Yet again, here we are.
Events in Buffalo over the weekend are all too familiar: a young white man spouting violence-strewn racial hatred—both in-person and on-line—buys a gun, travels to a distant community where he apparently knows no one and starts shooting, killing ten black people shopping at a local supermarket.
While researching his past, authorities discover that this was not a spontaneous act of rage, but rather an orchestrated, well-planned action in response to his fascination with “the great replacement.” Dustin Jones, writing for NPR, says this about the shooter’s motivation:
“[T]he ‘great replacement’ is a conspiracy theory that states that nonwhite individuals are being brought into the United States and other Western countries to “replace” white voters to achieve a political agenda. It is often touted by anti-immigration groups, white supremacists and others…White supremacists argue that the influx of immigrants, people of color more specifically, will lead to the extinction of the white race…According to the Anti-Defamation League, white supremacists blame Jewish people for nonwhite immigration to the U.S., and the ‘replacement’ theory is now associated with antisemitism.”
Desperate (for attention, for achieving a sense of belonging, for notoriety, whatever) young men ascribe to the theory and then take it upon themselves to create mayhem as a means of stopping the progress that people of color are making at the expense of privileged whites.
While the events in Buffalo are mind-numbingly familiar, one thing seems different this time. In the coverage of this tragedy, there has been a hearty rejection of the lone wolf theory and significant coverage linking the shooter to the others who perpetuate the great replacement theory and a recognition that the two phenomena are linked.
Such linkage deprives lawmakers, commentators and community leaders with an escape valve for rejecting policies that can mitigate the destruction caused by these events. The Buffalo killer was explicit—over and over—that he was an adherent of the replacement theory promoted by similar killers in El Paso, Christchurch, Pittsburgh and other places where racism, desperation and violence intersect.
There is an interconnectedness to the whole white supremacy universe. Like on an automotive assembly line or an intricate theatrical production, there are different roles to play in order to make the enterprise run smoothly—different spokespersons for different audiences, different messages for different moments, different timelines for achieving success. But all the cogs work together to accomplish the overall objective which is to put a halt to the diminishing power and influential of the privileged elite who are overwhelmingly white.
Tucker Carlson may not call for shooting people in the supermarket, but, in two or three degrees of separation, the polished voices of politicians or media stars legitimize the more radicalized actions of troubled or unbalanced individuals who actually pull the trigger. Those polite voices, often using a shield of free speech, interweave grievance with high-brow discourse, thereby connecting behaviors that are loosely related and mutually reinforcing.
The events in Buffalo have exposed the link between the lone wolf who does the killing and the vast network of others—large media companies, politicians, commentators on new and traditional communication platforms, second amendment advocates, gun and ammo companies, marketers, advertisers and individual citizens who close their eyes to these connections, so often made for power and profit.
These are not separate spheres—those promoting racial hate (and its close ally, racial fear) know that most adherents would not be “seduced” by the siren song of shooting people because of their race or their religion or their birthplace. But the increasing connectedness that social media has wrought, coupled with the firmly entrenched thinking among white supremacists who fear losing their privileged position can lead some to violent reactions resulting in the most heinous of outcomes. But they don’t do these things in a vacuum. Rather, it is through vast networks of supporters—direct and indirect—that prompt the lone wolves to snarl at the world and unleash their violence in service to a misguided cause that seeks only to dominate and destroy.