The Florida gunman was clearly antisemitic – but not only antisemitic

Nikolas Cruz's politics are only a shade to the right of the Alt-Right


Was last week’s murder of 17 high school students and teachers in Parkland, Florida, motivated by antisemitism?

Partly yes, and partly no.

Since the attack, it has emerged that the murderer, Nikolas Cruz, made racist and antisemitic comments on social media, especially a private Instagram group of which he was a member.

“I hate Jews, n****rs, immigrants,” he posted at one point.

As reported by CNN, which obtained transcripts of the chat group, Mr Cruz posted that he hated black people simply because they were black, but hated Jews because they wanted to destroy the world.

Case closed, then? These are classic themes of white supremacist antisemitism, from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion through the Alt-Right’s imprecations against Jews who control the media. 

Well, not so fast.

Remember, in America, explaining mass shootings is a political act. Liberals almost always point to the guns: every country has deranged people, they point out, but only the United States has deranged people with automatic weapons. Conservatives point to moral decay, mental illness, and other factors.

Moreover, even how killers are described has political connotations.

Mainstream media routinely refers to Muslim murderers as “terrorists” linked to “cells”, such as Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, who killed 14 people in a San Bernadino public building.

But white Christian murderers as “disturbed” or “loners”, as in the case of Dylann Roof, who killed nine African Americans in a church in 2015.

In the case of Mr Cruz, yes, he was clearly a racist influenced by the recent resurgence in extreme white American nationalism that accompanied the rise of Donald Trump.

That Instagram group was called “Murica Great”, not too distant from Make America Great Again, and Mr Cruz often posed wearing a red MAGA hat.

But he was also described as a disturbed kid, weird, a loner. He was an orphan – his adoptive parents died in 2004 and 2017 – beyond the control of his caregivers.

He would show gruesome pictures of animals he had killed to young women in his classes. 

And he was a gun nut who legally purchased at least five guns in the past year.

He posted pictures of his guns, of himself with his guns, of views down the barrels of guns. He bought body armor too.

“I think I’m going to kill people,” he said to the group at one point.

Mr Cruz’s antisemitism may also have been self-hatred. In the Instagram group, he once wrote, "My real mom was a Jew. I am glad I never met her."

Of his 17 victims, four are thought to be Jewish, but it is not known whether they were targeted deliberately.

And Mr Cruz’s ties to white supremacist groups are unclear.

On February 15, the Anti-Defamation League broke the news that he was tied to the Republic of Florida, a fringe white supremacist group. But the next day, it was reported that the ROF was just trolling and that he had nothing to do with them. 

In a sense, all of these distinctions are artificial. Mr Cruz was not quite a loner, but wasn’t acting on behalf of a group.  He was mentally disturbed, but maybe or maybe not mentally ill.

And while Cruz was clearly antisemitic, he wasn’t only antisemitic.

As a white supremacist, he hated Jews, blacks, immigrants – gays, too, according to one Instagram post. In fact, his politics are just a shade to the right of the mainstream Alt-Right: more Daily Stormer than Breitbart, but the lines are grey and blurry. 

Indeed, one of the confounding aspects of the surge in racism and Trumpism in the American Orthodox Jewish community is how some Jews parse out the nationalist Right’s ethnocentrism from their antisemitism.

No one on the Far Right sees them as separable, but Jews from Jared Kushner to Sheldon Adelson do. 

We now know that Nikolas Cruz does not.

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