By John Leslie
Originally published on Workers’ Voice
On Saturday, May 14, a white supremacist gunman, Payton Gendron, 18, entered a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y., and slaughtered 10 people, while wounding three more. Eleven of the 13 victims shot during the incident are Black. The shooter live-streamed video of his murder spree online.
A few days earlier, Gendron had posted a long “manifesto” online, which included plans for the attack and cited the so-called “great replacement theory”—the white nationalist myth that asserts that elites, often portrayed as Jews, are conspiring to replace whites in the United States with minorities and immigrants.
Gendron’s rambling statement cited Brenton Tarrant, who murdered 51 people in shootings at two New Zealand mosques in 2019; Dylann Roof, who murdered nine Black people at a church in South Carolina in 2015; and Anders Breivik, the Norwegian neo-Nazi, who killed 77 people, mostly teenagers, at a social democratic youth camp in 2011 as inspirations for his radicalization.
Police recovered an AR-15 used in the shootings, as well as a shotgun and hunting rifle from Gendron’s vehicle. Scrawled on the AR-15 were the words “here’s your reparations;” Tarrant, Breivik, and Roof’s names; and the number 14—representing the 14 words that are commonly used as a declaration among white supremacists: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White children.” The acronym “SYGAOWN” (meaning, Stop Your Genocide Against Our White Nations) was written on the shotgun, as was the symbol of the Nazi Romanian Iron Guard.
White nationalism goes mainstream
White nationalism is based on the fear that whites as a social group will lose their primacy in U.S. society through declining white population numbers and increased immigration. It’s true that the “non-Hispanic” white population as a percentage of the whole is shrinking. White nationalism sees this as the result of a conscious policy of liberal elites, often Jews, to “replace” the white population with a population that racists think will be more easily controlled by ruling elites.
The Southern Poverty Law Center wrote: “White nationalists seek to return to an America that predates the implementation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Both landmark pieces of legislation are cited as the harbingers of white dispossession and the so-called “white genocide” or “great replacement”—the idea that whites in the United States are being systematically replaced and destroyed.”
Neoliberalism and decades of anti-worker policy have helped drive this mythology into the consciousness of some sectors of the white population, as rural and small-town communities suffer the blows of austerity and a hollowed-out economy. Coastal “elites” and the big cities are seen as the enemy by many rural whites whose living standards have declined, while the Democrats seem out of touch with the problems of the “flyover” states. Conspiracy theories and appeals to anti-immigrant sentiments only further fuel the flames of reaction.
The GOP has moved sharply to the right in recent years, after years of racist dog whistles about immigrants and “crime” while playing to the politics of white resentment. White nationalist themes like replacement theory, once just the inspiration for violent militia and neo-Nazi groups, have moved more into the mainstream of Republican politics in the Trump years. Trump himself made coded appeals to the far right in his campaigns. GOP advocates for replacement theory avoid the most blatant terminology, but the message is clear—“they” are intent on taking the future away from white Americans. This is sometimes referred to as “white genocide.”
In the 2017 Charlottesville, Va., rightist mobilization, white nationalist marchers chanted, “You will not replace us!” and “Jews will not replace us!” The Charlottesville far-right rally turned violent, with attacks on counter-protesters and the murder of Heather Heyer, an anti-fascist activist. The more mainstream usage of replacement theory in the GOP and in right-wing media accuses the Democrats of encouraging immigration from Latin America and the Middle East to “replace” traditional (white) voters with people more likely to support the Democratic Party.
Fox news propagandist Tucker Carlson, heir to the Swanson frozen dinner fortune, is the chief mainstream advocate of replacement theory on right-wing media. According to The New York Times, “in more than 400 episodes of his show, Mr. Carlson has amplified the notion that Democratic politicians and other assorted elites want to force demographic change through immigration.”
The GOP has enabled far-right views in their ranks in Congress. A group of House Republicans attempted to form an “America First Caucus” in 2021 that in part cited the importance of “uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions” in the U.S. In February 2022, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona attended a white supremacist conference organized by Nick Fuentes, a white supremacist who aims to push the GOP further to the right. Republican Party minority leader Kevin McCarthy called their attendance “appalling and wrong” but took no action against them. In the current midterm election cycle, GOP candidates have played up supposed threats to “real” or “traditional” (white Christian) Americans. GOP rhetoric about the “invasion” at the border allegedly being enabled by the policies of the Biden administration taps into this same fear.
Just three days after the mass shooting in Buffalo, Rep Elise Stefanik, the third ranking House Republican, repeated replacement theory talking points, saying, “Democrats desperately want wide open borders and mass amnesty for illegals allowing them to vote. … Like the vast majority of Americans, Republicans want to secure our borders and protect election integrity.”
Stefanik has claimed that the Democrats want to “grant amnesty to 11 MILLION illegal immigrants” in order to “overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington.”
J.D. Vance, the Trump-endorsed Senate candidate in Ohio, has also pushed the great replacement conspiracy theory. According to the New Republic, Vance “made similar comments, arguing that Democrats were trying to bring about ‘a shift in the democratic makeup of this country’ and that they were purposefully allowing fentanyl into the U.S. ‘to kill a bunch of MAGA voters in the middle of the heartland.’”
Voting for the Democrats won’t save us
The convergence of neo-fascist ideology in one of the main capitalist parties, coupled with the growth of an increasingly violent and armed far right, represents a real threat to the working class and its allies. Liberals will argue for gun control policies or that voting for Democrats will offer a bulwark against the fascist creep in society. Revolutionary socialists argue just the opposite.
The Democrats, because they are a capitalist party tied to Wall Street, are incapable of mounting an effective opposition to the rise of the right. In fact, the Democrats have been trying to win back that part of their former base, working-class whites, since the defection of the Dixiecrats to the GOP in accord with Nixon’s Southern Strategy. During the 2008 Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton opined that Obama couldn’t win the votes of “working people, hardworking people, white people.” Similarly, her husband referred to Obama’s victory in South Carolina by comparing it to Jesse Jackson’s primary win in that state in 1988.
We must carry out anti-racist and anti-fascist education campaigns in all unionized and non-unionized workplaces, and lift up the demands of oppressed sectors on the job and the fight against discrimination.
This struggle is linked as well to the fight to organize the unorganized at Amazon and elsewhere. Many of the new organizing drives from Alabama to New York to California are being led by workers from oppressed nationalities. Amazon management used overtly racist tactics to attempt to derail the unionization drive at Staten Island playing workers of different nationalities against each other. Amazon’s chief legal counsel described Amazon Labor Union leader Chris Smalls as “not smart, or articulate, and to the extent that the press wants to focus on us versus him, we will be in a much stronger PR position than simply explaining for the umpteenth time how we’re trying to protect workers.”
Building opposition to the far right will require the independent mass mobilization of the working class and oppressed. This opposition must include the trade unions as an essential component. Mass action is crucial to drive these thugs back under their rocks. Democratically run self-defense guards will also play a necessary role in the struggle. Ultimately, the defeat of fascists and the far-right will require the forging of a revolutionary workers’ party and the struggle for democratic workers’ power and socialism.
Photo: Protesters march to the scene of shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., on Sunday, May 15, 2022. (Matt Rourke / AP)