Wade Michael Page, who on Sunday walked into a Sikh temple and started shooting, killing six people and wounding others before he was killed by a police officer, is described, like others before him who committed similar crimes, as a lone gunman.
Which is true. And not true.
Page killed alone, and he is accountable for every pull of the trigger. But his crime doesn't exist in a void. It exists in a culture that fetishes violence; in a culture that prioritizes gun ownership over gun safety; in a culture that privileges whiteness; in a culture that privileges Christianity; in a culture which Others the community that he targeted for mass murder.
He was a lone gunman with plenty of accomplices.
It's impossible to know what would have prevented his specific crime, if anything. But we know that violent acts of racist murder don't exist in a void.
What prevention there can be requires comprehensive solutions. Serious gun reform. Meaningful diversity that decentralizes Christianity in the public sphere. White people treating expressions of eliminationist racism with the gravity they deserve.
"He would talk about the racial holy war, like he wanted it to come," [Christopher Robillard of Oregon, who described Page as "my closest friend" in the service more than a decade ago] said. "But to me, he didn't seem like the type of person to go out and hurt people."Here, then, is a thing for all of us to understand: Privileged white men who talk desirously about racial holy wars are the type of person who might hurt people.
Just something to tuck away in the old brainpan.
That Page could be a person who spoke long and lustfully of a war in which white Christians would wantonly slaughter non-whites and non-Christians, for no other reason than white Christians merely having unassailable privilege is insufficient dominance to quell their restless insecurity, but nonetheless be viewed by his peers as a man who "didn't seem like the type of person to go out and hurt people," is incredible evidence of pervasive indifference to the fact of violent racism.
There are people who commit violent racist acts. If not the men who yearn for race wars, then who? Who seems like "the type" to hurt people?
That is an ignorance, an apathy, so cavernous that it engulfs the terrible lie of the lone gunman. Everyone who shrugged at his eliminationist fantasies, everyone who creates and maintains a culture in which eliminationist fantasies are so ubiquitous that they might be casually dismissed (and those who sound alarms deemed hysterics, rather than citizens), is complicit.
And we are all tasked with prevention. We are all tasked in imagining a culture in which violent fantasies of racial holy wars cannot be and are not considered an eccentric affectation, but a red flag—an unacceptable expression of an intolerable urge.