The horrible murder of 26 people in a small Texas church on Sunday was quickly seized on by the fantasists of the resentful right. Those folks were angry this weekend because they’d spent the previous week getting all excited about a supposed Antifa conspiracy to start a civil war on Saturday. There was, they said, going to be large-scale violence, rioting, cities in flames and public beheadings by leftist Millennial terrorists.
Two years ago I’d have ignored that fevered rumor as the inconsequential ravings of lunatic fringe figures like Alex Jones. But these days, Alex Jones is buddies with the president of the United States, and the ravings of the lunatic fringe have proven hugely significant.
This civil war, you may have noticed, did not happen. No violence, no riots, not a single public beheading.
The resentful right noticed this too, and it ticked them off. Their pleasant fantasy was proven false and that left them horribly disappointed, frustrated, and unsure of where their next jolt of feigned excitement was going to come from.
A civil war with riots, flames, and beheadings may not sound like a pleasant fantasy to you, but you have to understand that these folks found it delightful. They didn’t “believe” in this rumored civil war because they really thought it was true. They “believed” in the rumor because they desperately wanted it to be true. They thought it would be exciting. It would, they hoped, supply their lives with meaning and purpose and righteous vindication. If their imagined enemies were shown to be brutal terrorists, then by some transitive property of relative morality, they would be shown to be virtuous.
But, again, Saturday’s scheduled civil war never happened. It was never going to happen. And when Saturday came and went without the thrill of a lovely civil war, these folks were pissed off. They were looking for the next fantasy outrage to restore the anticipatory arousal they had felt in the days leading up to the civil war of November 4.
So these folks were happy — yes, happy — when news broke early Sunday afternoon of a mass-shooting in a rural Texas church. Here, at last, was the violence they had been eagerly awaiting. Here was the news they’d been hoping for all week.
It didn’t matter that this horrific incident had nothing to do with any delirious dream involving black-clad Millennial socialists running wild in the streets. People were dead, and death is always exciting.
And in any case, the breaking news could easily be twisted into a narrative that would reinforce their preferred fantasy about the world and about themselves and their place in that world. And that is what set about doing, almost immediately, as Dana Liebelson and Paul Blumenthal report — “The Texas Shooter Was Called A Liberal, Antifa Communist Working With ISIS — Before Anyone Knew Anything.”The first news reports of the murders came at 1:24 p.m. Sunday. The first viral tweet from the resentful right suggesting the killings were linked to their bogus “civil war” came a half-hour later. By 6 p.m., they had latched onto a detailed story — none of it based on fact — that ricocheted around social media, getting shared on Facebook more than 264,000 times:
The website YourNewsWire tweeted out an article making wild claims about the shooter’s connections to antifa. The story cobbled together photos from the Facebook page allegedly belonging to the shooter with a photograph of a different person holding an anti-fascist flag.
The article claimed that the shooter “vowed to start a civil war by ‘targeting white conservative churches’ and causing anarchy in the United States.” The story also included screenshots from a new guy: “Brian (cousin).” This person, Brian, supposedly “talked to some people who were inside.” That’s how Brian learned that two shooters entered the church, threw an antifa flag over the pulpit and then killed people who failed to properly recite verses from Karl Marx’s three-volume foundational critique of capitalism, Das Kapital.
A quibble there: It’s not that “the story cobbled together photos,” but that a person did that cobbling. A person chose to do that, just as people chose to invent all of those off-the-wall details like reciting “verses” from Das Kapital.
And just as people chose to pretend to believe such things, eagerly clicking “share” — 264,000 times — to invite their friends and relatives to join them in pretending to believe it too.
They want to believe it. They want it to happen again, soon, so that they can enjoy pretending it again. And again and again. They want more death to feed their fantasies, to fend off the depressing disappointment of so many Saturdays without a civil war.
This is, I recognize, an extremely harsh assessment of these people — the quarter of a million who “shared” this ridiculously impossible story and the millions more who were happy to join in pretending to believe it. But keep in mind it is not my assessment of them, but their own assessment of themselves.
Because they admit that this fantasy is what they wanted. They are openly, unashamedly angry to be told their story is not true. They are openly, unashamedly disappointed to learn that there isn’t an army of young Marxists murdering people at worship, and that this was only a single massive crime and not part of a wave of such crimes.
They make no attempt to hide that anger and that disappointment. They make no attempt to hide what it is they wish was true.