America’s Violence Against Children 

Social Decay, Grooming for Murder and the Fascist Right

We often ask: Where does justice reside? The question that I prefer to ask at this moment of dark, existential despair is: Where does injustice reside? It clearly resides in the rotten stench of the present moment as we attempt to understand what provoked the slayings at Uvalde that many have described as senseless. This slaying and others like it have not been senseless. There are reasons behind them – a logic that deals with the subjective formation of the murderers, their personal accountability and the larger contexts and complex of historical determinations that comprise the concrete reality in which these acts occurred.

There is a totality and organicity to injustice – be it to children, to minorities, to people of colour, to refugees, to the earth itself – to those who are the most vulnerable in our society at the present time and to that which sustains us, even as this injustice pervades all things: from the pine-trees crusted with snow, to dells and dales swimming in sunlight, to earthen hillocks sodden with sulphur dioxide, to human genes shagged with bountiful mutations, to the amnesis forgotten by art. There is a totality and organicity to our current despair. One can see it with the right instruments, but not if your imagination is out of focus. We need to focus our imagination on the structures of mediation that inform our very being, those dependent hierarchies that both constrain and enable our formation in modern, capitalist societies.

The despair that we feel, sometimes daily, is structured into our society. It resides in the social character of bourgeois relations of production. It is found in the mercilessness of the criminal justice system, in the social fragmentation of our families and our institutions of learning, in the re-absorbent power of reformism that co-opts us and structures us as alienated beings into what we are told is ‘civilization’ and opens the floodgates to our subjugation to the commodity whose intaglio presides over all forms of social life in capitalist society. It is the world of ‘having,’ whose acquisitive mimesis must be challenged by Marx’s second negation to avoid the dirt and debris of mimetic rivalry and ritual murder that began with Cain.

Through a life-denying paradox, despair is given birth by the decomposition and decay of hope. It does so through our mindful forgetfulness, our motivated amnesia that ensepulchres us into a linguistic prison house where our thoughts are overpopulated with other people’s meanings, and we find it impossible to gauge our sense of selfhood. It finds sustenance in lifeless urban hinterlands, where great truths can only be whispered in the dark. We are structured into the anti-Kingdom, which includes both nature and human nature. We rent ourselves out in perpetuity to the great neo-feudal lords like Elon Musk and Jeff Yass, who fold us into their ecclesiastic holdings from which a new emerging transnational capitalist class can be consolidated by the philistine usurper super-PACs and the descending hierarchies of capitalist institutionality. Wholesalers, retailers, small businesses and gun owners mark their profit-oriented business priorities according to the market value of objects in a trompe l’oeil collage, and we do nothing when that worldview becomes the catechism of our daily life. We do nothing when our local evangelical church worries more about whether our circumcised heart might be less sensitive today to the stimulation of capital investment than the spiritual health of its parishioners. We do not speak out against the vast chasm between the rich and the poor in America as we watch our politicians turn a blind eye to the rusting hulks of farm machinery in our great agricultural lands because they no longer believe the external world is objectively real – they heard this from a bartender in D.C. who dabbles in quantum theory. Those who profess to be pro-life and who advocate with whoops and hollers for the unborn speak loudly; but, in reality, can you honestly say they care for the already born? Why do they care, as one television commentator put it, more for embryos than 10-year-olds? In short, we have created what Paulo Freire (after Erich Fromm), refers to as a necrophiliac worldview that ‘transforms man into a thing’ and anchors societal oppression in contrast to a biophilic worldview, which refers to a love of living things and life itself.

What does it tell you about the existential despair in our country when some politicians who have been at the wheelhouse of the most dangerous state in world history start speaking out against gun violence yet are happily accepting money from the NRA? I guess they follow that grotesque axiom: Guns don’t kill. People do. Or the equally ignorant claim by Wayne LaPierre of the NRA that ‘the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.’ There was a hall half-filled with nineteen ‘good guys with guns’ who failed to breach the classroom as the killer slaughtered nineteen children. Two teachers were killed. Trump repeated the phrase at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention just days after the school killings. And so did Ted Cruz who also blamed the killings on ‘cultural sickness.’ With predictable mendacity and vitriol, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem attacked advocates of gun safety legislation and claimed they were ‘schooled in the ways of Marx and Lenin.’ In other words, if you are for gun safety you are a communist. Yes, that word never fails to light up the rancor of Republicans. I’m surprised Noem didn’t say advocates of gun safety legislation were educated by teachers with a degree in critical race theory. That would have made the hairs on the back of the necks of parents nationwide stand at attention.

We ignore the fact that where there are more guns in America, there are more killings. Henry Giroux writes:

There are more guns in circulation in the US than people in a country of 325 million. The US constitutes five per cent of the world’s population and owns 25 per cent of all guns on the globe. Judd Legum, in Popular Information, reports that, in 2020, ‘39,695,315 guns were sold to civilians.’ He notes further that this is an alarming figure given that ‘firearm ownership rates appear to be a statistically significant predictor of the distribution of public mass shooters worldwide.’ Equally significant but not surprising is the fact that ‘More Americans have died from gunshots in the last fifty years than in all of the wars in American history,’ according to NBC News. The Pew Research Centre reported, ‘More Americans died of gun-related injuries in 2020 than in any other year on record.’ What emerges from these figures and the relentless mass shootings in which young people have become an increasing target is the question of what kind of society has the United States become, and what are the broader economic, political and social forces that produce massive violence and its increasing collapse into authoritarianism?

Most gun owners are White, male and Republican. Most Americans favour gun control. Yet here we face another massacre of our most gentle and loving youth haunting the soul of America, a soul that relives past horrors that should never be. Not now, not ever should such precious lives be lost. Those of us witnessing the grotesque horror of Uvalde read about the tactics of apprehending or killing the shooter, the miscalculations of 19 officers waiting in the hallway as nineteen children were slain. But what about the laws that permit these weapons of death to be used in Uvalde and Buffalo’s Black community? When we normalize violence, when we simply say that the shooter was mentally ill, when we make it a subjective sin, we ignore the contextual specificity of despair that pervades life in America. We ignore the recent Christian white ethnonationalism and the growth of armed militias, which have galvanized a rancorous chauvinism that has spread throughout far-right populations in the country. We need to critically interrogate the political economy of gun production; we need to examine gun manufacturing from a historical materialist perspective. How is weapon production internally related to the growth of the new digitalized surveillance state? What about the relationship between political violence against people of colour, the culture of the police force, and gun violence? What about the relationship between the arms industry and foreign policy in what we can call a militarized capitalism or war economy? Giroux again warns:

Domestic terrorists now parade as politicians, and white supremacists dominate the Republican Party and revel in a civically depleted culture that has abandoned justice, ethics and hope for the corrupt currencies of wealth, power and self-aggrandisement. Increasingly young people are the targets of a form of gangster capitalism that has written them out of the script of democracy, placed them at the mercy of politicians who are self-proclaimed white Christian nationalists, and abandoned them through institutions that have broken from the social contract. Increasingly, they are stripped of their dignity, hopes, and in too many cases, their lives. This is the death machine of social abandonment and terminal exclusion that creates the conditions for blood to flow in the streets, schools, malls, supermarkets, churches, mosques and synagogues.

Young people are being killed in spaces that are supposed to protect them. In an age of fascist politics, mass violence has become normalised and is nourished by a culture of conspiracy theories, moral indifference, corrupt politicians, a social media that trades in hate, the normalisation of mass shootings, and a grotesque public silence in the face of massive inequalities in wealth and power.

Should we be surprised that QAnon rushed the claim on 4chan that the massacre was a false flag operation? Other conspiracy fantasists, such as Alex Jones, chimed in:

That evening, one of the largest conspiracy-theory media figures in the world, amplified the narrative. Alex Jones and his co-host flirted with the conspiracy theory during an ‘emergency broadcast’ of ‘Infowars’ that evening, calling the timing of the Uvalde killings ‘convenient.’

‘There is a global government being set up right now, one of their main agendas is to disarm the population,’ Jones’ co-host warned.

The next morning, Ann Vandersteel, a conspiracy theory podcast host with a large following, wrote, ‘Does America have the stones to call it what it is? A false flag shooting to take our guns. Child sacrifice is part of the agenda, and a means to the end. It’s SICK.’

The idea that children would be sacrificed by government provocateurs to attack the guns rights of Texans is not beneath those who are trapped in the world of QAnon. Nor does it prevent our elected lawmakers from the most egregious lying to the public. GOP Rep. Paul Gosar endorsed a baseless, transphobic rumour that the gunman was a ‘transsexual leftist illegal alien.’ The false claim originated from messaging board 4chan and consisted of ‘pictures of three trans women being shared – without their consent – in an attempt to substantiate these false allegations.’

Clearly, we have seen in the United States the polygamous marriage of fascism, militarism, conspiracy theories and Christianity, which, when high-capacity weaponry is added to the ceremony, culminates in an instant apotheosis of gunning down one’s estranged parents or complete strangers in a mosque, church, school, factory or massage parlour. The landscape of America is a barren space filled with the moaning of the beleaguered and the displaced, those who struggle to find a place in a land of so-called values but absent of virtues – a place where the state is banning books about the GLBTQ culture in schools, denying students the right to learn about the history of slavery taught through an evidence-based critical pedagogy, and forcing women to be slaves of the state by compelling them to give birth. Does that mean that I reject personal accountability and blame everything on capitalism? No. That’s what the right-wing will say in their all-pervasive casuistry. But neither can the totality of capitalist life be ignored, especially when it has inextirpably merged in recent years in the United States with the ideology of fascism. The invisible ontology of fascism has buried itself so deeply in our structural unconscious that, when we hear the term, we believe it to be hyperbole. When will we take the word seriously and without restriction and acknowledge that it has something to do with the confiscation of surplus value by the transnational capitalist class and the elimination of what little freedom is still offered to us by democracy? When will we challenge the ideological persistence of deceptive facts about gun violence promulgated by Republicans as normal and natural? How can we bring an historico-cultural analysis to gun violence when we are not permitted to teach about slavery or Jim Crow in our schools? We seek justice, after all, not judgement! When will we connect right-wing violence with a crackpot theory about dark-skinned immigrants outbreeding White people serving as inspiration for a young white male mass shooter to drive hundreds of miles to execute Black people in Buffalo? As Paul Street notes, ‘never mind that Black people came to America as slaves in chains and not as immigrants.’

Republican Senator Ron Johnston of Wisconsin offered up the most repugnant and misguided reason for the massacre in Uvalde—he blamed it on ‘wokeness’ and Critical Race Theory. ‘We stopped teaching values in so many of our schools,’ said Johnson in an interview with Fox Business on Thursday. ‘Now we’re teaching wokeness, we’re indoctrinating our children with things like CRT, telling some children they’re not equal to others, and they’re the cause of other people’s problems.’ Imagine the ignorance and perniciousness at play here. He is very aware that the term ‘wokeness’ is identified with liberal Democrats. At the same time, he is blaming anti-racist education for the mass killing of children. He is blaming teachers who rightly identify structural inequality in the United States for the reason a teenager would murder elementary school children. So the mass murder of children is causally related to teachers who identify injustices that are fact-based? By this logic, anyone who criticizes the United States is guilty of inciting murder because some groups are identified as privileged or entitled. If Mr Johnson doesn’t want to admit that some people are the cause of other people’s problems, then America is the only place in the world where this would be true.

The public who listen attentively to what Republican politicians are saying about mass shootings – that it is the problem of evil in our society – are being pushed further away from the more complex reasons these events happen. James Densley, a professor of criminal justice at Metro State University, writes:

If we explain this problem as pure evil or other labels like terrorist attack or hate crime, we feel better because it makes it seem like we’ve found the motive and solved the puzzle. But we haven’t solved anything. We’ve just explained the problem away…. What this really problematic terminology does is prevent us from recognising that mass shooters are us. This is hard for people to relate to because these individuals have done horrific, monstrous things. But, three days earlier, that school shooter was somebody’s son, grandson, neighbour, colleague or classmate. We have to recognise them as the troubled human being earlier if we want to intervene before they become the monster.

We don’t know what our sons and daughters are capable of doing until we understand how they have been able to cope with the alienation and social violence produced by capitalist social relations of exploitation and its institutionalised destructiveness and dehumanisation. Such violent social relations are never absent in our capitalist world, a world that knows how to organise against its own obsolescence, a world that entices our young with promises it can’t keep and then ruthlessly spits them out. It is a world that poses a formidable challenge to current and future generations.

Our media has facilitated this great falsification of democracy by not focusing honestly on what could be a viable alternative: socialism. They are too busy serving as ambassadors of enablement, integrating each generation into the necessary aspects of social control that enable the process of value augmentation to occur more smoothly. Next, they will be partnering with In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the CIA, to ‘revolutionise 3D/virtual reality visualisation,’ all the better to keep tabs on all of us. Augmented reality goggles will allow soldiers to see through buildings and mountains to visualise enemies on the other side of the battlefield, or even serve as the primary interface for pilots of unmanned drones, tanks, or underwater vehicles. This is all fine and good for warfare, but what happens when the CIA is at war with us for promoting socialism? Maybe Mojo Vision, a startup based in Saratoga, California, that is developing an augmented reality contact lens using ‘tiny microLED’ displays the size of a grain of sand to project images directly onto the retina, will be able to provide the military with advanced surveillance technology for their financial backer, the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, a research and development arm of the Pentagon. And how might this technology perhaps help some son, some brother or some loved one infiltrate another school to wreak even more havoc? What a wonderful world of being ‘alone together’ are we envisioning?

When will we seek to build a new, self-giving ecclesiogenesis, a recreation of society at its base, a self-giving existential sensibility that abides in hope – with hope as a modus vivendi for engaging the present – the lack of which is the weakness of every written and formulated law, including the Second Amendment? When will we be prepared to acknowledge that the primacy of social justice in every society begins with the treatment of its youth? When can we offer them a hope in the future instead of eliminating their freedom? We debase our youth by offering them violence and ‘total control’ as a solution to the world’s problems – whether through wars, through technology or through the laws of the barrio. Never again must the hand of time swing counter-clockwise, reminding America of its long forsaking of its children. There is a new world that yearns to be born into history. We can all be midwives to this great new vision. And we can bring it into being.

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Full Citation Information:
McLaren, P. (2022). America’s Violence Against Children : Social Decay, Grooming for Murder and the Fascist Right. PESA Agora.

Peter McLaren

Peter McLaren is Emeritus Professor at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles. From 2013-2023 he served as Distinguished Professor in Critical Studies, Co-Director and International Ambassador for Global Ethics and Social Justice, The Paulo Freire Democratic Project, Attallah College of Educational Studies, Chapman University, USA.