May 17, 2022

The Buffalo shooting.

The Buffalo shooting.
Photo by Heather Mount / Unsplash

The "great replacement" theory and how we respond to these shootings.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

We're covering the shooting in Buffalo and skipping our reader question to give this story some extra space.

Near the Trump International Hotel (frame right), two young girls protest at the March For Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Tim Mudd / Unsplash

Quick hits

  1. Today marks the busiest day in the midterm elections so far, with primaries in Idaho, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. (The races)
  2. Congress will hold a public hearing on UFOs today for the first time in more than 50 years. (The hearings)
  3. McDonalds announced that it was going to exit Russia. (The exit)
  4. President Biden approved a plan to redeploy hundreds of ground troops into Somalia, reviving an open-ended counterterrorism operation that was ended by former President Donald Trump. (The redeployment)
  5. Today, the trial of Michael Sussmann begins. Sussmann’s case is the first brought forward by Special Counsel John Durham, who charged the former Clinton campaign lawyer with lying to the FBI. (The trial)  

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.


Today's topic.

The Buffalo shooting. On Saturday, 10 people were killed in a grocery store in Buffalo, NY, by an 18-year-old white man. The violence took place in a predominantly Black neighborhood. The shooter posted a rambling, disjointed, 180-page justification for his actions, including his plans on how he would go about the shooting and his intent to target Black people. 13 people were shot, including an armed security guard who was killed while trying to stop the shooter. 11 of the 13 people who were shot were Black.

The deceased victims from the shooting were Aaron Salter, 55, Ruth Whitfield, 86, Pearly Young, 77, Katherine Massey, 72, Deacon Heyward Patterson, 67, Celestine Chaney, 65, Roberta A. Drury, 32, Margus D. Morrison, 52, Andre Mackneil, 53, and Geraldine Talley, 62.

Editor's note: Tangle does not name mass shooters because of the well-documented contagion effect. For similar reasons, we also try to share limited information about the shooter and their alleged motives where possible.

The shooting occurred amid a horrific weekend for gun violence in the United States. A Chinese man in Orange County, California, opened fire inside a Taiwanese church, killing one person and wounding five others. Authorities say he was motivated by hate for Taiwanese. In Houston, two people were killed and three more hospitalized after an altercation at an open air flea market turned into a shooting. In Chicago, a curfew for minors was instituted at Millennium Park after a 16-year-old was shot and killed near the Cloud Gate  sculpture, one of Chicago's top tourist attractions. In Milwaukee, curfew was also imposed and a watch party for the Bucks NBA playoff game was canceled after 21 people were injured in three separate shootings on Friday night.

The teen who allegedly killed 10 people in Buffalo had visited the grocery store before the shooting, The Washington Post reports. He live streamed the shooting with a helmet camera on the platform Twitch, which took it down in minutes. He was decked out in tactical gear, including body armor. The weapon involved has largely been described as an "assault weapon," though the gun was actually a semiautomatic Bushmaster XM-15 ES rifle that had been modified to use a high-capacity magazine, and the shooter had purchased the original weapon legally. The shooter also had a shotgun and a bolt action rifle he received from his father as a gift when he was 16.

The man bought the gun at a store in Conklin, N.Y., in January, where he paid $960 for the rifle, a sling to carry it and some ammunition. New York state has some of the most complicated gun laws in the country. Handguns are illegal to buy if you are under 21 in New York, but no permit is necessary to buy a long gun. The state allows people to own long guns at age 16 and buy them at age 18. Gun laws in New York City are much more strict.

Last year, the shooter had responded to an end-of-year project about post-graduation plans by saying he planned a murder-suicide. The response drew attention from law enforcement, who picked him up at his high school and took him to a hospital for a mental health evaluation. In his online screed, the shooter warned about the so-called "replacement theory", which claims that Jews and liberals are trying to import minority voters to diminish the political power of white people. A similar extreme, far-right ideology has been espoused by several mass shooters in recent years.

The shooting has set off a debate both about the culpability of political factions and preventative measures that could reduce the number of similar shootings. Below, we'll look at some arguments from the left and right, then my take.


What the left is saying.

  • The left argues that this shooting was founded in white supremacy, and people like Tucker Carlson are responsible for espousing similar ideologies.
  • Many say today's mainstream conservative movement shares ideologies with the Buffalo shooter.
  • Some continue to call out the role easily-accessible guns play in these massacres.

Eugene Robinson said the victims in Buffalo were killed by white supremacy.

"Do not dare look away from the bloody horror that left 10 dead in Buffalo," Eugene Robinson wrote. "Do not dare write off the shooter as somehow uniquely 'troubled.' Those Black victims were murdered by white supremacy, which grows today in fertile soil nourished not just by fringe-dwelling racists but by politicians and other opportunists who call themselves mainstream. The 18-year-old White man suspected of gunning down Black people at a supermarket in a Black neighborhood was reportedly a believer in 'replacement theory' — the notion of a vast conspiracy by Democrats and/or Jews to achieve dominance by 'importing' people of color to diminish the political power of White people.

"A poll this month by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that nearly half of Republicans agree at least to some extent with the proposition that there is 'a group of people in this country who are trying to replace native-born Americans with immigrants who agree with their political views.' This isn’t fringe stuff anymore," Robinson wrote. "It’s becoming central to the modern GOP’s worldview. The replacement-theory grifters know that they are stoking the anxieties some White people feel about the nation’s increasing diversity... And they must realize by now that some impressionable White people will take this rhetoric seriously — and act on it."

In his newsletter Truth and Consequences, Michael Cohen said it's always about the gun.

"I understand why news outlets focus on the racial aspects of this crime," Cohen wrote. "And I understand entirely why Black Americans are terrified by what happened in Buffalo. They should be. White replacement theory puts targets on their backs — as it does Hispanics, Jews, and pretty much anyone who is not white. But as is always the case with gun violence in America … it’s about the gun. The suspect legally purchased the Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle that he used in the shooting, even though last year he announced in his high school that he wanted to commit a murder-suicide. The state police were notified, and they took [him] into custody. He underwent a psychiatric evaluation but still had no problem passing a firearms background check.

"The thing is that America is not the only country in the world with a vast number of disaffected adolescents," Cohen wrote. "It’s not the only country where kids can surf the internet and plumb the depths of racist and white supremacist ideas. It’s not the only country where cynical politicians and media personalities pump dangerous and toxic ideas into the brains of their followers. It’s not the only country where people suffer from mental illnesses. But this is the only country that allows its residents to rather easily purchase high-caliber weapons. If America had stricter gun laws, [he] would likely be another local loser spouting racist vile on the Internet. Because of America’s gun laws, ten people are dead."

In Rolling Stone, Talia Lavin said the shooter's views align with mainstream Republicans.

"He was an adherent of what is called Great Replacement Theory, the idea that white people, in the United States and white-majority countries around the world, are being systematically, deliberately outbred and 'replaced' by immigrants and ethnic minorities, in a deliberate attempt to rid the world of whiteness," she said. "It’s a conspiracy theory that has inspired terror attacks in New Zealand and Pittsburgh, San Diego, and El Paso – an ideology that marries demographic panic with the idea of a cunning, nefarious plot. Reading through the document, what struck me hardest, however, was how very close the killer’s ideas were to the American mainstream – the white-hot core of American politics.

"Donald Trump’s ascendance was a key marker of the force of white racial panic; from the moment he launched his candidacy, his overt racism set the party’s agenda, and from the very first, his rhetoric directly provoked racist violence," Lavin wrote. "Far from ebbing as Trump has ceased to be the party’s sole center, however, the tide of white animus has become even more central to a new crop of Congresspeople and candidates. The Republican Party’s embrace of nativism has been more of a full-on dash than a slow slide, and it has been catalyzed by the vast constellation of right-wing media. Chief among these is the juggernaut that is Fox News. As a New York Times analysis revealed, the network’s flagship prime-time show, Tucker Carlson Tonight, has an obsession with replacement theory: In more than 400 shows the newspaper analyzed, Carlson evoked the idea of forced demographic change through immigration and other methods."


What the right is saying.

  • The right criticizes the left for arguing this is the fault of conservatives, pointing to what the shooter said in his manifesto as proof they are wrong.
  • Some call out New York's counterproductive gun laws.
  • Others say there is no examination of the left's ideology when similar shootings are perpetrated by far-left extremists.

In The Washington Examiner, Stephen L. Miller said the left is blaming Tucker Carlson and Fox News as a censorship excuse.

"Journalists on Twitter and national news outlets took it a step further, pointing the finger squarely at Fox News and Tucker Carlson with the sole purpose of conflating the antisemitic theory peddled online with the very real concerns of an open immigration policy that right now is causing a historic influx of migrants across the southern border, as well as human trafficking and narcotics," Miller wrote. "These concerns are shared within border communities, which themselves have seen a political demographic shift since the 2020 election, with Hispanics in these family communities turning against traditional Democratic policies.

"In the alleged shooter’s own manifesto, he slanders Fox News as being run by Jews and part of the global replacement theory conspiracy," Miller writes. "He never mentions Tucker Carlson. He also disowns the conservative movement, labeling it corporatism, and echoes the sentiments of the far Left when it comes to eco-fascism. But none of this is useful to a media that see[s] this as an opportunity to regain the narrative on policing speech online after having their favorite toy in Twitter taken away from them. We’ve seen moral panics like this before in Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center’s attempted takedown of heavy metal music, which they believed led to satanic ritual and murder — except this time, the main perpetrators of this are the legacy media themselves."

In Reason, Jacob Sullum said it’s another reminder that legislators are banning guns "based on functionally unimportant features."

"It turns out that the rifle, a Bushmaster XM-15 ES, was not an 'assault weapon' at the time of the purchase, but it became an 'assault weapon' after the shooter tinkered with it," Sullum writes. "The details of that transformation illustrate how arbitrary and ineffectual bans like New York's are. The manifesto says 'the person who had this [rifle] before me' made it compliant with New York law by installing 'a Mean Arms magazine lock, which fixed a 10 round magazine' to the gun. The fixed magazine meant that the rifle no longer qualified as an 'assault weapon.' But the shooter easily reversed that modification so that the rifle could accept detachable magazines, meaning it was once again an 'assault weapon' when he used it in the attack.

"That difference has practical implications, since the ability to switch magazines makes it easier to quickly reload a gun," Sullum said. "But other workarounds allow New Yorkers to legally buy and own AR-15-style rifles like the Bushmaster XM-15 that are functionally identical to prohibited models. As long as the rifle has none of the other features on New York's list (such as a threaded barrel, a thumbhole stock, or a bayonet mount), it is not an 'assault weapon,' even if it accepts detachable magazines. Such 'featureless' rifles are perfectly legal in New York, even though they fire the same ammunition at the same rate with the same muzzle velocity as the banned models.... Possessing an unregistered 'assault weapon' in New York is a Class E felony, punishable by up to four years in prison. Given the negligible difference between illegal 'assault weapons' and 'featureless' models that comply with state law, it is hard to see what public safety payoff the state got by turning hundreds of thousands of otherwise law-abiding gun owners into felons."

In The American Conservative, Rod Dreher defended immigration restrictionism and distanced that ideology from the Buffalo shooter.

"It sounds to me like Tucker Carlson is complaining about mass migration bringing into the US a Democratic-friendly electorate that would weaken the voting power of conservative like himself. What’s wrong with that?" Dreher said. "Don’t liberals complain all the time about Republican moves that allegedly stand to weaken the voting power of blacks and other minorities?... Do you remember the New York City mass subway shooting? It happened on April 12, just over one month ago. The alleged shooter, [REDACTED] is a black nationalist who hated all white people, including Jews, and left a lengthy trail of hate messages online. Did we see a national outpouring of media examination of how the normalization of racialized discourse by progressive and mainstream institutions may have contributed to the alleged shooter’s mindset? Don’t be silly. It was just one of those things, you know."

The New York City subway shooting "has more or less been memory-holed by the media," Dreher added. "We are going to be talking about this [Buffalo shooter] forever, though. They’re already trying to tie it to Tucker Carlson and to the Republican Party. Those lies don’t work anymore... Amazingly enough, many people are capable of understanding a news story like this without drawing spurious and hateful conclusions about entire classes of people. Me, I think [the subway shooter] probably would have done what he is accused of having done even without the broader racialized left-wing discourse about how demonic white people are. I’m not blaming Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo for the New York subway shooting. But we can see right now, all over the American media, the finger-pointing at Tucker Carlson, the GOP, and others on the Right."


My take.

First, I want to just acknowledge what I suspect many Black Americans are feeling right now.

I remember the days after the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue shooting, and how the horror of that day reverberated through the Jewish community, the way it put so many of us on edge. I remember the first time I went to synagogue after the shooting, and that little gnawing in the back of my head to check the doors and scan the room for any potential threats. I remember the gut punch of getting the news, from a city where I went to college, in a synagogue I had stepped foot in, and eventually learning that a friend (and now Tangle editor) had lost a family member in the horror. I remember the frustration and anger when I learned the Pittsburgh shooter was motivated by hatred of Jews and their purported orchestration of some immigrant takeover (the same theory that, by his own writing, motivated the Buffalo shooter).

There are few things as awful and unsettling as the feeling that there is a target on your back, and it's no doubt a feeling many Black Americans have daily — and are having in the most acute way this week. Americans of all colors and creeds should feel safe in their own country and it is a travesty that so many don't.

To get to the debate many people are having right now: I don't think Tucker Carlson is responsible for this shooting any more than Rachel Maddow was responsible for the shooter who attacked Republican congressmen in 2017. Radicalization happens for many different reasons in many different contexts, but we should employ a consistent standard of individual responsibility. The document the shooter published, which I read, is a mishmash of racism, anti-Semitism, eco-extremism and anti-corporate language. He criticizes Fox News for being run by Jews in the same breath he describes himself as being on the "mild-moderate authoritarian left."

Of course, I'm not saying we should absolve Tucker for his nightly shtick. When you go on TV and tell millions of people that Democrats are "trying to replace the current electorate with new, more obedient voters from the Third World," as Tucker has, you open yourself up to legitimate criticism. Tucker espouses a more politically correct Great Replacement Theory on his show regularly, and he is not shy about it: "I know that the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term ‘replacement,’ if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate," he said once. "But they become hysterical because that’s what’s happening actually. Let’s just say it: That’s true."

What really should be said about this garbage is that it isn't true. Despite the mess that is our southern border, Democrats who hold power in Congress and the White House generally support rather moderate immigration policies. Leftist activists have been harshly critical of Biden and Democratic leadership for how strict their immigration policies have been. Democrats aren’t “importing” migrants; that idea that takes all agency away from the people coming here by choice, usually seeking out jobs, safety or freedom.

And even if Democrats’ strategy was to "import voters," politically speaking, it'd be somewhere between extremely risky and very stupid. Foreign born immigrants are actually more socially conservative. Hispanic and Asian immigrants are increasingly aligning themselves with Republicans. Immigrants’ impact on making the United States "more left-wing'' is decidedly unclear, and I could make a good argument that “importing” immigrants from “first world” European nations (where left-wing politics and socialism often thrive) would actually be the best way to thrust Democrats further into power.

The issue with Tucker's shtick, aside from being wrong, is that he knowingly creates fear and xenophobia among his viewers. Implicit in his work is the idea that immigrants from "The Third World" — i.e., non-European, non-white, poorer, or less educated — are obviously more dangerous, less productive, culturally incompatible, and are going to align themselves with liberals. It’s the same thing many people thought a hundred years ago about Jews, Italians and Irish people, among others. Conservatives, including Carlson, are quick these days to point out the race essentialism on the left — the idea that the color of your skin or your nationality destines you to a certain outcome — but are still unwilling to recognize it in their own ideas or ranks. Carlson’s beliefs don’t just belie a lot of data we have, but they also create a logical conclusion: Those people are a threat. And they must be feared and kept out.

If that is your foundational view and you stumble across online extremism — the people espousing a violent solution to the threat Carlson presents — you are ripe for radicalization. These are a few of many reasons why I think this thread of Tucker’s worldview is both unfounded and dangerous.

And in the case of the Buffalo shooter, who never once mentions Tucker Carlson and only mentions Fox News to accuse it of being run by Jews, there are plenty of other culprits to keep in mind. The researchers James Densley and Jillian Peterson explained why hate should not necessarily be viewed as the root of most mass shootings like this. From an academic standpoint, their research is rather clear:

"These perpetrators aren’t subject-matter experts in politics, ideology or religion. Their understanding of the “cause” said to motivate their actions is typically shallow and contradictory, is simply convenient. Our dozens of interviews with perpetrators and the people who knew them do reveal, however, that shooters often have the same motivation: to cause as much death and destruction as possible so that a world that had otherwise ignored them would be forced to notice them and feel their anguish. Thus, the Buffalo shooter live-streamed his actions."

In other words: It's often about finding someone else to blame your despair on. In this case, the Buffalo shooter found the manifestos of other mass shooters online and thus chose Jews, Black people and immigrants.

Of course, it was all preventable. The most direct intervention would have been a more thorough engagement from his friends, family, and his school when he first vocalized his threats. Over and over, we see perpetrators of violence like this leave a trail of clues about what is coming. But too often, the people around them fail to reach them, to get them help, to end their isolation, or to warn the proper authorities so such people can’t go buy weapons.

Which brings us to the gun. As I've written here repeatedly, I'm far to the right of many of my friends here in New York City on gun rights. I've shot guns, I like guns, and I believe Americans' right to own them is critical (on top of being inalienable). It’s especially relevant in less densely populated areas of the country where gun sports are more popular and armed police aren’t five minutes away. But as with all rights, there are and should be limits. Even the readily right-wing New York Post editorial board said this shooter "never should’ve been able to get his hands on the Bushmaster assault-style rifle used in the slaughter." They are right.

That we live in a country where a kid can go to school in a hazmat suit, threaten to commit a murder-suicide after graduation, spend a day and half in a hospital for a mental health evaluation, and then go legally buy a gun without being flagged in any system is absurd. There are plenty of reasonable concerns about red flag laws (which New York has, and incredibly did not catch this shooter), but with every one of these shootings — and the obvious signs missed by law enforcement or gun distributors or family members — the push for stricter regulations becomes more and more appealing. At some point the benefit simply outweighs the cost.

Have thoughts about "my take?" You can reply to this email and write in or leave a comment if you're a subscriber.


Your questions, answered.

We're skipping today's read question to give our main story some extra space.

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.


A story that matters.

The baby formula maker Abbott says it has struck a deal with regulators to restart production at its factory that has been tied to the current shortage. On Monday, Abbott said it reached an agreement with the FDA to enter a legally binding agreement to take steps in response to violations found at its facility. If a court approves the agreement, it could begin production within two weeks, and then it would take another six to eight weeks for their products to reach store shelves. The FDA's preliminary findings said Abbott did not establish a system of process controls to cover all stages in the prevention of contamination. CNN has the story.


Numbers.

  • 198. The number of mass shootings (in which four or more people are shot or killed) in the U.S. so far in 2022.
  • 693. The number of mass shootings in the U.S. in 2021.
  • Eight. The number of cities that experienced an outburst of gun violence over the weekend.
  • 43%. The percentage of all gun deaths in the U.S. that are murders.
  • 54%. The percentage of all gun deaths in the U.S. that are suicides.
  • 43%. The percentage increase in gun deaths in the U.S. between 2010 and 2020.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.


Have a nice day.

For the first time ever, lunar soil was used to grow plants in a breakthrough test. Scientists say it is the first step toward making long-term stays on the moon possible. Researchers used samples of dust collected from the moon during the 1969-1972 Apollo missions to grow cress, and were surprised to find the seeds sprout after two days. "I can't tell you how astonished we were," Anna-Lisa Paul, a University of Florida professor who co-authored a paper on the findings, said. "Every plant - whether in a lunar sample or in a control - looked the same up until about day six." BBC News has the story.


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