As reports continue to roll in about the Buffalo shooter’s embrace of white nationalist rhetoric in a lengthy manifesto that detailed his plans and reasoning for carrying out Saturday’s horrific attack, many are pointing to figures on the right who espouse similar viewpoints as helping such racism become mainstream.
The shooting on Saturday left 10 people dead and others injured in a majority-Black neighborhood after an 18-year-old suspect allegedly opened fire with the intent of killing as many Black people as possible. It was just the latest in a long line of attacks inspired by far-right rhetoric concerning the issues of race and immigration.
In a manifesto verified by several news outlets as belonging to the shooting suspect, the 18-year-old clearly links his aims to reversing a trend that has been coined by white supremacist conspiracy theorists as the “white replacement theory”. The conspiracy in short spreads the false belief that Democrats are attempting to supplant white Americans with Hispanic immigrants and other people of colour in an attempt to radically change the US voting population.
Experts have long pointed to the theory as inspiring numerous far-right attacks, including the Christchurch mosque massacre in New Zealand in 2019 – in which 51 people were killed – as well as the shooting at a shopping centre in El Paso, Texas, later that year which saw 23 people lose their lives.
Now, the theory is firmly at the centre of discourse again as the alleged Buffalo shooter is said to have expressed how he was radicalised both by far-right message boards like 4chan and other white supremacist websites, as well as the manifesto spread online by Brenton Harrison Tarrant, the man convicted of the New Zealand shootings.
While the Buffalo suspect appears to have explained that he was radicalised online, the real-life words of top conservative figures are being reexamined in the wake of the shooting.
On the top of that list of purveyors of similar theories is Tucker Carlson, the Fox News primetime host who according to The New York Times has addressed the issue of demographic “replacement”, in his own words, on hundreds of episodes totalling more than 50 hours of content.
“I know that the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term ‘replacement,’ if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the third world. But they become hysterical because that’s what’s happening actually. Let’s just say it: That’s true,” he said in one explicit example from an episode of his show in September.
Many left-leaning commentators as well as journalists who cover the far right were calling on Fox to address Carlson’s comments.
The network has repeatedly defended its primetime star and a spokesperson for the network on Sunday pointed to the host’s past condemnation of “political violence” on his show.
“[W}e’ve been against, obviously, violence and terrorism since the day the show went on the air,” he declared in January.
But experts on hate and disinformation agree that the rhetoric Carlson and other Republican-aligned figures have espoused is playing into such racist beliefs shifting closer to the mainstream.
Among others in the conservative political sphere who have faced similar criticism recently are Elise Stefanik, chairwoman of the House Republican Caucus, as well as Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters who shared a clip of himself decrying supposed plans by Democrats to bring in “tens of millions” of undocumented immigrants for the purpose of granting them voting rights mere hours after the Buffalo shooting occurred.
Others on the far-right have flirted with white nationalist figures and rhetoric for even longer. Earlier this year Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene was sharply criticised for attending a conference hosted by a white nationalist, Nick Fuentes, who is a top promoter of the replacement theory belief, and other members of Congress like Paul Gosar have attended his events and similar ones in the past as well.
An expert on Black identity and anti-racism, Dr Matthew Oware of the University of Richmond, told The Independent that the rhetoric Mr Carlson and others spread is based on “fearmongering” and exploiting pain in society for their own gain or to explain society’s ills.
“Until we find ways to address the pain the individuals feel in our society (and other societies) then we will continue to see acts of racialized, religious, homophobic, and misogynistic violence around the world. I think we must ask hurt folk why they feel hurt and why they displace their anger onto specific types of populations,” Dr Oware said in an interview.
On Carlson, Dr Oware noted that the Fox News host was capitalising on a much older anger that existed throughout the Obama presidency as well.
“The racism he spouts existed before him and has been in American society for quite some time. When Barack Obama was president Dylann Roof (another young white male) killed multiple Black people in a church in South Carolina,” he explained. “The racist anger existed before Carlson. Tucker is just capitalizing on it.”
Many disagree on how to handle the rhetoric being increasingly spread by the far right. Some, most prominently including the liberal group Media Matters, have pushed for Carlson to be kicked off the air or for Fox News itself to lose advertising money from companies who do not wish to associate with such messages.
Dr Oware countered that deplatforming was not the answer: “I strongly believe that Tucker Carlson should NOT be kicked off his show or that his rhetoric should be censored in any way. It is racist, xenophobic, and abhorrent, for sure. But it needs to be challenged in every possible way, not muffled. Silly ideas need to be undercut with fact-based evidence, not merely dismissed or shouted down.”
“Tucker’s ideas should be engaged whenever possible, so that he (and others) knows that his rhetoric will always be shown to be false,” he continued.
Others, like the Anti-Defamation League, took the exact opposite response and are calling for Democrats to pass legislation aimed at battling white supremacist beliefs on the airwaves and online.
“This was yet another predictable attack by an avowed white supremacist who imbibed hateful conspiracy theories online and then turned to violent action, this time targeting mostly Black victims. We cannot remain complacent in the face of this continuing and serious national security threat. More must be done – now – to push back against the racist and antisemitic violence propounded by the far right,” said the ADL’s president Jonathan Greenblatt on Sunday.
He added: “We need our elected leaders at all levels to have the political will to pass meaningful legislation that will hold anyone involved in spreading white supremacist conspiracy theories to account and to stop potentially violent terrorists before they commit a crime.”
Carlson remains the highest-watched cable host in America, including among younger demographics. Fox in general also remains on top of rival networks CNN and MSNBC in the ratings wars even as their competitors have grown increasingly vocal about the rightwing bent of the network’s opinion hosts.
On Sunday, CNN’s media correspondent Brian Stelter did not directly address the network he frequently critcises but on Twitter did highlight, through retweets, that the right-leaning cable channel had declined to mention the shooter’s manifesto on its MediaBuzz show as well as Carlson’s Twitter post from 1 May laughing off the Times investigation into his use of rhetoric that could be seen as explicit embraces of “white replacement theory.”
The network previously suspended another host, Jeanine Pirro, in 2019 for comments questioning the patriotism of a Black and Muslim congresswoman, Ilhan Omar.