The Buffalo mass shooting was the work of a lone gunman, but not the product of isolated ideology.
In a manifesto, the suspect describes how he saw black people as ‘replacements’ for white Americans. Saturday’s supermarket massacre shed a sharp light on the “great replacement theory,” which authorities say he used to justify an act of racial violence — and how that theory has migrated from the far-right fringe of the U.S. discourse to the center of Republican politics.
Republicans across the spectrum were quick to denounce the killings. But fewer party leaders seemed willing to break with the politics of nativism and fear the party has embraced to preserve the loyalty of right-wing voters, inspired by Donald J. Trump.
A Republican, Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney, called on her colleagues Monday for not doing enough to crush the extremist wing of her own party.
“House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy and anti-Semitism,” Ms. Cheney, the former No. 3 House Republican who was removed from that role for her criticism of Mr Trump, wrote on Twitter† “History has taught us that what begins with words ends much worse. @GOP leaders must renounce and reject these views and those who adhere to them.”
Republican House leaders have at times tolerated the extremist views of some in their ranks. Last year, far-right Republican congressmen spread plans to create an “America First Caucus” where the immigration section spoke of the importance of “uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions”. The idea was scrapped, but those involved continued to cause a stir with their flirtation with white nationalism.
In February, when Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona attended a conference hosted by Nick Fuentes, a white supremacist, Representative Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican and minority leader called their actions “appalling and wrong,” but he did not formally reprimand or punish them.
Since then, Republicans have been using rhetoric that suggests a tacit willingness to try to appeal to elements of the far right. In the run-up to November’s midterm elections, Republican candidates have stepped up their warnings about the threats being made against what is perceived as real or traditional America. Often unspoken is what that bygone era looks like: white, male-dominated, Judeo-Christian and heterosexual.
Song after song has been rearranged as a reason for Republican voters to fear for their culture and values: Transgender rights threaten girls’ sports. The removal of statues threatens to erase Confederate history in the South and other white historical figures elsewhere. Critical race theory is portrayed as rewriting American history — and revising how it’s taught — to highlight episodes of racism.
Even the recent baby food shortage has been wrongly re-imagined as so acute because of giveaways to feed undocumented children.
More than a dozen outside candidates and groups have placed ads warning of an immigrant “invasion” into the country or otherwise weakening the power of native citizens. Several candidates have falsely said that Democrats are opening the border specifically to let undocumented migrants in to vote.
“If Joe Biden continues to send illegal immigrants to our states, we’ll all have to learn Spanish,” Alabama Republican Governor Kay Ivey said in a television commercial ahead of her May 24 primary.
In another case, Ms. Ivey presented her conservative state as a bastion of vanishing values: “When I taught in school, we said a prayer, we swore allegiance, and we learned the basics,” she said. “Today the left is teaching kids to hate America. But not here. Biden’s Critical Race Theory: Racist, Wrong, and Dead Sea. Transgender sports: toast.”
Republicans have aggressively resisted accusations that their language and actions perpetuated the kind of racism and xenophobia that appeared to be behind the Buffalo massacre.
Fostering fear and grievances was a hallmark of Mr Trump’s rise, though the roots were much older than him. A quarter of a century earlier, Pat Buchanan called himself an “America first” candidate in his right-wing challenge to former President George Bush in 1992, a slogan Mr Trump would use again. But Mr. Buchanan, who lost the Republican presidential nomination in 1992 and again in 1996, was largely shunned by his party for writing about “immigrant invasions” eroding Western society.
Mr. Trump opened his 2016 presidential campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and shortly after, he promoted a ban on Muslims from entering the country. At the time, many top party officials reacted indignantly.
Now much of the Republican Party and the conservative media apparatus are speaking with the same nationalist voice, from Tucker Carlson on prime-time Fox News to even more right-wing alternatives like Newsmax and One America News Network.
Mr Trump no longer seems to be directing the conversation on the right as much as keeping up with it.
At a rally in western Pennsylvania this month, he scolded the “illegal aliens” who he said were “streaming into our homeland.”
“Our country is full, we can’t take it anymore,” he said. “They are trying to destroy our country.”
“Unfortunately, the party is becoming a party of resentment and anger instead of solutions and common grounds,” said Mike DuHaime, a longtime Republican strategist. He didn’t predict it would hinder Republicans in this year’s election, but said it would ultimately pose a challenge. “Resentment and anger may bring you short-term victories, but it will not form a governing coalition to effect long-term policy change.”
Mainstream Republicans have repeatedly suggested that lax border enforcement is somehow part of a longer-term Democratic strategy. In Missouri, Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Senate candidate, said on Glenn Beck’s program last month that Democrats were “fundamentally trying to change this country through their illegal immigration policies.”
Other Republicans were more specific, suggesting that the Democrats have political goals.
In Wisconsin, Senator Ron Johnson, who is up for re-election this fall, said last year that “you have to ask yourself why” the Biden administration, as he put it, wanted to open borders. “Is it really,” he argued, “that they want to reform America’s demographics to ensure they stay in power forever?” (On Monday night, he tweeted“Putting the lie that criticism of this administrator’s policies in any way supports ‘replacement theory’ is another example of the corporate media working overtime to cover up the Biden administrator’s failures.”
And in Ohio, Senate candidate JD Vance anticipated possible charges of racism. “Are you a racist? Do you hate Mexicans?” he asked in the opening ad of his campaign. Later on the scene, he spoke about loose border policies to ensure “more Democratic voters pour into this country.”
This strategy of reclaiming the racist label — and recasting himself as a victim — has also been used by Blake Masters, an Arizona Senate candidate who is backed by the same billionaire, Peter Thiel, as Mr. Vance.
“If you tie the dots together as a candidate for office and say, look, of course the Democrats, they just hope to change the demographics of our country,” Mr. Masters said in a podcast interview last month. “They hope to import a whole new electorate and they call you a racist and a bigot.”
Political scientists and historians say the harsher, more dehumanizing language that fuels fears of demographic change has become more pervasive and conspicuous among Republican voters, as pro-corporate Republicans who were once vocal in favor of immigration have grown less in their ranks and Republican leaders have refused to push back against more extreme political language.
The great replacement theory has its origins in France, where it was popularized by a book of the same title published in 2012 by the novelist and critic Renaud Camus. In particular, Mr. Camus argued that demographic shifts in predominantly white, Christian countries in Europe pose a threat to “ethnic and civilizational substitution.”
By 2017, white supremacist groups were embracing Mr Camus’s ideas, using anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. They adopted a new slogan — alternating between “Jews will not replace us” or “You will not replace us” — chanted at rallies, most infamously at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, where a white nationalist a counter-protester. White supremacists who committed mass murders in 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand and El Paso, Texas, both referred to the theory in their respective manifestos.
“These conspiracies are at the heart of the Republican Party right now, and I don’t think it’s partisan to say so,” said Amy Spitalnick, the executive director of Integrity First for America, which won a lawsuit against organizers of the Charlottesville. 2017 rally.
New York City Representative Elise Stefanik, who represents a district in upstate New York and replaced Ms. Cheney as House Republican No. 3 last year, posted an online ad last fall about how “amnesty” for undocumented migrants “will take our place.” current voters.”
Her office released a statement Monday accusing the news media of “outrageous, unfair and dangerous” defamation by associating her rhetoric in any way with the Buffalo attack.
“The shooting was an act of malice,” said her spokesperson, Alex DeGrasse, adding in a statement about “illegals” that she “never advocated a racist position or made a racist statement”.
South Dakota Senator John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said Monday that “it’s a shame there are sites where these people get these crazy ideas in their heads and act on them.” When asked about his colleagues who have reiterated elements of the replacement theory, he added, “No one should in any way voice or support some of these things.”
Reporting contributed by Asia Paybarah† Karen Yourish† Jennifer Medina† Jazmine Ulloa and Charles Homans†