From McVeigh to Gendron, how white supremacist terrorism evolved


Photo courtesy wikimedia

A memorial was erected for those who died in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

Al Curle, Staff Writer

This article will deal with heavy topics and potentially disturbing events, no graphic details will be shared, however, for those for whom this is a sensitive topic, it is best to not read this article.

On the morning of April 19, 1995, a truck pulled up to the Alfred P. Murrah building. Inside was a fertilizer bomb which the driver, Timothy McVeigh, intended to detonate beside the building. The bomb destroyed the Murrah building and over 300 other buildings. Small children were among the 168 killed by the bomb.

How does someone get radicalized to this? Is this part of the DNA fueling the recent shootings? Both of those possible answers are a part of this story.

Inside of McVeigh’s getaway vehicle, there were pages from a book called the Turner Diaries. It has been called the nazi bible by some and also has been called one of the most vile books ever put to print. The book depicts a group of neo-nazis, who write the date in years since Hitler’s birth, who fight race traitors and minorities. 

This is book has inspired people to violent actions as the terrorists try to emulate the main character, Earl Turner, who is a part of a neo-nazi group called the Order, where they are engaged in an insurgency and race war against the government, called the System. The book depicts a day called, “the day of the rope” in which the protagonists, neo-nazis, hang the minorities and ‘race traitors’ from trees and lampposts in an act of mass execution. 

This DNA of neo-nazism is ingrained far further than just McVeigh in the perpetrators of mass violence both at home and abroad. 

The Columbine shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, were heavily inspired by McVeigh and committed their act of violence in an attempt to kill more people than McVeigh. There is speculation that they were neo-nazis themselves, but even if they weren’t, they inspired a mode of violence that many neo-nazis would follow. 

This growth of far-right or neo-nazi groups had a major shift around the mid 2000’s, where they went online. First, there were chat rooms where these extremists gathered and then with the rise of social media, they started to recruit. Where Klan offices and skinhead gangs were once the frontline of the far right, one thing changed the organization style of the right, Gamergate. 

For individuals unaware of Gamergate, the grievances of ethics in games journalism said to be the reason they did what they did may seem small, but they still managed to serve as a front from which both true believers and harassers could exist in the same movement. This movement pioneered tactics like doxing, harassment, death threats, and sending pictures of people’s doors. All of these tactics are ones that are used by the far right to ramp up violence in these movements because mass violence doesn’t come from nowhere. 

It’s worth elaborating on this ramping up of the violence, after all it is the method by which they desensitize, mostly, young men to commit such acts of violence. This ramping up of the level of socially acceptable, and in some cases encouraged, violence prepares potential terrorists to view each step of escalated violence as okay.

There are several ways this is done, including propaganda, memes, and creating an isolated media ecosystem.

The first two are easy to understand: a person creates a meme or piece of propaganda which is viewed and a person either affirms their shared position with the author or disagrees and rejects the propaganda.

The media ecosystem is a concept that media we consume acts like a natural biome in that conflict between sources allows someone to have a nuanced position based on the sources they have. If someone, or a group of people, were to restrict the diversity of a followers media consumption to the point where there is little to no information or opposing views in their feed. It isn’t hard to see how this can make it easy to radicalize and difficult to deradicalize when no views other than the extreme ones are presented.

While this sounds formal and deliberate, it is anything but that. The process of radicalization is done by memes to get people in and social pressure to keep people there, but unlike an in-person group, people can be radicalized without the knowledge of the one who radicalized them.

“Subscribe to Pewdiepie,” Brenton Tarrant, the Christchurch shooter, said before leaving his car to commit the shooting, according to the video Tarrant streamed of the event. Along with other meme references said during the violence, it is a clear indication the internet had on his radicalization.

But the internet is not the only place where radicalization happens, Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News is an example of radicalization by older means. Tucker’s show is one of the most viewed shows on prime time television, which is why many get concerned when Tucker frequently mentions a conspiracy theory that inspired the Christchurch and Buffalo shooters.

The theory is called “The Great Replacement” or “White Genocide” and proposes that white people are being replaced by immigration and interracial marriage. This theory has been widely debunked as the actual trend is just demographic categorization.

In short the way being white is classified is that if a white and a non-white person have a child that child is non-white, think Obama is a black president not a white one. There are many historical reasons for this classification but very briefly this means that normal population growth trends can appear to some as the proportion of white and non-white people shifting.

Having one of the most watched shows in America espouse this theory to an audience of millions makes some worry that dangerous credence is given to a theory that has led to the deaths of many, deaths including the ones that happened May 14, 2022 in Buffalo, New York.

When 18-year-old Payton Gendron began shooting at the Tops Friendly Markets, he had already released a manifesto online in which many of the factors earlier discussed reared themselves including the so-called Great Replacement theory being the main reason he gave for his killing of ten and injuring of three. Everything through the rhetoric he used in his manifesto, the way he committed the violence, and the way he was radicalized were all part of this evolution in white supremacist terrorism. 

Gendron is simply another part of the evolving movement of white supremacist violence that began long before McVeigh and has evolved with every act of violence that is committed.