What Is the End-Point for Republican Terrorism?
The poison that is racism has never made a nation better; every time it’s been used for profit or power it’s ended up destroying both its victims and, eventually, its promoters
Yesterday‘s elections show both a strong progressive drift across the Democratic Party, and an aggressive move toward fascism being driven by the base of the GOP and some of its billionaire donors.
But more urgently, the Republican Party has a terrorism problem, and the failure this week of the party’s leadership and members to call it out after the terrorist attack in Buffalo suggests they’re just fine with it.
The only high-profile Republican to have said a serious negative word against “white replacement terrorists” within the party was Liz Cheney, who 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. @GOP leaders must renounce and reject these views and those who hold them.”
Of all the politically motivated murders that happened in the US last year, 91% were committed by people affiliated with rightwing extremism; only 3% could be traced to Islamic extremism and 6% to “left wing” extremism including anarchists and Black nationalists.
Over the past decade, as the ADL notes, “Of the 443 people killed at the hands of extremists over that 10-year period, 333 (or 75%) were killed by right-wing extremists.”
A recent Morning Consult poll found that 23% of Republican men have a “favorable” or “very favorable” view of white nationalists: these are people who assert that America should be a nation where political power is held of, by, and exclusively for white people, and they have an outsized voice in the GOP.
Almost half of Republican voters, The Washington Post reports, agree with “white replacement theory.”
Successful large-scale terrorist movements — what the white replacement terrorists who claim affiliation with the GOP aspire to — require three things.
First, there must be an ideology and mythos of victimhood that provides a rationale for using terror as a political weapon.
Ever since Democrats and Republicans in Congress voted together to change our immigration laws in 1965 to eliminate racial quotas, America has been browning.
“Replacement theory” terrorists have seized on this simple reality to build around our demographic change a bizarre conspiracy theory that Jews and other “elites” associated with the Democratic Party have organized a specific campaign to, as Trump’s “very good people” in Charlottesville chanted, “replace” white people with nonwhites.
On April 8th, for example, Carlson told his viewers:
“[T]he Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World.”
Four days later, Carlson explained to his mostly white Fox audience the Great Replacement Theory and how, in his opinion, Democrats were its main advocates:
“Demographic change,” he said, “is the key to the Democratic Party’s political ambitions. In order to win and maintain power, Democrats plan to change the population of the country. They’re no longer trying to win you over with their program. … They don’t even really care about your vote anymore. Their goal is to make you irrelevant.”
On April 15th, Carlson echoed the Nazi theory that the pinnacle of evolution was, as Hitler preached, the white (Aryan) race:
“Acknowledge the reality of evolutionary biology,” he demanded, sliding into the evening news buzzwords that every white supremacist in America instantly recognized. “It is real.”
“They are changing everything, whether we like it or not. … And then, because that is still not enough change, a whole new system of government. … What will the consequences of that change, of that revolution be? In your bones, you know the answer. It’s terrifying, and it does not have to happen.”
Disrupting an ideology is difficult, as we saw with Al Qaeda and ISIS a decade ago, but it can be done. To be successful, it requires an all-of-society approach where the flaws or contradictions of the ideology are openly discussed and people who adhere to it are publicly shamed.
In the past decade or two we’ve seen this begin to happen successfully with the ideology — held in American business for over 200 years — that only white people should be in management positions or be portrayed in a positive light in the media.
Another ideology that’s still in the process of being disrupted is the belief that police should be immune from consequences when they murder unarmed Black people.
Activists similarly disrupted the long-held belief (particularly in show business) that men could demand sex from women in exchange for jobs or career advancement.
Both the Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo movements give us many guideposts for ways to disrupt the “replacement theory” terrorist ideology that has seized half of the Republican base and a good number of elected Republican officials.
Second, to make terrorism work, there must be an “evangelist” community — a support and recruiting network — for new terrorists. Fox “News,” Facebook, and multiple well-known websites and gamer sites provide this venue and must be held accountable, whether in the courts and Congress or the court of public opinion.
When society fails to push back or hold such purveyors and facilitators of hate to account, the poison they push eventually reaches the mainstream where its audience multiplies exponentially.
History tells us this is the time of maximum danger, and it’s where we are right now here in America.
The third key to a successful terrorist program is to trigger individual terrorists to action without specifically tying responsibility for them back to the movement. Deniability — as you’re seeing today with Republicans trying to distance themselves from the Buffalo Terrorist — is key.
The law-enforcement name for this is stochastic terrorism, meaning people who pop up and become mass shooters or suicide bombers without being specifically recruited for that job.
“Stochastic” means “random,” but in the terrorism context it also means to incite random people to acts of terror. As dictionary.com notes:
“Stochastic terrorism is ‘the public demonization of a person or group resulting in the incitement of a violent act, which is statistically probable but whose specifics cannot be predicted.’”
A well-known example of the incitement of stochastic terrorism was Bill O’Reilly’s repeated use of the phrase “Dr. Tiller the baby killer” on Fox “News” immediately preceding a “lone wolf“ terrorist murdering Dr. George Tiller.
The Buffalo Terrorist, like so many before him, was radicalized on the internet and by the warm embrace of the terrorist white supremacy “anti-replacement” movement.
These killers come to believe their understanding of reality is widely shared when high-profile individuals echo the movement’s messages, like Carlson’s rants or Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz’s tweet that:
“.@TuckerCarlson is CORRECT about Replacement Theory as he explains what is happening to America. The [Jewish Anti-Defamation League] ADL is a racist organization.”
The endpoint of racial eliminationist rhetoric like Gaetz’s tweet above is well represented in history.
The Ukrainians know it well: Stalin specifically went after the farmers in that nation, calling them “kulaks,” a word describing well-off farmers that became a slur in Stalin’s Soviet Union. As Stanford history Professor Norman Naimark notes in his book Stalin’s Genocides and reviewed by Cynthia Haven:
“They were called ‘enemies of the people,’ as well as swine, dogs, cockroaches, scum, vermin, filth, garbage, half animals, apes. Activists promoted murderous slogans: ‘We will exile the kulak by the thousand when necessary – shoot the kulak breed.’ ‘We will make soap of kulaks.’ ‘Our class enemies must be wiped off the face of the earth.’
“One Soviet report noted that gangs ‘drove the dekulakized naked in the streets, beat them, organized drinking bouts in their houses, shot over their heads, forced them to dig their own graves, undressed women and searched them, stole valuables, money, etc.’
“The destruction of the kulak class triggered the Ukrainian famine, during which 3 million to 5 million peasants died of starvation.”
Mussolini did the same sort of scapegoating with socialists and trade unionists; Hitler did it to Jews; Rwandan Hutus did it to Tutsis.
Serbian leadership did it to the Croats in the 1990s during and after the breakup of their then-shared country, Yugoslavia.
Tom Hayden and I were in Croatia in 2007 for the Praxis Peace Conference and we borrowed a radio studio in Dubrovnik to do my live show.
The fellow running the station told us, after we pressed him for stories about that time, that he really didn’t want to talk about it because they had raped and murdered both his wife and their teenage daughter. After telling us that with a sudden burst of tears streaming down his face, he pretty much couldn’t speak for the next hour.
He was feeling a grief like that felt by the families of the people the Buffalo Terrorist murdered this week. So, too, the thousands of members of families of those murdered by rightwing terrorists in American city after city in over 150 attacks since 1993.
Terrorism is real and powerful stuff and can generate considerable wealth and political power for those who use it. But for a country to embrace terrorism against its own people requires all three elements of ideology, institutional support, and a way to evangelize new terrorists.
Rightwing media and Republican politicians in America have been dancing perilously close to this line for decades, stepping over it starting with the Trump administration’s naked embrace of racism and eliminationist rhetoric, as President Biden pointed out in Buffalo yesterday:
“What happened here is simple and straightforward: terrorism. Terrorism. Domestic terrorism. Violence inflicted in the service of hate, and a vicious thirst for power that defines one group of people being inherently inferior to any other group.”
Specifically calling out those using hate and terror to make money or get votes, Biden made clear his administration’s position about the end point this will lead to:
“White supremacy is a poison. It’s been allowed to fester and grow before our eyes. No more. … I call on all Americans to reject the lie, and I condemn those who spread the lie for power, political gain, and for profit.”
The poison that is racism has never made a nation better; every time it’s been used for profit or political power it’s ended up destroying both its victims and, eventually, its promoters.
Liz Cheney is right: the GOP must repudiate white supremacy and purge its ranks of white supremacists. In addition, every party, every platform, every business that has been trafficking in white supremacy must be called out and shamed.
Only then can we get about the business of making America that “shining city on the hill” that Reagan quoted Kennedy quoting Winthrop as describing.
For all our faults, we have led the world in nearly every generation toward democracy and an egalitarian ideal: A multiracial, multi-religious, multi-ethnic democracy is possible.
Step one is to repudiate the hateful ideology of Trumpism and “replacement theory,” so we can once again be a positive and inspiring example to the rest of the world.
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Thom's comment: Of all the politically motivated murders that happened in the US last year, 91% were committed by people affiliated with rightwing extremism; only 3% could be traced to Islamic extremism and 6% to “left wing” extremism including anarchists and Black nationalists. Good point
Excellent essay, Thom. My takeaway from this writing is that the endpoint of Republican terrorism is destruction in pursuit of power. I learned about Stalin’s cruel terrorism accidentally. He was pursuing power, and he used Ukrainian farmers, Jews, and anyone he could demonize to pursue that power. Those in power in Russia have not made lives better, except for a tiny few.
Our situation seems to be moving in a similar direction. Terrorism takes a country’s people backward, which does not lift people’s lives up.