The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Cheney says GOP has ‘enabled’ racism. Here’s what she’s talking about.

The right spread the racist ‘great replacement theory’ even after a series of tragedies in which the shooter espoused it.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif)., Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) speak to reporters outside U.S. Border Patrol Eagle Pass South Station in Texas last month. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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After a mass shooting apparently driven by racism in Buffalo this weekend, a former member of House GOP leadership didn’t mince words.

“The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-semitism,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) tweeted Monday morning. “History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse. @GOP leaders must renounce and reject these views and those who hold them.”

Cheney’s comments come after the tragedy in Buffalo has forced something of a reckoning about how the racist “great replacement theory” — that is, the idea that immigrants are replacing native-born Americans in some undesirable and politically calculated way — has gained traction on the right.

Racists have long espoused the theory — as the Buffalo suspect apparently did — to suggest that Whites are being usurped. Meanwhile, in recent years, Republicans and conservative pundits have increasingly cast Democrats as favoring immigration in the hopes of diluting the GOP’s political power.

Attention this weekend turned to Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), Cheney’s replacement as the No. 3 House Republican, who promoted the latter idea, though not by name, in Facebook ads last year. She was denounced at the time by her hometown paper, which linked the idea to fomenting violence. A spokesperson this weekend insisted that Stefanik “never advocated for any racist position” and suggested she was being smeared.

But it’s also a case in point: Observers at the time instantly linked Stefanik’s ads to the potential for violence. Now we have actual violence that authorities say was perpetrated by someone who apparently advanced a more overtly racist version of the theory. And Republicans find themselves, once again, faced with a decision about how much to condemn this rhetoric.

What’s remarkable about the right’s increasing embrace of this racist theory is that it has mostly come after a number of other recent high-profile mass shootings in which the killers have supported it. Republicans have argued that their version of replacement theory is merely political in nature — focused on votes and not necessarily race — but the two clearly overlap, and they’re often difficult to cleanly differentiate. The party also has declined to punish members who have allied or affiliated with white nationalists and other racists. Indeed, with one key exception, the prevailing response has been to denounce and/or play down such transgressions and then move on.

We’ve written about the GOP’s descent into replacement theory before, but it’s worth laying out the timeline. The idea was mostly relegated to the fringes when Donald Trump first ran for president, but he did nod to it. And then it took off last year despite tragedies involving the theory in 2017, 2018 and twice in 2019.

Sept. 9, 2016: Trump espouses a version of replacement theory pertaining to elections. “I think this will be the last election that the Republicans have a chance of winning because you’re going to have people flowing across the border … and they’re going to be legalized, and they’re going to be able to vote, and once that all happens you can forget it. You’re not going to have one Republican vote.”

Aug. 11, 2017: White nationalists and white supremacists protest in Charlottesville against a plan to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. They chant, among other things, “Jews will not replace us.” A counterprotester is killed by a white supremacist the following day. Trump responds to the riot by citing “very fine people, on both sides” of the protests and counterprotests.

Oct. 16, 2018: Fox News host Laura Ingraham says Democrats “want to replace you, the American voters, with newly amnestied citizens and an ever increasing number of chain migrants.”

Oct. 27, 2018: A man kills 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue, citing the idea that Jews have deliberately allowed “invaders” into the United States.

January 2019: House Republican leaders strip Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) of his committee assignments after the congressman said, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” Then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says there is “no place in the Republican Party, the Congress or the country for an ideology of racial supremacy of any kind.” King would later lose his 2020 primary.

March 15, 2019: A man kills 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, after writing a document invoking great replacement theory by name and warning of an “invasion” by “nonwhites.”

Aug. 3, 2019: A man kills 23 people at a shopping center in El Paso, citing a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

Nov. 5, 2019: Responding to 2019 election results in Virginia, Ingraham cites immigrants as the reason the state’s electorate has trended to the left. “Since immigrants are more likely to vote Democrat, well, this of course has dragged the electorate to the left,” she said. “It’s just a fact of life.”

Feb. 4, 2021: The House votes to strip Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) of her committee assignments for, among other things, floating the idea that a Jewish cabal had sparked a deadly wildfire. Only 11 Republicans vote with Democrats.

Feb. 26, 2021: Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) delivers the keynote speech at a white-nationalist conference hosted by the America First PAC (AFPAC), an organization run by a man who has advocated white supremacy. Gosar quickly assures that he denounces “white racism.” He receives no punishment from GOP leaders.

April 14, 2021: Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) says at a hearing that “what seems to be happening or what [Americans] believe right now is happening is … we’re replacing national-born American — native-born Americans — to permanently transform the political landscape of this very nation.”

April 15, 2021: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) asks rhetorically whether Democrats “want to remake the demographics of America to ensure their — that they stay in power forever? Is that what’s happening here?”

June 2021: AFPAC advertises a fundraiser with Gosar. Gosar initially appears to defend his appearance at the fundraiser, but House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) says Gosar told him the event was “not real.”

April 8, 2021: Fox News’s Tucker Carlson expresses a version of replacement theory. “I know that the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term ‘replacement’ — if you suggest for 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,” Carlson said. “But they become hysterical because that’s what’s happening, actually. Let’s just say it! That’s true.” Carlson added: “White replacement theory? No, no, this is a voting rights question.”

April 12, 2021: Fox News head Lachlan Murdoch defends Carlson, insisting he hadn’t actually embraced the “great replacement” theory.

April 2021: A report indicates that Gosar and Greene aim to form an “America First Caucus,” whose goals, according to a draft, include promoting “Anglo-Saxon political traditions” and warning that mass immigration would harm the “unique identity” of the country. McCarthy responds by decrying “nativist dog whistles,” and Gosar and Greene back off the idea.

September 2021: Stefanik, the newly minted No. 3 House Republican, runs Facebook ads warning of a “permanent election insurrection” by Democrats in seeking a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. “Their plan to grant amnesty to 11 MILLION illegal immigrants will overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington,” says the ad, which features apparent migrants reflected in sunglasses worn by President Biden.

Sept. 22, 2021: Carlson more directly endorses the great replacement — this time by name. “In political terms, this policy is called ‘the great replacement’ — the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from faraway countries,” he said. He adds that Biden wants “an unrelenting stream of immigration. But why? Well, Joe Biden just said it: to change the racial mix of the country. That’s the reason: to reduce the political power of people whose ancestors lived here, and dramatically increase the proportion of Americans newly arrived from the Third World.”

On Sept. 22, Fox News host Tucker Carlson misrepresented past immigration remarks by President Biden to suggest the existence of the “great replacement theory.” (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

Sept. 25, 2021: Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) tweets, “@TuckerCarlson is CORRECT about Replacement Theory as he explains what is happening to America.”

Nov. 17, 2021: The House votes to censure Gosar and strip him of his committee assignments after he posted an anime video depicting him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Just two Republicans vote in favor.

February 2022: Gosar again appears at the AFPAC conference — this time in a video clip — and is joined by Greene, who delivers a speech. They are also joined at the event by King and Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin (R). McConnell responds by saying there is no place for “white supremacists or antisemitism” in the GOP. McCarthy calls it “appalling” and says he’ll talk with the members. But McCarthy soon restates that he will restore Gosar and Greene to their committees if Republicans retake the House. Greene claims she was unfamiliar with the group — despite Gosar’s appearance the year before — and GOP leaders again give her the benefit of the doubt.

May 14, 2022: A man kills 10 at a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo. Authorities believe the suspect drafted a document that shows a fixation on great replacement theory.

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