In the Wake of Mass Violence, the Culture of Fear


Giuseppe Ricapito
Staff Writer

“I understand that fear is my friend, but not always. Never turn your back on Fear. It should always be in front of you, like a thing that might have to be killed.” – Hunter S. Thompson, “Kingdom of Fear”

It’s been a violent, chaotic year for the United States. Mired in a media zeitgeist depicting death, destruction, and vigilante carnage, we’ve found ourselves at the round crossroads of a Catch-22—how, besides retaliation, do we defend ourselves from the terrorists, killers, and psychos plotting our demise, while they nebulously hide in our midst? The recent and sure-to-be persistent legacy of the Boston Bombings, Christopher Dorner, and mass shootings at Aurora, Newtown, and Sandy Lake indicate that there are factions of militant society on the edge, living in the shadows until showing their faces with institutional violence. A historical cornerstone of the United States has been to match this with a quid pro quo—ruthlessly eliminate anyone that threatens and disrupts our national security. But until terrorism and mass death actually strikes, we face an incorporeal enemy; pursuing justice in the dark has been a mission of vengeance, nurturing cyclical violence. Our charge now is to reverse the systems that create and foster this hostile enmity.

Let me add to my premise by assuring the reader that the murderer does not deserve clemency. As shocking as it may seem, reader, even if you believe these men ought to have the full torture treatment before death—complete with waterboarding, thumbscrews, and castration—the right to a credible judicial process puts both of you in the same boat. But in the relentless pursuit to exact equitable justice, and the never-ending media prerogative to detail our crisis, we crucify our enemies with the brutal exactitude of a Roman legion. While we act in revenge and horror, the guilty only begin at the chopping block. Once you’ve relented and accepted lapses in the Bill of Rights, the same carceral suppression can be applied to yourself.

Once a conscious grasp of the mass killings set in, widespread hysteria over the threat of domestic terrorism and gun-control made retribution a political necessity. But the knee-jerk reaction to hunt down and kill heterogeneous American elements represents a bloody escapade, not constitutional justice. A culture of reactionary fear has developed to cope with the notion of our own impending demise—the corporate and political media fear-mongers on institutional violence, essentially labeling it “War on the Values, Livelihoods and Families of Law-Abiding Americans.”

Ironically, a quote by the notoriously militant Ernesto “Che” Guevara shrieked off the page from an open book at my desk. His political and economic philosophy for revolutionary Cuba is obviously a polar opposite to modern America, but his passage relates to ideological overlap for both nations—a period of transition.

“If they attack us, we’ll have to defend ourselves; if enemy bombs destroy what is ours, too bad! After the victory we’ll rebuild it!”

A United States Victory—sought after, never attained and made on the backs of the people. To Cuban revolutionaries, the enemy was not so abstract as our own. In the United States, individuals, acting on their own psychotic break, or buoyed by a cult of political or religious fanaticism, come out of the woodwork to exact violence before the public has a chance to react. The legacy of the Bush doctrine is our era’s transition; we are beset with the pursuit and destruction of violent peoples that form no collective ideology or organization. Their first, and often last, acts of mass violence are spur-of-the-moment tirades against innocent victims—a general strike on a population simply associated with the system. We are on a transformative road that dictates, “in order to preempt violence, nip dissension in the bud.” Foundational pillars of the American system—opposition and challenging the status quo—are being suppressed as root causes to violence. The Patriot Act, National Defense Authorization Act, unlawful wiretaps, and refusal of Miranda Rights are the mechanisms of the nation’s transition. The authority of the government to predispose threats, label dissidents, and regiment the population are a threat to any person who values their unalienable liberties.

But how is the mass, normalized society supposed to react when they stare these threats of death in the face? Martial combat? A trip to the gun store? Or a compound hideout stocked with essentials, assuring that they never see a stranger’s face again? Media frenzy followed in the wake of each tragedy, bombarding the individual viewer with unending analyses, condemnations, and stipulations about the situations at hand. If you watched, there was no time to take a breath free of apprehension—eyes locked on recurring images of the wounded, the victims, mobs in disarray—knotted, pit-of-the-stomach empathy followed in quick succession with the calamities.

With ominous, menacing music and goading images of tragedy, the TV asked, “How will you be involved in the preservation of your life and the America you call home?” The vantage point from the couch doesn’t provide any helpful insight or information. Instead, via a prevailing sociopolitical apathy, the people impart the mechanism of justice to the gnashing gears of national security.

Though the danger of terrorism and gun-toting maniacs are manufactured to seem ostensible and unavoidable, they are in fact isolated incidents (however deep conspiracy can connect it to larger premises). Victims of undeserved violence are worthy of justice and respectful faith to rehabilitation. Conversely, the shrill call for universal vengeance constrains the freedoms of the unassociated many, actually engendering a venue for the perpetuity of bloodshed.

The culture of fear is not bound to its reactionary reverberations in law and order. It also sows the seeds of community scorn, distrust, and disunity—the basic elements required to find protective solace in the rule of the State. The intangible notion of State protection provides a god-like affirmation of safety; relinquished to the whims of the institution, and instructed by a duty to frightened subservience, you lose everything but a concern for your own welfare.

There is nothing more real than our government’s foundation in the will and equality of the people. Instead of looking up for guidance, we owe it to ourselves to look around. Workers, students, politicians, and the unemployed—the whole composition of the American public—shouldn’t accept peace of mind at a price. If the same efforts from the War on Terrorism were put into alleviating social ills and promoting the incorporation of the disillusioned, these mass atrocities could be avoided.