THE PSYCHOPATHOLOGY OF WHITE ANGLO SAXON SUPREMACY: Part II
The Media’s Presentation of the Lone Wolf Terrorist Does Nothing to Address the Psychological Disease of White Supremacy
Photo: James Jackson, self-avowed white supremacist murderer.nbc.news.org.
This morning, February 13, 2019, James Jackson became the first white supremacist murderer to be convicted of terrorism in the United States. He was sentenced to life in prison, without parole, for the murder of 66-year old Timothy Caughman, a black man, in 2017.
Jackson stated clearly, from the moment he walked into a New York police station and stated what he had done, that the murder was not only purposeful, but was a practice exercise for a planned series of murders in his intended campaign to kill as many black men as possible.
While Jackson’s case is being lauded as the first time a white supremacist crime has been classified as terrorism in a state court, information about Jackson’s mental health have been framed in narratives of personal, individual issues, and are portrayed as mysterious, baffling and in no way connected to Jackson’s white anglo saxon supremacist worldview.
In my first essay on this topic, The Psychopathology of White Anglo Saxon Supremacy: Part I, I introduced the idea that white anglo saxon supremacist ideologies and practices are delusional psychotic symptoms that persistently inform the history and social psychology of the United States.
Yet, even though these ideologies are acted upon at a chillingly regular rate in that country, and consistently result in the harm of thousands of people each year people, these activities are always portrayed by most media outlets as aberrant, unusual, and personal choices made by troubled individuals.
However, the acts of these individuals happen within the framework of a society, and therefore are social phenomenon. Because of this context, it is impossible not to see them as patterns of behaviour that are manifestations of aspects of the social psychology of the United States. That is, they are part of the variety of behaviours humans exhibit in relationship to the presence of others in society. Furthermore, these activities have not only been perpetrated by lone individuals, but also by groups — often very large, well organised, and heavily funded groups—and this has created specific intergroup behaviours in the society that contribute to its social psychological profile. And, these behaviours have been manifesting consistently for a significant length of time in the United States — at least 150 years since the end fo the Civil War — and have not abated. Were these activities to be reviewed by psychologists or psychiatrists, they would reveal purposeful patterns of aberrant behaviours that cause harm to others, and this would qualify them to be classified as some form of psychopathy and/or sociopathy.
Social psychological profiles whose ideologies lead to consistently brutal manifestations cannot be ignored. And, these manifestations are not one-off, spontaneous events— rather, they emanate from a well-organized system of intentional social influence. An important premise of social psychology is that humans are malleable to social influences, even when alone. These social influences are conveyed through various means, including media sources such as books, newspapers, magazines, websites, radio, television and films. What is important about the influence of these sources on the individual is that they convey cultural norms, values and behaviours that can shape an individual’s sense of self, function, and purpose in society.
In more simple terms: Individuals like James Jackson do not learn their behaviours in a vacuum. Rather they learn them in an intricate web of social influence that is part of the social fabric and social psychology of the United States.
White Supremacist Ideology as Social Influence in the United States
Photo: Banner of a Contemporary White Supremacist Newspaper Currently Being Circulated in the United States (gazettenet.com)
Social psychologists utilize the term social influence to describe the process by which an individual’s attitudes, beliefs and subsequent actions or behaviours are influenced by others. Social influence takes many forms and can manifest as conformity, socialisation, obedience, leadership, or membership in groups that successfully persuade people to comply with, identify with and internalize their ideas and practices. Popular methods of obtaining social influence over people include the use of media resources, such newspapers, books, magazines, radio, television, signage and Internet, and is most effective when the group that is perpetrating the influence is consistent and committed.
In the case of white supremacist social influence, perpetration of white anglo saxon supremicist ideologies and practices have been consistent and committed for hundreds of years in the United States. White supremacist beliefs originated out of 17th century theories of scientific racism, or race biology, a psuedo-scientific belief system that sought to justify the erroneous presumption that some humans are superior to others. This alleged superiority was based upon superficial characteristics, such as skin colour, eye colour, hair texture, geographical location, as well as fantastical theories that those known as whites were descended from mythically superior creatures of some sort.
This belief system was used to justify the atrocities that accompanied the formation of the United States — such as the genocide of the indigenous people and enslavement of millions of Africans — and has shapeshifted to adapt itself to every era of the history of the nation. Its pervasiveness was the result of commitment and consistency in its perpetration and it continues to be an important social influence in the United States to this very day.
In 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Centre documented the existence of at least 620 white supremacist groups in the United States. While it is impossible to know how many means of social influence — such as media — exist that promote white supremacist ideologies, it is safe to say that the members of these groups did not just wake up one morning and spontaneously decide to join them. Something, or someone, influenced them to do so.
A quick Internet search revealed to this researcher that there are an immense number of white supremacist publications, merchandise, popular media (radio, internet, video) and books that easily available for viewing and/or purchase online. It is safe to say that with so much material circulating, it is not difficult for white supremacist groups to be committed and consistent perpetrators of social influence. Furthermore, these groups can claim the right to exercise their influence by claiming their materials are simply products that reflect a Constitutional right to freedom of speech. Yet, even though a significant amount of the rhetoric of white supremacy is hate speech — and often a type of speech that incites people to harm others — rarely, if ever, there is no Constitutional provision that address this dilemma.
Therefore, the proliferation of white anglo saxon supremacist social influence is legally allowed to continue unabated. And, when its influence causes individuals to act upon its ideologies, and those actions harm others, this behavior is not seen as the product of a tenacious, consistent, committed activity of social influence, but, rather, that of a lone individual, who is framed as personally mentally ill. This enables behaviour like James Jackson’s to continue without any broader contextualization — not even a discussion that ponders why an estimated 1 in 4 people in the United States is diagnosed as mentally ill. That statistic alone should be cause for a look at the social psychology of the place. However, by focusing on each individual’s alleged personal mental illness, no sense of sociietal collectivity is promoted.
This is a subtle, but useful tactic when it comes to analysing the behaviour of white supremacists. Such a strategy creates a very narrow space in which to consider these people and their actions. And, doing this becomes, in and of itself, a form of social influence, perpetrated by organised groups such as media outlets. By narrowing discussions about people like James Jackson down to a quick, buzzword description of his mental condition, he can be framed as simply one (more) deranged individual whose horrific crimes can be lumped together with serial killers, active shooters, gang-related violence, and all the other forms of murder that happen daily in the United States. All of this combines to remove the particular subject of the psychopathology of white supremacy, and its impact on the collective social psychology of the United States, from an consideration whatsoever.
The Lie of the Lone Wolf White Supremacist: The Case of James Jackson
In March 2017, when James Jackson murdered Timothy Caughman, the New York Daily News reported that Jackson told police he was a member of a white supremacist group. He also informed police that he had detailed his racist views on his laptop computer. The police subsequently confiscated Jackson’s computer and other electronic devices.
Since finding out at 9 AM this morning, February 13, 2019, that Jackson had been sentenced to life in prison without parole, I have been reading every media source I can find, in search of the identity of the white supremacist group that Jacksons belongs to. Yet, after nearly 10 hours of researching, I have yet to discover which group that is. Rather, I have had to scroll through reams of reptitive news stories that emphasise Jackson’s personal mental condition — a bland lump of buzzwords such as sick, deranged, and troubled that actually do not tell me much at all, but simply create a stock character in the usual plot point reporting about murderers.
Had I not been aware that Jackson belonged to a white supremacist group, I could have easily believed media social influence and viewed him simply as one (more) gunman contributing the one of the highest murder rates in the world in the United States. However, thankfully, one journalist did clue me in on the broader context of Jackson’s frame of mind. Writing in the New York Daily News, Shayna Jacobs reported that Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance read from what he called a “sick manifesto” found on Jackson’s computer that “discusses the need to eliminate the Negro race.”
The reason this stood out to me is that Jacksons’ concept of “eliminating the Negro race” sounded very similar to ideas circulated by Margaret Sanger, Founder of Planned Parenthood, when she was creating a program called The Negro Project. This project was meant to eliminate people of African heritage from the population because, in Sanger’s view, “ they are human weeds…who should have never been born.” Concerned that social activists in the black community might object to this project, Sanger wrote in a letter to Dr. Clarence Gamble: “We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population.”
I expected to find at least one news source that would analyze James Jackson’s beliefs and actions with a broader context, given how he specifically stated to police that he belonged to a white supremacist group. Thinking that the similarity of his beliefs to the well-known — and often praised — Margaret Sanger would provide leads for journalists to follow up, I spent the entire day looking for any reporting that reflected upon this similiarity. I found that not one media source did followed this valuable lead. It is possible that this was not done for several reasons, including exposing the white supremacist eugenics ideologies that informed Margaret Sanger’s work, as well as not wanting to open the slimy can of worms that is the network of white supremacist ideologies, indivduals and groups that have been a pervasive, and influential group in the history of the United States.
Not one media source provided any broad historical or contemporary background to Jackson’s act of terrorism — not even to compare his actions to another alleged lone wolf murderer — Dylan Roof. Again, it seemed to me that this lack of comparison and context was quite purposeful. The emphasis in most of the reporting seemed to focus on banal accounts of Jackson’s personal history, which strengthened the lone wolf, troubled individual framework, as well as distracted the audience with ramblings about his sentencing. All the news stories I read, as well as the newscasts I watched, vacillated between lauding the decision to hand down a terrorism conviction to Jackson and providing facts about his military service, noting the shock and sorrow of his family members in regards to his actions, and including feel-good statements from the prosecuting attorneys, such as “this sad chapter comes to an end where he voluntarily accepted responsibility and is now moving toward redemption.”
Ultimately, Jackson was portrayed as a middle-of-the-road white male, who seemed to suddenly, without warning, decide to eliminate black people, killed one person, then, as one report stated “lost his nerve” and turned himself in, and uopn whom the judicial process somehow worked some type of magic that made him accept responsibility and be allowed onto the path of redemption — whatever that is and wherever it leads. Combining this false portrayal with the hook of the mentally ill, lone wolf personality type strengthened the “moment of madness” imagery. Additionally, discussion of the charges of terrorism levelled against Jackson dovetailed nicely into the allegedly shocking behaviour he displayed, which was reported as if it came out of nowhere except some trouble recess of his mind, rather than out of a long and documented history of such violence in the United States that haas been motivated solely by ideologies of white supremacy.
These messages created sent by media outlets are in and of themselves a form of social influence, meant to persuade us that, although Jackson stated clearly he was a member of a white supremacist group, his actions had nothing whatsoever to do with being part of one. Despite the fact that the Southern Poverty Law Centre has documented the presence of at least 15 white supremacist groups in Maryland — the state where Jackson lived for a decade before commiting his act of terrorism — no effort was made to link Jackson with any of them. Doing this reinforces the lie that actions like the racially-motivated hate crime murder of Timothy Caughman are perpetrated by lone wolf, disturbed individuals who either: 1. have some unexplained moment of madness that drives them to murder black people or 2. are mentally vulnerable, easily led people who have been wrongly swayed by white supremacist ideologies, and act on these beliefs spontaneously, randomly, and based upon a mental illness. Doing this absolves white supremacist groups from any scrutiny and is another subtle strategy for removing them, and their stable, documented history of social influence, from view.
Although He Murdered Alone, James Jackson Did Not Act in Isolation
As I researched for this article, I was encouraged to find that the link between the social influence of white supremacist groups and James Jackson had been observed by some researchers. In the introduction to its 2017 report A Dark and Constant Rage: 25 Years of Right Wing Terrorism in the United States, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) referred directly to Jackson, stating: “Jackson’s aborted killing spree was a shocking example of right-wing terror in the United States but it was unfortunately far from an isolated example.”
Directly after making this assertion, the report states: “For over a century and a half, since “burning Kansas” of the 1850s and the Ku Klux Klan of the 1860s, right-wing terrorism has been an unwelcome feature of the American landscape. Yet today, many people are barely aware that it exists and most people don’t recognise its frequency or scope.”
As shown above, a pie chart from the report provides a percentage breakdown for 150 known acts of terrorism that were committed by hate groups between 1992 and 2015. The calculations show that that 85% of them were perpetrated by members of one of two broad groups: white supremacists and anti-government extremists. The remaining 15% were attributed to Anti-Muslim, Anti-Immigrant and Other groups.
What is interesting about this percentage breakdown is that the ADL notes that division of activities by specific groups is difficult, because the ideologies of all these groups may overlap. Additionally, the ADL points out that members of these groups often hold similar and overlapping views. For example, Timothy McVeigh, who placed bombs in the Oklahoma City IRS building, adhered to both white supremacist and anti-government ideologies.
Of particular interest to my research today was one conclusion reached in the ADL report:
“Extremist groups in the United States tend to serve a purpose of radicalization more than anything else, whether of their own members or, as in the case of Dylann Roof, of non-members who may be influenced by their propaganda.The perpetrators of some of the incidents on this list were part of formal groups, while others were essentially involved in “cells” — informal associations of extremists banding together to commit an act. But just as common as these two types were lone offenders — the “lone wolf” terrorists responsible for a large number of America’s terror incidents. Indeed, approximately half of the 150 incidents listed in this report involved lone wolf offenders. Today, thanks to the Internet, it is easier than ever for someone to become steeped in extremist ideologies, even to the point of being willing to commit acts of great violence.”
The ADL’s observation that individuals can easily become steeped in ideologies using resources such as the Internet, and that extremist groups are vehicles for indoctrination of people to their ideologies, supports the idea that white supremacist groups leverage significant social influence. Furthermore, the ADL’s contextualisation of its reports within a history of organised white supremacist violence that has been consistent since the mid-19th century, affirms the notion that the social influence they exert has been perpetrated in a committed and consistent manner.
Finally, the influence of white anglo saxon supremacist ideologies on the social psychology of the United States is given support by the report’s title — a dark and constant rage — which, according to psychological and psychiatric assessments, are indications of a personality type known as the Dark Triad. This personality type displays narcissistic, self-aggrandizing, psychopathic behaviour, within the context of a consistent state of anger and vengefulness, that often explodes into violent acts against other living beings who may be targeted specifically for this purpose.
Given that the psychological profiles of white supremacists, such as the Nazis tried in Nuremberg for crimes against humanity, fit this description, then it is reasonable to conclude that white supremacist ideologies and practices in the United States are similar. And, as members of society in the United States, the psychological profiles of white supremacists contributes to the overall social psychology of the nation. Furthermore, by exerting a strong social influence, white supremacists spread their psychpathology throughout the society, thereby perpetuating its existence in the social environment.
The Myth/Lie of the Lone Wolf, Mentally Disturbed Terrorist as a Media Narrative of Social Influence
The perpetration of the myth that lone wolf white supremacist terrorists are troubled individuals who may be vulnerable to white supremacist social influence, and who do not act as representatives of the groups who perpetuate those ideologies, functions as a form of social influence perpetrated by many media outlets in the United States.
The media has the ability to exert social influence over people because it is an organised group that provides the public with information. Although different media outlets may ascribe to a variety of journalistic perspectives and/or use a variety of different strategies and techniques to spread the information they gather and/or create, the media is a fairly homogenous professional group whose activities are organised around the process of collecting and disseminating information, with the aim of informing the populace about events, people, and issues in the society.
It is important to consider what social influence the media is perpetrating when it consistently ascribes the actions of white supremacist terrorists to individual mental illness and personal issues. When the media does not present all the facts about a case of white supremacist terrorism —such as, in the case of James Jackson, not revealing to which white supremacist group he belongs— it not only censors what information the public gets, but it also prioritises which information does not get disseminated. Doing so gives the public an incomplete picture of the perpetrator, as well as ignores the social influences from which they are operating.
Additionally, by not placing alleged individually motivated acts of white supremacist terrorism into an historical and/or social context, the media further exerts social influence by leading peple to believe in the myth/lie of the lone wolf white supremacist terrorist. Yet, the context in which white supremacist terrorists operate is not a narrow, marginalized fringe of extremists. Rather it is a mainstreamed, highly organized percentage of the population, who are part of United States American society. The social context of these individuals is that they are members of, or influenced by, the 620 known and active white supremacist groups in the present era. As such, they exist in relationship to other groups in the nation and engage in intergroup interactions. Additionally, the social context is imbedded in the historical context of at least 150 years of organized white supremacist activities in the United States.
Additionally, the ideologies and practices of these groups, and their social influence, are not random, unexpected phenomenon that appear without warning in the social structure of the United States. Rather, these phenomenon are the product of the consitent and committed activity of these groups, who have been tenaciously promoting their ideologies, as well as pursuing the activities those ideologies encourage for a significant amount of time, within a wide variety of social settings and social classes nationwide.
Therefore, the ideologies and practices of these groups are significantly situated in the social history, social fabric and social psychology of the United States. It is unreasonable to believe that ideologies and practices that demonstrate such continuity are anything other than than social influence in this society of the United States.
Given these factors, it is also unreasonable to believe that the media is mistakenly ignoring this larger context. Rather, it is more feasible to believe the media is purposefully ignoring this context as a form of social influence in order to convince the public that white anglo saxon supremacist ideologies and practices are not what they are — fundamental social practices with significant social influence in the United States. Doing this creates and reinforces the scenario that the ADL pointed out: “many people are barely aware that it exists and most people don’t recognize its frequency or scope.”
It is not longer acceptable to allow the media to exert this type of social influence over people. Not knowing the existense of the strong social influence of white anglo saxon supremacist narratives, nor recognizing the scope of frequency of how that social influence leads to terrorist acts, does not give people the information they need to understand how this social influence impacts the social psychology of the United States.
Actions like James Jackson’s murder of Timothy Coughan illuminate the influence of white anglo saxon supremacist pathology on the social psychology of the United States. Just knowing that this pathology has produced thousands upon thousands of murders for 150 years demonstrates that this abherrent behaviour has been consistent part of the society’s psychological profile for a very long time.
This fact alone should be enough to realise this profile in not psychologically healthy.
Should we all be tested by professional psychologists and/or psychiatrists, each of us would display symptoms in reponse to this diseased environment. Those symptoms would range from the psychopathy of persons like James Jackson (and the groups that people like him either belong to or are influenced by) to the psychological trauma we experience when we exprience, or are confronted with, the actions of people like him.
Types like James Jackson live, and act, in our society and form part of an intricate web of white anglo saxon supremacist individuals and groups who have an immense social influence. As such, James Jackson’s behavior is merely a manifestation of a persistent social psychology disorder in the United States that emanates from a small section of the population.
Traditional psychiatric practice takes immediate action when psychopathy is discovered in a subject. In the case of the United States, that subject is a portion of the population that adheres to white anglo saxon white supremacst ideologies and practices.
Labelling members of this population as individual terrorists, and charging them under the law as such, is, perhaps, a noble gesture, as well as a potential legal precedent that may be carried beyond the state level one day. However, gestures and potentialities are futile when treating a deadly disease. Without discovering and addressing the cause of the disease, the illness continues to exist, and one off moments of containment of its symptoms does nothing to prevent it from reoccurring.
It is time to do what professionals who treat mental illness do — make a realistic assessement of white anglo saxon supremacy and see it for what it really is — a diseased part of the social psychology of the United States. By discovering and treating its causes, eliminating its social influence and subsequent behaviours from society, it is possible to begin the long overdue process of healing the damage that a sick minority of the population has done to the majority.