Buffalo. Ten dead. A young white man targeting Black people in a Black neighborhood. Military gear. Racist and antisemitic rantings. The "n word." An attack streamed live, online. It’s almost becoming banal in America.
To borrow Ernest Hemingway’s idea of the memory of war, the narrative of these events in America are starting to sound the same, just the location and the body counts are different.
In the immediate aftermath of the Buffalo shooting, social media buzzed with the similarities between the shooter’s manifesto and white nationalist talking points on Tucker Carlson’s highly-viewed cable television show.
Diversity was a ruse, or a dangerous fallacy, both Carlson and the Buffalo killer agree. The shooter cites the great replacement theory, the bizarre idea that immigration is meant to dilute the white population in order to recreate society, a theory Carlson has highlighted.
Many iterations of this conspiracy theory blame Jews as the "hidden hand" behind the replacement strategy. The Pittsburgh synagogue shooter was convinced that Jews – specifically the immigration non-profit HIAS – were behind the plot to dilute the nation’s white Christian identity with newcomers, and he wasn’t alone: in the Trump era of rising xenophobia, right-wing media had targeted HIAS.
A white gunman who killed Black churchgoers in Charleston left a manifesto that was a essentially a call to arms against Blacks, Jews and other non-desirables. The Buffalo shooter wasted no words in expressing his explicit hatred of Jews, writing in answer to a rhetorical question: "Are you an anti-semite? YES!!"
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What appears to be different this time around is the degree to which the ideas of a white supremacist terrorist are already mainstream in the American right.
Elise Stefanik, who is now the number three Republican in the House of Representatives, has been accused of amplifying the "great replacement theory" to her electoral advantage, with ads that scream in capital letters that the Democrats want a "PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION" by legalizing 11 million immigrants, and an Instagram account that endorses the idea that there is a "foreign invasion" on America’s southern border.
Two House Republicans recently attended a white nationalist gathering. "More conservatives are becoming more comfortable with articulating great replacement theory," said Ben Lorber, a research analyst at Political Research Associates. "It has intensified since Trump left office."
Google the phrase "new American civil war" and plenty of articles pop up asking the question if the United States is headed for new domestic armed conflict. What’s clear is that we’re in the early stages of such a conflict, but not the traditional warfare in which the Union Army faces off against a new breakaway army.
If the Italian Years of Lead or the Troubles in Northern Ireland were defined by low intensity warfare between bands of armed factions, the American version is looking far more atomized, but not necessarily less severe as a result. The 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was the deadliest incident on American soil before 9/11, and it was largely the action of one far-right activist radicalized by anti-government views and the white supremacist book The Turner Diaries.
The bloodshed in Buffalo – like the shootings in Charleston, in Pittsburgh – the largest slaughter of Jews ever in America, or in El Paso, the largest slaughter of Latinos in modern American history – wasn’t the work of a member of a paramilitary organization taking orders from a lieutenant, but one of many individuals who are becoming radicalized, but this time not even by fringe, opaque, hard to access voices but by ideas widely circulating in mainstream right-wing media.
In a nation where high-powered guns, almost unlimited ammunition and military-grade tactical gear are widely available, who needs an organized militia to wage war, when you can just use your credit card?
There is no sign of this trend slowing down. The Pentagon last year expressed worry that white nationalists within the military could bring about organized violence, and the Federal Bureau of Investigations has flagged the potential violence of the followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory, which played a large role motivating the January 6 Capitol insurrection.
And while the New York Times has documented how Tucker Carlson’s show has built a white nationalist media empire within Fox News, it also revealed the degree to which the network isn’t negatively impacted by the fury against Carlson’s ideas because he brings in the crowds, which in show business is all that matters.
Don’t expect him to pull back his rhetoric after Buffalo. After all, to his mind, he's winning the war, and speaking for the GOP: Nearly half of all Republicans now agree with the great replacement theory.
For Lorber, there are short term solutions such as pressuring advertisers to avoid shows like Carlson’s or to call for more content moderation on social media, but the issue is systemic, he says, and more people who are concerned about multiracial democracy should become involved in movements combating right-wing intolerance.
And it’s especially important for American Jews to internalize this. For a great many Ashkenazi Jews, the days of institutionalized second-class citizenship are over. We can golf in the goyim’s country clubs and attend their universities, but for today’s growing far right we are firmly back in their crosshairs.
Buffalo and Pittsburgh are twin tragedies. The Charlottesville chant "Jews will not replace us" is directly linked to the great replacement theory. The only answer is inter-racial and interfaith activism and solidarity against a rising, normalized far right.
"It’s important to look at the antisemitism that's alongside the anti-Black racism," Lorber says, noting that the Buffalo shooter could have just as easily have targeted Jews. In the grotesque words of the shooter’s manifesto, Jews are the real problem, but "they can be dealt with in time." Lorber cautions: "The Jewish community has a stake in combating the spread of great replacement theory." That stake is our lives, and our democracy.