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Republican officials keep stoking white supremacist tropes — and we’re reaping the result

Among the enablers of the mentally deranged killer who slaughtered ten Blacks at a Buffalo grocery store last week are those who refuse to condemn the Great Replacement Theory and the Jan. 6 mob assault on the Capitol. 

These are two centerpieces of the sprawling, hate-filled cadre of white nationalists with whom the Buffalo assailant trafficked on social media.

Katheen Belew, a University of Chicago professor and my go-to expert on white racism (if you want to be informed on this threat read her 2021 “Field Guide to White Supremacy“), cites the centrality of the Jan. 6 attack to the mish mash of hate groups, white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and militiamen who inhabit the “alt-right” internet landscape. 

The white nationalists on Jan. 6, she reminds me, “had an outsized impact because they were highly organized, showed up with tactical gear, and breached the building.” A purpose, she says, was “to radicalize others, and in Buffalo — whether he spoke of that day or not — the gunman was propelled by that wave of radicalization.”

Yet the vast majority of Republicans are unwilling to forcefully condemn the Jan. 6 riot, with many even defending it.

Examples abound.

The Republican National Committee declared it “legitimate political discourse” and censured two Republican lawmakers who have forcefully condemned the riot. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) still claims it was “by and large … a peaceful protest” with a few bad apples. Johnson’s a kook, but there isn’t exactly a lot of daylight between him and Republican House leadership. In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), while criticizing what happened, blocked a bipartisan independent investigation for fear it might hurt Republicans politically.

There were seven deaths associated with the Jan. 6 assault; approximately 150 police officers were injured, and it cost millions in damage. Those who contend it was “a peaceful protest” or “legitimate political discourse” should be required to watch HBO’s “Four Hours at the Capitol,” which captures the criminal violence of the mob attacking the outnumbered police. 

But this is old news.

What’s new, however, is growing evidence that the silence — or acquiescence — of Republican leaders has, in the words of Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, “enabled white nationalism, white supremacy and antisemitism.

The Republicans’ dodge is dangerous.

“Anything short of direct condemnation will come across to white power activists as a green light for future violence, plain and simple,” Belew says. “We’ve seen this over and over again, in recent years and across time.”

It’s clearly linked to the even more destructive Great Replacement Theory, which posits that a Jewish conspiracy is afoot to culturally and demographically replace whites by non-whites in America.

The high priest of this trope is Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

And on Carlson’s show, the two threads come neatly together: When Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) seemed to rather mildly criticize the Jan. 6 insurrection a year after the fact, he was brought to his knees by Carlson to whom he groveled and begged forgiveness.

Among the House Republican leadership, the lawmaker who replaced Cheney — dumped because she was speaking out against Trump’s incitement and subsequent inaction — is Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), a former moderate turned Trump worshiper. Stefanik pushed all the buttons in a Facebook ad charging that a “plan” by “radical” Democrats “to grant amnesty to 11 million illegal immigrants will overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority.”

I wonder if Ms. Stefanik thinks President George H.W. Bush, the late Sen. John McCain or the pre-Trump Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — all supporters of comprehensive immigration reform — wanted to dilute the power of white people?

There are scores — maybe hundreds — of Republican officials who are stirring the same racial fears.

There is, as Liz Cheney said, an antisemitic element to this. Financier George Soros is a favorite target of Republicans, and when the Anti-Defamation League decried the replacement theory, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) accused the ADL of being “a racist organization.”

It defies credulity to think all this doesn’t embolden — give a little more license to — the white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other peddlers of hate like the Buffalo assailant. 

These elements are larger and more connected than most want to acknowledge, Belew has repeatedly written. It’s not just a lone wolf or some crazy hiding away in a remote shack. More than three quarters of domestic terrorism acts are committed by right-wing extremists; FBI director Christopher Wray has labeled them a priority for the bureau. 

A perverse irony is that more than a few conservatives are focusing on race this election year: assailing or banning the teaching of the “critical race theory” which holds that systemic racism is deeply embedded in the legal, social, economic and political structures in America. The theory is taught almost exclusively in leading law schools, but also is in a handful of training manuals and is accepted wisdom in a few elite media and private organizations.

Politically, it’s primarily a scare tactic. 

By contrast, promulgating the great replacement theory, vindicating the Jan. 6 assault, or perpetuating the lie that the last presidential election was stolen, is treacherous, giving aid and comfort to evil people prone to violence.

The standard Republican response when called on their dangerous rhetoric and quisling silence is to cite the First Amendment, claiming “liberal elites” want to muzzle them. I don’t want to censor these politicians or pundits. I do want to hold them accountable.

Tags Buffalo mass shooting Elise Stefanik Great Replacement Great Replacement Theory Jan. 6 Capitol attack Jan. 6 Insurrection January 6 attack on the Capitol Liz Cheney Mitch McConnell racist messages right-wing extremism Right-wing terrorism Right-wing violence Ron Johnson Tucker Carlson white nationalists White supremacy in the United States

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