The Buffalo shooter was inspired by the racist ‘great replacement theory’
This idea, once relegated to the fringes, has taken hold on popular right-wing television programs and in the halls of Congress. The theory, known as the “great replacement,” turned white nationalism into an international call to arms. The apocalyptic vision has gathered followers during the coronavirus pandemic, which has deepened political polarization and accelerated the flow of racist ideology online.
“You don’t find this philosophy only on the fringes of the internet and among the most extreme groups anymore,” said Milan Obaidi, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Oslo who has studied the rhetoric of the “great replacement” and the violence it provoked. “It’s becoming common. You see established politicians in Europe and the United States touting similar ideas.
A candidate for the French presidential election, the conservative Valérie Pécresse, explicitly mentioned the “great replacement” in the campaign this winter. Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) emphasized his principles during a congressional hearing last year. And Tucker Carlson, the most-watched host on Fox News, championed the ideology, which not only holds that immigration is reshaping demographics and politics, but that a group of elites are engineering demographic change for their own ends. policies.
Nearly one in three Americans say they are extremely or very concerned that “native Americans are losing their economic, political and cultural influence in this country due to the growing immigrant population,” according to a recent survey by the US. ‘Associated Press and NORC.
Since 2011, when French polemicist Renaud Camus used the term as the title of a self-published book spreading fanciful claims about immigrants killing European culture, his conspiracy theories have been translated to far-right forums and transformed in slogans deployed by extremists.
Gendron, who wrote that he worried about the declining white birth rate and the “genocide of the European people” while browsing 4chan, the anonymous online message board, is just the latest representative of the “great replacement “to turn to violence.
Its precursors and models have left a trail of destruction that stretches from Norway, where Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people, including 69 at a summer camp, in a single day in 2011, to Christchurch, New Zealand , where Brenton H. Tarrant killed 51 people. at two mosques in 2019. Both men promoted their ideology in hateful writings that denounced immigration and argued that violence was necessary to preserve Western civilization.
Their ideas, which built on earlier screeds including those floated by American neo-Nazis, echoed over the weekend – first on the internet, then from the barrel of a gun in Buffalo. This is where Gendron is accused of opening fire on a supermarket in a predominantly black neighborhood of the city, killing 10 people and injuring three others. He allegedly brandished an assault weapon that appeared to display a racial slur and the names of previous mass shooters. He pleaded not guilty to first degree murder.
Using online tools to sensationalise his terror and invite participation and emulation, the shooter broadcast his attack on live streaming service Twitch, using a GoPro camera mounted on his helmet. He put together a to-do list on the Discord messaging platform and weighed in on discussions about guns and other gear on the Reddit aggregation and discussion platform, all with a username. referencing a meme that parrot black vernacular.
He wrote in the document – created on May 12, according to metadata, and uploaded to Google Drive – that he wanted everyone to “watch and save”. Screenshots of Gendron’s Twitch stream show only around 22 people were watching at the time of his rampage, and some videos posted on Saturday night only showed the first few minutes as he drove his car around a parking lot. , then came out with a gun in hand. .
A Twitch spokeswoman said the stream was deleted within two minutes of the violence starting. The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, a tech industry group founded after parts of the Christchurch mosque shooting were livestreamed on Facebook in 2019, said it immediately added the video to a terrorism database that could automatically block its publication on Facebook. , Twitter, YouTube and other sites.
But by Sunday morning, videos showing the carnage had started circulating online, including in at least one linked Facebook post that was online for 10 hours and garnered more than 500 comments and 46,000 shares. The site where the video had been hosted, Streamable, took it down a few hours later, when it had already been viewed more than 3 million times. The company did not respond to requests for comment. Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said the video violated the platform’s terms of service and the post was removed.
Gendron’s 180-page document describes his radicalization on internet forums and details a plan to target the black community in Buffalo, 200 miles from his home in Conklin, NY
He makes explicit the inspiration he found from Breivik and, in particular, Tarrant, while also citing hate-motivated killings in the synagogues of Pittsburgh and Halle, Germany, as well as the church. African Methodist Episcopal Emanuel in Charleston, South Carolina.
Fear of a ‘great replacement’ animated cries of ‘You won’t replace us’ at the deadly 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, after which then-President Donald Trump declared that there were “very good people on both sides”.
Gendron’s document echoes many of Tarrant’s words, a sign of how extremists directly quote each other when resorting to violence. “It’s a textbook,” said Cynthia Miller-Idriss, a professor at American University, where she directs the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab.
Twenty-eight percent of the document is plagiarized from the statement left by the Christchurch shooter, according to a analysis led by the Khalifa Ihler Institute, a Sweden-based think tank that seeks to combat extremism. Tarrant is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Tarrant’s live-streamed attack, according to Gendron’s document, “started everything you see here.”
“Brenton started my real research into the issues of immigration and aliens in our white lands, without his livestream I probably wouldn’t have any idea of the real issues facing the West,” he continues.
The suspect said he started browsing 4chan in May 2020 due to his “extreme boredom” during the pandemic and was radicalized by graphics and memes he said showed him the ” truth”. While browsing the forum, he saw archived footage of the Christchurch Mosque shooter’s live attack. “I finally found his manifesto and read it, and found I was pretty much on board,” he wrote.
4chan message boards and its offshoots, like 8chan, effectively have no rules, are anonymous, and are full of racist memes, hateful jokes, and calls for violence. The sites have often been cited in mass shootings.
These online forums, rather than cable news or congressional hearings, appear to have radicalized Gendron, Miller-Idriss said.
“We know there’s a huge mainstreaming of the ‘great replacement’ narrative by politicians and cable news pundits like Tucker Carlson,” Miller-Idriss said. “It’s really dangerous, and at the same time everything indicates so far that his exposure has been through anonymous online spaces and not necessarily through mainstream media.”
Gendron’s document says he came to his beliefs “primarily from the internet.”
In this way, his route in extremist communities typifies the international spread of white nationalism, which increasingly occurs through online networks rather than organized groups, Miller-Idriss said. The pandemic has accelerated this trend.
“You can’t ignore the role of organized groups for sourcing and propaganda,” she said. “But membership is not one organization or another with a list of members and regular meetings. These are networked online spaces where people engage and become radicalized by exposing themselves to extremist content, some of which is created by groups.
Content integration also cannot be ignored, said Amarnath Amarasingam, political violence expert and assistant professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. It is broadcast, he said, on prime-time television and by elected leaders.
Carlson, on his popular Fox show, didn’t shy away from discussing the themes underlying the “great replacement” narrative.
“I know the left and all the little Twitter gatekeepers literally go hysterical if you use the term ‘replacement’, if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters who are voting now, with new people , plus obedient Third World voters,” he said in April 2021. “But they are getting hysterical because that is what is happening, in fact.
Perry, the Pennsylvania Republican, raised the idea during a hearing held by a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee the same month.
“For many Americans, what seems to be happening or what they believe is happening is that it seems to them that we are replacing native-born Americans – native-born Americans – to transform permanently the political landscape of this very nation,” Perry said.
A Fox spokeswoman did not address Carlson’s comment on the ‘great replacement’ narrative, including a request for evidence underpinning his claims, but pointed to several instances in which the host said that he opposed political violence. Perry’s aides did not respond to requests for comment.
At the state level, far-right lawmakers have spoken out even more clearly. “We are being replaced and overrun,” Wendy Rogers, a Republican Arizona state senator who became a fundraising phenom based on false claims that the 2020 election has failed, wrote on Twitter last summer. been stolen. On Saturday, she took to social networking service Gab to suggest without evidence that the Buffalo shooting was a false flag, perpetrated by federal agents.
The most dangerous dimensions of the “great replacement” worldview — “that something must be done about it and violence is justified” — remain mostly confined to fringe forums, Amarasingam said.
“But bringing people to what used to be a radicalized idea – that’s what’s become mainstream,” he said. “It’s on millions of TVs every night.”
Razzan Nakhlawi contributed to this report.