Do not dare look away from the bloody horror that left 10 dead in Buffalo. Do not dare write off the shooter as somehow uniquely “troubled.” Those Black victims were murdered by white supremacy, which grows today in fertile soil nourished not just by fringe-dwelling racists but by politicians and other opportunists who call themselves mainstream.
The 18-year-old White man suspected of gunning down Black people at a supermarket in a Black neighborhood was reportedly a believer in “replacement theory” — the notion of a vast conspiracy by Democrats and/or Jews to achieve dominance by “importing” people of color to diminish the political power of White people.
The idea is laughable on its face — but do not laugh. This paranoid fantasy killed nine Black worshipers at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015. It killed 11 Jewish worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018. It killed 23 people, mostly Latinos, at a Walmart in El Paso in 2019. And now we have the carnage in Buffalo.
Political leaders and commentators from far left to far right will denounce Saturday’s massacre. We will have the customary arguments about the need for sensible gun control and the need to focus on mental health. Gradually, the arguments will peter out. Nothing meaningful will change.
What we need to talk about is how politicians and thought leaders on the right are using the vile poison of replacement theory to further their own selfish ends — garnering campaign donations and votes, boosting television ratings, achieving fame. And we need to talk about how most of this demagoguery is coming from people who should know, and probably do know, that what they are telling potential killers, such as Payton Gendron, the man in custody after the Buffalo shooting, is complete fiction.
“Now, I know that the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term ‘replacement,’ if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World,” Fox News host Tucker Carlson said last year. “But they become hysterical because that’s what’s happening actually. Let’s just say it: That’s true.”
I know Carlson. I was a frequent guest on his low-rated show on MSNBC years ago. He is smart enough and well-educated enough to know that there is no cabal plotting to “replace the current electorate.” But by playing with this racist dynamite, he has made his nightly show the highest-rated on cable television by far.
J.D. Vance, the Republican candidate for Senate in Ohio, claims on the campaign trail that Democrats are trying to import enough voters so that “Republicans would never win a national election in this country ever again.” Vance is a best-selling author and a graduate of Yale Law School.
Blake Masters, a Stanford-educated venture capitalist who is seeking the Arizona GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, said recently on a podcast: “If you connect the dots as a candidate for office and say, ‘Look, obviously the Democrats, they hope to just change the demographics of our country, they hope to import an entirely new electorate,’ man, they call you a racist and a bigot.”
Yes. That’s exactly what I call those who spread such trash.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who is running for reelection this year, also flirts with replacement theory. Last month, in criticizing President Biden’s immigration policies as too lenient, he posed his answer in the form of a question: Is it really that “they want to remake the demographics of America to ensure that they stay in power forever?”
A poll this month by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that nearly half of Republicans agree at least to some extent with the proposition that there is “a group of people in this country who are trying to replace native-born Americans with immigrants who agree with their political views.” This isn’t fringe stuff anymore. It’s becoming central to the modern GOP’s worldview.
The replacement-theory grifters know that they are stoking the anxieties some White people feel about the nation’s increasing diversity. They also know that they are playing with tropes that have long been popular among unapologetic white supremacists, including those who infamously marched through Charlottesville bearing torches. And they must realize by now that some impressionable White people will take this rhetoric seriously — and act on it.
The accused Buffalo killer took pains to choose a location where he knew the victims would be people of color. Blame him for what he did. But also blame the prominent right-wing voices that egged him on.