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By : Grace Riah

5 min read

“Manifest Destiny” was a settler colonial extermination project presented as a divine creed from God to justify white pioneers westward expansion into North America. The forced removal and exile of Indigenous populations under the 1830 Indian Removal Act - along with other dehumanizing governmental policies - targeted massacres, forced assimilation and cultural extinction were tactical genocidal campaigns that decimated the population of Indigenous people by the millions.

In her book Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment author Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz argues that prior to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, gun ownership was not simply seen as an inalienable right but rather a responsibility of white settlers to violently conquer Indigenous land. Guns were a critical means to achieve territorial expansion and ethnic cleansing in order to establish and maintain a country built upon a white hegemony. To understand contemporary gun culture is to understand its anchor to mythic ideologies like Manifest Destiny and “righteous” white violence.

This invented, “God given” right of white American exceptionalism and individualism permeates through all contemporary aspects of American culture, particularly in the understanding of American violence, mass shootings and the shallow notion of the lone wolf. The lone wolf trope is understood as a violent outlier, an aberration of evil who acts alone. Presenting this violence as a singular act of “hate” is a meticulous misdirection that fails to account for a culture in which nationalistic violence is systematized by laws, politicians, media pundits, the police and far-right militias.

The white paranoia of “replacement theory” found in the Buffalo shooters manifesto, like all other far right conspiracies, are new language for old fears. Since the establishment of the construct of race into law during the Spanish Inquisition, racial difference has been used to justify enslavement, mass murder and cultural anihalation. White anxieties that vilify the “other” are a diversion from acknowledging the atrocities committed by white supremacists onto non-white populations. Manifest Destiny was built on the lie of racial superiority and its effects bleed into every corner of our culture.

In his documentary Exterminate All the Brutes, filmmaker Raoul Peck interrogates the underlying white supremacist motivations of mass atrocities including the land removal and genocide of Indigenous people, the vast wealth accumulated under the enslavement of African people, and the bureaucratic horror of the Holocaust. In the film’s final moments, he laments, “It is not knowledge we lack. We already know enough. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know.” These fear-provoking mass shootings committed by white American extremists do not stand alone in our history but are bound up with horrors of the past and present we refuse to truthfully contend with.

—Grace Raih

Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper #147 June 2022


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