Payton S. Gendron, the 18-year-old suspect in a Saturday, May 14 massacre in Buffalo, New York that left 10 people dead, has been, according to law enforcement, an aggressive promoter of the Great Replacement — a far-right conspiracy theory associated with White supremacist and White nationalist ideology. The Great Replacement theory claims that liberals and progressives are actively trying to “replace” Whites in the United States and other countries with non-White immigrants.
The Great Replacement theory has been promoted not only by extremist groups that openly identify as White supremacists or White nationalists, but also, by many MAGA Republicans serving in Congress or state legislatures. Washington Post opinion writer Dana Milbank, in a May 16 column, laments that what was once considered fringe ideology has become mainstream thought in the GOP.
“This past weekend’s massacre in Buffalo has put a deserved spotlight on Elise Stefanik, Tucker Carlson, Newt Gingrich, Matt Gaetz, J.D. Vance and others trafficking in the racist ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory,” Milbank explains. “But the problem goes well beyond the rhetoric of a few Republican officials and opinion leaders. Elected Republicans haven’t merely inspired far-right extremists. They have become far-right extremists.”
To make his point, Milbank discusses a report by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights (IREHR) that was released on Friday, May 13 — the day before the Buffalo massacre. The Institute has been tracking far-right White nationalist and White supremacist extremism, and Milbank notes that its report/study “found that more than 1 in 5 Republican state legislators in the United States were affiliated with far-right groups.”
“The IREHR, which conducted a similar study with the NAACP in 2010 on racism within the Tea Party, cross-referenced the personal, campaign and official Facebook profiles of all 7383 state legislators in the United States during the 2021-22 legislative period with thousands of far-right Facebook groups,” Milbank notes. “The researchers found that 875 legislators — all but three of them Republicans — were members of one or more of 789 far-right Facebook groups. That works out to 22% of all Republican state legislators.”
For his May 16 column, Milbank interviewed IREHR’s Executive Director Devin Burghart, who told him, “The ideas of the far right have moved pretty substantially into the mainstream not only as the basis for acts of violence, but as the basis for public policy.”
The “far-right groups” discussed in IREHR’s report, Milbank points out, “range from new iterations of the Tea Party and certain anti-abortion and Second Amendment groups to White nationalists, neo-Confederates and sovereign citizen entities that claim to be exempt from U.S. law.”
“The IREHR largely excluded…. historically mainstream conservative groups such as the National Rifle Association and…. pro-Trump and MAGA groups, focusing instead on more radical groups defined by nationalism or anti-democratic purposes,” Milbank explains. “Some might call the IREHR’s list overly broad, but Burghart says the study understates the true overlap between the legislators and the far right.”
The Great Replacement theory drew a great deal of attention in 2017 when, during the infamous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, extremists were chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” And in France, it is promoted by the National Rally — the far-right party led by Marine Le Pen, who in April, lost France’s 2022 presidential election to incumbent President Emmanuel Macron. France dodged a bullet with that election, but the fact that Le Pen performed as well as she did is a troubling sign of the inroads that White nationalist ideology has been making in France. Members of the National Rally, formerly the National Front, often talk about the Great Replacement — claiming that French liberals and progressives are making a concerted effort to “replace” France’s White population with non-White immigrants from Africa and the Middle East.
On Fox News, similarly, far-right pundit Tucker Carlson hasn’t been shy about claiming that Democrats want to “replace” White Americans with non-Whites from developing countries.
“Burghart said proponents of ‘Replacement theory’ come from all categories of the far right and have been growing in number since Fox News’ Carlson has been championing their conspiracy claims,” Milbank writes. “Though based in actual demographic trends — Americans of color will gradually become a majority in coming decades — ‘Great Replacement’ holds that Democrats and the left are conspiring by nefarious means to supplant White people. This idea, expressed by the alleged Buffalo killer — 11 of the gunman’s 13 victims were Black — has found support from Stefanik (N.Y.), the No. 3 House Republican. She accused Democrats of ‘a PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION’ in the form of an immigration amnesty plan that would ‘overthrow our current electorate.’”
Milbank adds that Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida has said that Carlson is “correct about Replacement theory” and that Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has said that Democrats “want to remake the demographics of America to ensure…. that they stay in power forever.”
“Are these people directly responsible for the massacre in Buffalo? Of course not,” Milbank writes. “But they, like the 1 in 5 Republican state legislators trafficking in far-right groups, have mainstreamed the extreme. The consequences have been, and will continue to be, catastrophic.”
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