Letter from America

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A tide of racism and violence is sweeping the US, but there is also resistance, reports Clare Lemlich.

On 3 August 21 year old Patrick Crusius travelled to the border town of El Paso, Texas, walked into a local shopping centre, and murdered 22 people. Moments before opening fire he shared a manifesto online stating, “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” He drew inspiration from the Christchurch, New Zealand, mosque shooting earlier this year.

Mass shootings are almost a routine occurrence now in the United States. So far this year there have been 261, roughly one per day, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

The wide availability of firearms in the US certainly makes it easier for shootings to occur, but what is significant about the El Paso shooting is its relationship to deepening mainstream racism from the US political elite and the steep incline of far right attacks.

What used to be a fairly fringe element in society is now entering the mainstream, thanks in no small part to the words and deeds of president Donald Trump. He began his presidential campaign calling immigrants rapists and criminals. He entered office promising to build a wall on the US-Mexico border and to ban people from seven majority Muslim countries entering the US.

When the far right rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia two years ago they murdered anti-racist activist Heather Heyer by driving a car into counterprotesters. Trump famously argued that there were “very bad people on both sides,” obscuring the real perpetrators of violence and tacitly condoning their actions.

This equivocation is now official Republican Party policy, with a memo from their media and messaging wing issued recently instructing elected officials to deflect blame onto the left when asked about gun control and right wing violence.

Trump and other Republicans are also campaigning to have anti-fascists listed as domestic terrorists, never mind the fact that almost three quarters of extremist-related murders in the last year were committed by the far right, while a total of zero were perpetrated by the left.

Trump is whipping up fear and terror by ripping immigrant families apart and throwing their children in concentration camps. This month he sent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) into a poultry processing plant to detain almost 700 hundred people. His 2020 re-election ads about stopping the “immigrant invasion” could be mistaken for the racist manifestos of the white supremacist shooters he inspires.

The tide of racism and violence has inspired some progressives to speak out, including Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders and the centrist Beto O’Rourke. But most Democratic primary candidates have responded with the usual calls for background checks and bans on assault weapons. These measures do very little to confront the racism built into American capitalism or to push white supremacist shooters like Crusius back into obscurity.

The left is beginning to mount a response in workplaces, communities and the streets. Jewish activists through the Never Again Action network have been leading pro-immigrant demonstrations around the country. Black organisations signed an open letter in support of the workers detained by ICE in Mississippi and Whole Foods grocery store workers are campaigning for their parent company Amazon to cut ties with ICE.

In Portland, Oregon on 17 August around a thousand anti-fascist demonstrators led by the Democratic Socialists of America and other left wing groups outnumbered the far right by ten to one. National mobilisations called by the Coalition to Close the Concentration Camps are being planned over the weekend of 12-14 October.

If there is another recession the political polarisation in society will only increase. The far right will up the ante on blaming immigrants and people of colour for the crisis.

Two thirds of Americans oppose family separations at the border. Nearly three quarters support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people living in the US. These are encouraging statistics that must be transformed into an organised revolt against the far right, Trump, and the system that made them.

Clare Lemlich is a member of Marx21 in Los Angeles