Gun Violence

The REAL Problem with Promoting Racism and Violence: the Buffalo Mass Shooting


Let’s jump into the Wayback Machine and travel back to October 2017 and the post written in response to the Las Vegas mass shooting. You remember, it’s the one with bump stocks that took place at a country-music festival, and it killed 60 people, right? In that post, we pointed out how mass shooters teach each other the art of mass shooting like social learning theory says they will. Take a quick look at that post for the full run down. You’ll be glad you did cuz it is chock-a-block full of sarcasm, snark, and profanity as well as real good information. When you’re done with that zip over an even earlier (January 2017) and discuss the role that prejudiced norm theory plays in spreading violence as a contagion. We’ll summarize and apply the theories to the Buffalo racist mass shooter.

The Buffalo Racist Mass Shooting

You remember the racist shooter who shot and killed ten people in a grocery store in Buffalo so that he wouldn’t get all the replacements by all the Black and Brown peoples, right? It weren’t that long ago. I think it was on 14 May.

Many of the punditing pundits vomiting their punditry on us from the boob-tube say that these mass shooters now fit a pattern: They belong to a bunch of online community posting forums where they post a lot of racist stuff and read a lot of racist tuff, including about past mass racist shooters. They write their very own manifesto or other document that purports to explain why they did what they did. They make some kind of thinly veiled or explicit statement about what they are about to do on social media. They live stream the shooting in progress on some social media platform. And, then they rinse and repeat for some other racist asshole to go shoot and murder a bunch of people so he won’t be replaced and we all wring our hands and tut-tut and mutter about common sense and hearts and prayers and parents are shocked and neighbors aren’t surprised or are surprised and excuses for the white fella are made and accusations are leveled and we all gird ourselves waiting for the next one, which usually isn’t too long after.

This time round was no disappointment. We’ve had several mass shootings since then all of them racially inspired. You can read all about it in our previous post. So, how do these things keep spreading like some common coronavirus

Sort of. There’s a reason why the Ol’ Pussy Grabber arrives on the scene white grievance hissing out of his ass in an endless overwhelming stream, and we see an increase in gun-violence, especially hate crimes. There’s a reason why all the conservative talking heads have been using increasingly naked and brash dog whistles and racist language openly talking about the Great Replacement Theory, and we’ve seen an increase in racially motivated extremism.

Prejudiced Norm Theory and Racist Mass Shootings

There is a direct connection between what we see and hear in our environment and what we will accept as normal in our environment. Not that long ago, people on TV shows and in movies, smoked. Now, they don’t. If you see someone smoking in those flickering images, you are surprised. It seems wrong. Another example, I was watching some Will and Grace episodes from the ’90’s and was shocked at the gay jokes and how insensitive and biased they were. Yet, at the time, they were cutting edge.

A similar thing is happening with racially insensitive communications and behavior leading to racist language and behavior. We had begun to eliminate open racism. People who insisted in trafficking in racist imagery and jokes had to send it on the DL and be careful with it ten years ago. Now, you’re seeing some of the most shocking racist behavior occurring right out in the open.

That is the effect of prejudiced norm theory. According to Thomas Ford, prejudiced norm theory is the prediction that disparagement humor will make biased behavior more likely to occur at the next opportunity for those listeners who are predisposed to those biases. In other words, someone who is sexist will be more likely to behave in a sexist way if they overhear a sexist joke. Or someone who is racist, will behave in a racist way at their next opportunity if they overhear a racist joke.

Why would this be true? No matter the context of the joke — I’m just joking! Like Freud said, behind every joke is a little bit of truth — the biased listener feels understood, accepted, validated. It emboldens them in their beliefs, making them more likely to act on their beliefs whether they realize it or not.

The 400 times that Tucker Carlson touted the Great Replacement Theory on his show emboldened everyone of his racist listeners to act on their racism. Whereas, every time someone was chastised for sending a picture of Michelle Obama as a gorilla, they became less likely to act on their prejudices at their next opportunity. It didn’t make them less racist; they were just less likely to express it openly.

Luckily, millennials are less likely to harbor racial bias… at least up until 2016. More importantly, it has been found that changes in implicit values preceded changes in explicit values by one to six months. This study ended in 2016, but a similar study could be done with data collected from the Project Implicit data to see how things have changed more recently. One wonders how it might could have changed since MAGA infected a third of the nation.

It seems clear that just by having all of this open and thinly veiled racism on the airways and in the ether, it has emboldened those who had buried their racism and not acted on it. It has awoken the inner racist of the white suburban voter who happily voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020.

Social Learning Theory and Racist Mass Shootings

Social Learning Theory is the prediction that learning is predicated on observing and imitating models of behaviors, attitudes, and emotional reactions. This racist mass shooter in Buffalo writes hisself a screed that most people are calling a manifesto trying to help us understand why he thought murdering a bunch of Black people buying groceries would help preserve the white majority in the country.

As many of the punditing class have noted there are two points of interest here: (a) it was filled with half-baked ideas and memes, (b) it referenced mass shooters who have come before him, and (c) it identifies the Great Replacement Theory — the same one Tucker Carlson has talked about — by name.

That it is poorly written and offers memes as part of its reasoning and explanation should come as no surprise. He is of the generation that has been raised on social media and messaging apps. These folks have no time for complete sentences much less to make the paragraph the unit of their writing or thinking. The meme does the thinking for them. No wonder our world is so FUBAR. But, that really is beside the point.

The point is that having seen the work of those who have murdered enmasse before them, they are not only inspired, but they have the behavior, attitudes, and emotions modelled for them. They have something they can imitate, follow up on, and, in their own twisted way, improve upon. It totally fits Bandura‘s Social Learning Theory.

Bandura identified several things that are important to learning socially:

  • You remember the behavior you see. Part of that memory consists of the circumstances that that behavior took place in.
  • Identifying with the model (person) doing the behavior makes it more likely that you’ll do the behavior, too. So, these mass shooters see some other racist mass shooter mucking it up with an assault rifle and figger they will, too.
  • If the behavior results in some kind of desirable reward like martyrdom or infamy or whatever the shit these racist mass murderers in waiting are saying about each other on the internet forums, then it makes it more likely to be imitated.
  • The reinforcement or response to the behavior won’t matter if it doesn’t meet the mass shooters needs, so all of us sitting around sucking our teeth as we offer up our prayers and thoughts or go out an protest or tweet our outrage or post memes or whatever it is we’re doing will matter no more than water on a duck’s back. It’s their peers that matter to these folks.
  • If the behavior they’re imitating gets rewarded and reinforced by their environment, then they’re like to do it again. So, unless the cops rush in there and shoot the SOB dead as a black man with a broken turn signal, they’ll do it again if they’re given half a chance.
  • And last, the imitator has gotta wanna imitate the behavior. No one walks into a grocery store with an assault rifle with racial epithets written on it and kills ten people unless they wanna go in there and kill people.

These racist mass shooters are even meeting the requirements of Bandura’s theory of human agency. People have the ability to influence their abilities and course of events. We do this in four ways:

  • Intentionality. People make plans and use strategies to achieve them. The Buffalo shooter sure did formulate a plan.
  • Temporality. People can use forethought to set goals and predict outcomes, and base their decisions on these. The Buffalo shooter sure had some ideas about malice aforethought and going down in infamy.
  • Self-reactivity. People regulate themselves, manipulating their emotions, temporing reactions, hyping themselves up, and other such stuff.
  • Self-reflectivity. People look at their own behaviors, attitudes, and ideas. They make judgments on whether what they are thinking or doing is a good idea. Ever notice how the more deranged a person is or stupid — Hold mah beer! — the less self-reflective they are?

Stopping Racist Mass Shootings

None of this is any good unless we can use it help ourselves. It points us in the direction of policy, law, and action. We’ve got to protest and boycott them what promote prejudiced behavior. Pressuring cable companies to allow people to opt out of paying for Fox News is one thing we can do. Pressuring reporters to calling a turd a turd is another. Racism, murder, lying all have to be accurately identified. Countering defamatory humor when we hear it is another. We have got to stop people from feeling comfortable publicly expressing their racism and shit.

Then, we have to interrupt the reward cycle of these folks. Those forums where they mass from different parts of the country have to be regulated. It is a scary thought in this day and age, but hate speech has to be monitored and removed. We certainly have the technology to do a better job than we’re doing now.

And, last, we have to start voting inline with our beliefs and desires for the country. If we want gun laws and regulations, we have to elect people who will enact them. If we want to counter systemic racism, we have to elect people who will write and enforce the regulations that will curb it. That means white people have to quit being so easily bated by racist dog whistling.

The good news is that these things are achievable and more people seem to be aware of the dire circumstances that we’re living in. Hopefully, that will result in a massive turnout in the 2022 election and the right people squeaking out a win.

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Image Attribution

Screengrab of a tweet from @Tucker Carlson

26 replies »

  1. It is by small steps of incremental meanness and viciousness that we lose our humanity. The Nazis, in the end, embodied the ascension of utter demonic inhumanity, but they didn’t get that way overnight. They got that way through, day after day, attacking and demonizing and urging the elimination of those they deemed their enemies.

    And this is what has been happening to America – in particular, to the conservative movement and the Republican Party – for a very long time. Donald Trump represents the apotheosis of this, the culmination of a very long-growing trend that really began in the 1990s. Me, Dec 2016

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Ten Bears!

      You called it back in 2016! We’ve seen fascism creep up on us since Reagan at least. The real surprise for most of somnambulistic America is that they hate democracy and that democracy can be taken from us. It has long been assumed that democracy and America are synonymous and our democracy cannot be destroyed. I wonder if the shambling horde of the vast American middle has woken up to the threat, yet?

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Like

  2. Social learning is also evident in the Buffalo shooter’s preparations for the action. He watched videos teaching how to modify his weapon, what gear to wear, and (probably) how to choose and case a target. In a sense, he went to a school for mass killers. Such was his ambition. A lot of people express shock that he got through a previous psych evaluation without being stopped or prevented from buying the gun. There is no mystery there. He was radicalized, not psychotic in the Treatable Mental Illness sense. He knew when he was sent for the eval that he was facing the enemy. He lied. I would not be surprised to learn that there are lessons he was reading or viewing on what to do if you are interrogated by the agents of the conspiracy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Bob!

      I wouldn’t be surprised that there isn’t advice available to would-be mass shooters on how resist interrogation. That there is an entire school of mass shooting available online is hardly surprising, too. Sad, but not surprising. What’s worse is that the far right wants the violence and is encouraging it. Again, not surprising.

      We are definitely in for a long hard slog. We had a brief moment when it looked like we might break free from the forces of chaos and racism, but it looks like it just wasn’t so.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Liked by 1 person

      • Those forces will continue to avoid dealing with the real threats (climate, pandemics, etc.) by stoking the imaginary ones (Replacement). Here in western North Carolina, our current congress person, Madison Cawthorn, boy politician, did lose the primary to a more traditional Republican, but he has coined a new term, “Dark MAGA”. He blames others for his defeat, but seems to miss that it was the Unaffiliated voters who made the difference, not the registered Republicans. On the hopeful side, in Australia, the Labor Party is taking the climate issue seriously and the new PM is pushing it hard.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Howdy Bob!

          That the Aussies have seen their way to giving Labor a narrow victory — the last I read it was like 51% of the vote — is heartening. Hopefully, we’ll see Boris Johnson and the GQP go down, too. Afterall, we saw Le Pen defeated in France.

          Perhaps it is some kind of political truism that about a third of the population favors authoritarianism or at least finds it acceptable, and, depending on circumstances, another one-sixth or so are persuadable. But, in established democracies if the politics go too far down the road of authoritarianism, the electorate is inspired to vote against them. We can only hope.

          We can only hope that the anti-abortion GQP victories are overreach that inspire a backlash against them in November. We can only hope that they haven’t so mucked up state laws on voting that they really have cemented their victories. We can only hope that MAGA SoS and governors are not elected at least in swing states.

          At least Cawthorn is staying true to his narcissistic self and blaming everyone but himself for his troubles. Dark MAGA. Does he mean that Dark MAGA ousted him or will save the movement from more traditional centrist Republicans? I could never figure it out from his Twitter ramblings.

          Huzzah!
          Jack

          Liked by 1 person

          • It is hard to tell, no, not hard, impossible, whether dark maga is dark as in hidden like dark matter, or dark as in the dark side of the force. He seems to have meant it as a threat.

            Speaking of MAGA overreach, I saw an item (not verified) that some state legislator has floated a bill to prevent school teachers from teaching Biology (apparently because you can’t do that without mentioning sexual reproduction and/or evolution). The enforcement in it is modeled on SB8 with the private law suits. That might be too stupid even for the GOP, but maybe not.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Howdy Bob!

              I think the best comment on the whole dark MAGA thing was, “Did he misspell dork MAGA?”

              I think Cawthorn was trying to threaten the more mainstream Republicans with some kind of populace uprising. I think that is mostly in Cawthorn’s fever dreams, though.

              I don’t know about banning biology, but I know that several state legislators have openly discussed banning birth control and extra-marital sex. I think those horses have long since left that barn, though.

              Huzzah!
              Jack

              Liked by 1 person

              • Young Madison does seem to have a great need to be seen as dangerous, which he is, but not in the ways he thinks.

                Well, if somebody really is floating a draft bill to ban teaching biology, I hope the intent is satirical. It probably isn’t, but it should be.

                The horses of seeking birth control and pre-marital and extra-marital sex left the barn the day after marriage as an official status was invented.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Howdy Bob!

                  I forget just how young Cawthorn is, and he isn’t particularly mature for his age. He really strikes me as everything that has gone wrong with America’s upper class: smug, entitled, disdain, and indifference. Perhaps worse, he seems to view it all as a game with few real world consequences.

                  Huzzah!
                  Jack

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • That sums him up well. I would add that he narcissisticly is angry about being stuck in that chair and taking no responsibility for whatever of his actions got him into the accident that put him there.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      Isn’t it funny that we have two prominent wheelchair-bound politicians in the country right now, that they are both Republicans, and no one is holding them up as victories for the disabled or differently challenged? Abbott is actually a semi-serious contender for the presidential nomination and yet no one from the disabled community is embracing him. Hunh. Hasn’t inspired him or any Republican to make accessibility an issue or the law of the land any more than it already is.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I wasn’t even aware that Abbott has any disability. Maybe, because I don’t watch politics on TV? Of course, both those guys have teams and helpers in case they should encounter some barrier. Why should we expect them to worry about ordinary disabled people when their world view is dog-eat-dog?

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      Like FDR, you rarely see photos or video of him in his wheelchair. He was paralyzed when an oak tree fell on him while he was jogging after a storm. That was in 1981; he was 26. He sued somebody over it and got a settlement of just under $8 million dollars. Interestingly, he is married to a Latina.

                      His policies as governor have been increasingly damaging and antisocial. I’m using it in a post on antisocial behavior on the far right. De Santis also figures highly in the post as you might well imagine.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Quite so. Those guys in particular winning the primary has to have The Donald seething and plotting. I think of Salome (in the Oscar Wilde version) demanding the head of John The Baptist, and Henry II asking who would rid him of that troublesome priest.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      I was surprised to see Raffensperger and Kemp winning the primary. I thought MAGA Nation would’ve turned against them and enthusiastically support their opponents; although, Purdue is just such an obvious tool, no one could possibly support him with any enthusiasm. I figured they were like Pence: they had no base. There aren’t enough traditional Republicans to help them win an election and MAGA would be against them. Maybe it bodes well for Abrams and Warnock because MAGA stayed home or the MAGA roots aren’t as deep or something.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I suspect that a lot of Republican and Republican leaning Independents who are not full on rabid MAGA are weary of the constant drone of the stolen election. Also, Kemp really does have a very right wing record. On the other hand, MTG did win her primary. November will hinge on turn out, and what happens between now and then, such as more shootings and the horrible SCOTUS decisions still to come down besides the one on abortion.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      Our democracy really is balanced on a knife’s edge dangling on a thread with the Sword of Damocles hanging over it. The one thing that gives me hope is that protest energizes and motivates people to vote and right now the left has more to protest.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

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