At All Costs

As of 6 pm last night, the flags at the Virginia War Memorial were at half mast.

It's fitting. Whether or not we want to actually admit it, we're at war, and certainly have been for a decade or better. It's not a war that was declared, so nailing down exactly when it began isn't simple, and at this point, it doesn't even really matter when it began.

The flags at the War Memorial weren't set to half mast in a demonstration of that recognition though, they were at half mast because two mad men killed 14 people and injured more than 12 others at a Health Department meeting in San Bernadino California. The other piece I've been working on in the last few days, about Robert Lewis Dear and the attack he perpetrated on a Planned Parenthood in Colorado isn't even finished yet. There isn't yet enough definitive information about Dear or why he decided to commit such a horrible act for me to feel comfortable publishing anything. I have gut feelings, reactions to it, but a gut feeling isn't enough to contribute anything useful to an already loud, crowded and angry conversation. It doesn't serve me or anyone else to throw gasoline on the fire that consumed Dear, and then the people he killed. That piece will have to wait until there's more information available. Should my gut feelings be true and new information supports it, I'll include that, finish the piece and then publish it. Not before.

Early reports of the attack in San Bernadino were that there were three men in tactical gear, masks, rifles and possibly explosive devices. A good number of those reports suggested they were three white men. As of 6 am this morning, police have killed two suspects, 28 year old Syed Farook and 27 year old Tashfeen Malik. Tashfeen Malik was Syed's wife. A third suspect was arrested as he ran from the scene, but may not have been involved. It struck me yesterday, as I was reading those reports, that three men in tactical gear, equipped with masks would be hard to identify as white, black, brown or otherwise. If they were green, that would probably have been odd enough to be able to say pretty definitively, but in a moment of panic in the midst of an emergency where your own life and the lives of people around you are in danger, any of us could get a detail like that wrong. Skin tones tend to fall on a much wider spectrum than would be that easily identifiable. There's a whole swath in the middle that really aren't white, black or brown, though the people who happen to have them, may identify culturally with what we associated those skin colors to be. Often, it's not skin color that tells us whether a person is white, black or otherwise, but the cultural keys we see in their clothing, facial features, eye color and so on. It's more complicated than just the tone of someone's skin. Under a full compliment of tactical gear, witnesses couldn't even recognize one of the shooters as female, much less what skin color they were.

The idea that there were three white men shooting up a clinic for the mentally disabled took hold quickly though, and the meme's, tweets and Facebook posts about white terrorists started flying. It shouldn't be disregarded that the majority of mass shootings, which for some odd reason the media and politicians have a hard time calling acts of terrorism, have been committed by white men, but it does no one any good to attribute that fact to a case where it's not actually the truth. At this point, we also have no idea what Syed Farook or Tashfeen Malik looked like either. Maybe they were white. We don't really know at this point. There will certainly be speculation since their names suggest what Americans understand to be Middle Eastern. It's being reported though, that Farook was an American citizen.

We do know that Syed was an employee of the Health Department that was using one of the halls in the Inland Regional Center for their holiday party. He'd apparently left the party in a fit of anger earlier. That fact alone suggests this wasn't an act committed by members of some kind of right wing paramilitary militia group, as so many assumed yesterday. Given the reports of three white men being the perpetrators, it's not a far jump as assumptions are concerned, but the reports were apparently wrong (two people, one a woman), and therefore the assumptions are probably wrong as well. It might seem shocking, but just because the shooters happen to have Middle Eastern names doesn't mean they can't also be members of the kind of fringe group people were suggesting. It could also be possible that they were members of such a group, and yesterdays shooting had nothing at all to do with that group. It could be something else altogether. It may just be a disgruntled employee and his wife taking revenge on their employers and fellow employees for some kind of wrong, whether real or perceived. In the realm of possibilities, there are a whole lot of them, and the range of their probability is pretty wide. We don't know yet what this was really "about," if an act of violence like this can actually be about anything rational at all.

There weren't even identities on suspects yet before the conspiracy theories started flying though. Alex Jones, the internet's Numero Uno Nutjob, decided by virtue of the fact that there was a mass shooting being reported that it was all fake, as he's said of a number of mass shootings in the past. It wasn't even clear yet whether the actual shooting had stopped, and he'd already discovered the real reason behind it. There's also another theory flying around that it was either staged or was the plan of some shadowy organization by virtue of the fact that the San Bernadino SWAT team was apparently in the midst of training when the first reports came in, some of those theories are saying the SWAT team was specifically in the midst of an "active shooter drill." It's not like we have enough mass shootings these days that SWAT teams might regularly train for them or anything, so it would have to be a conspiracy of some kind. It's not like they've become incredibly busy in the last 30 years, so planning an elaborate conspiracy seems reasonable, doesn't it? Of course, liberals and sheeple are too brainwashed to understand though and they're destroying the country.

The gun control faction took to social media to immediately begin decrying that people's "thoughts and prayers" were useless. Considering that the measures they've been fighting for the last twenty some odd years have yet to come to pass, the hours during an unfolding situation no one really had much of a grasp on seem like the perfect time to get something real done, and shaming people for expressing some combination of horror and sympathy is always a great way to engender people's support. It's certainly true that "thoughts and prayers" are generally useless when it comes to actually trying to get something done, but comedians aren't the only ones who can be guilty of "too soon." Everyone who doesn't fully agree with their agenda doesn't care about innocent lives in their humble estimation though, so it's excusable.

The countdown to the anti-Muslim rhetoric should already have begun, given that the names of the perpetrators are Syed and Tashfeen. Give it enough time for the Photoshop experts to get to work, and that'll be swinging all over social media too.

There is more about yesterday's events in San Bernadino that we don't know than we do know at this point.  It's fair to say though, looking at our reaction to it, that we don't actually care about what we know and what we don't. We care about what we want to be true more than we care about what is true or even about each other. Like banning Syrian refugees over the attacks in Paris, when there isn't a single shred of evidence to suggest any Syrian refugees were involved, jumping to conclusions as a situation unfolds, jumping to conspiracy theories to simply explain a complicated world, disparaging people's sympathies within minutes or hours of a tragic and brutal attack, and the inevitable racism and xenophobia that are all but guaranteed at this point serve the same purpose. All of those things serve to keep us convinced that we're right, and that the enemy we perceive is always the culprit. The saddest part of all of it is that more often than not, the enemy we perceive is the neighbor and member of our community. When we're looking for the cause for violence, this might not be a bad place to start. When we want to be right, be vindicated and righteous at all costs, we have to be sure we understand what that cost is. Would it be so shocking that violence like this is the cost of the war we're participating in against each other?


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