The brutal act of domestic terrorism that unfolded Saturday in Buffalo, New York, at a Tops grocery store, at the hands of a hate-filled white nationalist who drove 200 miles from his home in Conklin because he had specifically targeted a predominantly Black community, was not an “isolated incident” committed by a “lone wolf.” Rather the opposite.
The violence, in fact, is only the latest attack in the American radical-right insurgency against our democracy, the simmering civil war that they openly declared on Jan. 6. The white-nationalist ideology behind it—laid bare in the shooter’s 181-page manifesto—has been widely adopted not just by young radicals like Payton Gendron, but at the highest reaches of the Republican Party, led by the most popular cable talk-show host in the country, Tucker Carlson.
Naturally, they have already begun their usual campaigns of denial, obfuscation, and gaslighting in response to the clear need to hold them accountable for fueling this violence. And it will only get worse.
Before he opened fire on customers at the store, leaving 10 people dead and wounding another three, the 18-year-old Gendron composed and then posted a lengthy, rambling manifesto riddled with classic fascistic white nationalism: hatred of Blacks, the belief that Jews are secretly manipulating government and culture, the fear of the demographic displacement of white people, the loathing of feminists and misogynistic demands for eugenicist birthrates, and the eager embrace of genocidal violence—they’re all laced throughout the document.
Gendron specifically targeted that store in that neighborhood, he said, because he wanted to find a soft target filled with African Americans—and drove some 200 miles from his home in Conklin, New York, after selecting it and conducting reconnaissance. He chose Buffalo, he said, because it “has the highest black population percentage and isn’t that far away.” He chose Blacks as his primary victims—eight of the 10 victims were African-American—because “they are an obvious, visible, and large group of replacers.”
This is a reference to “Replacement Theory,” the ideology that fueled the man’s terrorist motivations. Much of the manifesto is devoted to exploring various aspects of the “Great Replacement,” the belief that Western society is being flooded with brown-skinned minorities as part of a long-running plot to replace white people—a plot overseen by nefarious Jewish “globalists.”
This ideology has its roots in the white-nationalist claims of “white genocide” and “cultural Marxism” that its ideologues generated in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Tucker Carlson’s partisan-reductionist version of this theory is that Democrats are secretly plotting “trying to replace the current electorate” with “more obedient voters from the Third World.” He has repeatedly promoted it on his nightly talk show—and when the Anti-Defamation League demanded he resign afterwards, Fox executives rushed to his defense, claiming disingenuously that he had actually denounced the theory. Carlson simply doubled down.
Carlson already has a remarkable record of dabbling increasingly in white supremacist rhetoric dating back to 2006, including recently unearthed recordings of his ramblings on radio. His greatest hits include a regurgitation of neo-Nazi propaganda about “white genocide” in Africa, not to mention his mutual promotion of the white nationalist website VDare. There is a reason white supremacists love Carlson’s show, and why they assiduously watch it in hopes of picking up pointers.
Perhaps most egregiously, Carlson has repeatedly claimed that white-nationalist domestic terrorism is a “hoax.” The very act of calling out white nationalism, according to Carlson, is a racist attack on white people: “You could live your entire life here without running into a white nationalist. No matter what they tell you, this is a remarkably kind and decent country,” he claimed. “Attacking people for their race is exactly how you destroy a country. That's what Democrats are doing. They know that they are doing it, it's obvious they just don't care.”
As it happens, Replacement Theory has been identified as a major ideological wellspring of domestic-terrorist violence, as I discussed in our report on the domestic-terrorism database Reveal News compiled over the past decade and longer. The FBI called it out in an internal assessment of terrorist threats as well.
A study from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue examined this conspiracy theory in depth as a source of inspiration for a number of violent acts, including most notably the massacre in March 2019 at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The theory, it found, has significant potential “to drive extreme-right mobilization and terrorist acts,” in large part because it “lends itself to calls for radical action against minority communities—including ethnic cleansing, violence and terrorism.”
The Great Replacement theory is able to inspire calls for extreme action from its adherents, ranging from non-violent ethnic cleansing through ‘remigration’ to genocide. This is in part because the theory is able to inspire a sense of urgency by calling on crisis narratives.
It also observed that a sense of disempowerment helps drive these terrorists to violence, noting that the Christchurch shooter referenced the defeat of Front National leader Marine Le Pen in the 2017 French elections as a “turning point.” “While we should be cautious about taking the so-called manifesto at face value, we have seen similar rhetoric surface repeatedly in closed chat channels frequented by the extreme-right, with adherents to the Great Replacement theory advocating for violent action when they have given up on political solutions.”
The Buffalo shooter even described his radicalization process in his manifesto, saying that nearly every step in the process took place online—particularly on far-right-friendly platforms like the message board 4chan and on Gab. He claims he was inspired to conduct a lethal gun attack by the Christchurch shooter, as well as others, including the man who opened fire in an El Paso, Texas, Walmart in 2020: “These men fought for me and had the same goals I did. It was there I asked myself: Why don’t I do something?”
He also explicitly describes the classic strategic viewpoint of far-right domestic terrorists, who don’t believe their single act will change the world, but that there will be an accumulating record of violence that will gradually convince the public that their governmental institutions can no longer keep them safe and secure: “To add momentum to the pendulum swings of history, further destabilizing and polarizing Western society in order to eventually destroy the nihilistic, hedonistic, individualistic insanity that has taken control of Western thought,” he wrote.
This is called “accellerationism,” a belief system predicated on the idea that modern human civilization (and especially its multicultural features) is a blight, and that the only solution is to encourage its destruction through acts of terroristic violence. Its followers explicitly embrace violence as the only viable means for change, because they see politics as a waste of time. Around the world, neo-Nazis and fascists in particular have embraced it in the past decade as their overarching ethos.
Gendron also explicitly embraces this ethos, saying the "fascism is one of the only political ideologies that will unite Whites against the replacers. Since that is what I seek, calling me a facsist would be accurate."
Heidi Beirich, the director of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, explains that this kind radicalization has been openly encouraged by Republican officeholders and a broad array of right-wing pundits, who have promoted white-nationalist and other far-right conspiracy theories into the mainstream of public discourse, ranging from “Great Replacement” theory to the contradictory claims that “leftists” and “antifa” were actually responsible for the Jan. 6 violence and that the rioters simultaneously righteous “patriots” seeking to defend the nation from a communist takeover.
Indeed, further data shows that Replacement Theory was a major ideological nexus for the Jan. 6 insurrection. Beirich cites a recent University of Chicago Project on Security and Threats report identifying an active American insurrectionist movement comprising some 21 million people. These radicalized Trump followers believe that “Use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency” and that “The 2020 election was stolen, and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” About 63% of them believe in the Great Replacement theory, while 54% subscribe to far-right QAnon conspiracism.
This reflects the reality we’ve been consistently reporting here—namely, that the conspiracist, insurrection-prone “Patriots” who attacked the Capitol and applauded the siege afterward have shifted their organizing away from the national level and are focused now primarily on asserting themselves within local mainstream right-wing Republican politics with the intent of overthrowing liberal democracy from the bottom up. This right-wing insurgency, they all concluded, may have been forced to shift gears after Jan. 6, but thanks to the spread of far-right narratives within right-wing media, it has only intensified its war on democracy since then.
Carlson, of course, is only the most prominent of the many Republican ideologues who have been promoting Replacement Theory and radicalizing their audiences and constituents. Rep. Elise Stefanik, as Hunter notes, has also been beating the same drum. Nearly half of all Republicans, a recent poll found, believe in the theory.
As we’ve seen, Republicans will not retreat from their past advocacy or seek to repair the damage they’ve caused: they will double down, doing a variation on their classic “waving the bloody shirt” trope, claiming that anyone seeking to hold them accountable for their reckless rhetoric is just exploiting a tragedy for partisan political gain, and that such attempts are simply foul demagoguery that reveal their critics’ low character.
It will be incumbent on the rest of us not to fall for these diversions. As Los Angeles Times columnist Erika D. Smith puts it:
What’s clear is we can’t keep treating acts of white supremacy as one-off crimes committed by supposed lone wolves suffering from mental health problems. We also can’t keep giving a pass to conservative pundits and Republican politicians who directly or indirectly encourage adherence to the “great replacement” theory or any other tenet of racism or extremism.