Americans desperately want explanations for what motivated a 19-year-old man to kill 17 people at a Parkland, Fla., high school last week.
As expected for any mass shooting, guns have become the primary villain in this tragedy, but another sinister factor briefly stole the spotlight Thursday.
A tiny white nationalist group in Tallahassee — which is over 400 miles away from Parkland — claimed the school shooter, Nikolas Cruz, as one of their members to the Anti-Defamation League around noon on Thursday.
For the next few hours, the media was whipped up into frenzy over the possibility the school shooting was “white nationalist domestic terror” and the tiny group’s leader was interviewed by multiple outlets.
But there were already weird things with this story while it was being promoted by ABC, The Daily Beast and the Associated Press. One, the white nationalist interviewed said he had never met Cruz, even though he claimed the shooter had attended his “paramilitary training.” The group, the “Republic of Florida” had no more than a handful of members and was so obscure the Southern Poverty Law Center didn’t even list it on its hate map prior to the shooting.
Some observers also noted that the group has a long history of PR desperation and its leader is considered somewhat of a joke among his fellow white supremacists.
Eventually, the narrative began to unravel when white nationalist forums began providing evidence the whole story was a “troll” and local police stated there were no known ties between the Republic of Florida and Cruz. Outlets such as Buzzfeed and Politico poured cold water on the story and interviewed white nationalists who claimed Republic of Florida intentionally exploited the school shooting for free PR.
The narrative was finally put to rest Friday night when the Associated Press issued a correction that the group had appeared to lie to the outlet about Cruz. “A white nationalist appears to have lied to The Associated Press and other news organizations when he claimed that Florida school-shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz was a member of his obscure group,” the AP stated in its follow-up article. (RELATED: AP Admits It Got Duped By White Nationalist)
A major reason this obscure group was able to dupe the media was that journalists deeply wanted to believe there was an “alt-right” connection to the shooting. For several months, the notion the alt-right is a bigger terror threat than radical Islam has become a common theme among the establishment media, thanks in part to dubious statistics. Pinning one of the worst school shootings in American history on this extremist movement would further reinforce this notion and shame President Trump for supposedly inspiring these white nationalists.
But the journalists who rushed to give free press to the Republic of Florida discredited any future attempt to pin this awful tragedy on right-wing extremism. Around the same time the AP issued a correction on its story, CNN uncovered racist posts Cruz made in a private chat group. But the debunked white nationalist story makes it unlikely for the school shooting to be seen as an act of white nationalist terror.
Cruz himself, regardless of his racist messages, cuts an odd white nationalist due to his Hispanic last name and claims of Jewish ancestry. Additionally, the majority of his victims were white, making it unlikely his horrific deeds were motivated by white supremacy.
The racist posts add to the picture of an extremely disturbed, violent young man bent on murdering as many people as possible, regardless of race. His main aspiration appears to be that he wanted to become a school shooter, not a alt-right terrorist.
The unraveling of that narrative has led to a re-focus on guns as the main culprit in the massacre. Democratic lawmakers are wanting to re-institute an assault weapons ban in the hope it will stop future school shootings. Liberal journalists and activists are busy calling the NRA a terrorist group and arguing Republicans have blood on their hands, clearly signaling what larger forces should be blamed for the tragedy.
While it’s understandable to call for an assault weapons ban after a deranged man used an AR-15 to kill 17 people, don’t bet on it preventing future school shooters. Columbine, the most infamous school shooting in American history, took place when an assault weapons ban was in effect, yet the young killers were still able to obtain weapons due to a straw purchaser.
Straw purchasing — the act of another person buying a gun for someone legally prohibited from obtaining one — is a major factor in America’s gun crime problem. But, as National Review’s Kevin Williamson has pointed out, Democrats weirdly don’t want to take on the problem.
In the unlikely chance an assault weapons ban does pass, it likely won’t stop future school shooters from acting out on their twisted fantasies. When there is a will to kill, they’ll find the means to do it.
The Parkland school shooting is not a ringing endorsement for passing more laws when already existing regulations could have been used to stop Cruz — the federal agents in charge of enforcing those laws failed to do so. The FBI was aware that Cruz was a potential school shooter, yet they did nothing to stop him due to the agency’s failure to follow protocol. Local law enforcement had been called multiple times to handle Cruz, yet that did nothing to deter his future actions. (RELATED: FBI Admits They Dropped The Ball In Florida Shooting)
Lost in the blame game after the tragedy is the shooter himself. This is a very disturbed young man whose classmates, local law enforcement and FBI agents knew he was a potential school shooter. But that foreknowledge proved no help last Wednesday.
Many commentators believe Americans have to give up more of our freedoms and privacy in order to stop future school shooters, even though the evidence is insufficient to prove that surrender would do any good.
We all want some larger narrative to explain these horrible acts — whether it be political extremism, guns or violent video games. But the ultimate blame resides in these sick losers buying into the demented idea that they can gain power over their peers and notoriety from society if they shoot up their school.
Ensuring that these deranged young men don’t buy into that can’t be solved through legislation.