House Democrats will ask their chamber on Wednesday to condemn last month’s massacre at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York. They will also ask them to rebuke the Grand Theory of Replacement, a white supremacist plot that the 18-year-old shooter cited as the motivation for the shooting that left 10 black people dead. No one expects Republicans to vote for this resolution, which they will surely view as a partisan maneuver. Democrats will ask for it anyway because “Congress needs to do something,” says Rep. Jamaal Bowman (DN.Y.), the author of the resolution.
And they have to “do something,” Bowman says, because Republicans have been the main proponents of this theory. “It’s really important that Republicans and Democrats know about this issue,” he adds, worried that his party is not taking white supremacy as seriously as it should. “This shouldn’t have been a freshman in Congress [proposing this resolution]. If we were more focused on this as a party, we would do a lot more not only to condemn, but also to put structures in place to prevent this from happening again.
The Great Replacement Theory involves a false conspiracy that non-white immigrants enter Western countries to disempower and subjugate white people. The racist formulation originated in France and found resonance with America’s far-right, whose supporters often blame wealthy Jews for orchestrating the plan. A version of this conspiracy entered the GOP mainstream during the Trump era, often expressed through “building the wall” rhetoric that blames Democrats for encouraging immigrants to cross the southern border. Right-wing provocateur Tucker Carlson has been a key conduit for the theory, and a number of House and Senate Republicans have delivered aligned rhetoric – including Rep. Elise Stefanik (RN.Y.), the third House Republican.
The polls have failed to capture exactly how many Americans buy into the conspiracy, but it has inspired gunmen in high-profile tragedies over the past decade, including the 2015 Charleston church shooting that killed nine people and the 2018 rampage in a Pittsburgh synagogue that killed 11 people. for me, how this theory is radicalizing people across the country on a daily basis,” Bowman says upon learning about the theory’s connections to mass violence.
The Buffalo shooting was the first racially motivated massacre in New York State, as far as Bowman can remember. “I was scared, taking my kids to school and literally sobbing in my car [thinking about] what might happen to them,” Bowman, who is black, recalled hearing the news. He learned of the manifesto and watched some of the footage the shooter recorded as he committed the atrocity. “I just couldn’t take it,” Bowman says.
This heinous crime is precisely why Democrats to have to respond, Bowman says, “Often times we in the Democratic Party think Republican rhetoric is so outrageous that the American people will not be swayed by it. We hope that the American people, as a whole, will not be swayed enough to vote against the Democrats at the polls. But if it radicalizes a person to commit mass murder, then we have failed as the Democratic Party – which is why we must do everything in our power to push it back. The vote, he said, will make it clear that Democrats are speaking out against white supremacy and its consequences, while forcing Republicans to declare their position.
The resolution against the Great Replacement theory enters the House with more than 100 Democratic cosponsors from across the party’s big tent, an unusual unit for a party often mired in a debate over how best to respond to racist provocations from the GOP. Such unity should help the Democrats’ cause, says Lanae Erickson, senior vice president of Third Way, a moderate Democratic think tank. Republicans have not uniformly embraced conspiracy rhetoric, nor have GOP voters, and February vote from the Democrats’ Congressional campaign arm suggests the party stands to gain from resisting culture war attacks. Even so, “Democrats have to be careful not to overplay their hand,” warns Erickson. “They want policymakers to focus on controlling inflation, not race theories with Tucker Carlson.”
Bowman’s resolution will also name the 10 victims of the Buffalo tragedy, call for a national day of remembrance and call on his colleagues to fight white supremacy with a “whole of government” effort. “It’s not just a one-time resolution,” Bowman promises, noting that he’s working on a larger bill to tackle white supremacy. “It’s about continuing to look at where white nationalism lives and breathes in our democracy, where it lives and breathes in our law enforcement, and ultimately doing something about it.”