There is no DNA for bigotry. Hatred is acquired after birth. So what explains mass murders like the one at a Buffalo supermarket, where 10 people were slain by a radicalized youth who drove 200 miles with a semi-automatic rifle to find a concentration of Black victims?
Racism is an entirely man-made virus. The lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II described it in the musical "South Pacific":
"You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught."
But it’s no longer just families, friends and the usual suspects in society’s underworld — neo-Nazis, the KKK and their ilk — doing the teaching.
— Racial fear flourishes on the internet, especially on such antisocial fringes as 4chan, where the Buffalo shooter apparently absorbed it like a dry sponge.
— It’s the stock in trade of Fox News’ ratings leader, Tucker Carlson.
— It is foundational in the politics of Donald Trump and of lesser politicians whose presumably wiser colleagues are too cynical or cowardly to call them out.
Hate and fear, the ancient weapons of religious persecutions and wars of aggression, have been harnessed to the engines of political power and corporate profit in contemporary America. Leaders in our own government are among the teachers.
Great replacement theory
The racist mutation behind the Buffalo massacre and others is known as the “great replacement theory.” It alleges a conspiracy by Democrats and elitists to import Black and brown-skinned immigrants to displace whites, politically and culturally.
The Buffalo shooter had posted a 180-page document claiming he believed the white race to be in danger. According to the Anti-Defamation League, he copied much of it from a man who livestreamed himself murdering 61 people at two mosques in New Zealand in 2019. The canard of whites being replaced by minorities figured in mass murders at synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, California, at a Walmart in El Paso, and at a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
It was rampant at the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville when bigots marching by torchlight chanted “Jews will not replace us” and a racist thug murdered a counterprotester with his car.
On that occasion, Trump — a sitting American president — validated the neo-Nazis with his remark that there were “fine people” on both sides, then defended himself by saying he was speaking of those who favored Confederate monuments, not those who favored the Confederacy’s policies in relation to Black Americans.
A thin distinction, but he had already played to white fear and hatred to win the presidency. The great replacement theory now figures in his "big lie" that the 2020 election was stolen and to his enduring influence over the party of Trump. And this is only the latest of his lunatic rantings regarding Black and brown people (recall his baseless claim that millions of illegal immigrants voted in the 2016 election).
Aided by sycophants, copycats and just plain cowards who echo or tolerate the replacement canard, it has become virtually a defining dogma of the entire Republican Party. A poll last December found that nearly half of all Republicans believe in it to at least some degree.
The New York Times has counted more than 400 occasions in which Tucker Carlson cited or alluded to replacement theory. When the ADL urged Fox last year to rid itself of Carlson, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz tweeted: “Tucker Carlson is CORRECT about Replacement Theory as he explains what is happening to America.
“The ADL,” Gaetz added, “is a racist organization.” But now he claims he has “never spoken of replacement theory in terms of race.”
The same poison has spread to Tallahassee, where a senior member of the Florida Senate, Republican Dennis Baxley, spewed replacement theory in 2019 about his support for an anti-abortion bill.
“When you get a birth rate less than 2%,” Baxley said, “that society is disappearing. And it’s being replaced by folks that come behind them and immigrate, don’t wish to assimilate into that society and they do believe in having children.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis, who supports the open carrying of permitless guns in Florida, has had little to say about Buffalo, even though he weighs in regularly on national issues. His office told Pensacola’s ABC affiliate “it would be prudent to refrain from any unsubstantiated speculation or policy statements” until “a thorough investigation into the causes of this tragedy.”
Legislation DeSantis sought and signed makes it hazardous for teachers and professors to even discuss what happened and why in Buffalo, lest someone’s feelings be hurt. Such laws, migrating to other states, are breeding grounds for racism. It’s as if they are intended to be.
Today’s laws will put no one else on trial but the 18-year-old shooter himself for the murders at Buffalo. In defense, he may try to blame others for putting him up to it. That would fail, as it should. But the moral stain on those others will follow them to the end of time.
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