in white supremacism and extremist groups.


I get it: law enforcement usually needs time to confirm extremist connections. By the time that happens, we’ve usually moved on to the next mass shooting in El Paso, or the next mass shooting in Dayton, and in a matter of days, not weeks. As a citizen—one who regularly attends public cultural events—I can’t help but see these details in shootings over and over.

A larger context needs to be mentioned every time a shooting influenced by ideology happens in America. Every single time. The issue of white supremacy influencing domestic terrorism needs to be clearly stated in the news. I’m glad it was a topic of discussion during the democratic presidential debates, as it should be a topic of discussion heading into the 2020 election. It’s as big an issue as legislators dictating the reproductive rights of women, and the president using his executive powers to build a border wall.

Police officers arrive on the scene of the investigation following a deadly shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California on July 28, 2019.
Police officers arrive on the scene of the investigation following a deadly shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California on July 28, 2019. (Philip Pacheco/AFP/Getty Images)

As of today, July 31, there have been 287 reported instances of shootings this year in which there were multiple victims—mass shootings. While it’s easy to tally the numbers of shootings, it’s harder to keep a tally on the number of shootings committed by people influenced by white supremacy.

It’s hard because stories like Gilroy are reported by folks who aren’t telling it as it is. For instance, the local ABC station reported that “… they believe it could turn out that [Santino William] Legan was simply another angry and unstable man who acted out violently and used racial and ethnic anger to justify the shooting he was contemplating.”


Nationally, USA Today reported that the assailant “was known as a quiet teen from an athletic family who stayed out of trouble,” before going into accounts from people who knew him and didn’t expect there was another side to him. Never did the word “terrorist” come up in that article.

And in Los Angeles Times’ profile of the assailant, the only time the word “terrorist” appears is in the bio for an author of the piece, because she also covered the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino… by a Muslim couple.

Granted, the San Bernardino shooting took more lives: 14 people, 16 including the two assailants. But the Gilroy shooting rendered the same psychological effect on your average person; a terrifying sense that you can’t go anywhere nowadays, because you might get shot.

It’s these actions, random acts of mass violence, that cause us to live in terror. It’d be wise to label them as terrorism, just as it would be wise to specify which ideology led to them.

People leave mementos at a makeshift memorial outside the site of the Gilroy Garlic Festival after a mass shooting took place at the event yesterday on July 29, 2019 in Gilroy.
People leave mementos at a makeshift memorial outside the site of the Gilroy Garlic Festival after a mass shooting took place at the event yesterday on July 29, 2019 in Gilroy. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

That’s especially true when chants of “send her back” erupt at campaign rallies, inspired by tweets from the highest office in the land. Or when the president jokes about shooting people at the border to rally his base.

To give credit to President Trump for the current state of nationalism and white supremacy would be to overlook the fact that this country was built on white supremacy and domestic terrorism. But given what’s transpired since the fall of 2016—headline after headline of President Trump using racism and bigotry to pander to his base—it’s no surprise the that the FBI warns that domestic terrorism is on the rise.

This past May, Michael C. McGarrity, Assistant Director of the Counterterrorism Division of the FBI, testified that, “We believe domestic terrorists pose a present and persistent threat of violence and economic harm to the United States; in fact, there have been more arrests and deaths caused by domestic terrorists than international terrorists in recent years. We are most concerned about lone offenders, primarily using firearms, as these lone offenders represent the dominant trend for lethal domestic terrorists. Frequently, these individuals act without a clear group affiliation or guidance, making them challenging to identify, investigate, and disrupt.”

So yes, domestic terrorism is on the rise. And guess which state is leading the charge in hate groups?

As of 2018, California was home to the most hate groups in the country, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. While there’s some debate over what the SPLC classifies as a hate group (the Nation of Islam is listed as one, for example), California has more groups according to their data who identify as white nationalists than any other state in the country. Yes, more than both Virginia and Texas.

I’m not picking the ideology as an issue out of thin air. We’ve seen it as the driving force behind many shootings, from a synagogue in Pittsburgh to a church in Virginia, and even a mosque in New Zealand. While some news outlets dance around the term “domestic terrorist” when writing about someone who has committed hateful acts while showing support for white nationalist ideology, I think they’re doing the public a disservice.


Let’s call it what is is: domestic terrorism.

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