Our VoiceCulture

Mental Illness, a Convenient Scapegoat for White Nationalists

Guest Blogger • Feb 14, 2013

By Mickey Fitzpatrick

As we attempt to distance ourselves from the collective responsibility of national tragedies such as the Newtown, CT school shooting, a common strategy is to examine the mental health of the perpetrators, particularly if they are white. Doing so allows society to alienate the person as not one of our own – as the “Other” – thereby denying the collective and social responsibilities we have at addressing and preventing such horrors.

This process of alienation is reflected in Peter Brimelow’s blog on VDARE.com, an anti-immigrant white nationalist hub of bigoted blog posts. In his piece, “Wade Michael Page And The ‘Root Causes’ Of The Sikh Temple Shootings,” Brimelow deflects Page’s white supremacist motives by alluding that he may have been mentally ill, while simultaneously shifting blame for Page’s actions on the Sikh community that was attacked, it seems, because of issues related to immigration. In the same breath that Brimelow reduces Page’s actions to potential mental illness, he asserts the real problem is mass violence, i.e. what VDARE.com refers to as “Immigrant Mass Murder Syndrome.” Thus, not only is Brimelow alienating Page as the Other in an attempt to distance his violent actions from white nationalist-and-supremacist movements, but he is using the tragedy as a political platform to further alienate and pathologize immigrants.

Brenda Walker, who has strong ties to Brimelow and VDARE.com, has also recently taken the opportunity to politicize the Newtown, CT school-shooting to further her anti-immigrant sentiments. On the very day the attacks occurred, she equated immigrants with “potentially dangerous mentally ill persons” on her website, LimitsToGrowth.org. Asserting, “…society’s treatment of potentially dangerous mentally ill persons has become far more permissive,” she cites psychiatrist and Fox Columnist, Charles Krauthammer, who, in reference to the Aurora, CO theater shooting, argued that such tragedies come at the risk of ensuring civil liberties.

Echoing Krauthammer’s position that doing so may lead to inadequate treatment for those deemed “mentally ill,” Walker seems to maintain that civil liberties also run the risk of increased violence by “potentially dangerous mentally ill” immigrants. In a subsequent blog ten days later, she expands this notion by arguing, “Sensible gun restrictions on immigrants, particularly those with mental health problems, would be beneficial for public safety” (original emphasis). The notion that civil liberties lead to improper treatment of those considered “mentally ill” or result in inadequate control of immigrants is simply ludicrous.

Repression of human rights only exacerbates psychological repression and suffering. Thus, political repression is psychological repression. Politicizing tragedies as a means to further one’s bigoted agenda – as Brimelow and Walker do – only serves to contribute to structural violence and runs the risk of increasing the likelihood such atrocities will occur again because such an agenda serves to obscure the root problems.

While many reduce violent tragedies to issues of mental health and/or use them as a political platform, the influence of doctrines of white-racial and other forms of extremism is often overlooked.

Less than a month after the Newtown shooting, a high school student with white supremacist beliefs, Derek Shrout, unsuccessfully attempted to attack his school in Seale, AL with homemade grenades and bombs. While the local authorities speculatively gestured that his attempted attack might have been inspired by the Newtown shooting—given the temporal proximities of the two incidents—little attention was given to his extremist politics. From that, absolutely no reference was made to the possible influence of the Wade Michael Page attack against the Sikh community in August of 2012. Page was an active, long-standing member of the Confederate Hammerskins, a regional subset of the violent, hardcore national coalition of neo-Nazi skinheads, the Hammerskin Nation. Neither was consideration given to how Shrout became radicalized after moving with his military family to Fort Benning, GA where the Southern Poverty Law Center places active chapters for both the National Alliance and the European American Unity and Rights Organization. Likewise, no attention was paid to the potential influence of the Aryan Nations 88 chapter in Ashland, AL about two hours away from Seale, AL.

That we are rarely attuned to the structural conditions of violence is increasingly clear. There is a general pattern in which society vilifies perpetrators of violent atrocities as the “Other,” as not one of us – and then maintains that the Other is at the root of the problem. The root problem, however, is not the Other – whether they are people with so-called “mental illness” or immigrants, etc. The cultural and structural conditions of violence underlying such tragedies transcend these issues.

Sadly, however, there is a tendency to ignore and/or support such power structures.

There has been a general lack of meaningful race, class, or gender analysis in the discourse pertaining to what may give rise to such violent acts. If the violent perpetrator were a poor person of color, racist and classist discourse would likely permeate the discussion, though the mental health card is usually played here too, as seen on the websites of Brimelow, Walker, and other white nationalists.

In addition, the daily violence and criminalization young people of color face is rarely viewed with the same shock as the nation showed toward the Newtown, CT massacre, which begs the question – “Which killing of children is deemed a tragedy?” When violence is perpetrated against women, the gender discourse tends to focus on a “boys will be boys” analysis that legitimizes rape and patriarchy. Absent are the discussions of mental illness in such cases. Accordingly, a greater and more authentic analysis of structural and cultural conditions of violence that give rise to such atrocities is sorely needed.

In other words, we must focus on the structures of race, class, gender, patriarchy, and so forth. If the history of such massive tragedies in the U.S. tells us anything, it is usually white men who are the perpetrators. Instead of addressing rampant patriarchal, white male, heterosexual violence, we ignore and deflect from such issues. It is time to start diagnosing the cultural and structural conditions of violence, such as white supremacy and xenophobia, as well.

Mickey Fitzpatrick,  PsyD, is a clinical psychologist practicing and pursuing licensure in the California Bay Area. Residing in Oakland, CA, he is actively involved in organizing mutual aid within the left community.

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