The racist 'replacement theory' tied to the Buffalo shootings has increasingly become a right wing media rallying call

·5 min read
Tucker Carlson
Tucker Carlson on a September 2021 episode of "Tucker Carlson Tonight" on Fox News.Fox News/Screenshot via YouTube
  • The Buffalo shooting suspect appeared to post a document rife with racist conspiracy theories.

  • The white nationalist 'replacement theory' cited in the screed is tied to numerous mass killings.

  • Popular figures on the right, including Fox News' Tucker Carlson, have referenced the theory.

The suspect in Saturday's mass shooting in Buffalo appeared to post a racist document online rife with conspiracies before he killed 10 people at a supermarket. In the document, he heavily referenced the white nationalist "replacement theory" conspiracy, which has been linked to multiple far-right terror attacks and has in recent years been featured in right wing media.

The "great replacement" theory refers to the set of white nationalist beliefs that immigration, specifically of non-white immigrants, is a leftist attempt to replace the white population in Europe and North America.

The conspiracy theory, which has roots in France and also targets Jewish people, has become a common far-right ideology and has been connected to multiple mass shootings carried out by white supremacists, including the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, 2019 mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the 2019 shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.

Although the Buffalo attack is still under investigation, the references to replacement theory in the document and its echoes in right wing media show how a racist and anti-Semitic conspiracy has been mainstreamed. Its central ideas are now promoted not just by violent extremists, but by right wing media personalities like Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

"I mean, this is really ugly stuff, and it's really extremely similar to what is in this guy's manifest," said Matt Gertz, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, a nonprofit media watchdog that has tracked the spread of replacement theory on Fox News.

A representative for Fox News declined to comment, pointing instead to Carlson's past comments denouncing political violence.

A nationwide study from The Associated Press-NORC Center released this month found that people who supported ideas central to the white supremacist conspiracy theory were far more likely to be viewers of Fox News and the far-right networks OANN and Newsmax than other news outlets.

Carlson has promoted ideas related to the "great replacement" theory on air multiple times. In April 2021, he said the "Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate" with "more obedient voters from the Third World."

In September, Carlson said during a segment that President Joe Biden is trying to "change the racial mix of the country" and "reduce the political power of the people whose ancestors lived here and dramatically increase the population of Americans newly arrived from the third world."

"This policy is called the great replacement," Carlson said during the segment.

According to a recent investigation by The New York Times, Carlson amplified the theory during more than 400 episodes of his Fox News show, "Tucker Carlson Tonight," which was the second-highest rated cable news show in the US in the first quarter of this year, according to Adweek.

The clips mentioning the theory totaled more than 50 hours, according to the Times' investigation. Other high-profile Republicans have also touted the theory, including New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, the chair of the House Republican Conference. While Stefanik, the third-ranking Republican in the House, has not mentioned the theory by name, she pushed replacement theory in a series of advertisements on Facebook in September last year.

"Their plan to grant amnesty to 11 MILLION illegal immigrants will overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington," the advertisements said, according to The Washington Post.

Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz has also supported the replacement theory, tweeting in September last year that Carlson was "CORRECT about Replacement Theory as he explains what is happening to America."

There's no indication the Buffalo shooting suspect, 18-year-old Payton Gendron, was directly inspired by Fox News or right-wing personalities. Researchers, authorities and journalists are still examining his path to radicalization, and he appears to have frequented far-right forums, such as 4chan. But there is a growing overlap between the rhetoric and views shared in these online backwaters and mainstream right-wing media and politics.

"Avowed white supremacists and neo-Nazis love Tucker Carlson's show because they say that he is mainstreaming their ideas and that he is providing them with a gloss of respectability that allows the sorts of conspiracy theories that were previously limited to the fringe to spread on America's largest cable news network to millions and millions of people," Gertz, the Media Matters senior fellow, said. "They are overjoyed with what he's done for their movement."

The AP-NORC poll, conducted toward the end of 2021, found that 17% of the total 4,173 American respondents said they believed in ideas about immigrants being brought into the US as part of a political plot. Of those people, 45% of them said they preferred watching OANN or Newsmax, 37% said Fox News, and only 13% and 11% of them said they were CNN and MSNBC viewers, respectively.

The study also found that almost half of the Republican respondents said they supported at least part of the baseless idea—that people are trying to replace "native-born" Americans with immigrants "who agree with their political views," as The Washington Post first reported.

Those killed in the Saturday shooting ranged from 32 to 86 years old, authorities said. In total, 13 people were shot, 11 of whom were Black, according to police. All of those who died were Black.

"There's nothing we can do that's going to take away the hurt, take away these tears, take away the pain, take away the hole in our hearts. Because part of us is gone," said Garnell Whitfield, the son of 86-year-old Ruth Whitfield, who was killed in the shooting."For her to be taken from us and taken from this world by someone that's just full of hate for no reason… it is very hard for us to handle right now," he told ABC News.

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