This Washington Post story about a sad, broken down white guy of middle age who won't go anywhere without open carrying got a lot of well-deserved attention this weekend. You can tell it's written well when you end up feeling pangs of sympathy for someone who clearly represents a threat to society, not to mention himself and his (apparently very patient) wife.
We hear the story of a man who grew up in a world in which guns were never seen and – somehow, improbably – this man of no discernibly useful skills achieved a decent working class existence without making guns the sole focus of his every waking moment. But then…
But then it began unraveling, starting when he was fired from a trucking job days after telling Maria, who was pregnant with their first child, to quit her job and focus on the baby, that he could support them both. Their first bankruptcy filing wasn’t far behind, then the second, and the third, and then they were moving to Florida, where Maria had family and where Jim got a job with a grocery chain. It transferred him to Winder, and he moved the family into a middle-class neighborhood struggling with crime and drugs…
(In) late 2008 he emerged from that hospital with three stents in his heart, debts worth $41,052.51 and a dawning realization he was now disabled, broke and would never work again. After the heart attack, he lost most of the circulation in his legs, received three more stents and started using an electric scooter whenever he had to walk long distances.
He told Maria he was all used up, a drag on the family. She should think about leaving him. But she wouldn’t, even after the hospital sued him for unpaid medical bills, even after he was arrested when he carried his .380 outside a school board meeting, even after he came home one day with an AR-15. He shot it at a nearby firing range and, feeling a sense of control that had gone missing in his life, told Maria he could now keep the family safe.
It doesn't take a professional psychologist to figure out what need the twin obsessions of guns and ultra-right wing politics are serving for the angry white males who are now such a prominent and dangerous part of our society.
Maria sat at a laptop in a bedroom cluttered with stacks of documents, some of which detailed foreclosure proceedings against the house, and saw the browser had 35 tabs open. One was a YouTube video of something called “Police State 101.” Another showed the dictionary definition of the word “law.” Another was a fringe website her husband classifies as “underground,” the sort he started visiting more frequently after he joined a Georgia militia in late 2014 and decided it was up to him to protect his family from foreign and government threats.
She messaged the deputy, then looked at Jim’s Facebook page. It bore pictures of her husband carrying guns and posts about a country dissolving into chaos and videos about people stopping intruders with guns, people killing burglars with guns, people shooting big guns, small guns, all kinds of guns, that he watches late into the night.
I realize how closely earning power is connected to masculinity in the United States. It must be very difficult to face life when not only can you not earn enough to get above the poverty line, but you're incapable of earning anything at all. The mental retreat into this violent fantasy world in which white males with guns are the sole remaining virtuous members of humanity does not follow quite so easily. On his own it's unlikely this man would have chosen that particular mental escape route. But he doesn't live in a vacuum. He lives in a world in which tens of thousands of other angry, minimally educated and economically marginalized white men have already created a support structure (of sorts) into which he can be welcomed.
White supremacist groups have recruited for decades by targeting the socially maladjusted, the friendless loners most likely to be filled with anger and looking for a feeling of belonging. Now there are so many disillusioned, angry, and pliable people wandering around aimlessly that the movement seeking to recruit them might as well just set up shop in strip malls next to the Armed Forces Recruiting Center and the payday loan place.
I'm not naive enough to think that a better economy would make these people disappear. I do think it's no coincidence that the obsession with guns and the militia / conspiracy worldview often follows the collapse of financial stability and earning power.