By Ellen McGirt
Updated: November 8, 2018 11:28 AM ET

Last night, a gunman opened fire in the Borderline Bar and Grill last night in Thousand Oaks, Calif. At least twelve people are dead, including Ventura County Sherrif Sgt. Ron Helus, and up to fifteen more were injured.

The shooter was Ian David Long, and he was a Marine Corps veteran. He was found dead at the scene. He seemed deeply troubled.

The bar was packed with happy line-dancers; Wednesday is college night at this popular live music venue. Long was wearing all black. He may have used a smoke bomb, we just don’t know. What were his motives? We just don’t know. What drives a person to do this kind of thing? Shrug.

What will happen next? This we may know. Probably, not much.

I say this because we’re in a period of time when this kind of mass violence fails to shock for very long. The most deadly mass shooting in modern US history only gets mentioned as a footnote in stories about a current one, or as a sad nod on an anniversary. And a meaningful political conversation about guns, one that reflects the true concerns of all constituents, and which includes support for people who should not have access to guns, does not appear to be happening any time soon.

But we’re also in a period where hate speech and the violence it inspires has been on the rise.

Here’s one data point. White supremacists and other far-right extremists have killed far more people in the US since Sept. 11, 2001, than any other type of extremist group. By far. According to the Anti-Defamation League, some 71 percent of the extremist-related fatalities in the United States between 2008 and 2017 were committed by members of the far right or white-supremacist movements, compared to just 26 percent committed by people associated with Muslim groups.

And yet, official counter-terrorism efforts focus only on potential “jihadists” and not on the white supremacists who are now organizing in similar ways.

“We’re actually seeing all the same phenomena of what was happening with groups like ISIS, same tactics, but no one talks about it because it’s far-right extremism,” P. W. Singer, a national-security strategist with the New America think tank tells Janet Reitman in a deeply reported piece for The New York Times. Even before the Trump administration, he says, “we willingly turned the other way on white supremacy because there were real political costs to talking about white supremacy.”

As a result, more trouble is coming.

“In this atmosphere of apparent indifference on the part of government officials and law enforcement, a virulent, and violent, far-right movement has grown and metastasized,” says Reitman.

Here’s another data point. We are on the eve of the 80th anniversary of Krystallnacht, or Crystal Night, the night of the broken glass, the wave of state-sanctioned violence against Jewish communities in Germany, Austria, and parts of then-Czechoslovakia that began on November 9, 1938. Thousands of Jewish businesses were destroyed, as were 267 synagogues. Torahs were destroyed, cemeteries desecrated, homes ransacked, scores were killed, many more men and boys were detained. Most historians believe it was the start of what was to become the Holocaust.

It was widely reported as it was happening.

The anniversary comes just as Pittsburgh and Jewish communities around the country are still recovering from the mass shooting at The Tree of Life Synagogue. Robert Bowers, a virulent anti-Semite, has been charged with multiple hate crimes for his role in what is believed to be the deadliest attack on Jews in US history.

That was not even two weeks ago.

We still don’t know what motivated Ian Long, so once again, we are left in the familiar position of waiting, worrying, and wondering.

And then, bracing for what comes next.

But Pittsburgh’s Ruth Drescher offers a healing balm. The 84-year-old Holocaust survivor is a member of the Tree of Life Synagogue; her husband had pulled into the parking lot that fateful day, heard the shooting, and managed to escape. At a recent Holocaust memorial event, she told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that it’s time for everyone to talk about these things and face history directly, to better understand what hate is, how it works, and how people have suffered.

“I just think people need to know more,” she says.

Then, she counsels, open your mind to new ideas and your heart to other cultures. If you can travel, get out there and see the world.

“The message is love, not hate,” says Drescher. “And it’s hard in the face of what happened.”


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