COMMENTARY

Buffalo: This is where Donald Trump's race-war fantasies lead

He feeds on white rage — it got him elected president. At this point, the horror in Buffalo isn't even surprising

Published May 16, 2022 6:00AM (EDT)

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally on April 9, 2022, in Selma, North Carolina. (Allison Joyce/Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally on April 9, 2022, in Selma, North Carolina. (Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

Donald Trump is a human cocktail of white racism, white rage and white supremacy. He also represents a special type of white freedom to act without accountability. Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about this in his widely-read 2017 essay for the Atlantic on Trump as America's "first white president":

It is insufficient to state the obvious of Donald Trump: that he is a white man who would not be president were it not for this fact. With one immediate exception, Trump's predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness — that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them. Land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump's forefathers and barred others from it. Once upon the field, these men became soldiers, statesmen, and scholars; held court in Paris; presided at Princeton; advanced into the Wilderness and then into the White House. Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party seem above America's founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump — a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit….

The first white president in American history is also the most dangerous president — and he is made more dangerous still by the fact that those charged with analyzing him cannot name his essential nature, because they too are implicated in it.

The evidence is clear that Donald Trump was elected in 2016 primarily because of racism and white supremacy. Those toxic beliefs continue to define his enduring power and the loyalty of his millions of followers.

Like other forms of fascism, Trumpism is fueled by violent hostility toward "the Other," however that is defined. Today's Republican Party is America and the world's largest white identity and white supremacist organization. Ever since Trump first launched his candidacy in 2015, America has seen a great increase in hate crimes and other racially motivated violence directed against Black and brown people, Jewish people, Muslims, LGBTQ people and other minority groups. Encouraged by Trump's rhetoric and the literal and symbolic power of his presidency, white supremacists and other members of the global right have committed numerous mass shootings and other acts of terrorist violence.

RELATED: Donald Trump's fantasies of racial violence reflect an all-too-real history

Donald Trump infamously described the white supremacists who rampaged in Charlottesville in 2017 as "very fine people." Three summers later, he disparaged supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement as un-American traitors. At his campaign rallies, Trump has repeatedly encouraged violence against protesters and other supposed enemies.

During his presidency, the Trump regime put nonwhite refugees and migrants in concentration camps and stole their children as part of a policy of "deterrence" driven by White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, an evident white supremacist.

The Trump cabal's attempted coup on Jan. 6, 2021, was an attack on multiracial democracy, and indeed on the premise that Black and brown Americans should have equal voting rights and an equal say in the country's present and future. In many respects, that coup attempt continues unabated.

Trump is now holding rallies across the country to support Republicans in this year's midterms, and quite likely to prepare for his 2024 presidential campaign. At these events, he often encourages violence against "traitors" and "socialist Democrats" who reject his fascist leadership and movement. He is fond of jokes about racial slurs. At one recent rally, Trump told attendees they should be willing to fight and die in order to protect their (white) children and (white) families and (white) country from the white supremacist "critical race theory" moral panic bogeyman.

Trump's 2022 rallies are full of racial slurs, calls for violence, coded appeals to QAnon and the "great replacement" and invocations of the Lost Cause.

Trump also makes coded appeals to the antisemitic and racist QAnon and "great replacement" conspiracy theories, telling his followers that (nonwhite) "invaders" are coming to "take over" and kill off "true" (white) Americans like them. He frequently channels the white supremacist Lost Cause narrative, with its claims that the treasonous war of the Confederacy for the "right" to keep Black people in bondage was somehow noble and honorable.

At these rallies, Trump wallows in malignant narcissism and white victimology, with a series of scurrilous lies alleging that Democrats, the news media, elites, the "deep state" and Black and brown people are somehow "oppressing" and "persecuting" him and his followers. Trump has even called for his followers to descend upon majority Black and brown cities if he is prosecuted for his crimes against democracy.

Of course Trump also continues to amplify and repeat his Big Lie about the 2020 presidential election, claiming that he is America's "real president" and that Joe Biden's victory was tainted by fraud and "fake ballots" in "urban" areas. The clear implication being that black and brown people "stole" the election from him and his white MAGA "real American" voters. 

As I have previously suggested, through his words, deeds, and use of stochastic terrorism as well as overt threats, Donald Trump has shown that he is eager to incite a white-on-Black "race war." He believes such a calamity will help him return to national power. This is far from an empty threat or a hollow fantasy: Trump's followers have repeatedly shown that they are willing to kill and die at his command.

Consider what happened last Saturday in Buffalo. It appears that a day earlier, an 18-year-old white man named Payton Gendron drove more than 200 miles to Buffalo, from his home in a predominantly white and rural area of central New York state. The evidence suggests -- most notably his own words -- that his express purpose was to commit an act of white supremacist terrorism directed against Black people.

Gendron explained his plan and the logic and motivations behind it in a 180-page manifesto he published online, which makes repeated references to the "great replacement" conspiracy theory and its claims that white people are under threat of replacement or extinction by nonwhite groups. Gendron also referenced "critical race theory" and made fantastical claims that Jewish people are somehow manipulating world events.

Gendron was armed with an AR-15 assault-style rifle. He had a pistol and another rifle in his car, wore body armor and had other tactical equipment in his possession. There was a racial slur written on Gendron's AR-15, which he reportedly fired at least 50 times during the attack at a Buffalo supermarket.  

As explained in his manifesto, Gendron targeted that particular neighborhood because its population is predominantly Black. He spent Friday conducting reconnaissance on the targeted community. On Saturday, he used that information and experience to attack the Tops Friendly Market at a time when he would inflict maximum carnage, live-streaming his rampage on the Internet. He shot 13 people in the supermarket and parking lot outside, 11 of them Black. Ten of the 13 shooting victims died.

Gendron's online manifesto reads like a slightly more sophisticated version of the photocopied newsletters that white supremacist or neo-Nazi groups once had to spread by mail.

He surrendered to local police at the scene, and was reportedly eager to explain his motivations. It has subsequently been reported that Gendron made a "generalized threat" of violence a year ago, as a student at Susquehanna Valley Central High School in his hometown of Conklin. He was taken into custody and subjected to a mental health evaluation, but released two days later.

Gendron has been charged with first-degree murder. The FBI and Department of Justice are now investigating these killings as a hate crime and terrorist act. His manifesto could be described as an updated, slightly more sophisticated version of the photocopied white supremacist tracts like "The Turner Diaries" that neo-Nazis, Kluxers, and other white supremacists and racial fascists used to distribute by mail or in person.

(White) America is so accustomed to gun violence that we observe a de facto public ritual for events like the Buffalo shooting. Or at least we do when the accused killer is a white man and a "conservative" or apparent member of a right-wing group. The ritual is generally quite different if the accused mass shooter is a Muslim or a Black person, for example.


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  • He will be described as a "lone wolf" who "acted alone." In important respects, this is misleading. Whether or not Gendron had personal contact with other right-wing fanatics, he is part of a global white supremacist project that includes the Trump movement and the Republican Party.
  • His actions will be attributed to "mental illness." In fact, in Gendron's manifesto he makes clear that he knows what he is doing and why. He clearly articulates the motivations, reasoning and planning involved in his act of anti-Black terrorism. Of course, the vast majority of people with mental illnesses are not violent.
  • The Buffalo attack is "shocking." This is an absurd reaction. The Buffalo attack was wholly predictable and is the obvious result of an American neofascist ideology that has taken control of the Republican Party and much of the right-wing media and "conservative" movement.
  • "A good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun." This is an appeal to the disproved claim that more guns equals less crime. There was an armed security guard at the supermarket in Buffalo. He shot Gendron several times without seriously injuring him. Gendron's body armor stopped the bullets. The brave guard, whose name was Aaron Salter Jr., was then shot and killed by Gendron.
  • It is too soon to talk about what happened. We must wait for the facts. The facts about what happened in Buffalo on Saturday are self-evident. A white man drove hundreds of miles to kill Black people because he believed they and other nonwhites, as directed by an imaginary global Jewish cabal, were "taking away" what he believed what "his country." 
  • We must not politicize mass shootings. This is a tragedy: We send thoughts and prayers. Gun violence is a public safety issue. White supremacy is a public safety issue, as well as a national security issue. The same is true of domestic terrorism. It is the responsibility of a government to keep its citizens safe. These are inherently political matters.

The mainstream news media has already begun pivoting to a narrative of "healing" and "hope" in the aftermath of the Buffalo attack. That too is part of a long history in which the suffering and pain of Black and brown people is minimized so as not to injure the sensibilities and feelings of white society. Moreover, minimizing that suffering also serves to negate Black and brown people's demands for justice and equal treatment.

We will be told, ad infinitum, that Payton Gendron is an individual who is responsible for his own actions, and that it's unfair to suggest that Donald Trump, the Republicans or the right-wing media had anything to do with what happened in Buffalo. In point of fact, racism and white supremacy are learned behaviors. One of the greatest luxuries enjoyed by white people in American society is that of being perceived as the ultimate individuals, whose behavior is never understood to reflect on the larger group.

In the aftermath of Gendron's alleged crimes, we will hear no public demands that "white leaders" speak out and condemn white supremacist violence, or the larger movement it represents. There will be no demands by political leaders or media commentators for a national conversation about the "white family" or "white culture," and the pathological and other unhealthy values taught and learned there.

In fact, we should absolutely talk about those things, or at least about the values of white supremacy and white racial violence spread by the Republican Party and the larger right-wing ecosystem. The "great replacement" conspiracy theory and related claims that Gendron summons in his manifesto are now commonplace in right-wing public discourse. As seen with the moral panic about "critical race theory," these ideas are infecting the white American public more generally as well.

This kind of racist paranoia is not new in American or European society — but what is novel is the way these hysterical claims are being used to undermine and destroy democracy.

Of course this kind of racial paranoia is not new in American and European society. Such claims can trace their origins back to the invention of the concept of "race" in the 17th century. What is relatively novel is the way these hysterical claims about white people being driven to extinction are now a daily feature of mainstream right-wing politics and media, and are being used as part of a fascist campaign to delegitimate, undermine and overthrow American democracy.

This is all taking place at a moment when America's racial demographics are experiencing a historic change, from a "majority-white" country (who is deemed to be "white" being a concept that has itself shifted over time) to one where white people will remain the largest and most powerful group, but will no longer be an absolute majority of the population.

In this context, the "narrative laundering" of these previously fringe ideas about white extinction and white replacement has been highly effective. More than 30 percent of American adults now believe there is a plan to replace native-born Americans with immigrants as a way to win elections. In addition, almost half of Republican voters believe that white people are being "replaced" through mass immigration or some other means.

Others have observed that Gendron's manifesto reads like a script from Tucker Carlson's Fox News show. That is not a coincidence. Carlson and other Fox News personalities are radicalizing their viewers into white supremacy and other forms of right-wing political extremism. The process is strikingly similar to the radicalization process used by ISIS as it recruits and indoctrinates its followers into committing acts of Islamic terrorism.

In a recent essay at MSNBC, Cynthia Miller-Idriss explains how Carlson goes beyond conspiracy theory to spread anti-immigrant bigotry, "using exclusionary, incendiary and dehumanizing rhetoric and language like a 'flood of illegals' alongside descriptions of mass immigration as making America 'poor and dirtier'":

Carlson isn't the only Fox News figure pushing the great replacement theory. Laura Ingraham has warned viewers that "the Democrats want to replace many of you," suggesting there is an "invasion of the country" and referring to Texas as a state that is "completely overrun" by an illegal invasion. ... [As] the country moves closer to the actual demographic changes that are manipulated in replacement and genocide conspiracy theories, invoking the idea of a "great replacement" as an existential threat on mainstream network news reinforces and legitimizes white supremacists' fears and sense of urgency in a way that feels unique to this time….

These conspiracy theories ... that have been core to white-supremacist beliefs for decades have no place on mainstream networks that beam into millions of Americans' living rooms each evening. And yet, here we are, with former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke praising Carlson, host of the most-watched show on cable news, for "finally" promoting the "great replacement," and a white supremacist website describing him as "literally our greatest ally."

As Matt Gertz at Media Matters has documented, the "great replacement" theory and other appeals to white supremacy are central to Fox News and its marketing strategy. As a former Fox News employee told Nick Confessore of the New York Times, Gertz writes, Carlson decided to "double down on the white nationalism" because the network's "minute-by-minute viewership numbers" made clear that the viewers loved it.

Indeed, a Times analysis of 1,150 episodes of his program reveals that Carlson "amplified the idea that Democratic populations and others want to force demographic change through immigration" in more than 400 episodes. That's the heart of the "great replacement" conspiracy theory, which is popular among white nationalists and was previously confined to the fringes of U.S. media. That racist trope motivated the likes of the mass shooters at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018 and an El Paso, Texas, Walmart and two New Zealand mosques in 2019.

Donald Trump, the Republicans and the larger white right did not start the slow, long-burning fire of white supremacy in America. But they have gleefully thrown gasoline, grenades and other explosives on the fire and then danced around the flames as they spread. 

Fascism is an ideology based on racial authoritarianism and violence. As the conflict created by the Trump movement heats up, we are likely to see more terrorist attacks against Black and brown people and other targeted groups, attacks just as horrifying as the one last Saturday in Buffalo, or perhaps worse. There is a line inscribed in blood that leads from Donald Trump's hateful rhetoric to Jan. 6, 2021, to last Saturday in Buffalo. Where it will lead next? Unfortunately, we will soon find out as the next chapter in the new American neofascist nightmare is being written all around us in real time.

Read more on white nationalism and the "great replacement" theory:


By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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