I have mentioned before how many negative trends that I observed in Sri Lanka over the decades, I now see playing out in the US. The mass killing in Buffalo illustrates one such situation that is rife for bigotry and that is when the majority community in a nation sees itself as under threat from the minority. This is because feeling threatened engenders a sense of grievance and a need to strike back in self-preservation while at the same time, being in the majority means that they have all the power and the means to attack members of the minority.
In Sri Lanka, politicians have long been able to whip up animosity against minority groups by saying that the majority Sinhala Buddhists were in danger of being eliminated. The fact that they constituted about 70% of the population and that this was highly unlikely to happen on simple statistical grounds did not prevent such fears from seizing the imagination of some people in the majority and we saw periodic acts of violence against the minorities. The targets varied over time suchas the minority Tamils who made up just about 20% of the population. But the chauvinists pointed to the fact that the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu shared ethnic features with Sri Lankan Tamils and thus, taken together, they constituted the larger group that, in their fevered imagination, would one day take over the country and suppress the Sinhala Buddhists. More recently, fears have been raised about Muslims, who make up just about 5% of the population, arguing that their relatively high birth rates were part of a long-term devious plot to become the majority. That both of these claims have not a shred of evidence in support and were preposterous purely on demographic grounds was dismissed.
In the US, this paranoid fear is taking the form of the ‘great replacement’ theory that argues that there is a deliberate plan by shadowy elites to make white Christians the minority by various means. While it is true that demographic changes are such that the relative size of white Christians is decreasing, the idea that this is some part of a conspiracy is preposterous. Kathleen Belew, an assistant professor of history at the University of Chicago, looks at the origins of this belief and says that obsession about birth rates is a key element.
The idea is simply that many different kinds of social change are connected to a plot by a cabal of élites to eradicate the white race, which people in this movement believe is their nation. It connects things such as abortion, immigration, gay rights, feminism, residential integration—all of these are seen as part of a series of threats to the white birth rate. One thing you’ll notice in the manifestos and in the talking points, really going back through the twentieth century, is this focus on the reproductive capacity of white women in maintaining the white race as a nation.
The “great replacement” comes about relatively recently from “The Camp of the Saints,” a novel that depicts a surge of migrants that usurps European culture. But it’s really the same ideology as the New World Order conspiracy, the idea of the Zionist occupational government—which is how people talked about this in the nineteen-eighties and early nineties. We see versions of this going all the way back to the eugenics movement in the early twentieth century, the writings of Madison Grant, and things such as “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” All of these are the same set of beliefs packaged with the cultural context at the time.
It’s not just about passive demographic change, and the news stories we see pretty often about when a county or a city or the nation will no longer be majority white. It’s about an apocalyptic threat perpetrated by what these conspiracists think of as a cabal. They see, for instance, abortion as a scheme to lower the white birth rate. They see residential integration as a scheme to lower the white birth rate. They see feminism as a scheme to keep white women out of the home and lower the white birth rate.
The evil élites are typically rendered as Jewish, and I use that word “cabal” knowing that it tends to invoke an idea of Jewish élites. But this movement is also generally distrustful of all kinds of élites. Sometimes it’s about the United Nations as the élites trying to wage this war on the white birth rate. Sometimes it’s about global outsiders. But there is a heavy current of anti-Semitism that links the idea of the manipulative élite with Jewish conspirators.
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor analyzes in particular the Buffalo killer’s manifesto and it clearly reveals this weird belief that hard-working white people are somehow the ones discriminated against in the US while Blacks bask in undeserved privileged luxury.
The shooter is alleged to have posted a hundred-and-eighty-page “manifesto” avowing white-supremacist beliefs. In the hate-filled text, he denounced immigrants and Black people as “replacers” of white people. The notion that white people are being replaced has recently moved from the fringe of far-right politics to mainstream Republican Party politics. The Fox News personality Tucker Carlson has helped to popularize the ideology, and it has dovetailed seamlessly with the rhetoric of the Republican Party, which has insisted on describing the arrival of migrants at the southern border—seeking entry into the U.S. as asylum seekers—as an “invasion.”
The shooter rationalized his vicious attack by trying to fit it into this grand, esoteric conspiracy of white replacement through immigration. His manifesto, by contrast, is filled with crudely racist memes about Black Americans. In fact, for all his denunciation of “replacers” in the manifesto, an archive of his posts on the messaging platform Discord, from the past six months, barely mentions immigrants. Instead, he writes prolifically and disparagingly about Black people, whom he incessantly describes with racial slurs. In a search of archived posts beginning in 2021, the word “immigrant” appears twelve times, “replacement” eighteen times, “replacer” twenty-two times, but “blacks” and the N-word each appear a hundred times.
He searched by Zip Code for the largest Black population close to where he lived, in order to “kill as many blacks as possible.” His research led him to a grocery store, on the city’s East Side, along the Jefferson Avenue commercial corridor, running through the heart of Black Buffalo.
In his manifesto, the Buffalo shooter writes, “Blacks are the most privileged race in the US and many western countries. But yet they say they are the most oppressed. What other race is given trillions of dollars of White taxpayer money to succeed, but yet fails and asks for more? What other race actively destroys their communities like they do?”
Trump coddled avowed white supremacists during his Presidency, and his open stoking of racial animus unshackled the Republican Party from norms long held in mainstream politics.
The conservative hysteria that seeks to envelop American history in a shroud of innocence and ignorance—and thus refuses to acknowledge the roots of racial inequality, residential segregation, underemployment—is a convenient justification for never having to use the power of the state to address these issues. It also perpetuates the delusion that segregation is a choice and that Black neighborhoods suffer greater inequities because of something intrinsic to the people who live in these communities. This is not just wrong; it is dangerous.
(Incidentally, I am glad to see that many reporters and analysts are refraining from mentioning the killer’s name, referring to him instead as ‘the Buffalo shooter’, thus depriving him of any notoriety that he may have been seeking.)
What started out as a fringe belief among the KKK and other white supremacist groups seems to have become mainstream, thanks to the Republican party and Fox News that have adopted it. Polls suggest that up to a third of Americans now believe in it. That is astounding. So we should not be surprised that there will be the occasional person who decides to do something about it on a personal level by going on a murderous rampage, even though what they do does not change the demographics at all. The sad fact is that the extremely easy availability of weapons that can kill many people in a very short time means that there is little that can be done to anticipate and stop such people before they do damage.
Although the people who hold such views may not realize this, the very existence of such a fear shows how many privileges they currently enjoy simply by being a member of the majority. Otherwise why fight the change? The fear of losing the privileges of being in the majority community, however irrational, seems to be enough to cause some people to lose their minds.