FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - FEBRUARY 15: Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where he allegedly killed 17 people, is seen on a closed circuit television screen during a bond hearing in front of Broward Judge Kim Mollica at the Broward County Courthouse.(Photo by Susan Stocker - Pool/Getty Images) thegrio.com
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - FEBRUARY 15: Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where he allegedly killed 17 people, is seen on a closed circuit television screen during a bond hearing in front of Broward Judge Kim Mollica at the Broward County Courthouse.(Photo by Susan Stocker - Pool/Getty Images)

Early Thursday afternoon news outlets reported that Nikolas Cruz, the white terrorist who killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, was a member of Republic of Florida (ROF), a white supremacist hate group. Later in the afternoon, further reporting revealed that the leader of ROF, Jordan Jareb, exaggerated, basically making up Cruz’s involvement with the group. With that, the media quickly and collectively pivoted away from the white, racist hate group storyline and returned to a conversation that included gun control, mental health, arming teachers, and metal detectors. In doing so, an important opportunity to discuss the violence of white racism was forestalled.

The reports that the killer was a member of a white racist hate group were entirely believable, precisely because violent, white racist terrorists pervade our society. And, they don’t always look like Dylann Storm Roof, James Alex Fields, Jeremy Joseph Christian, and Sean Christopher Urbanski – individuals whose lethal violence emanated from racial hate.

The media and law enforcement officials have not been able to confirm whether Cruz is a dues-paying, card-carrying member of a white supremacist hate group, but it’s completely immaterial to his designation as a white racist. Identifying someone as a white racist does not require searching their heart and soul for racial hate.

While I, and surely many others, recognize that most of his victims appear not to have been targeted because of their race, the images circulating online of Cruz wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat (popularized during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign) were sufficient evidence to warrant the white racist terrorist moniker.

Still, many Americans (mostly white liberals) scratch their heads and ask quizzically, why our elected officials are not taking the threat posed by members or sympathizers of white supremacist, terrorist hate groups seriously.

The answer is simple: Whites at the helm of white-controlled institutions in a white supremacist society cannot be expected to meaningfully work to disrupt, dismantle, and counter the very groups and racist ideologies that provide them racial cover. Simply put, whites directly benefit from their existence. Some will immediately note that most whites are not part of white supremacist hate groups and do not subscribe to their beliefs. I have no problem conceding that point as my claim is not predicated on these groups’ membership numbers nor those of uninitiated sympathizers.

My argument actually concerns the peculiar and disturbing relationship that many white Americans have with these groups. Many quickly condemn them when they engage in violence and they should. However, I’m convinced that they don’t want these groups or their members to go away entirely because their absence would leave them without the scapegoat necessary for their post-racial feel goods. Whites who are not members of white racist hate groups use the ones who are as an essential ingredient in their delusional racist absolution rituals.

This practice is typically undertaken in the wake of white racist terrorism and involves whites briefly considering whether or not they harbor any racial animus toward Blacks or other people of color. Typically, they quickly conclude that they do not and go about their lives, which is in fact the problem. Many whites derive psychological benefits from the presence and proliferation of white racist hate groups and their attendant ideologies because they think white racism only looks like Dylann Roof, Richard Spencer, and Donald Trump.

We need to continue to shift the narrative. White supremacy is more than white racist hate groups. Indeed, it is an all-encompassing system fueled by color-blind ideology, white privilege and white entitlement, white indifference, and dare I say, white sadism.

Ted Thornhill, Ph.D. is a sociology professor at Florida Gulf Coast University. His research and writing examines how color-blind ideology and institutional policies and practices promote racial inequality. His latest article is titled “Racial Salience and the Consequences of Making White People Uncomfortable: Intra-Racial Discrimination, Racial Screening, and the Maintenance of White Supremacy” published in Sociology Compass. Follow him on Twitter @profthornhill