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One Year After the Buffalo Terror Attack, Republicans Have Fully Embraced Racist Conspiracy Theories Espoused by Domestic Terrorists

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One year ago, on May 14, 2022, a mass murderer traveled to a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, and murdered ten people at the Tops grocery store. All of his victims were black – people who the murderer believed to be “replacers.” Driven by his conspiratorial racist beliefs, this racist murdered our fellow Americans: Roberta A. Drury, Margus D. Morrison, Andre Mackneil, Aaron Salter, Geraldine Talley, Celestine Chaney, Heyward Patterson, Katherine Massey Pearl Young, and Ruth Whitfield.

A powerful ABC News piece remembers the lives of those killed in the attack. Here are a few of the moments of their lives: 

  • Ruth Whitfield was returning home from visiting her husband in a nursing home when she stopped by Tops to pick up seeds for a garden her son had built her as a Mother’s Day present a year ago, her family told ABC News.
  • Roberta Drury was born in Cicero, New York, about 150 miles east of Buffalo, and moved to the city in 2010 after her oldest brother, Christopher Drury, received a bone marrow transplant to treat his leukemia. She helped her brother run his restaurant, The Dalmatia, and care for his family, Amanda Drury said. She was picking up groceries for Christopher when she was fatally shot, her family said.
  • Aaron Salter was working as a security guard and shot at the assailant, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia told ABC News. But the bullets had no effect due to the bulletproof vest the suspect wore, and the gunman returned fire, striking Salter. Gramaglia described Salter as a “true hero” who undoubtedly saved more lives during the encounter.
  • Heyward Patterson was a deacon at the State Tabernacle Church of God in Christ in Buffalo.
  • Pearl Young, an Alabama native, spent the final years of her life teaching children as a substitute teacher in the Buffalo School District and was heavily involved in her church community, her sister, Mary Craig, told ABC News.
  • Geraldine Talley was one of nine siblings and was “an amazing sister, mother, aunt,” said Chapman-Johnson. “She just was truly an amazing woman.”
  • ​​Celestine Chaney, was a mother and grandmother of six. “My mom was in my corner for whatever, for better or worse,” Wayne Jones, Chaney’s only child, told ABC News.
  • Katherine “Kat” Massey was a civil rights activist who worked tirelessly to improve Buffalo’s Black community, her sister, Barbara Massey Mapps, told ABC News.
  • Margus Morrison was a father of six, who worked as a school bus aide for the Buffalo Public Schools District.
  • “He [Andre Mackneil] went to that store to pick up a cake for my little brother because May 14 was my little brother’s birthday. And he turned 3 years old and he didn’t get to celebrate his birthday with his dad because he never came back,” Mackneil’s daughter, Deja Brown, said. 

The shooters’ racist screed was filled with white nationalist and antisemitic propaganda and conspiracy theories, mainly surrounding what is called the “great replacement theory.” 

The vile, bigoted fiction generally hinges on the belief that Jews and “the Left” are looking to replace “real” Americans through an “invasion” of non-white migrants and non-white voters to undermine democracy and take over and transform the country.  

Though directly linked to the white nationalist terror attack in Buffalo and those who attacked El Paso in 2019 and Pittsburgh in 2018, elected Republicans from leadership on down have embraced this racist fiction as part of their political attacks around immigration and the border. 

This racist conspiracy is not new but was once confined to the dark corners of the internet.  As Dr. Elizabeth Yates, Senior Researcher on Antisemitism at Human Rights First, notes, “10 years ago, you would have seen this rhetoric on neo-Nazi websites that you now hear from members of Congress.” As recently as 2019, then GOP Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy removed then Rep. Steve King (R-IA) from his committee assignments because of his use of white nationalist language.

One year on from the Buffalo attack, the language rooted in the great replacement conspiracy theory is commonplace within the Republican Party: 

  • America’s Voice message tracking project has identified over 550 examples of elected Republicans or top campaigns that employed the white nationalist great replacement conspiracy theory from May 14 2022 through May 10, 2023.
  • America’s Voice has identified 22 examples of House Republicans amplifying the great replacement conspiracy theory in a congressional hearing this year and invited 9 witnesses who had previously promoted the racist fiction. 

In the three months leading up to May 14, 2022, America’s Voice has identified a total of 127 tweets from Republican officials that circulated ideas or language rooted in the great replacement conspiracy theory. And in the weeks leading up to the attack, Republican Members of Congress lent the legitimacy of their office to the racist conspiracy from the halls of Congress. Rep. Mike Johnson (LA-04) claimed that there is a “literal invasion of lawless masses flooding over our border” in late April 2022 in a congressional hearing. That same April, third-ranking House Republican, Elise Stefanik took to the House floor saying, “this has been an invasion” of our southern border.  Then in May, she appeared at a House GOP press conference and stated, “…and make no mistake, this is an invasion.”

Immediately following the attack, instead of being chastened by the violence and in the face of significant pushback for her role in amplifying the bigoted conspiracy that motivated the Buffalo shooter,  Stefanik doubled down on the rhetoric.  On May 15, 2022, the Washington Post reported, Stefanik echoed racist theory allegedly espoused by Buffalo suspect,” while the May 16, 2022 New York Times headline read, “Racist Attack Spotlights Stefanik’s Echo of Replacement Theory.” The third-ranking House Republican even sent out a fundraising email the day after the Buffalo terror attack claiming that she was a victim and vigorously defended her belief in racist lies echoed by the gunman. 

Sen. Ted Cruz (TX) also vocally doubled down on amplifying the white nationalist conspiracy theory in the days following the attack, repeatedly posting the language to his social media profile.

In the immediate days following the attack, Republican Senate leadership also glaringly refused to denounce the racist conspiracy theory. A damning ABC headline read, “McConnell, when asked, fails to denounce racist ‘replacement theory‘”. 

Then just a few months later in July 2022, local Texas elected officials and former Trump officials Ken Cuccinelli and Mark Morgan held a press conference to officially – and absurdly – declare that the state was being “invaded” by migrants seeking asylum. The same day, Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick went on Fox News to praise the invasion declaration and compared the so-called “invasion” to the attack on Pearl Harbor. And two days later, Governor Greg Abbott joined in. Over 45 Texas counties have also issued their own versions of a declaration of an “invasion.” In addition, the Republican Party of Texas has also expressed support for declaring immigration an invasion. 

Republicans in Texas were arguing that the state government should respond to the fictitious white nationalist conspiracy theory, as if it were real. A move that only serves to further legitimize the racist lie. 

In the Arizona state legislature, Republicans in both the House and the Senate have put forward legislation that advances the white nationalist “invasion” conspiracy theory.  

In mid-April 2023, Rep. Andy Ogles (R-TN), introduced the “Stop the Invasion Act” in the US Congress. Ogles’ bill, which would allow states to singularly declare war against the so-called migrant “invasion,” allowing them to use military force to repel migrants seeking a legal claim to asylum, has no realistic chance of becoming law. Ogles and his allies’ goal is, therefore, only to lend the legitimacy of congressional action to a white nationalist conspiracy theory with a material connection to domestic terrorism. Fifteen additional Republican Members have lent their names to cosponsor this white nationalist normalization legislation, including Reps. Andy Biggs (AZ), Lauren Boebert (CO), Randy Weber (TX), Ralph Norman (SC), Paul Gosar (AZ), Mary Miller (IL), Debbie Lesko (AZ), Matt Rosendale (MT), Brian Babin (TX), Doug LaMalfa (CA), Jeff Duncan (SC), Bill Posey (FL), Bob Good (VA), Joe Wilson (SC), and Daniel Webster (FL).

At the beginning of the year, Rep. Lance Gooden (TX) introduced “No Tax Dollars for the United Nation’s Immigration Invasion Act” to again reinforce the white nationalist conspiracy theory. Republicans Brian Babin, Andy Biggs, Benjamin Cline (OK), Byron Donalds (FL), Jeff Duncan, Matt Gaetz (FL), Paul Gosar, Ronny Jackson (TX), Mary Miller, Andrew Ogles, Scott Perry (PA), Pete Sessions (TX), Thomas Tiffany (WI), Randy Weber all co-sponsored the bill that advances the false and deadly racist fiction. And Rep. Jodey Arrington (TX) also reintroduced his version to normalize white nationalism in January of this year. Republicans Brian Babin, Jim Banks (IN), Michael Burgess (MN), Byron Donalds, Lance Gooden, Diana Harshbarger (TN), Gregory Murphy (NC), and Randy Weber.

All of this adds up to 29 different Republican members of Congress signing their names to pieces of legislation that will turn into law white nationalist conspiracy theories that are directly tied to multiple acts of domestic terrorism. 

Doubling down on these deadly racist lies over the last year hasn’t been Republicans’ only option. They have had ample opportunities to denounce the great replacement conspiracy theory, and have refused to do so. Earlier this year, after House Republicans made a stink about being called out for amplifying this bigoted lie in the House Oversight Committee in a hearing.Ranking Member Jamie Raskin asked Members to sign a bipartisan letter condemning the great replacement theory — and all 26 members pointedly refused

Even though these elected leaders are not explicitly calling for racist political violence against the targets of their dehumanizing rhetoric, it doesn’t mean they are not responsible for the climate they create that courts this racist political violence. And there is too much horrific evidence for any of these leaders to claim ignorance of the deadly downstream consequences of their rhetoric.  

Until Republicans vocally and actively denounce and take action to root out the hold these white nationalist conspiracies have on their party, the threat to public safety will only grow. This problem will not abate on its own. Meanwhile, the FBI, Attorney General, and Secretary of Homeland Security have all testified that the threat from violent domestic extremists is a leading terrorist concern. In November 2022 and again in December 2022, DHS issued memos warning about threats to migrants and infrastructure at the southern border in response to anti-immigrant-related concerns. 

The horrific attacks in Texas just days ago were committed against this backdrop. It appears that both violent incidents in Texas last weekend may be tied to hate-fueled domestic extremism. Investigators are exploring the potential white supremacist and neo-Nazi views of the mall shooter in Allen, Texas, while the Washington Post reports one of the victims of the SUV crash outside the migrant shelter in Brownsville, Texas, recalled the driver yelling, “You’re invading my property!” 

But as was the case following the attack in Buffalo a year ago, in the wake of horrific violence and death, Republicans are not chastened. Instead, they continue to double down on the white nationalist conspiracies. On May 8, 2023, the Monday following the weekend of hate-fueled deadly attacks, 11 Republican House Representatives – Bob Good (VA), Lauren Boebert (CO), Paul Gosar (AZ), Jim Banks (IN), Eli Crane (AZ), Anna Paulina-Luna (FL), and Tom Tiffany (WI), Eric Burlison (MO)Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA), Jeff Van Drew (NJ) and Westly Hunt (TX) – all promoted the white nationalist conspiracy theory on social media and some echoed their Tweets in speeches and interviews. The graphic Gosar shared all but explicitly called for mass racist political violence. It read: “America is under a planned and sustained invasion – we must act accordingly”.  

Heidi Beirich, the co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, draws a direct connection between the rhetoric and the violence. “When migrants are described as invaders, that leads to violence,” she said, “Because how else does one stop an invasion?”   

It is hard to admit and harder still to reconcile, but the Republican Party has come to fully embrace a white nationalist conspiratorial view towards the border and non-white migration. And through that view, they are actively courting racist terrorist violence towards migrants and the organizations and communities that support them. One year on from the horrific terror attack in Buffalo, the situation inside the GOP has disturbingly gotten worse. They either actively promote or sit in damning silence as their colleagues dare anyone with hate in their heart and a gun in their hand to take matters violently into their own hands, acting in accordance with their rhetoric.