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Historically Speaking: Gun Violence in America

Updated: Sep 2, 2022

By Will Bellaimey:

Watch the latest installment of Historically Speaking with Will Bellaimey or read the transcript below!

*NOTE: This interview was conducted prior to the Uvalde mass shooting, and too many others, that occurred following the Buffalo shooting.


I’m Will Bellaimey, and I’m here for the latest in our series Historically Speaking, where we’re making connections between things that have happened in the past, which is what I teach about as a history teacher, and what’s happening in the news.

So another tragedy that is unfolding right now is the shooting in Buffalo that appears to have been motivated by a white nationalist theory called the "great replacement" theory, which is the kind of thing that at one point was in very obscure corners of the internet but has been brought into the mainstream during the Trump administration. And I think particularly through the mainstreaming of a lot of conspiracy theories in the media. I know Tucker Carlson is somebody who has talked a lot about the idea that there's some conspiracy to get rid of white people in America. And I think, you know, when you see a shooting like this, it's really easy for a lot of people in the media to say, "Oh, I don't have any responsibility for that. That's a crazy person." But I think part of what we have to understand about radicalization is that a big part of it is what is considered to be outside the mainstream being brought into the conversation can have an influence on people who are both literally mentally unstable or who are just really angry and looking for an excuse to act.

And I don't really know what to say about what we can do to prevent things like this from happening, except the things that we always say that we could make it harder for people to get guns who have been saying extreme and violent things, that we can try to do a better job identifying white supremacists and hate groups, and that we can start to recognize the role that the media plays in creating this kind of radical environment. Unfortunately, I don't think this is the last time that we'll see this happen.

And of course, as a history teacher, it's part of my job to point out to people that, you know, white supremacy is an ideology that is rooted way deep in American history, and that the same kind of fears and anger and hatred that's animating somebody shooting up a group of innocent people today is the same ideology that the Ku Klux Klan used to lynch people and that animated slavery itself. And so part of what we have to understand is that these historical ways of thinking about the world are not something that we could just read about in the history books. And I, of course, there's a fight going on right now about to what extent you can even talk about the fact that white supremacy is deeply rooted in American history; but I don't think any history teacher who looks at the full breadth of things that have happened in our country would be surprised that this ideology is still around and is absolutely building on previous white supremacist movements.


Will Bellaimey teaches U.S. Government and Politics at Flintridge Prep School outside Los Angeles where he is also the director of the Los Angeles Museum of Geography, which is staffed entirely by seventh graders. His podcast, All the Presidents, Man, is available here.

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