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June 25, 2022

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In Our View: Racist demagoguery panders to the ignorant

The Columbian

Where will it happen next? Could it be here? Could it be in the bucolic confines of Clark County?

Indeed, it could. It could be anywhere. America’s failure to deal with the scourge of gun violence has now paired with the mainstreaming of hateful ideology to render no place immune to a racially motivated mass shooting.

That was evident last weekend. A self-described white supremacist stormed a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood of Buffalo and shot 11 people to death. Of the 13 who were killed or injured, 11 were Black; Buffalo’s police chief has described the shooting as a “racist hate crime.”

That assessment has been supported by reports of the shooter’s online posts. The 18-year-old subscribed to the racist “replacement theory,” an ideology that says Democrats and/or Jewish people are trying to supplant a white Christian majority with immigrants of color. It is a fear-mongering falsehood that panders to the ignorant, preying on their insecurities, and it can have deadly consequences.

It is misguided to suggest that such a tragedy is singular. In 2015, nine Black worshipers were killed at a church in Charleston, S.C. In 2018, 11 Jewish worshipers were killed at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. In 2019, 23 people — mostly Latinos — were killed at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. The shame of our national epidemic of violence has been amplified by the shame of white supremacy.

It is self-defeating to suggest that such carnage is the price we pay for “freedom” — or that it can’t happen here. To the need for gun control has been added the need for people of good conscience to speak out — loudly and forcefully — against the hateful demagoguery that fuels such events.

That demagoguery is not limited to the dark corners of the internet. It is espoused by conservative media, with Fox News host Tucker Carlson coming under much-deserved scrutiny in the wake of the Buffalo shooting. According to an in-depth report from the New York Times, Carlson has echoed “replacement theory” more than 400 times on his nightly show. Now, the consequences of inaccurate and irresponsible commentary have left him with blood on his hands.

Indeed, gun violence is not limited to a particular race or demographic. But if that violence were being delivered upon churches and stores that cater to a predominantly white demographic, the response from elected leaders and media outlets likely would be much different. If prominent Black leaders espoused racist theories while surreptitiously attempting to spark a race war, a cacophony of protest would ensue.

White supremacists remain a small minority in the United States. But they have been emboldened in recent years, bringing their hateful rhetoric out from the shadows. Choosing to ignore the stated goals of this nation and the belief that all are equal in the eyes of our creator, they march with impunity while carrying torches; they find solace in a president who suggests they are “very fine people”; they find empathetic voices on major cable news outlets.

And when this support reaches a crescendo in their warped, paranoid minds, they commit mass murder.

It is imperative that real Americans, those who believe in this nation’s fundamental goodness, reject this philosophy. It is imperative that all Americans, those with a stake in this nation’s future, recognize that Buffalo was neither an isolated event nor a final one.

It will happen again. And it could happen anywhere.

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