Buffalo Massacre Aftermath: Mainstream Media Still Validating Racist ‘Replacement Theory’
By: Brian Becker, Esther Iverem, Nicole Rousseau
The following is a lightly edited transcription from In the News, the weekly Tuesday show on The Socialist Program. Subscribe here.
The horrific, racist massacre in a Black community in Buffalo, New York was carried out by a self-identified fascist. He came in and mercilessly killed so many people. Ten people. It's also obviously racist because the shooter is saying that he's an adherent to replacement theory. There’s a direct connection to Charlottesville, when the fascists marched, and there was a very strong anti-fascist response to them, and they were chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” Replacement theory is being promoted not only by the fascists in the streets with guns, but also by Fox News.
President Biden was addressing a gathering of police officers when he commented on this tragedy on Saturday. He pivoted very quickly to talk about how important police officers are, how brave they are, and really, I was just really shocked at how the white supremacist nature of this massacre was not being talked about.
But we know that's because these corporate politicians are finding themselves in a real quandary, because they are supporting white supremacist neo-Nazis in Ukraine. They still claim that this is not true, and I’m still hearing commentators talk about “Oh, that’s not true, that’s Russian propaganda. There are no neo-Nazis in Ukraine. There are no Nazis. We're not supporting Nazis. We're not arming Nazis.”
But then you have this young man who carried out this massacre wearing Azov battalion symbols, the same symbols that they're wearing in Ukraine. So maybe that's why people are staying away from it. But I was just really shocked at how people were really holding up the police and talking about the police as opposed to the victims and the massacre and the anguish and tragedy and trauma in this community.
If you watch the media coverage, you couldn't but come to the conclusion that from the point of view of the media in the United States, the corporate capitalist owned media, that Black lives actually don't matter, because none of the stories were about the lives of the people who were killed, about their family members.
In Buffalo, New York, that local coverage exists, but nationwide, no. Nationwide, the story is about a troubled, mentally ill young man, a lone gunman, somehow subscribing to fringe theories without making clear that at the very center of this is a rising tide of racist violence going on in the country that is being generated and promoted by a climate that says that there is such a thing as white grievance.
This argument is that somehow white people will be offended by telling the story of this country, which is a story of white supremacy, the story of the enslavement of African people. This whole idea is that white people have a legitimate beef and so let's try to really understand what replacement theory is? That would be like saying, “let's try to get to the bottom of why Hitler wanted to exterminate Jews.” No, people don't do that. This type of coverage is another reflection of the profound racism that's everywhere in American society.
And there have been a slew of these disgusting massacres and mass shootings that have this as the motivation.
In 2015, people may remember Dylan Roof was invited to come in and pray in the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in a Black church with predominantly Black parishioners. Toward the end of the service, he opened fire and killed nine people.
Then in 2017, in the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally, white supremacists rallied together and one of them drove his car into counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens more. At that rally they chanted “You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us,” which are clearly chants referencing the great replacement theory.
2018, at a Pittsburgh synagogue, a man shot and killed 11 people and wounded six. He had written that a Jewish organization that had supported Central American migrant caravans, “likes to bring invaders in that kill our people.” “Screw your people, I'm going in.”
Some are saying that this is just a person, an individual, who carried out that massacre. But that was the main theme of the whole Trump administration, that migrants were this great invading horde. And then you have people like Tucker Carlson and other racists who are promoting this replacement theory, like immigrants from Latin America and Africa are going to replace white people, or Black Americans or Asian Americans are replacing white people at the job. It's this great political drumming up of grievance, of scapegoating, and it's not simply individual souls gone astray.
There's a large section of the right wing in America using the mass media to create a climate where these ideas are considered not just okay, but completely valid. If you decontextualized the massacres from the political climate, you're missing the big picture.
People don't just come up with these insane ideas out of thin air on their own, and these massacres are clearly happening so frequently. In addition to the 2015 shooting in Charleston at Emanuel AME, the 2017 Charlottesville Unite the Right killing, the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, in 2019 another shooter shot and killed 23 shoppers at a Walmart in El Paso. He told police that he had sought to kill Mexicans, and his manifesto referenced a “cultural and ethnic replacement” and a “Hispanic invasion.”
And then this past weekend in Buffalo, a white shooter specifically targeted a Black neighborhood of Buffalo, and killed 10 and injured three more. He wrote online that the victims he targeted were trying to “ethnically replace my own people.”
Listen to all these words. These are some of the same words, the same phrases, and they're clearly part of the same theory or idea. They're also part of a lot of the mainstream right wing culture and media and obviously more fringe as well. But they are becoming more and more mainstream.
And also, Nicole, there's this real danger of normalizing these massacres because even when you have that list, we can’t forget the 2012 massacre of Sikhs in Wisconsin. And the fact that this killer in Buffalo referenced the massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand, where Muslims were targeted. And there was a whole period here where Muslims were being demonized and politically targeted and then these murderers go after those people as well.
And to expand it further, this great replacement theory also has deep connections to the pro-choice movement and the right for abortion in this country, because the drive to limit the ability of white women to get an abortion was connected to the fear that enslaved and then emancipated Black people in this country would outnumber white people at some point.
So you have this same movement happening, the same roots of the great replacement theory happening at the same time that white women are targeted for restrictions on their ability to have a child or to have an abortion. And if you bring it up to today, the language that people like Tucker Carlson uses is the mainstream version of this kind of racist violence that we saw in Buffalo.
Tucker Carlson basically describes white people almost as the indigenous people of the United States, and everybody else coming in are the replacement to this indigenous population. Have a listen:
“An unrelenting stream of immigration but why? Well, Joe Biden just said it: to change the racial mix of the country. That's the reason. To reduce the political power of people whose ancestors lived here and dramatically increase the proportion of Americans newly arrived from the third world. And then Biden went further. He said that nonwhite DNA is the ‘source of our strength.’ Imagine saying that. This is the language of eugenics. It's horrifying. But there's a reason Biden said it. In political terms, this policy is called the great replacement, the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from faraway countries.”
The fact that he uses this type of really ignorant, ahistorical language, it just really tells the truth. It tells the full scope of this movement that this young man, this murderer in Buffalo, is following.
Of course, he doesn't talk about the fact that white people are not the indigenous people. They're not the legacy people. The legacy people in the United States were murdered. Not only does he not talk about the fact that these people have been removed through a course of genocide, but he doesn't also deal with the fact that all those people in Mexico or El Salvador, Honduras, they're the indigenous people of this world. The level of ignorance is really laughable, except that it leads to these types of massacres because people are listening to people like Tucker Carlson on Fox News.
I want to also remind everyone that just a little more than two years ago, 35 million people came into the streets after George Floyd. It was Black people, Latino people, white people, Asian Americans, indigenous people, Arab-Americans, South Asians, people of all ethnicities and nationalities marched together against racism. At that time, these same white racist militia type forces started to mobilize and bring weapons to confront the protests. There was this great divide in the country.
The reason I'm mentioning that is that when the cities and the urban areas in the centers even of small towns, which were the places where the uprising against racism took place, it shows that the majority sentiment in the country and in fact, the most powerful parts of the population, are against racism and are standing together against this kind of racist violence.
But you have the political climate fostered by the ruling class and its institutions like the media that give added weight to the voices of the right wing and the racists. When I listen to NPR or CNN, they talk about the Democratic Party as the left. It's these racists, these fascists that are the right wing of the Republican Party, and then presumably there's the left, which is the Democratic Party.
But when you look at the nature of what's going on, it wasn't the Democratic Party that called the 35 million people out into the streets in 2020. We were in the streets right here in Washington, D.C. Muriel Bowser declared a curfew against the protest the same day that Trump was announcing that the military will be used against urban areas and that the mayors and governors had to control the battlespace, which was, of course, the cities of this country.
So we have a battle going on. It's a battle for ideas. It's a battle in the streets. It's a battle of all types between anti-racist forces that are rooted in a vision of progress and of fighting against the injustice of a system that hurts working class people of all races and ethnicities, and on the other side are these goons and stooges for the capitalists, these right wingers, and their own strength in the country is magnified. When violent acts are carried out like they were against the Black community in Buffalo, New York, the media attention is all on the racist cops in Buffalo or all on the supposed individual problems of the shooter, rather than building solidarity with the Black community, which in this case was victimized again in western New York.
I really want to emphasize this for context. Our side, the side of progress, is strong, but it's only strong when we're mobilized, when we're in the streets, in motion, when you can feel the energy and the power of the people.