More than any facet of its twisted theology, more than its mastery of modern technology, more than the paralysis of global and international institutions, and more than its initial string of successes on the battlefield, the words and actions of the likes of Nevada Assembly member Michele Fiore are the most powerful propaganda tool in the hands of ISIS.
Fiore, known for a Christmas card of her gun-toting family and her support for guns on university campuses, recently had the following to say about refugees fleeing Syria's civil war: "What, are you kidding me? I’m about to fly to Paris and shoot ‘em [refugees] in the head myself. I am not OK with Syrian refugees. I’m not OK with terrorists. I’m OK with putting them down, blacking them out, just put a piece of brass in their ocular cavity and end their miserable life. I'm good with that."
Fiore's embrace of and rationalization of vigilante violence is in itself despicable. But her equation of refugees with ISIS terrorists represents a contemptible level of ignorance and bigotry, offensive to her constituents in Las Vegas and insulting to our state.
Refugees from Syria are fleeing a civil war that has been compounded by the power of ISIS, a multi-national terrorist organization and army that emerged in part out of the consequences of the ill-judged imperial foreign policy endorsed by Fiore's party. Those refugees are increasingly powerless and vulnerable, in legal limbo, in unfamiliar territory, and the U.S. has moral and legal obligations to render them assistance, both because of our rhetorical commitment to human rights, but also because we contributed to creating the conditions that have destroyed their home and their livelihoods.
Attacking displaced people who are seeking refuge from violence is irresponsible and immoral. Expressing a desire to murder them, to "putting them down, blacking them out, just put a piece of brass in their ocular cavity and ending their miserable life" is something far worse. It represents a savage disregard for humanity, a twisted embrace of violence, and a call to arms for the ignorant to see such violence as the antidote to national and global troubles.
Our society seems to be plagued by violence. Mass shootings abound. They are inspired by a range of agendas, but enabled by the political cowardice and morel decrepitude of the political right, which asks us to live with the reality of regular, casual violence in schools, cinemas, streets, and workplaces.
Is it any wonder that so many Americans turn to violence when we live in a culture wherein it is possible for an elected representative of an ostensibly mainstream political party to think it appropriate to publicly advocate for the murder of individuals and families fleeing civil war and terrorism.
It is also little wonder that ISIS is continually able to recruit people to its perverse ranks.
Its targets for recruitment are twofold: firstly, residents of the Middle East who have seen dictators and autocrats enrich themselves at the expense of ordinary citizens, spurning human rights, casualizing violence, and creating situations of desperation, deprivation, fear, and uncertainty. They live in a region characterized by violent intervention by the U.S. and other western and regional powers whose words and actions suggest that they have little regard for the lives of Middle Easterners. ISIS is competing for recruits in a vacuum. Neither the dictators who have dominated the region nor the U.S., which has alternately backed and warred on those dictators, offer anything in the way of hope for the material conditions in which people live day to day. Our only "answers" to the violence that despoils Middle Easterners' countries involve more violence, and pay little regard to the material conditions in which people live.
ISIS has also sought to recruit or at least influence Muslim citizens and migrants in Europe and the U.S. Evidence has demonstrated time and again that one reason for their success is the alienation that these groups of citizens and migrants experience: economic, social, cultural, and political. Mis-characterized as uniformly radical, attacked for their faith, regarded with suspicion by their neighbors, their elected representatives, and the press, many Muslim citizens in the U.S. and Europe live in a climate of unease.
ISIS preys on that fear, and will use the sick words of Fiore and others to demonstrate why those fears are justified (Trump, Carson, Cruz, Bush, and a host of other hateful demagogues provide ample evidence on their own). And they will make the argument, again and again, that their violence represents an answer to the violence that Fiore is advocating. They will cite Fiore's desire to murder refugees and terrorists alike as evidence that the values and institutions associated with democratic, theoretically tolerant societies are flawed and hostile to the world's Muslims. Fiore's hate-speech, and the ignorance it represents is a gift to ISIS.
Our country can weather the threats posed by ISIS. Our institutions are sufficiently robust to counter the overwhelming majority of attacks and to out-last with ease the depraved organization. I'm not sure, however, that we can survive the xenophobia, vigilantism, hate-mongering, lawlessness, and barbarism advocated by Fiore and her ilk. Our country's well-being rests on an always-tenuous consensus about the value of diversity, the importance of civic institutions, and the imposition of checks on state- and individual-violence.
Fiore and others represent a very real danger to that consensus, act as a form of life-support for ISIS, and ultimately pose a far more existential threat to our country than any terrorist organization. The methods of barbarism she would have us adopt demonstrate an utter disregard for the humanity of refugees, a full-throated embrace of religious bigotry, and a truly sadistic advocacy of violence.