Updated: Aug 16
It has only been three days, but we already know a lot about why an 18-year-old white man travelled to Buffalo, NY, entered a store frequented by members of the African American community, and gunned down ten innocent people on May 14, 2022. In a 180-page screed he allegedly left behind as a shareable Google doc, the gunman talked about one particular conspiracy theory called the Great Replacement Theory. It is early days yet, but law enforcement officials believe that this was the primary motivation behind the hateful and senseless crime.
What is Great Replacement Theory (GRT)?
Simply put, GRT is a belief that whites in the United States are being replaced by “others.” When this theory first emerged in the fringes of the extreme right-wing population, it blamed the slow “replacement” of whites on Jews. But as this theory began making the rounds among disaffected, angry white men, slowly other ethnicities began getting their share of the blame, especially since there is a strong racist component to it.
The theory has been cited by several mass shooters since 2018, including Robert Bowers, who has been charged with killing 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, in 2018; Patrick Crusius, who allegedly killed 23 people in an El Paso, Texas, Walmart; and John Earnest, who pleaded guilty to murdering one and injuring three others at a Poway, California, synagogue in 2019.]
The tragedy of GRT is not just that deranged white men have used it to carry out horrific acts of mass murder. The bigger tragedy, in some ways, is that it is no longer a fringe element of the American right. The almost unbelievable statistic is that today it appears that almost 1 in 3 adults subscribes to the theory that whites are being replaced by immigrants for electoral gain. GRT is espoused publicly by several new GOP candidates for Congress and Senate, and even establishment Republicans have stayed complicitly quiet so as not to anger voters who have swallowed this theory hook, line, and sinker. (The lone exception is Senator Liz Cheney.)
The reason is painfully obvious. A steady drumbeat of GRT supposition from Fox News and pervasive right-wing talk radio has made the folks in the conservative media bubble more and more fearful. Once deployed as a political strategy to engage voters and drive them to the polls in fear, today the demon is out of control as the credibility and legitimacy given to GRT by certain media and establishment politicians has encouraged extremist elements in the party to take up arms in its cause.
We Indians Americans are not unfamiliar with this kind of theory. There is a significant part of Hindu-majority India that believes in a similar theory back home, except the “culprits” are Muslims. But here we are that minority of “others,” and we are fast approaching a time when believers in the Great Replacement Theory will not care that we are a model minority, or care about our contributions to American society and economy. If the shooter in Buffalo could travel hours to achieve his aim, there is no safe, gun-free, privileged bubble we are safe in.
What are our options then? The one thing we can do is to punish the silence of our elected representatives about GRT with our votes. Let us target each and every cowardly politician who refuses to condemn white supremacist ideology and the ones who spread it like Tucker Carlson on Fox and work to unseat them. If we send a message that, as voters, we will not stand for such candidates, it might lead to a self-examination by GOP candidates, and perhaps some of them will grow a spine. But so long as GOP congresspeople and senators depend on the votes of these no longer fringe elements to remain in power, they will only embrace white supremacism more and more.
We do have the power to make a difference with our votes. Let’s not waste that opportunity in the midterms. Have you turned in your primary ballot yet? Make sure you haven’t voted for someone who is too cowardly to condemn GRT and the Buffalo shooter, or someone who actively supports such beliefs.
Image from CNN.com