A racist ideology seeping from the internet’s fringes into the mainstream is being investigated as a motivating factor in the supermarket shooting that killed 10 people in Buffalo, New York.
Most of the victims were Black.
Ideas from the “great replacement theory” filled a racist screed supposedly posted online by the white 18-year-old accused of targeting Black people in Saturday’s rampage.
Authorities were still working to confirm its authenticity.
Certainly, there was no mistaking the racist intent of the shooter and during a powerful press conference on Monday, civil rights attorney Ben Crump focused squarely on the rhetoric of hate spread by those propagating the conspiracy theory.
“We intend to not only hold accountable this sick, depraved monster for his hateful act, but we intend to hold those responsible for the root of the hate, the people who curate the hate, the people who inspire the hate on websites and internet services and cable news stations, those people who radicalize these young people to go out an orchestrate heinous acts of violence, heinous acts of hate, that is what we have to do,” he said.
“We have to get to the root of the hate.”
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 non-white 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.
For example, 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!”
A more mainstream view in the U.S. baselessly suggests Democrats are encouraging immigration from Latin America so more like-minded potential voters replace “traditional” Americans, says Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism.
How long has racism existed? Broadly speaking, the roots of this “theory” are that deep.
In the U.S., you can point to efforts to intimidate and discourage Black people from voting — or, in conspiracy theorists’ views, “replacing” white voters at the polls — that date to the Reconstruction era, after the 15th Amendment made clear suffrage couldn’t be restricted on account of race.
In the modern era, most experts point to two influential books.
One is The Turner Diaries, a 1978 novel written by William Luther Pierce under the pseudonym Andrew Macdonald, which is about a violent revolution in the United States with a race war that leads to the extermination of non-whites.
The FBI called it a “bible of the racist right,” says Kurt Braddock, an American University professor and researcher at the Polarization and Extremism Research & Innovation Lab.
Renaud Camus, a French writer, also published a 2011 book claiming that Europe was being invaded by Black and brown immigrants from Africa.
He called the book Le Grand Remplacement, and a conspiracy’s name was born.
To some of the more extreme believers, certain white supremacist mass killers — at a Norway summer camp in 2011, two Christchurch, New Zealand, mosques in 2019, a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018, a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2017 — are considered saints, Pitcavage says.
Those “accelerationist white supremacists” believe small societal changes won’t achieve much, so the only option is tearing down society, he says.
The Buffalo shooter’s purported written diatribe and some of the methods indicate he closely studied the Christchurch shooter — particularly the effort to livestream his rampage.
According to apparent screenshots from the Buffalo broadcast, the shooter inscribed the number 14 on his gun, which Pitcavage says is shorthand for a 14-word white supremacist slogan.
A written declaration by the Christchurch shooter was widely spread online.
If the message attributed to the Buffalo shooter proves authentic, it’s designed to also spread his philosophy and methods to a large audience.
While more virulent forms of racism are widely abhorred, experts are concerned about extreme views nonetheless becoming mainstream.
In a poll released last week, The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that about one in three Americans believe an effort is underway to replace U.S.-born Americans with immigrants for electoral gain.
On a regular basis, many adherents to the more extreme versions of the “great replacement” theory converse through encrypted apps online.
They tend to be careful.
They know they’re being watched.
“They are very clever,” Braddock says. “They don’t make overt calls to arms.”
At least one of the prominent figures involved in the convoy that occupied the Canadian capital of Ottawa for three weeks earlier this year has spoken about the conspiracy theory.
Pat King, who has been denied bail and faces multiple charges for his role in the convoy now widely referred to by police and lawmakers as an “occupation,” could be seen repeating racist conspiracy theories in a video clip posted on Twitter.
In the video, King said, “there’s an endgame, it’s called depopulation of the Caucasian race, or the Anglo-Saxon.”
“And that’s what the goal is, is to depopulate the Anglo-Saxon race because they are the ones with the strongest bloodlines,” he continued.
“It’s a depopulation of race, okay, that’s what they want to do.”
He then talked about men with the first names “Ahmed” and “Mahmoud” who he claimed are trying to “not only infiltrate by flooding with refugees, we’re going to infiltrate the education systems to manipulate it” so there is “less procreation” which leads to “less white people — or you know, Anglo-Saxon. Let’s say Anglo-Saxon, because when I say white, all the ANTIFA guys call up the race card.”
In particular, Tucker Carlson, Fox News’ most popular personality, has pushed false views that are more easily embraced by some white people who are concerned about a loss of their political and social power.
“I know that the left and all the gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term ‘replacement,’ if you suggest 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,” he said on his show last year.
“But they become hysterical because that’s what’s happening, actually, let’s just say it. That’s true.”
A study of five years’ worth of 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.
Fox News has defended the host, pointing to repeated statements that Carlson has made denouncing political violence of all kinds.
The attention paid by many Republican politicians to what they see as a leaky southern border along the United States has been interpreted, at least by some, as a nod to the concern of white people who worry about being “replaced.”
House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik’s campaign committee was criticized last year for an advertisement that said “radical Democrats” were planning a “permanent election insurrection” by granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants who would create a permanent liberal majority in Washington.
Stefanik represents a New York district.
Pitcavage says he’s concerned about the message Carlson and supporters are sending: “It actually introduces the ‘great replacement theory’ to a conservative audience in an easier-to-swallow pill.”
Crump was blunt in his assessment of the impact that spread is having.
“It’s these people who are accomplices to this mass murder,” he said at the Monday press conference.
“Even though they may not have pulled the trigger, they did load the gun for this young white supremacist.”
With files from Global’s Rachel Gilmore.
© 2022 The Canadian Press