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Jacksonville shooting is the latest incident of fatal violence driven by white supremacy

The killing of three Black people at a Dollar General store in Florida Saturday afternoon was the latest act of American gun violence motivated by racist ideology, a national scourge that federal officials have described as one of the most lethal forms of modern domestic terrorism.

The fatal shootings in Jacksonville, carried out by a white man in his early 20s who authorities say “hated Black people,” follows deadly hate-motivated shootings at public gathering places, including a synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in 2019, and a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, in 2022.

The spasms of gun violence are part of a wider history of racist terror in the United States dating back to the country’s founding and stretching across more than two centuries. In the modern era, violent domestic extremists are often radicalized online, according to the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.

Two years ago, a comprehensive review conducted by President Joe Biden’s national security team found that “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists,” specifically those who “promote the superiority of the white race,” represented one of the most “persistent and lethal threats” facing the homeland.

“These actors have different motivations,” the review found, “but many focus their violence towards the same segment or segments of the American community, whether persons of color, immigrants, Jews, Muslims, other religious minorities, women and girls, LGBTQI+ individuals, or others.”

Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters said at a news conference Saturday that the shooting was “racially motivated” and perpetrated by a “maniac.” Sherri Onks, the FBI’s special agent in charge of the Jacksonville office, told reporters that law enforcement officials had opened a federal civil rights investigation and planned to pursue the attack as a hate crime.

“Hate crimes are always and will always remain a top priority for the FBI because they are not only an attack on a victim, they’re also meant to threaten and intimidate an entire community,” Onks said, adding that the FBI would “bring every resource we have to bear to bring justice to the families” of the victims.

The man who killed 11 people and wounded seven others at the Tree of Life Congregation in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, 2018, posted incessantly on social media platforms about his hatred of Jewish people and immigrant populations. He has been sentenced to death.

The self-described white nationalist who killed 23 people at a Walmart store in El Paso on Aug. 3, 2019, targeted people of Mexican descent and posted an anti-immigrant screed online just minutes before he opened fire. He has been sentenced to 90 consecutive life terms.

The man who killed 10 people at Tops Friendly Markets grocery store in Buffalo said he set out to shoot and kill people “because they were Black.” He has been sentenced to life in prison.

The Anti-Defamation League recorded more than 6,700 incidents of white supremacist propaganda distribution and in-person events last year, a tally the organization characterized as an “all-time high,” according to a report released in March. The group found that antisemitic, racist and anti-LGBTQ propaganda was reported in every state but Hawaii.

Florida was the state with the eighth-highest level of white supremacist activity, according to the report.

The bloodshed in Jacksonville came two days before the 60th anniversary of the landmark March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and on the same day that thousands commemorated the civil rights milestone in a march in the nation’s capital.

“It’s a sad day in America when we realize that extremists will stop at nothing to undermine our work to thrive,” NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement. “As we continued the march for freedom in Washington, hateful actors continued to carry out the white supremacist agenda in Jacksonville, claiming the lives of Black Americans in the name of an era we refuse to go back to.”

“Today’s tragedy is a reminder of why we march, and why we will stop at nothing to ensure that democracy works for everybody,” he added.