Critics are drawing parallels between the pattern of racist gunmen citing fears of a conspiracy to “replace” Whites with rhetoric pushed on Fox and by some Republican politicians.
The mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, on Saturday was not the first such event in recent years in which a White gunman, who allegedly posted a White supremacist manifesto online, targeted the Black or immigrant community.
It’s not the second. Or the third.
Overtly racist lone gunmen motivated by such hate have, in recent years, targeted a Black church in South Carolina, a synagogue in Pittsburgh, and immigrants at a Walmart in El Paso. Read CNN’s report.
Some apparently drew inspiration from a shooting by a White man in New Zealand who targeted mosques, killing 51, and published his own manifesto about “The Great Replacement.”
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- The Buffalo shooting and the victims: 10 people were killed at a supermarket and authorities say it was hate crime. The gunman exchanged fire with and killed an armed security guard.
- The shooter: The suspect is 18-year-old Payton Gendron, who traveled from another New York county hours away and livestreamed the attack on the social media platform Twitch.
“Replacement theory” motivation – According to a 180-page document posted online, attributed to Gendron, he was fixated on what’s known as “replacement theory” – the idea that Whites are being slowly and intentionally replaced by minorities and immigrants.
Variations on this basic idea – that Whites are being replaced by some sort of minority-driven conspiracy – have made their way into more than just the musings of gunmen.
The Fox and GOP version of replacement theory. Critics say it is dangerously close to xenophobic rhetoric finding its way into the mainstream of American politics.
After the shooting in Buffalo, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the Illinois Republican who has split with his party by criticizing former President Donald Trump, tried to make a connection between an old Facebook ad published by Rep. Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican, and replacement theory.
“Did you know: @EliseStefanik pushes white replacement theory? The #3 in the house GOP,” Kinzinger said on Twitter, linking to media coverage that the congresswoman’s Facebook ads received in 2021, including a critical editorial from a local newspaper.
The Facebook ads from her campaign last September suggested Democrats wanted to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants to create a permanent liberal majority in Washington.
CNN has reached out to Stefanik about Kinzinger’s comment.
Replacement pattern. That ad is part of a larger narrative.
Tucker Carlson, the Fox host, has pushed the idea that Democrats want to import new voters to dilute the votes of other Americans, presumably Whites like him.
Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio and City University of New York media studies professor James Cohen wrote a CNN opinion piece last year about how the concept of replacement theory has festered in US politics for decades, but has recently become easy to decode in segments on Carlson’s show and in remarks by lawmakers. Read more.
CNN’s Chris Cillizza has documented how the concept of replacement theory has been mentioned by lawmakers like GOP Rep. Scott Perry, who said this at a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting in April of 2021:
“For many Americans, what seems to be happening or what they believe right now is happening is what appears to them is we’re replacing national-born American — native-born Americans to permanently transform the landscape of this very nation,” the Pennsylvania Republican said in reference to the number of people trying to enter the country at the United States’ southern border.
“Uncomfortably” close. This is not to say Perry’s comment, Carlson’s broadcasts or Stefanik’s ad are the same as what’s represented in the writings, allegedly from Gendron or other gunmen. They’re not. But it is also impossible to deny certain parallels in the language.
“This tension, this frustration, this fear sits not that far from our mainstream politics,” journalist Wesley Lowery said on CNN’s Inside Politics Sunday.
“One thing is unquestionably true,” he added. “Very often the rhetoric in our politics sits uncomfortably close to the rhetoric that these kind of terrorists espouse.”
Pledges to fight racism. But how? President Joe Biden, who is headed to Buffalo on Tuesday, pledged to fight racism.
“Any act of domestic terrorism, including an act perpetrated in the name of a repugnant white nationalist ideology, is antithetical to everything we stand for in America,” he said in a statement on Saturday. “Hate must have no safe harbor. We must do everything in our power to end hate-fueled domestic terrorism.”
Race is enmeshed in US politics. Political rhetoric often feeds replacement fears by highlighting racial divides that are enmeshed in American life and politics.
The issue of immigration will loom over this fall’s midterm elections as Biden struggles with how to end Trump-era immigration policy that has kept US borders largely closed.
The related issues of voting rights and election security often pit GOP-led states like Georgia, Texas and Florida against big cities with their large minority populations.
Seeking accountability from social media companies. Democratic politicians like New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi argued Sunday that social media companies should bear some responsibility.
“This spreads like a virus,” Hochul told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.” She said CEOs of social media companies must look a their policies and do more to take racist content down.
“They have to be able to identify when information like this – the second it hits the platform, it needs to be taken down, because this is spreading like wildfire.”
Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla who has been in the process of buying Twitter, has said he would go in the opposite direction. He’s a self-described free speech absolutist and would allow more, not less, speech online.
Buffalo and gun laws. The gun control debate has shown us that even tragic shooting after tragic shooting will lead to very little concrete action so long as a minority of senators, locked together, can stop any legislation
New York already has some of the strictest gun laws in the country and Hochul said she would look to close loopholes in state law that she said allowed magazines like the one apparently used in Buffalo across state lines.
Separately, Bash asked Pelosi if Democrats should place higher priority on passing gun safety measures like a stricter background check proposal passed by the House that was stalled in the Senate. Pelosi argued the math makes passing such bills a challenge.
“The fact is the 60-vote majority in the Senate is an obstacle to doing any, many good things, unfortunately, and again, we are not going away until the job is done,” Pelosi said.