I didn’t like the book How the Irish Became White, by the late Noel Ignatiev. I still don’t understand how he took arguably the second-most-despised and discriminated group (behind Black people) in mid-19th century America, Irish Catholic immigrants, and decided they uniquely and resoundingly attacked Black people in order to punch their ticket to whiteness. You could also write books on how Italians, Greeks, Jewish immigrants, and everyone who is not white Anglo-Saxon Protestant learned how to climb into the American melting pot on the backs of Black neighbors or coworkers, people who would work for less money because that was the only money they could earn.
But the notion that various groups can “become” white, over time and with various signifiers, is true and enormously useful. As right-wingers insisted that a guy with the name “Mauricio Garcia,” the person identified as the killer in the mass shooting at the mall in Allen, Tex., could not be a white supremacist, they showed their supreme ignorance, some of it willful and some of it just dumb, about the way race works, and destroys, in our country.
Newsmax’s Greg Kelly did a segment “debunking” the factual claim that Garcia was a white nationalist, with the mocking chyron “Here We Go Again With White Supremacy.” The network put “white” in quotation marks in another headline, because, self-evidently, someone named Garcia can’t be white. Unfortunately, Kelly also used a mugshot of an older, darker-skinned Texas man with the same name who was not the Allen shooter, and claimed that he was in a Latino prison gang. Of course, that story was too good not to be true for Kelly. Curses, foiled again by his own racism.
There was a lot of that kind of denial on right-wing Twitter over the weekend and through last night. The site’s owner/destroyer Elon Musk seemed to endorse accounts suggesting that racist and neo-Nazi social media posts attributed to Garcia were not only mistaken but a “psyop.” Interestingly, the Twitter users who engaged with Musk on this topic were mostly part of his new blue-check elite, people who pay him $8 a month to blather about “wokeness” and the predation of the deep state. But I digress. Sort of. This is the community—mainly white, conservative, conspiracy-minded, and racist—that Musk wanted to foster with his $44 billion investment.
While Texas officials aren’t saying much about Garcia, it has been confirmed by NBC News, The Washington Post, and the open-source investigative site Bellingcat that whatever else he had been—he was killed, apparently by police—the Allen shooter was consumed by racist, anti-Semitic, and misogynist hate. During the attack, he wore a tactical vest adorned with the letters RWDS, or Right Wing Death Squads. He was discharged by from the US Army after only three months, in 2008, because of a “mental health” issue. It’s tempting to say it doesn’t matter if Garcia was white or not—what matters is that he was seriously disturbed.
But it’s important to see the way rising mental illness among young American men is being channeled into racism and misogyny—and guns. It’s really hard to decide what to be most appalled by, Garcia’s love of Adolf Hitler or his hatred of women. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch has a helpful if appalling compendium of different social media sites where the alleged shooter posted deranged and violent stories and imagery. He worshipped Nazis and guns. He seems to have been an “incel” with a particular hatred of Indian woman (one of the Allen victims was a young immigrant Indian woman engineer). “I hate women. Their (sic) I said it,” he posted in one supposed “poem.” I’m not linking to any of it—you can find links and screenshots of his troubling and menacing posts on Hatewatch—because this sick guy’s twisted world of hate needs no more promotion here.
Anyone who has a passing familiarity with racial categories knows that in the United States, Hispanic or Latino is an ethnicity and not a race. Many millions of people with that ethnicity consider themselves white. (Because the Census has changed the race and ethnicity questions it asks several times over the last 20 years, we’ve seen the number of Hispanics/Latinos who identify as “white” surge one year and drop the next, making it difficult to see trends over time.) But “whiteness” doesn’t have to metastasize into “white supremacy.” Just like rape is not about sex, but power, white supremacy is all about power. It’s sad but it shouldn’t be shocking that a troubled 30-something named Garcia might want to grab that power for himself. He has company: Look at Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, convicted last week of seditious conspiracy for his role on January 6, or anti-Semitic incel Nick Fuentes. Both have Hispanic heritage.
The idea can shock some liberals, too. Thanks to Elon Musk, I found a Garcia post where he tells the story of a “PC” Jewish chemistry teacher who tried to reason Garcia out of his Hitler worship by insisting that he isn’t white but Hispanic. He repeatedly taunts the poor woman, greeting her by saying “white power,” “Final Solution,” and giving her Nazi salutes; she retorts that Hitler “would happily kill [his] non-blonde-hair, not blue-eyes-having behind.”
“She couldn’t shame me or convince me to think like her,” he boasted, calling himself a “champion” and closing his post about the teacher’s intervention with “Heil Hitler.”
“This gets weirder by the moment,” Musk tweeted at that story, sharing other right-wingers’ incredulity that a guy they’re convinced cannot be white is supposed to be a white supremacist who wanted a race war.
But in a way, Garcia’s so-called “PC” teacher was right. She was trying to get him to see that he was desperate to join a club that would ultimately never admit him. He died after murdering eight people and seriously wounding seven others, and to this point, none of the victims that have been identified were white. If his racist massacre was intended to prove his devotion to white supremacy, “white power,” and fomenting “race war,” it didn’t do that for white right-wingers. Even as more evidence emerged, almost hourly, that all of this racist, misogynist, gun-worshipping social media came from the real Mauricio Garcia, guys that he might have considered his white brothers and allies were rejecting him. Greg Kelly and Elon Musk, and the Musk fanboys and girls of that new blue-check Twitter elite want no part of anybody named Garcia, it seems.
You’d think that these insecure white guys who worry, like Tucker Carlson used to on his canceled show, that they’re being “replaced” by immigrants, mostly Latino, might be reassured that someone like Garcia wants to become one of them, not replace them. But no, I guess they like their whiteness pure. I’m not saying I’d expect them to embrace any mass shooter and endorse his violence, but the issue they’re articulating is more a rejection of his whiteness than of his violence.
Of course, liberals and Democrats of every race are also wrong when they insist, like Garcia’s teacher, that Hispanics and Latinos can’t be white. For a while, liberals hoped they’d form an “emerging Democratic majority” along with Black, Asian, Indigenous, and rising numbers of mixed-race people, especially in the Obama years, when those groups did increasingly vote for Democrats. But that coalition has fractured a little, with rising numbers of all groups, but particularly Hispanics, voting Republican since Donald Trump came on the national scene. And Democrats’ tendency to assume that Hispanic voters back liberalizing immigration policy, for instance, hasn’t helped. That issue doesn’t resonate among some second- or third-generation Hispanic Americans, or people born elsewhere but who came here legally.
Declining Democratic affiliation in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley near the Mexican border has been a case study. Democrats were slow to realize that many residents there work for Border Control or ICE—and even among those who don’t, a sizable number favor tighter immigration restrictions. No racial or ethnic group is a monolith, but Hispanic identity in the US is particularly complex and fluid.
Garcia embodies that complexity. Hispanics and Latinos are free to consider themselves white, but they’ll likely discover that many white people do not share that belief. I can’t help wondering what he’d have made of Kelly, Musk, and other Trumpists’ almost desperate attempt to keep him out of their white he-man woman-hater right-wing clubhouse. Maybe he’d have preferred death to facing that humiliation.