The slaughter in Buffalo hasn’t quieted the great replacement caucus
By Jamelle Bouie
Make no mistake: The idea that apparently inspired a white supremacist who is accused of killing and injuring more than a dozen people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York — that nefarious elites are using immigration to “replace” white Americans with pliant foreigners — is virtually indistinguishable from mainstream Republican rhetoric.
“This administration wants complete open borders,” said Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin last month. “And you have to ask yourself, why? Is it really (that) they want to remake the demographics of America to ensure that they stay in power forever?”
“The media calls us racist for wanting to build Trump’s wall,” said J.D. Vance, the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in Ohio, in a campaign ad. “They censor us, but it doesn’t change the truth. Joe Biden’s open border is killing Ohioans, with more illegal drugs and more Democrat voters pouring into this country.”
Hours after the shooting, a Republican Senate candidate in Arizona, Blake Masters, said on Twitter that “The Democrats want open borders so they can bring in and amnesty tens of millions of illegal aliens — that’s their electoral strategy.” And on Monday, the No. 3 Republican in the House of Representatives, Elise Stefanik of New York, declared that it was a “FACT that DEMOCRATS have been explicitly pushing for amnesty for years — specifically for political and electoral purposes.”
Republican politicians aside, there’s also Tucker Carlson, whose Fox News program is a direct conduit for white nationalist ideas, including the idea of “the great replacement.” There are more than 400 episodes of his show, according to a recent New York Times investigation, in which Carlson has either amplified or promoted the theory that Democrats and other members of the liberal elite (like billionaire philanthropist George Soros) are using immigration to replace the native-born majority with a new, foreign-born electorate.
The reason President Joe Biden has not ended illegal immigration to the United States, Carlson charged in a monologue last year, is because he wants to “change the racial mix of the country” and “reduce the political power of people whose ancestors lived here, and dramatically increase the proportion of Americans newly arrived from the Third World.” This policy, Carlson continued, is “sometimes called the great replacement — the replacement of legacy Americans, with more obedient people from faraway countries.”
The point of making the connection between this rhetoric and that of the accused shooter is not to say that Carlson or Republican politicians are directly responsible for the ideas in his manifesto or for the slaughter itself. But the shooting in Buffalo is only the latest in a series of mass shootings inspired by this particular racist conspiracy theory. In the United States, there have been at least two others: the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh that killed 11 people and the 2019 shooting in El Paso, Texas, that killed 23 people. And abroad, there was the shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019 where a gunman attacked a mosque, killing 51 people. (The accused killer in Buffalo singled out the Christchurch shooter for praise in his manifesto.)
The Republican politicians and conservative media personalities who traffic in this rhetoric did not create the idea of the “great replacement,” but they have adopted it. They have chosen to swim in the same ideological waters as the people responsible for these shootings and have chosen to amplify the “great replacement” theory to the world even as it poisoned minds and produced violence.
It is clear that some of these politicians have made a cynical decision to adopt this rhetoric for the sake of gaining power. Six or seven years ago, Vance and Stefanik were critics of Donald Trump and the movement that put him in office. Stefanik condemned his rhetoric — “I think he was insulting to women,” she said in 2015 — while Vance once analogized Trumpism to a narcotic. “Trump is cultural heroin,” he wrote in 2016, “He makes some feel better for a bit. But he cannot fix what ails them, and one day they’ll realize it.” When Trump appeared to be a threat to their ambition, they stood against him. When it became clear that they could not reach their goals without his assistance, they fell in line and bent the knee.
But in American politics, this rhetoric is not just a signal for politicians who want the support of Trump or a way for television hosts to find viewers and make money for themselves and the corporations that employ them. It serves a purpose.
We are living through a moment of social and political tumult. Our society is more than a little unsettled, and as a result there are many new opportunities for change and transformation. One way to try to foreclose the most expansive and progressive possibilities — to secure capital and hierarchy against equality and democracy — is to weaponize divisions and anxieties and perceived prejudices; to play to the fear of loss in hopes of overcoming a call for solidarity.
It’s not as if this comes out of nowhere. It would not be the first time in this country’s history that reactionaries fanned violence in order to win a favorable settlement for themselves.