A Klezmer band had just begun to play for the crowd at the Highland Park, Illinois, July 4 parade when the all-too-familiar sound of automatic rifle fire ripped the day in half. A man on a rooftop poured shot after shot into the fleeing crowd, leaving six dead and dozens wounded. One victim was disemboweled by the power of the rifle used, and a 78-year-old man was killed in his wheelchair.
The Klezmer music was not out of place; Highland Park, a Chicago suburb with a population of about 30,000 residents, has been a proud Jewish enclave for generations. The demographic makeup of Highland Park is no secret: The streets are lined with kosher delis and synagogues. The Maxwell Street Klezmer Band, who played the parade until the shots rang out, is described by the Cleveland Jewish News as, “Chicago’s preeminent Jewish music group.”
The alleged shooter, Robert Crimo, opened fire in Highland Park. Whether or not he intended his action to be antisemitic violence, he was shooting up a community that was well-known to be heavily Jewish in broad daylight on the Fourth of July.
“Michla Schanowitz, co-director of North Suburban Lubavitch Chabad — Central Avenue Synagogue, was outside her Chabad center at the heart of the parade’s route, just four blocks away from the shooting, when she saw crowds running toward her…. She began rushing people to safety inside her Chabad center immediately,” Chabad News reports. “‘Come inside, it’s a synagogue,’ she shouted to the stunned passersby…. The July 4th parade annually has a strong Jewish presence, with Chabad running a float complete with a giant menorah and providing other Jewish experiences for participants.”
At this moment, no one knows precisely what Crimo was thinking when he climbed that ladder to the roof. Details of his life and motivations are still coalescing, but the picture coming together is of a meagerly popular lo-fi YouTube and Spotify rapper who calls himself “Awake” and favors violent imagery in his videos. He was administrator of a group on Discord, a premier platform for neo-Nazis and other far right posters, that was titled “SS.” The channel has since been taken down, along with his videos on other platforms. “On most of Crimo’s social-media pages, and embedded in several of his videos, is a symbol that roughly resembles that used by Suomen Sisu, a far-right Finnish organization,” reports The Daily Beast.
As usual, the trope of the “angry young (white) loner” has begun to coalesce around Crimo. One of his posts shows him wrapped in a Trump flag, while others reflect positively on President Biden. The Washington Post describes him as “a troubled young man,” a “weird dude” who was “immersed in fringe internet culture” and is depicted by friends as “consistently apolitical.” His uncle, Paul Crimo, told the Post, “He doesn’t express himself, he just sits down on his computer.”
This dovetails seamlessly with the NRA-peddled defense of the indefensible — “It’s all about mental health!” — and never mind that the weapon used was purchased legally, according to Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering. “I think at some point,” Rotering told NBC’s Today,“this nation needs to have a conversation about these weekly events involving the murder of dozens of people with legally obtained guns. If that’s what our laws stand for, we need to re-examine the laws.”
A grocery store, a church, an elementary school and now a July 4 parade, all shot to bloody splinters in a matter of weeks. Regardless of whether there was a fascist motivation behind Crimo’s attack, it still serves that wretched cause. Law professor Heidi Li Feldman notes on Twitter, “There is a direct connection between destroying opportunities for safe public gatherings and menacing American democracy.”
Jewish people and other community members were attacked yesterday in Highland Park, but we are all victims of this tidal wave of very American gun violence. As our safe spaces dwindle and our fears rise, fascism finds an ever-growing foothold.
Also of note: Crimo was apprehended unharmed by law enforcement officials after an intense six-hour manhunt, just days after Akron, Ohio police shot and killed unarmed, fleeing Jayland Walker 60 or more times. One of these two men is Black, and one is not. Three guesses which, but you should only need one. This is not to say that anyone should be killed by police; it’s to say that no one should.
You see, the killing of Walker, too, was very American.