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Troubled waters

Back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, bring a tragic conclusion to a long summer

Troubled waters

Makeshift memorial in El Paso (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

End-of-summer television this year included an annual ritual that seems counterintuitive for anyone still trying to enjoy the ocean: Discovery Channel’s Shark Week

Other channels aired Jaws, the 1975 movie about a shark roaming the waters near a New England beach town. Director Steven Spielberg said the mechanical shark malfunctioned during the filming, and he wasn’t able to show it as much as planned. 

It didn’t matter. Spielberg realized it was far scarier to portray crowds of beachgoers enjoying a sunny day at the water with no idea a predator was circling nearby: “It’s what we don’t see which is truly frightening.”

On Aug. 3, a sunny Saturday in El Paso turned truly terrifying for a crowd of shoppers at a local Walmart, when a different kind of predator breezed through the store’s automatic doors toting an AK-47-style rifle.

The gunman killed 22 people and injured more than two dozen others. The dead included Jordan and Andre Anchondo, a young couple who died shielding their infant son from the attack. The baby survived. 

So did the gunman. Patrick Crusius, 21, surrendered to police, and he later told them he was targeting Mexicans. He also apparently posted a screed online hours before the rampage, decrying what he called the “invasion” of immigrants at the U.S. border. The manifesto appeared on 8chan, a website infamous for attracting white supremacists.

John Minchillo/AP

Mourners pause outside Ned Peppers Bar in Dayton (John Minchillo/AP)

Hours later, more gunfire: Connor Betts, 24, opened fire in a historic district in Dayton, Ohio, killing nine people, including his sister. Police stopped the attack in less than 30 seconds, shooting and killing the gunman outside a crowded bar. 

After the bullets flew, so did the accusations: Some critics blamed President Donald Trump for the El Paso attack, citing his use of words like invasion to describe migrants heading toward the U.S. border. 

Others pointed out that the Dayton gunman may have supported Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., on Twitter—and no one is blaming the Democratic presidential candidate for the Ohio shooter’s attack.

Still, a wise use of words is a constant Biblical theme. While the New Testament book of James doesn’t talk much about blame, it does talk about blaze. James writes of the tongue: “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” 

There are reasonable ways to talk about reasonable concerns over immigration, gun control, and other issues. But it’s best to avoid throwing flames, because we don’t know the flammability of those around us. That’s particularly important for public leaders reaching wide audiences. (Please see Marvin Olasky’s website-only column at wng.org/shootings.)

One person apparently absorbing this lesson: the original creator of the 8chan website that hosted the El Paso shooter’s manifesto. Fredrick Brennan, 25, started the site in 2013.

Brennan once wrote favorably of eugenics, and says he developed the views because of a painful medical condition that left him disabled at birth. After a falling-out with a new owner, he eventually cut ties with the company. 

He now says the extremist site should be shut down. An internet cloud service that provided support to 8chan announced it cut off its services for the site after the El Paso attack. The current 8chan operators said they were working hard to find another home.

Mark Lambie/The El Paso Times via AP

Walmart employees in El Paso react to the shooting (Mark Lambie/The El Paso Times via AP)

Meanwhile, Brennan told Wired magazine he has found a new kind of home: a Baptist church in the Philippines, where he now lives. After he left 8chan, he grew deeply depressed, but made connections at a local church, where he also met his wife. He says he finds comfort in Christianity. 

The details of his religious beliefs are unclear, but Brennan’s Twitter account now contains a reference to Ephesians 6:12: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness.”

Darkness extended to other corners of the world, as videos surfaced of police in Hong Kong openly beating demonstrators on a subway escalator. The footage came as massive street protests continued in the city and pro-democracy demonstrators pushed back against encroachment from mainland China. 

Back in the United States, some affluent parents fearing the encroachment of government regulations apparently devised a startling way to pay less for a college education for their children: They gave up custody of them. 

A ProPublica investigation reported dozens of parents in affluent Chicago suburbs had transferred legal guardianship of their teenage children to other family members or friends so that the children would qualify for need-based financial aid.

Some Democratic presidential candidates propose free college for all, and many of them flocked to the Midwest in early August for a rite of passage in the party’s contest: the Iowa State Fair. 

Candidates flipped the obligatory pork chops and made happy pilgrimages to the famous carved butter cow, but some managed to keep it serious.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., ate his corn dog with gravity, and mystic guru Marianne Williamson explained to an Atlantic reporter why she doesn’t talk much about policy specifics: “The part of the brain that rationally analyzes an issue is not the part of the brain that decides who to vote for.”

Rationality may overtake lower tier candidates like Williamson by the end of August: That’s the deadline for candidates to meet polling and other criteria set by the Democratic National Committee to appear in the next round of televised debates.

Several hopefuls may not survive that particular shark week of sorts—making more room for a focused battle between the bigger fish in the sea. 

Jamie Dean

Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the political beat and other topics as national editor for WORLD Magazine. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.