It used to be that the weekend was when the news took a breather — aside, of course, from the Sunday morning chat shows, but even those didn’t get discussed until Monday.
If the news still rests on the sixth and seventh days, this weekend was a bad example of it. The most visible story, of course, was President Donald Trump’s Sunday tweets, which seemed to refer to several progressive legislators — including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar — and were widely lambasted as being racist.
Even on such a weekend, however, the events that transpired at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in Tacoma, Washington, would usually warrant more of a look than they got, especially when you consider the manifesto the ICE shooter left behind.
It’s the kind of politicized violence story that the media usually loves to play yarn-and-index cards games with.
Only this time, the shooter couldn’t be connected to the right. Instead, if you were going to look at the shooter’s manifesto and pick an individual the rhetoric sounded most like, it would be none other than Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
When 69-year-old Willem Van Spronsen attacked the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington on Saturday morning, he left behind a manifesto. He was killed by police after lobbing incendiary devices, one of which reportedly consumed a car in flames. He was also carrying a rifle when he was killed by police.
Van Spronsen was connected to antifa groups, several of which marked his passing.
His manifesto, which was mailed to friends on Friday, made it clear that he identified himself as antifa. However, many parts of the document look like they came out of an Ocasio-Cortez stump speech.
“evil says the flow of commerce is our purpose here,” he said at the beginning of the manifesto. “evil says concentration camps for folks deemed lesser are necessary. the handmaid of evil says the concentration camps should be more humane. beware the centrist.”
The concentration camp rhetoric, of course, was one of Ocasio-Cortez’s additions to the debate over detention facilities for illegal immigrants. I’m sure she wasn’t the first person to use it, but she was the first major politician to do so and helped popularize the comparison.
That wasn’t the only part of the manifesto in which he used it: “i’m a man who loves you all and this spinning ball so much that i’m going to fulfill my childhood promise to myself to be noble,” he wrote in another part. “here it is, in these corporate for profit concentration camps. here it is, in brown and non conforming folks afraid to show their faces for fear of the police/migra/proud boys/the boss/beckies… here it is, a planet almost used up by the market’s greed.”
Again, the idea of “concentration camps” and the heartlessness of the market are common themes here.
Van Spronsen also blames a few common betes noire of Ocasio-Cortez in another part of the manifesto:
“Fascism serves the needs of the state serves the needs of business and at your expense. Who benefits? Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet, Elon Musk, Tim Cook, Bill Gates, Betsy de Vos, George Soros, Donald Trump, and need I go on? Let me say it again: rich guys (who think you’re not really all that good), really dig government (every government everywhere, including ‘communist’ governments), because they make the rules that make rich guys richer.”
But the big thing is the “concentration camps,” mentioned four times during the three-page manifesto.
What’s odd is that, given a media used to poring over these manifestos for some way to connect attackers to some larger cause, few of the reports from major media outlets seemed to focus on this — or even mention it.
Where it gets curious is when you consider this quote from a friend of the attacker, who said she believed it was a form of political suicide: “He was ready to end it,” a woman identified as Deb Bartley told The Seattle Times. “I think this was a suicide. But then he was able to kind of do it in a way that spoke to his political beliefs. I know he went down there knowing he was going to die.”
Here is how The New York Times reported that quote: “’He was ready to end it,’ she told The [Seattle] Times. ‘I think this was a suicide.’” No mention of doing “it in a way that spoke to his political beliefs” or anything like that.
I had come to believe that we’d determined, as a culture, that the rhetoric of politicians was responsible for the actions of madmen.
That’s what we were told after Pittsburgh. That’s what we were told after Christchurch. That’s what we were told after Charlottesville. Granted, Van Spronsen didn’t actually kill anyone. He was stopped before he could do so. However, death was certainly what he intended to cause.
If we’re going to say that rhetoric can directly set off madmen, then we need to hold Ocasio-Cortez’s feet to the fire here.
She’s the one who made the ludicrous “concentration camp” claims. She’s been one of the primary voices attacking the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and claiming, without any evidence, that migrants are being forced to drink from toilets by Customs and Border Protection.
I don’t think anyone in the media truly intended to hold politicians responsible for actions due to their rhetoric, however — at least, not if that rhetoric was the correct, liberal sort of rhetoric.
No, Van Spronsen didn’t manage to end any life but his own, but that’s not the only reason there was almost no coverage of this attack.
Covering it in-depth would have required covering the reasons behind it. That would have made for some very uncomfortable national discussions about things that Ocasio-Cortez has said about ICE.
No, I don’t think Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez bears any responsibility for radicalizing this shooter. I do wish, however, that everyone who blamed conservative rhetoric for other attacks would take this opportunity to admit they were full of bunkum.
I also wish they would give as much attention to this attack as they have to other similar incidents.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.