It started in California and it hasn’t stopped yet.
On Saturday, a heavily armed 18-year-old white man walked into a supermarket in a predominantly black neighborhood of Buffalo, New York. He wore a military uniform and bulletproof vest, and a camera strapped to his head in hopes of livestreaming his every move. .
He parked his vehicle and then opened fire.
“This is the worst nightmare any community can face,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said Saturday, “and we are hurt and we are angry right now.”
Like the mayor, most of the victims were black. Authorities say Payton Gendron of Conklin, New York, killed at least 10 people and injured three others, some who were shopping and others who worked at Tops Friendly Market.
Maddeningly, such violence can and usually does happen anywhere in America these days.
But it’s the white supremacist explanation this time, uncovered in a manifesto authorities say Gendron uploaded, that should be all too familiar to Californians.
He is a supporter of the so-called “great replacement” theory. According to authorities, Gendron felt compelled to drive approximately 200 miles to indiscriminately shoot innocent black people with a high-powered rifle because white Americans are being “replaced” by people of color.
In many ways, this truly ugly conspiracy theory has some roots. Right here in the Golden State of the 1990s.
That’s when Republicans, desperate to cling to political power, spread fear and paranoia about millions of Mexican immigrants who wanted…how dare they! —resources and rights, and the inevitable decline in the state’s white population.
These were the formative years of Stephen Miller, the Santa Monica native who grew up to become President Trump’s obnoxious immigrant-hating senior adviser.
Of course, the real origin of the “great replacement” theory is much older and inextricably linked to anti-Semitism, in that white supremacists blame Jews for non-white immigration. Hence the chants of “the Jews will not replace us” and “they will not replace us” by racists with tiki torches the night before the Unite the Right rally in Virginia in 2017.
The version of the theory now circulating postulates not only that the United States is becoming more diverse, which is absolutely true, but that a secret cabal of elite Democrats is conspiring to bring in immigrants in every possible way to “replace” the white Christians. people and reshape American politics into some sort of secular, multicultural liberal image. Like California.
Never mind that Latino voters are often conservative, as we saw in the 2020 presidential election, when Trump won a larger share of the electorate from that demographic than he did in 2016.
It never stops.
“Diversity is not a strength,” Gendron wrote, according to manifest snippets which authorities say went up and is now floating online. “Unity, purpose, trust, traditions, nationalism and racial nationalism is what provides strength.”
We now know from that manifest that Gendron drove about 200 miles from his home to that supermarket in Buffalo because it was in a neighborhood with a lot of black people, authorities said.
Along with racist and anti-immigrant rants, the manifesto exposed how he planned to kill as many black people as possible, authorities said. That he would shoot the security guard near the entrance before shooting the black shoppers. That he had studied the map and knew each corridor. What he would eat for lunch.
The FBI is investigating what happened as a “racially motivated hate crime and violent extremism.” Erie County Sheriff John Garcia called the motive for the mass shooting “pure evil.”
It is also a pervasive white supremacist ideology that has gone mainstream.
Late last year, an Associated Press-NORC Public Affairs Research Center poll found that about a third of American adults believe an effort is underway to “replace” American-born Americans with immigrants. .
Additionally, about 3 in 10 think additional immigration will cause presumably white, native Americans to lose their economic, political, and cultural influence.
Unsurprisingly, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to share these views, according to the poll. One reason is that irresponsible conservative pundits continue to tout the “great replacement” theory as an explanation for everything from manufacturing job losses in the Midwest to a rise in overdose deaths among addicted whites. to painkillers.
As Tucker Carlson said on Fox News last April: “I know the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter get literally hysterical if you use the term ‘replacement,’ if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now voting, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World. But they get hysterical because that’s what’s happening, really.”
It’s a lie, and it’s ridiculous and dangerous, especially in the age of social media. And yet it never stops, even here.
As usual, California was the first, in this case the first obligated state, to deal with these new population shifts. Political rhetoric and paranoia about a supposed “replacement” was the backlash to that diversity and the accompanying push for inclusion.
Many thought we were over it.
Now, decades later, as the rest of the country has begun to look more like California, it’s abundantly clear that we haven’t.
You don’t even have to go to Buffalo. Just head to the Sierra foothills of Placer and El Dorado counties, and you’ll hear lifelong white residents concerned about the “liberals,” aka people of color, of the San Francisco Bay Area who they move in to “replace” them.
On Saturday, the Rev. Al Sharpton urged the White House to hold a meeting with Black, Jewish, and Asian American leaders “to underscore that the federal government [is] intensifying its efforts against hate crimes.”
President Biden said the nation “must do everything in our power to end hate-fueled domestic terrorism” and called for a thorough investigation.
“A racially motivated hate crime is abhorrent to the very fabric of this nation,” Biden insisted, against all logic, reason and recorded history.
NAACP President Derrick Johnson declared that “hate and racism have no place in America.”
Only time will tell if any of these statements will amount to more than the usual “thoughts and prayers.”
What is clear is that we cannot continue to treat acts of white supremacy as unique crimes committed by so-called lone wolves suffering from mental health problems. Nor can we continue to give a pass to conservative pundits and Republican politicians who directly or indirectly encourage adherence to the “great replacement” theory or any other tenets of racism or extremism.
We have seen what happens when we allow such things to happen. We saw it in California in the 1990s and its echoes remain here today.
A member of the Buffalo City Council on Saturday described the supermarket where so many people were killed as “a historic street for African Americans” in a tight-knit community just a few miles from downtown.
I have set foot in many Tops Friendly Markets in my life. The chain, which used to dot the street corners of my native Cleveland, was almost always filled with black shoppers going about their lives, concerned with replacing the milk in their fridges, not people.
“The depth of pain that families are feeling,” said Mayor Brown, “and that all of us are feeling right now, cannot even be explained.”
make it stop