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COMMENTARY | Conservatives have not been afraid to confront extremism in our world, and we must not be afraid to confront terrorism here at home.
Not long after the El Paso shootings occurred, I took to Twitter to denounce white-nationalist terrorism as a real threat to our country. I didn’t realize at the time that I was the first major Republican elected official to do so. But I certainly won’t be the last, as more details come out about the goals and views of this terrorist.
What made me comment so soon? It’s simple: I read the shooter’s manifesto. We don’t have to guess what was on the shooter’s mind—he told us in plain, dark, and racist language. He wrote about protecting white people from an “invasion” of Hispanics and wanting to kill “Mexicans.” Plus, his actions underscored his words—he drove nine hours from Dallas to a shopping center in El Paso. Why didn’t he go to a mall in North Dallas to kill people? The answer is obvious—he wanted to kill Hispanic people.
But for me, the real question now is: What comes next? Terrorism by white supremacists is indeed a real and present danger. We’ve seen it in this country in El Paso, Texas, and in Gilroy, California. We’ve also seen it in faraway places like New Zealand, where another white supremacist walked into a mosque and killed 51 and injured another 49.
The recent attacks in the United States are shocking, but not surprising. Just a few days ago, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the U.S. Senate that most domestic terrorism arrests in 2019 have been related to white terrorism. Stop and think about that statistic. Islamic radical terrorism remains a real threat around the world and even here at home, but most of the terrorist attacks in the U.S. are a consequence of white-nationalist terrorism.
No substantive debate exists about whether this threat is real. The only question is: What are we doing to do about it?
As a statewide elected official in Texas and as a naval intelligence officer who served during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, I believe we must continue to defeat and destroy terrorism whenever we can, wherever we find it. And that means all terrorism. Many on the left are wrong in downplaying the threat of Islamic radical terrorism, and many on the right are wrong in downplaying homegrown white-supremacist terrorism. Both are evil, both are real, and both must be confronted and conquered.
As a conservative, I especially want to charge my party to take this challenge seriously. As the heirs to Lincoln and Reagan, we can’t look the other way when people threaten our security. When President Ronald Reagan spoke to the nation following his military action against Libya after a brutal terrorist attack in 1986, he said that the Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi “counted on America to be passive. He counted wrong.”
Today, we face the same sort of challenge. By definition, conservatives know that the world is a fallen place and that evil exists. We are not naive to it. And we have historically been willing to confront this evil. We must not be passive. We must not look away. The stakes are too high, and so are the consequences.
Confronting domestic terrorism starts with speaking honestly about the threat itself. No more euphemisms, no more attempts to explain away these actions. When a terrorist tells us in his manifesto that he is killing people because of their race, we should take him at his word.
But confronting domestic terrorism also means strengthening our law-enforcement approach to the challenge it poses. I applaud the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas for announcing that the shooter will be prosecuted on domestic-terrorism charges. We should prosecute white-supremacist terrorists the exact same way we do other terrorists.
Furthermore, confronting domestic terrorism means rebuilding the bond of trust between Americans and their law-enforcement agencies. There were a great number of heroes in El Paso on Saturday, and many of them were wearing uniforms. Police officers were on the scene in El Paso in just six minutes. And, once there, they quickly detained the shooter and saved countless lives.
Being Hispanic, I appreciate that there is sometimes tension between minority communities and police officers. But police brutality is, by far, the exception and not the rule. The vast majority of police officers around the nation are heroes who, every day, are willing to risk their lives to save others. We must support these brave men and women. And we must look for ways to work more closely with them to fight domestic terrorism. The policy of “If you see something, say something” needs to be followed when people see someone acting suspiciously, regardless of who it is.
Finally, confronting domestic terrorism means leading by example. All of us have a role to play. I know that our country has come a long way in addressing our national birth defect—racism. But more work remains to be done. Racism of the past was overt; racism of today is often covert. It’s more casual, but no less toxic. When I was growing up, I experienced open racism, including being called a wetback. Now the racism I encounter is generally more subtle. When I ran for reelection as Texas land commissioner, I saw ugly vestiges of racism. For my work in trying to protect and preserve the Alamo for generations to come, I was accused of wanting to change the story of the Alamo and to build a statue honoring Mexican General Santa Anna. It was offensive, it was outrageous, and it was completely untrue. It was also racist.
As conservatives, we have to do better than this because we are better than this. “I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph, and there is purpose and worth to each and every life,” Reagan once said. Those words were later engraved on Reagan’s tombstone. And they speak to the heart of what conservatives believe. Conservatives must defend all Americans from all threats. There are no second-class Americans. All of us help make this country great. Like different streams flowing into one river, America is made a stronger place by the unique communities and cultures all across our land. “Out of many, one,” our national motto says. And we must defend this principle from attack.
Conservatives have not been afraid to confront extremism in our world, and we must not be afraid to confront terrorism here at home: anywhere, anytime, and in any form. The events in El Paso serve as a painful reminder that we don’t have any other choice.
George P. Bush is the Texas Land Commissioner and the grandson of President George H.W. Bush.