Why Reporting on the Highland Park Shooting Should Not Have “Trusted the Experts”

I have a new article out in RANGE, a local progressive news outlet and podcast: Experts who study far-right mass violence must center the communities affected (rangemedia.co).

After the Highland Park mass shooting on July 4, I was troubled by some of the media coverage. There was a reliance on particular “experts” on far-right violence. This resulted in reporting that presented the shooting as “not political,” and as representing an “aesthetic” as opposed to an “ideology.”

I have been critical for some time of an emerging view among some “extremism” researchers that far-right activists and violent actors are becoming less tied to ideology. Downplaying ideology also downplays the continuing threat of fascist movements. I was also troubled on a deeply personal level that the Highland Park shooter’s racism and antisemitism, and how the shooting was perceived by people who live in the heavily Jewish community of Highland Park, were not adequately addressed in the reporting.

I also engaged in self-reflection in the article. In my talk last month to Spokane Faith and Values, I was challenged on my comparison between the Buffalo and Uvalde shooters, where I had said that the Buffalo shooter was motivated by white supremacist and fascist ideology, which was not the case with the Uvalde shooter. This emphasis on “motive”–a term after all that focuses on the “crime” aspect of an event—can miss the mark. An organizer from local group SCAR (Spokane Community Against Racism) rightly shifted the focus and pointed out that BIPOC people are disproportionately harmed regardless of the shooter.

(By the way, SCAR is a great local group on the frontlines of struggle for racial justice. You can check out their work or make a donation to support them here: Spokane Community Against Racism (scarspokane.org).)

I concluded: “In understanding a mass shooting, and even in assessing the motives of a shooter, we must strive to be victim-centered and to begin from a position of solidarity with impacted communities. These are nice-sounding words, but they are not mere sentimentality. Being victim-centered is not just about feeling grief or memorializing the dead. It includes lifting up the voices of those most impacted and fighting (alongside them) for them to have more power. It includes shifting the balance of power in fields of study devoted to understanding violence and far-right movements.”

You can check the full article out here: Experts who study far-right mass violence must center the communities affected (rangemedia.co).

We also need to challenge and expand notions of who counts as an “expert” about the far-right, which I got at a little bit in the article but hope to address further in the future. As one colleague of color pointed out to me recently, researchers of color with expertise on these topics are less likely to be quoted and less likely to be categorized as belonging to the club of “experts,” despite their expertise and research in the field. (I was impressed by some of the points on this topic addressed in this recent Washington Post article, although I think it also misses how many people of color are already engaged in this research: Researchers of color studying far-right extremism seek bigger role – The Washington Post.)

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