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How The White Replacement Theory Behind The Buffalo Shooting Also Fueled The January 6 Insurrection

The upcoming January 6 Committee hearings will undoubtedly provide ultra right-wing lawmakers and insurrectionists the opportunity to double down on their claims that the 2020 Presidential Election was stolen. But the insurrection wasn’t about election security. It was about a long-held white nationalist paranoia that their country is being “stolen” from them — which is laughable given that this nation was built on stolen land using stolen labor from stolen people.

However, the hearings won’t dig deep into how white replacement theory and white annihilation anxiety inflamed a violent mob to storm the Capitol the day Congress ratified the presidential election results. But it should.

The fear that white folks would someday lose the power of their majority has ignited a nationwide resistance against the “browning of America.” And it’s this same fear — not bogus claims of voter fraud — that’s motivating pro-insurrection “democracy deniers” to run for governor and secretary of state in key battleground states like Arizona and Pennsylvania. The MAGA crowd on January 6 — primed by white nationalist fear-mongering — heeded Rep. Mo Brooks’ (R-AL) call to violently do what it takes to “fight for America.”

So did 18-year-old Payton S. Gendron, who, according to reports, posted 180 pages referencing the “Great Replacement” to justify killing 10 Black people last month at a supermarket in Buffalo, NY. That shooting not only contextualizes the white replacement theory but a deeper motive that belies the January 6 insurrection.

White replacement ideology sits at the underbelly of White supremacy. It’s powerful enough to motivate ordinary people to commit mass murder and attempt to overturn a legal presidential election. Unfortunately, that’s nothing new to Black folks in this country.

I’m a 6’5” African American man who knows the potential dangers of walking while Black, driving while Black, standing on the street corner minding my own business while Black and shopping while Black. I felt profoundly horrified but hardly surprised. After all, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) identified white supremacy as the nation’s number one domestic terror threat.

The so-called “Great Replacement” theory sprang from white anxiety around race and Black people, which began hundreds of years ago when plantation owners feared violent slave uprisings. The modern iteration of that fear, or white replacement theory, is the belief that people of color will replace white people and take over the country — especially when they become the majority in 2050, as predicted by the U.S. Census Bureau. When that happens, white supremacists fear their new minority status will subject them to punishment for centuries of racial oppression. They imagine their punishment would be the ultimate extinction of white people.

First coined in an essay by French nationalist author Renaud Camus in 2011, “Le Grand Replacement” captured a rising nationalist sentiment among white French natives that they’re being replaced by non-white immigrants — predominantly Africans and Arabs. It was the perfect ideology for white nationalists in the U.S., incensed by the election of the first Black president, to build a new populist platform. The same ideology that fringe white nationalists espoused a dozen years ago has infiltrated the mainstream MAGA-sphere through lawmakers like Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), and Fox News pied piper Tucker Carlson.

Black folks have always known there was a persistent subconscious white fear of violent retaliation since slavery. I know that, as a towering Black man, a police officer is more likely to draw his weapon when I reach for my license at a routine traffic stop.

Since Reconstruction, during Jim Crow, and throughout Segregation, African American intellectuals and academics analyzed white fear of retaliation, genetic extinction and white genocide — extreme scenarios in which white people imagined they would be rendered powerless. Our grandparents talked about it around kitchen tables during Civil Rights in the 1960s and 1970s. But these conversations never ventured outside of our insider cultural discourse because we understood we’d only bump our heads against the iron gate of white denial — their self-imposed, self-protective blindness. 

That’s why we’re here at this moment. White denial of our past is endangering our democracy and our future. The bloodshed caused by white supremacy is this country’s putrid legacy — one that our leaders have ignored, excused and whitewashed for far too long. Ultra right-wing lawmakers have long been allowed to push white fear buttons with impunity. They’re using a 200-year-old playbook, and it’s working. It works because it’s allowed to work.

This time, the Biden administration, the January 6 Commission and the U.S. Justice Department must once and for all end the chokehold white supremacy has on our democracy. And it’s up to us, the people, to hold our elected leaders accountable and put their feet to the fire to end white supremacist ideologies before they end our democracy.

We’ve now reached the 13th hour. Time’s up.

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DaMareo Cooper is the Co-Executive Director of The Center for Popular Democracy, a national network of more than 50 community organizations dedicated to achieving racial and economic justice through local grassroots organizing.

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