Vester Lee Flanagan, an African American man who shot three people during a live newscast this morning and then died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after a police chase, told ABC News in a rambling, faxed manifesto that “Jehovah spoke to him, telling him to act.”
But according to Breitbart News, the lead cheerleader website for Donald Trump’s nativist fandom, Flanagan’s actions reflect only the racial tensions of our time, not a tragedy born of mental illness, personality deficits, or easy access to guns.
Expressing admiration for Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the teenagers who shot up Columbine High School in 1999, as well as Virginia Tech mass shooter Seung Hui Cho, the openly-gay Flanagan listed both racial and sexual-identity discrimination among his motivations for buying a weapon just two days after Dylann Roof killed nine people in a Charleston, SC church.
Reacting to the murders this morning, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe called for tighter state laws around gun purchases. But for Breitbart editor John Nolte, who has called for the killing of political enemies before, the shooting is a purely racial “execution” — and the comments from Breitbart readers are strikingly similar to the racist sentiments expressed in Dylann Roof’s white supremacist manifesto.
So, can all of us political folks stop pretending that Breitbart has any place in the mainstream discourse now? pic.twitter.com/fMimWU1agV
— Hunter Walker (@hunterw) August 26, 2015
The clear intent of this propaganda is to blame the Black Lives Matter movement for the deaths of reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward. BLM has proven to be a resilient and enduring challenge to the system of white supremacy in American policing, deeply frightening the racists and bigots who make Breitbart the premiere website for Republican candidates pursuing a southern strategy. Desperate for any excuse to project black supremacy on a movement that is actually dedicated to equality, the Breitbart audience is enthusiastic about the story as received. After all, they still think BLM activist Shaun King isn’t really black because a white person said so, and that’s good enough for them.
According to ABC, Flanagan had called the news outlet several times in recent weeks saying that he wanted to pitch a story, but would not reveal the subject. In fact, he had been descending into madness and developing a dangerously-thin skin for many years.
San Diego 6 News Director Don Shafer told the California station that he worked with Flanagan in 1996 at an NBC affiliate in North Florida.
“He was a good on-air performer, a pretty good reporter. And then things started getting a little strange with him,” Shafer said. “He threatened to punch people out. He was pretty difficult to work with.”
Flanagan’s career changes all seemed to end in litigation. Having settled at least one lawsuit against a TV station for discrimination before working for WDBJ in Roanoke, VA, which he also tried and failed to sue for allegedly shorting his salary, Flanagan was indeed a “human powder keg” as he described to ABC News: armed, angry at the way his career had dried up, and ready to take his rage out on anyone enjoying the happiness that he thought should be his own. In his own mind, Flanagan may have justified the murder of Parker and Ward as a matter of racial justice, but his real motivation was pure jealousy.
It’s the same story we’ve seen unfold in a hundred workplace shootings by now, but of course that narrative frame is hardly going to satisfy a ravening crowd that eagerly laps up whatever racist pabulum is set before it. Better, they think, to pretend that black people are dangerous, that all minorities are as on-edge about American demographic shifts as they themselves are, that both sides want a ‘race war’ as much as they evidently do.
ADDING: Chez Pazienza underlines the depressing fact that this kind of violence is the new normal.
Everyone armed. Everyone terrified. More guns. That’s always the answer. Another murder always means another victim who should’ve thought to have a gun. In the United States in the year 2015, you’re either a killer or a victim. One nation under the gun.
ALSO ADDING: the Guardian has obtained the details of Flanagan’s exit from WDBJ7, and they are not pretty:
Flanagan … was reprimanded for “lashing out” at a colleague and for his “harsh language” and “aggressive body language” while working as a reporter.
By then he had been told to contact employee assistance professionals at the company Health Advocate. “This is a mandatory referral requiring your compliance,” Dennison told Flanagan on 30 July 2012. “Failure to comply will result in termination of employment.”
On Christmas Eve that year, Dennison emailed colleagues to say he had just warned Flanagan that he had one final chance to save his job. “I’m not entirely sure where his head is at,” said Dennison. Flanagan was fired three months later.
As he sued the station over his dismissal, Flanagan blamed everyone but himself.