This May another set of gun massacres have consumed the headlines and gripped our nation, including the vicious killing of ten Black citizens in Buffalo, N.Y; the slaughter of 19 children and 2 adults—mostly Latino—at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde,TX; and the senseless murder of physician John Cheng while worshipping in church in Laguna Woods, CA. This is a chilling reminder of the killings of nine Black worshippers at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC in 2015; eleven Jews gunned down inside a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018, twenty-three Latino people killed at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas in 2019, and eight predominantly Asian women murdered just over a year ago in Atlanta. These latest massacres should be a wake-up call to the real danger that white supremacist domestic terrorism poses to our nation.
Hate and Extremism is on the Rise
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center hate and extremism are on the rise and there are now over 840 Hate Groups identified in the United States. And the Anti-Defamation League reports that 60% of the extremist killings in the United States between 2009 and 2019 were committed by people espousing white supremacist ideologies. Payton Gendron, the white 18-year-old from New York who murdered ten African Americans at their neighborhood grocery, represents a new generation of white supremacists. They are radicalized via internet memes and misinformation, lies about people they should hate, inspired by streaming videos to find fame through bloodshed, much of it propelled by ideas that the white race is under threat in this country. Identifying as a white supremacist with neo-Nazi beliefs, Payton published a 180-page screed that espoused the racist “replacement theory,” the idea that white Americans are at risk of being replaced by Jewish people and people of color.
“White Replacement” is a dangerous conspiracy theory being espoused by Fox talk show host, Tucker Carlson as well as some Republican politicians. A recent poll found that 1 in 3 Americans believe in one of the key tenets of the theory that there is an effort by some to deliberately replace native-born Americans with immigrants for political reasons.[i] This plays into the fears being fanned by many in the GOP that white people are in danger of losing their economic and political clout in the United States. Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney sounded the alarm when she tweeted “The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-Semitism. History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse. Good leaders must renounce and reject these views and those who hold them.”
The replacement theory, at its core, is about “racial paranoias.” “This is designed to get at the threat to White people,” Natalie Jackson, director of research at PRRI, reports. “The core of replacement theory is about whiteness.” As Jackson noted, the replacement theory is centered on the idea that “White people, and very specifically White Christians, have always held the power in the United States.” Central to the theory, she said, is “fear of losing power to people of color coming in from other countries.” [ii] Republicans say Democrats are plotting to change the demographics of the country. Yet the reality is that America has always changed demographically. And Republicans cannot say with any certainty that demographic change will primarily benefit Democrats over the long term, given the Latino shift to the GOP.
The Evolution of the Republican Party
The evolution of a Republican party that embraces white nationalism and white supremacy should not come as a surprise. I believe that it has always been just below the surface. In his first bid for the U.S. Senate in 1972, Jesse Helms ran an ad: “White people, wake up before it is too late. Do you want Negroes working beside you, your wife and your daughters, in your mills and factories?” And during his last election in 1996, he warned his fellow North Carolinians that immigrants were out to steal their jobs. In his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump spoke of an impending invasion at our southern border, portraying immigrants as murderers and rapists. Then as President, he gave credence to white nationalists when he responded to the 2017 White Supremacist rally in Charlottesville saying there were “good people on both sides.”
Columnist Thomas Edsall writes: “The chilling amalgam of Christian nationalism, white replacement theory and conspiratorial zeal — from QAnon to the “stolen” 2020 election — has attracted a substantial constituency in the United States, thanks in large part to the efforts of Donald Trump and his advisers. By some estimates, adherents of these overlapping movements make up as much as a quarter or even a third of the electorate. Whatever the scale, they are determined to restore what they see as the original racial and religious foundation of America.”[iii]
The GOP appear to have a two-pronged strategy to assure white voters that they will not lose their white privilege or influence. The first is the closing of the Southern border by building a wall and severely restricting immigration. The second is carefully orchestrated voter suppression—making it more difficult for people of color to be able to vote by reducing the number of polling places, restricting or eliminating early voting and voting by mail, and establishing strict voter ID requirements. In addition, Republicans have abandoned policy issues in favor of cultural wedge issues such as forbidding the teaching of critical race theory in public schools and banning books in schools and libraries. Many Americans believe that the moral fabric of the nation is fraying and politicians are capitalizing on this notion.
Americans Must Reject White Supremacy
When President Joe Biden visited Buffalo following the recent shooting, he challenged every American—Democrat, Republican, and Independent—to repudiate the lie of white supremacy and the great replacement theory saying, “I call on all Americans to reject the lie. And I condemn those who spread the lie for power, political gain, and for profit.” It is imperative that Americans wake up and reject this racist ideology that has poisoned our politics. Sojourners’ Adam Russell Taylor suggests that once white supremacy has no place in our churches, it will have no place in U.S. politics. “We must replace the great replacement theory with biblical truth…The great replacement theory contradicts Jesus' example that we must show a particular love for those who are deemed the ‘other’ and the marginalized. Racism distorts and blinds us to who is our neighbor. If nonwhite Americans are perpetually considered as an ‘other,’ it becomes easier to justify dehumanizing them and denying them the same rights and privileges as white Americans.”[iv]
Some mainline churches such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have produced statements rejecting and condemning white supremacy. Lutheran Pastor Lenny Duncan writes: “White supremacy is a systemic force in this world that defies God. I believe the only hope for mainline Christianity is to dismantle white supremacy—first in our pews andthen in our communities. This is the call of discipleship. With the rise of xenophobia, racial violence, and nationalism in the United States, it’s hard to deny the roots of the real hurt that people of color experience in this system. White supremacy is antithetical to the gospel.”[v]
People of faith can lead the way in reminding us that all people—regardless of race, religion, gender, or politics—have worth and have a place in this great tapestry of our nation’s life. We must reject the politics of fear and hatred and reclaim the moral imperatives of love, fairness, and justice. That is our only hope if we are to ensure the future of our freedom and our democracy.