Internet personalities aren't at fault for Mauricio Garcia's killing spree
On 6th May, 33-year-old Mauricio Garcia went on a shooting spree in a packed mall in Allen, Texas, claiming the lives of at least nine people. Now it’s being reported by multiple outlets that he frequently browsed “far-Right extremist material on social media”, and went on “incel rants”, where he would “express support for Neo-Nazis.”
In the wake of this news, reporters like NBC’s Ben Collins are all but explicitly blaming people like Chaya Raichik, who runs the account @LibsofTikTok, and centrist media personality Tim Pool, who the shooter purported to like on a private social media account that “appeared to function like a personal diary”, according to Gizmodo. Questions have been raised over whether it was meaningful that Garcia was a fan of these people, and if this credibly connected them with so-called far-Right ideologies. There are also questions about how seriously we should take Garcia’s ties to neo-Nazism. Is it more likely that he was a deeply troubled individual drawn to the most immediately shocking material he could find, or was he radicalised to commit an act of mass violence by a couple of internet celebrities?
The answer shouldn’t be difficult to work out. It’s ludicrous to even imply that centre-Right internet personalities have anything to do with the epidemic of mass violence in the US. That doesn’t mean that Garcia didn’t authentically like these people or consume their content, but it isn’t any more relevant than the bizarre note about how “Valerie Solanas would be proud” of Nashville shooter Audrey Hale included in one of his posts. (It may also be worth noting that some of Garcia’s posts were cribbed from other sources, like movies or the incels.is forum, perhaps to create a text-based mood board.)
Ironically, Garcia says in that very post that if these acts of terror hold any meaning to him at all, it’s as a spectacle. This was, after all, most likely a deeply mentally unwell man whose worldview did not cohere in any way. Garcia often wrote in unintelligible, though not broken, English in a style suggestive of someone struggling with mental health problems. Many of his posts were difficult to follow, or made very little sense, like this one about shaking people’s hands. He frequently expressed despair, feeling as though he didn’t “even exist”.
In another post Garcia wrote, “It is my contention that the very roots of our mass shooting epidemic may be found in our core cultural value of fierce individualism.” He used the language of the incel community at times, examples being “oldcel” (someone whose celibacy is due to their older age), “Chad” and “Stacy”. Other times, he gestured to Right-wing memes. But mostly, he posted difficult-to-follow screeds about his loneliness accompanied by posts like this: “i wish i was dead, noone [sic] would care if i ceased to exist,” and “I’m worried that all these decades of loneliness have ruined me.”
But there is a difference between someone who sees the swastika as a political symbol that motivates them to commit acts of violence and a mentally ill person who sees it as symbolic of chaos and discontent. Neither person is deserving of any apologia. However, one person is politically motivated, and another is a ticking time bomb who may not have the faculties to even have a modus operandi.
When you see tweet threads like Bellingcat researcher Aric Toler’s, which include quips like, “I guess we’ll never know if this guy was a liberal or fascist or anything else, oh well,” we’re not learning anything. Very little has been published about the alarming state of Garcia’s mental health (concerns over which led to him being discharged from the US military), or that his posts were those of someone who resented American individualism and saw life as a meaningless spectacle.
This also isn’t meant to excuse Nazism which, I cannot emphasise enough, is a heinous ideology. It’s just that throwing together a grab bag of vaguely Right-wing personalities as some kind of proof that we have an unaddressed problem with white supremacist terrorism is worse than useless. We certainly don’t have any greater understanding of how and why a dark-skinned Mexican man might come to align himself with neo-Nazism, assuming we accept that these were his genuinely held beliefs and not a tool to alienate himself from others through shock value. And, finally, the reporting being done on Garcia’s social media presence isn’t even instructive to help us understand the far-Right subcultures that do percolate online.
Here’s what’s happening instead: people’s deaths are being used as pawns to condemn the American Right at large by conflating it and anyone who comes within 500 feet of it (like Tim Pool and Chaya Raichik) with the furthest reaches of the far-Right, about which the broader American public knows very little.
One of the more tragic elements of the story is that we will never come any closer to answers about why these horrific events happen.