American Buffalo

Over the weekend, a gunman who killed one person and injured five others at a SoCal church was tackled and hogtied by parishioners in what was described as an act of “exceptional heroism and bravery.” You may not have heard about that shooting. It’s hard to keep up with gun violence in America. Even mass shootings seem to fire off at a machine gun pace. In 2022, we’re averaging 10 mass shootings a week. So it’s not unusual that you were distracted from one mass shooting by another much more deadly mass shooting. “Ten people were gunned down at a Buffalo supermarket Saturday in a horrifying mass shooting that officials were quick to label as ‘pure evil’ and racially motivated.” Following the mass murder, the Buffalo editorial board asked: “How do we prevent these horrific shootings from happening? Do we once again shrug and just go on about things, pretending that it won’t happen again?” Only those still in a state of shock driven by proximity to the event could still posit such a question that has been repeatedly asked and answered by the constant rat-a-tat-tat of history. Katherine Massey asked the question last May after another gun death when she sent a letter to the editor calling for better gun control. On Saturday, she was among the victims in Buffalo.

The Buffalo shooter shared his motivation in a manifesto and other online screeds. If his fringe theory turned mainstream belief isn’t familiar to you, it should be. It’s been pushed by some GOP politicians and Fox News. “A study of five years’ worth of Tucker Carlson’s show by The New York Times found 400 instances where he talked about Democratic politicians and others seeking to force demographic change through immigration.” The hateful hogwash is called replacement theory. “Simply put, the conspiracy theory says there’s a plot to diminish the influence of white people. Believers say this goal is being achieved both through the immigration of nonwhite people into societies that have largely been dominated by white people, as well as through simple demographics, with white people having lower birth rates than other populations. The conspiracy theory’s more racist adherents believe Jews are behind the so-called replacement plan: White nationalists marching at a Charlottesville, Virginia, rally that turned deadly in 2017 chanted ‘You will not replace us!’ and ‘Jews will not replace us!'”

And this rabid theory is catching on: An AP poll found that about 1 in 3 Americans believe an effort is underway to replace U.S.-born Americans with immigrants for electoral gain. Among the adherents: well-armed lunatics. “Inside a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018, a white man with a history of antisemitic internet posts gunned down 11 worshipers, blaming Jews for allowing immigrant “invaders’ into the United States. The next year, another white man, angry over what he called ‘the Hispanic invasion of Texas,’ opened fire on shoppers at an El Paso Walmart, leaving 23 people dead, and later telling the police he had sought to kill Mexicans.” NYT: A Fringe Conspiracy Theory, Fostered Online, Is Refashioned by the G.O.P.

+ Judd Legum tracks how this theory infected and spread within an American political party. The right’s embrace of a deadly racist conspiracy theory. And The New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner talks to Kathleen Belew, an assistant professor of history at the University of Chicago and the author of Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America. “The idea is simply that many different kinds of social change are connected to a plot by a cabal of élites to eradicate the white race, which people in this movement believe is their nation. It connects things such as abortion, immigration, gay rights, feminism, residential integration—all of these are seen as part of a series of threats to the white birth rate. One thing you’ll notice in the manifestos and in the talking points, really going back through the twentieth century, is this focus on the reproductive capacity of white women in maintaining the white race as a nation.”

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