On March 15 in Christchurch, New Zealand, 50 Muslim men, women and children were horrifically murdered while worshipping at their local mosque. Like so many other terrorist attacks in the past several years, this mass shooting was perpetrated in the name of white supremacy. The past four years have seen a sharp increase in far-right white supremacist violence, marked by terror attacks against racial and religious minorities in Pittsburgh, Quebec City and Charleston, as well as the 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, which left one woman dead as neo-Nazis marched in the streets chanting “blood and soil.”
The ideology of the Christchurch shooter is made clear in his 74-page manifesto which references “the great replacement” and “white genocide,” a right wing conspiracy theory that Jews are influencing world governments to invite refugees from the Middle East and global South in an effort to destroy the “white race.” This may seem like a fringe ideology (and it is absolute bile) but it has actually become incredibly mainstream, even gaining implicit support from the President of the United States, who calls Mexicans criminals and rapists and tries to ban Muslims from entering the country.
While not totally responsible, social media has had a vital role in facilitating the spread of this far-right propaganda and misinformation. Twitter and Facebook have refused to take a stand against explicit neo-Nazis using their websites and YouTube has given a platform to white supremacists to spread their ideas; the YouTube algorithm is so broken that it routinely suggests videos made by far-right propaganda artists to children.
This brings us to “Campus Clash at University of Connecticut,” an event being hosted by the right-wing group Turning Point USA (TPUSA) and featuring Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens. It should be made clear that I am not insinuating that Kirk and Owens single-handedly inspired the Christchurch terrorist attack (however the shooter did mention Owens by name in his manifesto). Rather, right-wing grifters like Kirk and Owens have cultivated a public discourse that not only tolerates far-right bigotry, but promotes it.
Turning Point USA styles itself as a millennial organization promoting libertarianism, free speech and free markets, however the reality is that the organization has dark ties to anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant groups and funders. TPUSA has also frequently hosted white nationalist and alt-right speakers at their campus events around the country. While Kirk has occasionally taken superficial steps to try and distance himself and his organization from the alt-right, his own Twitter account has been a source and signal booster of racist misinformation and fearmongering.
Candace Owens, a Stamford, Connecticut native, has frequently made similar statements normalizing white supremacy and bigotry. In the wake of the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally Owens dismissed white supremacy as a myth invented by the media. On her Twitter account she has pushed anti-immigrant rhetoric, defended ICE detention facilities for children, and supported fascists like Marine LePen.
What’s most revealing about Owens, however, is her connection to the aforementioned “great replacement” that inspired the Christchurch shooter. In his manifesto, the Christchurch shooter repeatedly brought up the issue of birthrates and his paranoia that Muslims will replace white people. Owens has repeatedly pushed this conspiracy theory on her social media, claiming that Muslims will be the majority population in Europe by 2050 and institute sharia law, even going as far as suggesting France should sic their army on the Muslim population. The first is just bad demography, the second is ethnic cleansing.
The massacre in Christchurch is the logical end point of this twisted world view. Owens, Kirk and countless other alt-right ideologues are at least partially responsible for the normalization of bigotry and the global surge in white supremacists violence; however, the social media websites, news outlets and universities that continue to platform them bear their own share of responsibility. The University of Connecticut has already made the mistake of hosting a similar right-wing grifter, Lucian Wintrich, in a November 2017 event titled “It’s OK to be White,” which resulted in a physical altercation between Wintrich and an attendee. Likewise, UConn has already been the target of a propaganda campaign by known neo-fascist group Identity Evropa as recently as last month.
The university has a responsibility to take a stand against this type of racist bigotry. By allowing Kirk and Owens the opportunity to have a platform at UConn, the administration is effectively handing them a megaphone to promote the same hateful ideology that resulted in Christchurch. Massacres like the ones in New Zealand, Pittsburgh and Charleston are not isolated incidents, they are endemic of a society that passively accepts the presence of white supremacy. We are living in a historical moment that will not excuse passivity or neutrality. Instead, we need to take a firm stand as a university and as a community that this type of rhetoric will not be tolerated. Anything less is complicity.
Zoey Turturino is a contributor for The Daily Campus.