The massacre by a white supremacist gunman of Black shoppers at a Buffalo grocery store has drawn renewed scrutiny of Republican figures in the US who have embraced the racist “great replacement theory” he is alleged to have used as justification for the murders.
Born from far-right nationalism, the extremist ideology expounding the view that immigration will ultimately destroy white values and western civilization has found favor not only with media figures, such as conservative Fox News host Tucker Carlson, but a host of elected politicians and others seeking office.
Those who have convinced themselves Democrats are operating an open-door immigration policy to “replace” Republican voters with people of color and keep themselves in power permanently include congresswoman Elise Stefanik, chair of her party’s House conference, and JD Vance, the Donald Trump-approved Republican nominee to represent Ohio in the US Senate.
After the Buffalo shooting, the pair are among those receiving blowback for encompassing the conspiracy theory that the killer referred to repeatedly in an online manifesto authorities believe he posted to justify the attack.
Citing “despicable” Facebook advertisements promoting great replacement theory Stefanik utilized in 2021, in which she said “radical Democrats are planning their most aggressive move yet: a permanent election insurrection,” the Republican congressman Adam Kinzinger blasted his House colleague.
“Did you know: @EliseStefanik pushes white replacement theory? The #3 in the house GOP @Liz_Cheney got removed for demanding truth. @GOPLeader should be asked about this,” he said in a tweet, referring to Wyoming Republican Cheney’s ousting by House minority leader Kevin McCarthy over her place on the 6 January panel.
Kinzinger, of Illinois, is the only other Republican on the House committee looking into Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his election defeat to Joe Biden. He also attacked Stefanik this week for a tweet in which she accused Democrats of being “pedo grifters” – meaning pedophiles – for providing baby formula for immigrant babies at the southern border during a national shortage.
Meanwhile Vance, who credits the former president’s endorsement for helping him to victory in last week’s Ohio primary, is another vocal exponent of the discredited theory.
“You’re talking about a shift in the democratic makeup of this country that would mean we never win, meaning Republicans would never win a national election in this country ever again,” he claimed at a campaign event in Portsmouth last month.
Josh Mandel, who was defeated by Vance, went even further in an interview on Breitbart in October.
“This is about changing the face of America, figuratively and literally. They are trying to change our culture, change our demographics and change our electorate. This is all about power,” he said, without acknowledging that only US citizens can vote, and the path to citizenship can take legal immigrants many years.
In a study of the history of great replacement theory in Republican circles, Vice notes that it “isn’t new to American politicians”. In 2017, the Iowa congressman Steve King, a fierce Trump loyalist, said in a tweet: “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies”.
Arguably the biggest rightwing apologist for great replacement theory, however, is Carlson, the Fox News host.
On his show last year, he stated: “Demographic change is the key to the Democratic Party’s political ambitions. In order to win and maintain power, Democrats plan to change the population of the country.”
His “nefarious” stance, the Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent wrote: “exposes the ideological underbelly of the broader right-wing populist nationalist movement that he and his defenders champion.”
Buffalo was not the first time a mass shooter with white supremacist motivations had cited great replacement theory. It also featured in the manifesto of a gunman who slaughtered 51 Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March 2019.
After the Christchurch murders, the UK-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a counter-extremist organization, issued a report that found the once-obscure ideology was promoted so effectively by the far right that it became ingrained in political discourse, and that social media references doubled in four years to more than 1.5m Twitter mentions alone.
“It’s shocking to see the extent to which extreme-right concepts such as the great replacement theory and calls for ‘remigration’ have entered mainstream political discourse and are now referenced by politicians who head states and sit in parliaments,” Julia Ebner, the report’s co-author, said at the time.
The effect of the backlash against US politicians promoting the theory following the Buffalo attack remains to be seen. The pugilistic Stefanik, for example, was not backing down on Sunday, making no mention of the massacre in her home state as she retweeted criticism of Democrats over the baby formula shortage.
Her only social media comment to date, a single tweet on Saturday, failed to acknowledge the race of most of the victims, or the circumstances or motivation for the shooting.