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Texas mall shooting revives talk of what attracts a person of color to extremism

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

What attracts a person of color to far-right extremism? The mass shooting in Allen, Texas, last week has reignited a conversation about why a small but visible number of people of color commit violence inspired by white supremacy. The gunman who killed eight at the outlet mall was identified as 33-year-old Mauricio Garcia. He was killed by police. I spoke with Yale professor Daniel Martinez HoSang. He studies the ways far-right extremism take hold in America.

You know, I think I want to start with this shooter in Allen, Texas. He posted racist and misogynistic screeds. He wore a Right Wing Death Squad patch. He glorified the Third Reich, Hitler, clearly enamored and dabbling in white supremacy, but he's Latino. What draws a person like this into this type of far-right, racist-fueled violence?

DANIEL MARTINEZ HOSANG: Yeah. I mean, we, of course, need to be careful about thinking we can identify any single motive for such...

FADEL: Right.

HOSANG: ...A brutal act. But this is clearly part of a much larger pattern in which the far right, neo-Nazis, even self-described white supremacists, have drawn from a much, much more diverse social basis than groups in the past. Today's far right is much, much different. They're drawing people from many, many walks of life...

FADEL: Yeah.

HOSANG: ...Occupations, regions of the country and many, many more kind of ideological onramps into that - so homophobia, misogyny, anti-Semitism, transphobia.

FADEL: Oh, gosh. These are all terrible onramps.

HOSANG: They're terrible onramps, but - and on the other hand, none of those are the kind of singular glue that binds the group together. The targets of the ire can actually shift all the time. It doesn't have to be held together by a singular set of beliefs. And that's what makes it, in fact, much different than the people you might find in the Klan or white citizen councils in the 1950s and '60s who, if you ask them what brought them here, they would often say the same thing about the defense of Jim Crow and the dignity of, you know, their own white communities.

FADEL: So I guess what I'm trying to understand here, though, is what draws a person into a group that says racist things about their own communities?

HOSANG: There's clearly a narrative about the necessity of violence to restore some kind of honor and kind of future for the nation. And to be part of that group, that cadre, that's charged with restoring the honor of the nation by committing violence on others doesn't actually have to just exclusively be people who think of themselves as white. They actually make these distinctions between kind of worthy and unworthy members of each of these groups. And there's now a long history of even Latinos, of people from immigrant backgrounds who can inhabit and embrace nativist and anti-immigrant politics. That's really nothing new at all.

FADEL: And when we talk about people of color joining the ranks of these far-right violent groups, some of which are white nationalist, white supremacist, how much of a factor are they? How big of a group is it? Is this just a tiny fraction? I mean, we have visible examples - Nick Fuentes, Enrique Tarrio - but how representative is that?

HOSANG: Yeah, that's an important question. So I think largely, the social basis of many of these groups is still what people might imagine - that they're largely white, absolutely disproportionately male. But the people of color that participate both in leadership positions and among the kind of grassroots base are not insignificant. And also, their racial identity is not insignificant. In many, many cases - and you can see it with Tarrio, with Ali Alexander, who organized the so-called Stop the Steal demonstration on January 6 - they're very clear and embrace their racialized positioning. And so this sense of a kind of multiracial white supremacy, a multiracial cadre of people who are asserting the kind of imperative to stand and defend the nation is actually very, very widespread among these groups.

FADEL: But just hearing the term multiracial white supremacy, to me, just doesn't make sense.

HOSANG: Yeah. It doesn't if we think of it as just about simply enforcing a kind of just racial boundary of membership. But again, remember, even under Jim Crow and other forms of segregation, it was also about a set of politics and beliefs about what made someone worthy of kind of membership. And the country itself is growing more multiracial, more polyglot. The far right itself can't just rely on that vision. They wouldn't have enough members. They wouldn't get enough kind of political energy. So their interest in absorbing new communities and individuals and leaders and ideas is also important to how they see their kind of future influence on the country and its politics.

FADEL: These sort of high-profile figures that are not white - are they window dressing? I mean, you see so often where people will be like, these groups are not racist. They have Enrique Tarrio as a leader here of the Proud Boys. Look. This isn't white supremacy. This shooter in Allen, Texas, wasn't white. I mean, is this a way to say, look - we're not racist, even though all of our policies are rife with xenophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia, anti-Blackness?

HOSANG: Yeah. I mean, I think there's - clearly for some elements, that that's part of the attraction. They do not think of themselves in any way as dupes or that - being manipulated and will absolutely say that they arrive at their positions not from some deracialized way or rejecting their racial identity but, in fact, because of it. So there's still indeed that deep, deep contradiction of bringing people into projects that are inherently violent and hierarchical and based on exclusion, but it's not simply because people are being duped or manipulated alone.

FADEL: Daniel Martinez HoSang - he's co-author with Joseph Lowndes of "Producers, Parasites, Patriots: Race And The New Right-Wing Politics Of Precarity," a book examining how race figures in the evolution of far-right groups. Thank you so much for your time.

HOSANG: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.