On Saturday, May 14th at approximately 2:30 PM local time, an 18 year old man man wearing a helmet with a camera for streaming, body armor and carrying an AR -15 rifle walked into Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, New York. He’d allegedly already used his weapon to shoot 4 people outsideof the store, with three of these initial victims dying at the scene. Minutes later 7 more people lay dead and two others had been wounded. All of those slain were African American.
According to the accounts of those who watched the livestream of the massacre on the popular gaming platform Twitch .tv, which was quickly taken down but still spread around the internet, the rampage was methodical and meticulously planned out. At one point, the shooter reportedly apologized to a white man, Christopher Braden, an assistant manager at the market, who he had shot in the leg.
Among the dead was security guard Aaron Salter, a retired former police officer who fired multiple shots at the camo clad shooter. At least one potentially fatal bullet was stopped by the 18 year old’s body armor. Nonetheless, Salter likely saved lives by slowing down the shooter before police arrived, who took him into custody after a short stand off in which the killer pointed his rifle at his own neck.
Another of the victims of this monster was 86 year old Ruth Whitfield. Her son, a former Buffalo Fire Commissioner, later told a reporter from Buffalo News, “My mother was a mother to the motherless. She was a blessing to all of us.”
The 10 people who lost their lives in the name of a paranoid and racist ideology were simply doing what we all do regardless of our background: buying food to feed themselves and their families. It sometimes feels like it’s always the most innocent of spaces in the United States that are turned into war zones by heavily armed, mostly young white men.
Showing his planning in retrospect, the shooter reportedly drove for more than 3 hours from his home in Conklin, NY. He ensured his victims would mainly be African American by looking for the closest Zip code to the town where he lived with the largest percentage of Black people.
Besides live streaming his crimes, like most of the mass murderers who inspired him, the killer released a 180 page manifesto quickly taken offline in the aftermath of the attack, which not only details his justifications for snatching the lives of so many innocents but might act as a guide to future killers.
He wrote that his main inspiration, whose earlier manifesto he is said to have plagierized from, was the mass murderer who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in March of 2019. Both manifestos showed an obsession with what is called ‘the Great Replacement theory’ that posits that sinister forces are causing or at the very least encouraging mass migration to Western countries to change their makeup.
Although this concept has existed for a much longer time, the French writer who is credited with popularizing it in its present form, Renaud Camus, takes the position that migration from former European colonies is somehow worse than the centuries of looting and slavery that preceded it because it’s “demographic”.
As reported by the Guardian on Wednesday, the Buffalo shooter didn’t just lift parts of his manifesto from the New Zealand killer but also from racist posts he found on the 4Chan message board that he claimed radicalized him over the course of the Covid 19 pandemic, writing on his personal Discord server, “I only really turned racist when 4chan started giving me facts.”
What happened in Buffalo created a problem for a number of right wing pundits, who have been popularizing the Great Replacement as a concept on their platforms for several years. In the American context, this has accompanied an ongoing refugee crisis on the country’s southern border, which was the reason given for a massacre perpetrated by another white supremacist at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas in 2019.
This is what Matt Walsh, a popular commentator on the rightwing Daily Caller said about the Great Replacement theory in August of last year, making an argument almost indistinguishable from open white supremacists like the mass shooters in Christchurch and Buffalo, going so far as to reference totally unrelated issue of affirmative action policies, “You don’t want to replace white people in the population with a great portion of non-white people, you don’t want to replace white people in universities and positions of power, you’re saying you don’t want that? Because while you condemn replacement theory as a white supremacist, you know, conspiracy theory, I notice you don’t deny it. I mean, you don’t come out and say ‘oh no, we don’t want to do that.’ But if you don’t, then just – say so. And then we’re going to have some follow-up questions about, like, okay then what’s going on down here at the border and why do we have these affirmative action policies in place?”
As is typical with mass shootings where the perpetrators espouse far right beliefs, many self described conservatives in both media and politics tried to turn the conversation away from the ideas they’ve promoted and the widespread availability of military arms toward the mental health of the perpetrators of these crimes.
On Monday, the United States’ most popular cable news host, wealthy frozen food heir Tucker Carlson not only did this but tried to deflect from the responsibility he must share for mainstreaming the Great Replacement on his show, “What is hate speech? Well, it’s speech that our leaders hate. So because a mentally ill teenager murdered strangers, you cannot be allowed to express your political views out loud. That’s what they’re telling you.” h
What Carlson and others have said in the past can’t be erased from the public record but they will do their best to obscure it until the tragedy in Buffalo disappears from the news cycle.
One major difference between these commentators and those who are more open about their belief in white supremacy is that where the shooter in Buffalo was clear in articulating his belief that the Great Replacement is a long term plan hatched by Jewish people, more mainstream commentators on the right accept it as mostly true but place the blame on ‘elites’ from the center right to the progressive left.
One argument we often hear from both self-described conservatives and moderates is that ‘both sides’, the far left and right are just two sides of the same coin and are equally dangerous. There is far more widespread worry among these politicians and commentators about so-called ‘cancel culture’ than there is about the kind of genocidal thinking that has become more and more mainstream on the right in Western countries in recent years.
Like an untreated wound, the Great Replacement Theory is being allowed to fester and is poisoning so many minds that another massacre seems inevitable. Those that popularize it and similar ideas often claim that they’re, “just asking questions”. We have seen the answers in far too many places.