Where were they radicalized

More people have died in schools than military service members in 2018. The Santa Fe High School massacre was the 22nd school terror attack this year.

31,000 Americans are victims of gun violence each year.

More than 188,000 students have been exposed to gun violence at school since Columbine.

Let’s be clear. America has a domestic terrorism problem. We must confront that fact with the same urgency we rightfully demand of Muslim leaders. Whether we like it or not, the threat is similar. A once fringe fanatical minority of the population uses horrific acts of violence to gain recognition. Begins to disproportionately represent the greater whole.

While sensible gun control and the means to prevent these terrorists from gaining access to weapons of mass destruction is part of the solution, it is not the whole solution. As a society, we also need to take a hard look at what drove each new perpetrator to commit such heinous acts. What would motivate these overwhelming number of young, white, males to have such a blatant disregard for human life. We need to ask ourselves, “where were they radicalized?”

Interventions are messy so let’s start off with some basic housekeeping. Perception is not reality and our leaders, regardless of party, have a responsibility to shape perception to match reality. The truth sometimes hurts to hear. That doesn’t mean we ignore it. That means speaking truth regardless of personal consequence. In other words, you may hate me for what I’m about to say, but I’m going to say it anyway.

So let me put this out there. This has nothing to do with politics. Look at Donald Trump’s words. Log into twitter and review his timeline of tweets. It is repulsive. You’d be ashamed of your child if that was the method they used to become class President let alone leader of the free world. Behavior matters. Over time a team’s culture begins to take on the personality of its leader. The same is true of our country. For some time our politicians have sought to divide this country’s people. Define and separate us into red or blue camps, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. Networks and news media devoted to one side or the other.

In recent years this tendency to divide and insulate the electorate has reached dangerous heights. People automatically placed into “us” and “them” camps as Chris Christie so famously did in the 2012 RNC convention. Donald Trump himself escalating the rhetoric as leader of the unconscionable birther moment. The opposition no longer portrayed as reasonable politicians with whom the goal is compromise, but as unAmerican enemies of the people. The goal no longer to reach a deal but to “crush,” bury,” and “own” the opposition.

When you dehumanize people, treat them as less than human. When you use your platform to characterize people who live within our shores as “animals,” as unworthy of the basic inalienable rights bestowed upon all men, you create a culture of indifference. You birth a generation that is losing the ability to empathize. That sees targets and avatars in their crosshairs rather than sons and daughters. You create an expectation of violence and bloodshed. You spit on the vision of our founding fathers and blasphemy the words of our Declaration of Independence. The essential truths set forth therein.

When you draw false equivalents between those who protest for equality and freedom with those who represent hatred and ignorance. Who use tiki torches and strap assault rifles to their bodies to intimidate and snuff out those who seek progress. When you see the good in klansmen, neo-Nazis and white supremacists you give voice to the fringe of society. You enable their message of hate and violence. Allow those who hate for other reasons, who feel excluded, isolated and left out to rationalize their desires.

When you bow to the statues of confederate soldiers, display the hate filled flag on your pick up truck, and conflate the history of the Confederacy with that of the United States you deny the American dream. When you name call, cyberbully, race bait and shame people based on their looks you encourage our kids to do the same. To separate themselves from those they don’t like and humiliate them for it. When a pro- life agenda only includes the unborn, the living become expendable.

We reap what we sow. This is not a problem that can be prayed away. There are no alternative facts. The time for cognitive dissonance, for denial, is past. Save us the hypocrisy of lowering your flags to half mast. In fact, raise them Stars and Stripes high and proud instead. This is America! This is what we’ve come to accept as normal.

This is what we will remain until we elect leaders who understand, who as a nation we were founded to be. Who lead with the knowledge that the American identity exists. That the vast majority of us want the same things. That we share so many more values in common than we do ideas that tear us apart. That there is no “us” or”them”, “red” or “blue.”

From shore to shore America is comprised of Republicans, Democrats and Independents, young and old, Muslim, Christian, Jews, atheists and other, Irish, Italian, Asian, African, European and Native, scientists and clergy, gun enthusiasts and gun control advocates, men and women. We are the great melting pot. That diversity IS the American identity. We can’t change that anymore than a tiger can change its stripes. A list of all the great contributions immigrants and refugees have made to this country would dwarf a list of their misdeeds a million times over.

To solve school violence, immigration, terrorism, or even the opioid epidemic requires we all respect multiple views and ideas. It requires a change in Washington, DC. An understanding that we are a nation built on compromise, trust and acceptance. It requires leaders who lead by example. Like all problems, it will first require acknowledgment. The willingness of the people to accept that we have a problem and the courage to confront it

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