Racist ‘replacement’ theory drives senseless violence

Published 6:49 pm Tuesday, May 31, 2022

May 24, 2022, Uvalde, Texas: Nineteen children and two teachers are shot and killed by a teenager wielding an assault rifle he legally purchased when he turned 18, less than two weeks earlier.

His motive remains unknown.

May 14, 2022, Buffalo, New York: An 18-year-old armed with a legally purchased assault rifle, shoots and kills 10 people, most of them African American.

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The attack, authorities have learned, was part of the murderer’s plan to kill as many black people as possible in response to the “great replacement” conspiracy that is currently a favored justification for acts of violence by white supremacists.

Aug. 3, 2021, El Paso, Texas: A 21-year-old, also armed with an assault rifle, kills 23 people and wounds 23 more in a Walmart. The target in that shooting was Hispanic immigrants.

In writings that he posted on the internet, the gunman cited “the great replacement” by non-whites as his justification for the attack.

Oct. 27, 2018, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: A 46-year-old man walks into a Jewish synagogue and shoots worshippers with an assault rifle. He killed 11 and wounded six more, including several elderly survivors of the Holocaust. It was the deadliest attack ever on the Jewish community in the United States.

The murderer, who was shot several times before being taken into custody, spouted a version of the “great replacement” conspiracy theory in material he posted on the internet, contending that Jewish immigrants are being brought to the U.S. as “invaders” to kill Americans.

June 17, 2015, Charleston, South Carolina: A 21-year-old, armed in this instance with a handgun, shoots and kills nine African Americans while they are engaged in Bible study in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

The shooter, later convicted of multiple murders, said his intention was to ignite a race war in America.

The similarities in these and other recent attacks should be guiding our response to this epidemic of hate-filled violence. Most of these murderers are white males (the exception being the Uvalde shooter). A majority of them had been wallowing in a conspiracy theory that says there is a conscious effort to “replace” the white race in America with people who are “different.” They had their hatred fueled with messages on the internet and on right-wing cable television channels. And, this being America, they had ready access to military-grade assault rifles, which are our nation’s currently favored method of slaughtering innocent people.

These are not the only racially motivated attacks in recent years. They are just the most egregious because of the number of victims. And not all hate crimes are racially motivated. Religion and sexual orientation also drive hatred. Mental illness, in some cases, is also a factor, though often overstated, largely by gun-rights activists.

The FBI reports each year the number of hate crimes it has documented. The agency’s 2020 report, the latest now available, reports 8,052 incidents involving 11,126 victims. That’s an increase of 13% from the agency’s report a year earlier. But the number of incidents involving race jumped far more dramatically. In 2020, there were 5,227 racially motivated incidents, compared with 3,963 in 2019 — an increase of 32%.

Racism is a fact of life in America, a fact that much of white America has worked very hard recently to deny. It cannot be ignored any longer. We made huge strides in racial equity and comity during the past 50 years, but racism lurked in the shadows until the election of Barack Obama as president. It surfaced during his two terms in office, gun sales soared, and racially motivated attacks increased, the Charleston murders being the most horrific of them.

Then, Donald Trump was elected. Following the Charlottesville Unite the Right riot, he encouraged racists to come out of the shadows, and they have. And in the intervening years, talk show radicals, podcast hosts and other purveyors of hatred have driven the “replacement” theory, all the while denying there’s anything racial in their rants.

Demographics in the United States are changing. That’s a fact that can’t be ignored. Nor should it be. “White” America will become a minority during the next few decades. Nobody’s driving it. It’s just a natural demographic shift, and it’s inevitable.

That doesn’t mean the principles on which the nation was founded need to change. The Enlightenment was, is and should remain the underpinning of this republic. Ironically — and tragically — the greatest threat to the principles of the Enlightenment today is coming from white America, not from the “other” people some of us so greatly fear.


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is j.branchedwards@gmail.com.