S1: Hey, everyone. Just wanted to give a special welcome to all of our new listeners from over at Spotify. Yeah, we see you guys. Welcome. And just make sure you go and click that follow button. It’ll make sure I am sitting in your feed day in, day out. You won’t miss a thing. All right. On with the show. The news of the racist grocery store shooting in Buffalo reached journalist Wesley Lowery at a strange moment. For years, he’s reported about race in this country. He won a Pulitzer for his reporting on police violence while he was over at the Washington Post and he’d just finished up a new manuscript.
S2: I’ve been working now for a year or two on a book about the rise and increase in white supremacist violence in the decades since Barack Obama was elected. And looking at various attacks that are driven by racist ideologies and also trying to sit with and think about this idea of how much of our mainstream political rhetoric accelerates and empowers these ideologies.
S1: I’m kind of stuck on the irony of the fact that you were putting to bed this book that was about the increase in racist violence and then this shooting happens. The timing is kind of eerie.
S2: Yeah, it’s it’s so and I’ll be honest, I’ve had a real hard time finishing this book again. My editor somewhere is like, Why are you on podcast right now? And finishing chapters in part because the topic is difficult and the work is difficult. You got to go to all these dark places in your head and think about how to do it and how to do it responsibly and do it well. I think that too often when we think about racism, when we think about white supremacy. We think about the individual racist. We think about our buddy in the group chat. He’s a little off color. We think about our uncle or aunt who says that thing at Thanksgiving that we don’t like. That’s the wrong way to think about it. We have to think about white supremacy as what it is, which is a coherent ideology and a world view.
S1: The shooting in Buffalo seemed to prove Wesley’s point. White Racial violence is on the rise, and you can see that coherent ideology he’s talking about. If you read the alleged shooter’s manifesto, a lot of it is a copy paste job. Borrowing from the documents other racist killers have published. But the fact that it’s derivative, it just underlines the way this kind of hate is spreading.
S2: You could take chunks of this manifesto and say, who said it? A Fox News host or the racist shooter? And he might have some difficulty on some of it.
S1: Even though the shooter was saying, I reject conservatism. Right.
S2: Well, because you all haven’t conserved anything is what he said. He said because you both suck at it.
S1: I feel like we’re at this. Pivotal moment in terms of how we think about the story of what happened in Buffalo. Because as a journalist, you know this like in the weeks after a tragedy like this, journalists and activists kind of decide what these events were about. Like, were they about gun control? Were they about online extremism? I’m kind of wondering if you think when you look at how. Journalists, people in political power are talking about what happened in Buffalo. Are they making the right choices when they decide what this event was about?
S2: I actually think that the choices have been better in Buffalo than they have been in prior conversations. I think sometimes there is a inclination for those of us who work in the news to everything needs to feel new and fresh and different. We want this to be this like Internet thing. And the Internet is right. And it’s like this is like old school Klan stuff. This is about the people and about the ideology. It’s not actually about the Internet. It’s not actually about Fox News or cable. It’s about the reality that racism is extremely powerful and extremely attractive to a lot of folks.
S1: Today on the show, The Roots of the Buffalo Massacre run deep. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to What Next? Stick around. Looking at the shooting in Buffalo, Wesley Lowery says it would be easy to think about the shooter here as a lone wolf. But it’s also important to see how this crime fits into a pattern. The shooter’s 180 page manifesto, a healthy chunk of it, was lifted from a similar document released by the man who attacked mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, back in 2019. It refers again and again to the great replacement theory, the false idea that white people are being replaced by other inferior races. It’s a theory that has been cited by the Tree of Life attacker in Pittsburgh and the man who walked into an El Paso Walmart to kill Latino people. And this many lone wolves, they start to look like a pack.
S2: What we see in the white supremacist movement a few decades ago is a shift. And so decades ago, one of the leaders of the white supremacist movement, Louis Beam, pens this essay where he’s writing and he’s talking about the idea of leaderless resistance that for a long time there was some level of hierarchical reality in the white supremacist movement. But what that meant is that law enforcement could infiltrate their groups, could flip somebody could shut them down after an attack. They could come and they could charge everybody in the group based on something, or they could be sued civilly in court. You saw groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center would do this for years.
S1: So being leaderless made the groups more resilient.
S2: Correct. And so their idea was, how do we put out as much propaganda as possible so that an individual, a white person, can encounter it, become radicalized and know what to do?
S1: And so that you have plausible deniability.
S2: Correct? Because all I did was write a novel about the coming race war and what a responsible white person should do.
S1: I think of it a little bit like an iceberg where the individual actors are like the tip, but then underneath the water, there’s a lot undergirding that tip of the iceberg.
S2: Yes. And so, look, this guy is not a member of some group necessarily. He’s not he’s not in the local clan chapter. He’s not in it like in the natural ways we would think about it. But this person has been interacting with propaganda that’s particularly and specifically put out in specific ways to get him to do the type of thing he did.
S1: And the shooter in this case, in his manifesto, he specifically says, like, I am the sole perpetrator of this attack. He wants to be seen in that way. So you can see how he himself is trying to shape the narrative of who he is and who’s responsible.
S2: Which, again, is exactly what Timothy McVeigh did in Oklahoma City in the nineties. Right. This entire era at this point, going back decades of white supremacist violence. This is how it operates.
S1: Much of the media analysis of what happened in Buffalo has honed in on the great replacement theory and how it informed the shooter, which makes sense because he talks about replacement a lot in that manifesto document. And I think we need to talk about it, too. But I think it’s important to say at the outset that great replacement theory, at least to me, is like a piece of the white supremacy puzzle. It’s like a tool of white supremacy. Great replacement theory. Almost sounds too neutral to me. Like it’s not. Yeah, it’s not alarming enough.
S2: But I also think it gives it too much credit and it tries to make it a novelty. Right. If only we stopped this theory. It would. And I don’t think that is quite I think sometimes when we talk about white supremacy and white supremacist ideology, we can be both too specific and not specific enough. And so what I mean by that is, like we hyperfocus on like quote unquote, great replacement theory or we hyperfocus on for or we hyperfocus and it’s like and it’s like, yeah, but it’s not really about these hyper specifics about a bigger, broader thing. Right? No two white supremacists have the exact same ideology, but almost all of them hold some very specific tenants that that are true across the board. Right. The idea ideology of white supremacy is that, one, there are racial distinctions between the races. Right. That race is a biological truth.
S1: It’s those people versus us over here.
S2: Exactly. Two, that there’s a conflict between the races. Right. And that the white race is under threat. Three, that the Jews are the ones coordinating this threat. And for increasingly so now in the American context, that this threat that the white people are losing and that they need to be revolutionary in their attempts, in their actions. Right. And so, sure, what we see is, quote unquote, great replacement theory as a term, great replacement is coined in a French novel that’s a kind of a dystopian race war novel. So in that context, it’s about Muslims. Right. And we’ve seen that that language migrate over here. But this is no different. Then what the Klan of the 1920s was preaching. This is no different than what the Aryan Nations were preaching in the 1980s. Right. And so we see this play out over and over and over again. And so the key to understanding this is not to go read the French novel that coined the term right, because it’s not even really specifically about this. It’s much more about this bigger and broader idea that has been true and consistent in white supremacist thinking for centuries.
S1: I’m glad that you put your finger on the anti-Semitism that’s involved in great replacement theory and white supremacy in general, because in this shooter’s manifesto, he talks about Jewish people and and sort of says, I’m setting them to the side for now. They can be dealt with later. But the quote unquote, high fertility replacers will destroy us now. And it’s just some of the ugliest writing I’ve read ever. But I think because the focus. Of his shooting was on black victims. It may obscure for some people the connections between other groups who are also part of this ideology and singled out by this ideology.
S2: I think it’s very understandable. Why we focus sometimes on the individualized threats that brothers and sisters among us face. Right. I understand why after the shooting in Buffalo, we talk about white supremacist violence against black people. I understand why after Tree of Life we focus on anti-Semitism against Jewish people. I understand why after El Paso, we focus on anti-immigrant violence. Right. But to understand and to research and look at these shooters, we understand that these white supremacist ideologies hate all of us and that they’re and that we can’t actually cleave we can’t look at and prevent this type of anti-black violence without understanding anti-Semitism. We can’t we can’t just look at anti-Semitism in Tree of Life without also understanding the role that immigrants, playwrights the reason that synagogue was shot up, according to the shooter, was because they had been helping with refugee resettlement. Right. That again, it was this theory that Jewish people were helping to accelerate this type of demographic replacement. And so it’s all of these things are intertwined that all of these groups are in the crosshairs of white supremacists. And so we can’t talk about white supremacists and not talk about anti-Semitism.
S1: When we come back, is right wing punditry to blame for sending people down the white supremacy rabbit hole? In the days since the Buffalo attack, many pundits have started looking to Fox News. As they try to explain the way white supremacist ideology has gone mainstream in this country in particular. Many have pointed to Tucker Carlson, who’s dedicated hours of his show to selling the idea that Democrats are enabling a migrant surge at the border, a surge that he says will keep conservatives out of office.
S3: They’re trying to change the population of the United States, and they hate it when you say that because it’s true, but that’s exactly what they’re doing. How much longer do you think Americans will put up with this? How long before Americans start to take border enforcement into their own hands? Every time they imported new voter, I become disenfranchised as a current voter. No, they’re not allowed to do that. Why are we putting up with this? Most people.
S1: But Wesley says there’s a subtle difference between the Fox News version of great replacement theory and what the Buffalo shooter had in mind. The shooter wasn’t interested in winning political power. Tucker Carlson is.
S2: The partisan political talking points around demographic replacement. The things you might hear from Tucker Carlson or from Ben SHAPIRO, from any number of right wing commentators, is that the country is changing demographically, that Democrats are encouraging that demographic change because they can’t win white voters anymore. And so they want more black people and Latinos and Muslims.
S1: So they’re making about elections.
S2: Correct. That it’s about a partisan political thing now. What I’ll say and one of the things they cite is some writing on the left, the Demographics Equal Destiny Framework that was popular among moderate Democrats post Obama’s election. This idea that the browning of the country would potentially create a supermajority for Democrats. Now, that was short sighted. It was dumb, it was wrong. It wasn’t true. It ignores what we know about immigrant groups, the United States, which is that eventually many of them become conservative as they become what we would consider whiter. Right. That. And so we see now all these pieces being written about. Can you believe that this Latino district near the border is hyper conservative? And it’s like, yes, I can believe that. That’s how immigrants have always worked, whether those immigrants were Irish or Italian or Jewish or or now Latino. But what the again, with SHAPIRO or Tucker Carlson or other people would seize on is they would say, look, Democrats have been saying this. They’ve been saying that the way they’re going to change the country is demographically as Texas becomes browner, as Georgia becomes browner, as Tennessee and Arkansas become browner, that they’re going to be able to win. And all we’re doing is warning our conservative viewers about that or saying, look, this is what the Democrats are doing. Look, I don’t believe that Tucker Carlson or Ben SHAPIRO wanted this shooter to go murder these black people. I don’t believe and that’s a level of good faith that I think not everyone on the left would give to them. Right. I don’t think they wanted that. I don’t I don’t think Tucker Carlson is secretly a Klansman. I don’t think Ben SHAPIRO is either. But what I do think is true is I think that very often figures on the right use rhetoric that is irresponsible given what white supremacists are saying.
S1: And I think what you’re seeing is that, like, the demographic changes are real. This is happening. But the question becomes, why is it salient? What does it mean.
S2: When it’s salient? Because there’s no more powerful force in the history of humanity than us being scared of people who are different than us storming the gates. For the history of our species. Right. This is the thing we’re scared of is those other people over there. And what we see is that if I watch a monologue on Fox News that is telling me the Democrats are shipping in all of these people to change the demographics of the country, and then I search these terms. I’m going to end up on a white supremacist Web site. Right. It becomes this accelerant. And so and again and I’m not saying that he knowingly even does this, but it’s real. Right. And so, again, it’s this gateway drug. It becomes the things that gets you to search for the online community.
S1: When I went searching for evidence of mainstream politicians doing what you’re talking about here, sort of playing footsie with white supremacist ideas, I have to say, I was kind of shocked by how open many of them were. Like, here’s a few things I found. I found an ad for the Senate candidate in Ohio, J.D. Vance, where he literally asks, Are you a racist?
S3: Do you hate Mexicans? The media calls us racist for wanting to build Trump’s wall. They censor us, but it doesn’t change the truth.
S1: I mean, that’s that’s pretty loud and clear. I found Senator Ron Johnson from Wisconsin talking openly about how, you know, this administration, the Biden administration wants open borders. And you have to ask yourself, why.
S4: Is it really they want to remake the demographics of America to ensure their that they stay in power forever? Is that what’s happening here?
S1: I found the lieutenant governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, saying, you know, this is essentially an attempt to take over the country and have open borders. The revolution has begun.
S3: 18 years if every one of them has two or three children. You’re talking about millions and millions and millions of new voters. And they will thank the Democrats and Biden for bringing them here. Who do you think they’re going to vote for?
S1: It was very alarming to me because I felt like all of these things were happening individually with local politicians and maybe getting a little bit of attention. But it’s much more powerful when you add it all up.
S2: I do think a fair amount about of this is that, as I said earlier, we like to think of racist as an individual thing. We don’t like to think about racism as an ideology, as a belief system, as a structure. And when we think about it as an individual problem, it removes us any responsibility from us to make sure that we are not. As long as I’m not individually doing racism, I’m fine. I can say whatever I want. I can use whatever rhetoric I can. When we understand white supremacy as this developed, coherent, complex ideology, it requires us to be particularly careful and politically prudent about what rhetoric we use and what rhetoric we do not use. And so think about what that would look like. If you are a Republican politician who is worried about the border, about demographic change, about what that might do to American culture, society, whatever, whatever, whatever, right. What would it look like to express those concerns and those grievances while also making it explicitly clear that you give no quarter to these people?
S1: It would look like Liz Cheney.
S2: It would look very, very different than what we see on Fox News. What we hear from it would not be there is an invasion. White people be scared. But of course, I hate racism. But the issue becomes what happens when you have a political party in your country that is almost exclusively white? And one of the most powerful things to mobilize those people are bigoted prejudicial views. The incentive structure, if you are J.D. Vance, if you are if you’re if you’re whomever you are, is to flirt with these with these ideas.
S1: So what would a robust political or journalistic response to all this look like? Because I look at what’s happening now and I sense. A lot of fear like Joe Biden is supposed to go to Buffalo. We’re speaking on Tuesday. He’s going to Buffalo today to speak. Notes worry that the people who are driving the narrative might not connect the dots fully here.
S2: I think there are a few things. I think sometimes there’s a dissidence between how they connect the dots in private and what they believe they can do in public. Because, again, because of this incentive structure with the way our country and our electorate works, where we still live in a majority white country, and that majority increases when you start looking at the people who vote as opposed to the people who live here. Right. You cannot win elections without significant portions of white America. And we know significant portions of white Americans hold racially bigoted views. Suddenly, for Joe Biden or whomever, there’s a different incentive structure no matter what they believe personally, no matter what they might think. Right. And that’s not even getting into the conversation about whether or not those politicians make themselves have biases where they might not want to believe that that these things are true of their fellow white Americans. Right. That, again, when you look at someone like Joe Biden, Joe Biden can’t get elected without a significant portion of white voters. And and so he has to make a calculus. Nancy Pelosi can’t hold the House without a significant portion of white voters. You can never win the Senate as Democrats unless you can win in extremely white states. Is it possible to tell the truth and attract those white voters? I think the version of that question the media is, is it possible for us to tell the truth about the world we live in and be trusted by the inhabitants of this world who who are inclined not to believe some of these things?
S1: Do you think it is?
S2: I’m not sure that it is. And frankly, I’m not sure that that’s our problem. Right. I don’t know that our job in the media is to be is to poll. Well. I don’t know that our job is to be popular. I think our job is to tell the truth, to write down true things. I’m not fully convinced that our job is to be trusted by everyone because in order think about it this way. Right. We currently live in a country where, again, half of Republican voters believe Barack Obama was not born in this country. That’s a lie. It’s a racist lie. If my job as a media outlet is to find a way to be trusted by those people, I’m never gonna be able to tell the truth, because simply by saying the true thing, they are going to decide I’m untrustworthy. And so what do we do with this? Right. We live in a society where the truth itself has become so polarized and that people exist in these worlds. They’ve constructed in their own heads, that if our job in the media is to tell the truth, to expose new truths, to to. How do we do that when we know that there are big, massive subsections of people who will never believe true things?
S1: You are not leaving me on an optimistic note here.
S2: I cannot do that for you. You picked the wrong podcast. Guess.
S1: Wesley. I’m really, really grateful for your time. Thanks for coming on the show.
S2: Thanks so much for having me. This great conversation.
S1: Wesley Lowery is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. He covers race and justice in America.
S5: White supremacy is a poison. It’s a poison run through. It really is.
S1: After Wesley and I got off the line. Joe Biden did speak in Buffalo and he connected the dots, saying violence at this supermarket was part of a larger pattern, one he thought was likely to repeat itself.
S5: We can we’ve seen in these hate filled attacks represent the views of a hateful minority. We can’t allow them to distort America, the real America. We can’t allow them to destroy the soul of the nation.
S1: And that’s our show. What next is produced by Mary Wilson Carmel Delshad and Elaine Schwartz. We are getting help each and every day from Sam Kim and Anna Rubanova. We are led by Joanne Levine and Alisha Montgomery. And I’m Mary Harris. Go tracked me down on Twitter. Say hello. See pictures of my dog. I’m at Mary’s desk. All right. I’ll see you back in this feed tomorrow.