Aaron Salter Jr., a retired Buffalo police officer working as a security guard, loved to tinker with his beloved 1967 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Andre Mackniel was picking up a birthday cake. When Ruth Whitfield regularly visited her husband in a nursing home, she would cut his hair and bathe him. Heyward Patterson drove people to Tops supermarket daily, an affordable service for his working-class neighbors. Pearl Young spent Saturdays volunteering in her church’s food pantry, an embodiment of her faith and of love for her community.
Their blood and that of five others killed and three more injured during a mass shooting Saturday at a Buffalo supermarket is on the hands of Fox News.
This is not to absolve the self-avowed white supremacist who reportedly drove 200 miles to target a predominantly Black neighborhood on Buffalo’s east side, an area already too familiar with racism’s systemic scourge. In his alleged manifesto, the shooter evoked the so-called Great Replacement theory. That’s a hoary old racist and antisemitic idea that Jews want to replace white people by bringing in Black people, immigrants, and other people of color to diminish white power and status.
Once left to corrosive edges of racist conspiracy-mongering, replacement theory enjoys a bully pulpit on Fox News — especially on Tucker Carlson’s nightly firehose of fear-churning mendacity and white grievance. It’s not wrong to blame, as many have, social media and the Internet, which offer a steady diet of racist animosity. But Carlson is a one-stop white supremacy clearinghouse where viewers can mainline the most scurrilous beliefs that both sustain white supremacy and can incite its attendant violence.
It doesn’t matter whether the alleged Buffalo shooter was an acolyte of Carlson’s pied piper of hate routine. From his prime time perch, Carlson has dredged replacement theory from its various online cesspools and amplified it in America’s living rooms and its corridors of power.
Donald Trump has long told his supporters, “We’ll take our country back,” fostering the idea that what rightfully and solely belongs to them has been stolen. Instead of an extremist outlier, it’s now the Republican Party platform. GOP Representatives Elise Stefanik of New York and Matt Gaetz of Florida have both promoted replacement theory nonsense. Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin claims the Biden administration’s immigration policies could be a plot to “remake the demographics of America to ensure” an impenetrable Democratic hold on political power.
J.D. Vance, the former Never Trumper who morphed into the Trumpiest belle of the ball for his Senate campaign in Ohio, lied on Carlson’s show that Democrats have “decided they can’t win reelection in 2022 unless they bring in a large number of new voters to replace the voters that are already here.” Never mind that recently arrived immigrants can’t vote until they become citizens, which is usually a labyrinthine years-long process.
Of course, when it comes to racism in America, nothing is ever new. White fears of replacement drove what’s known as the New York Draft Riots of 1863. White men, convinced that their jobs would be lost to Black people emancipated from slavery, did not want to be drafted into a war to free the very people they falsely believed would replace them. By the time the race massacre ended, more than 1,000 people, most of them Black, had been murdered.
What happened in Buffalo is another aftershock of the same incessant American sin that turned “Mother Emanuel” Church in Charleston, S.C.; a neo-Nazi hate fest in Charlottesville, Va.; a Pittsburgh synagogue; a Walmart in El Paso; and other community and public gathering places into headlines of death, shock, and sorrow.
Fox News should have changed years ago, after Bill O’Reilly, Carlson’s predecessor, spent years condemning by name Dr. George Tiller, a Kansas abortion provider. In the church where he served as an usher, Tiller was shot to death in 2009 by a man with extreme antiabortion views. It could have changed after studies found higher death rates from COVID-19 and lower vaccination numbers among Fox viewers who were indoctrinated with the network’s politicized disinformation about the pandemic’s severity. And this despite the fact that the vast majority of the network’s employees were vaccinated.
Instead, Fox News has gone all in on a vile brew that’s been ratings gold, with Carlson as its smirking poster boy and host of the highest-rated cable news show in history. Now nearly half of Republicans believe in replacement theory, leaving little air between the GOP, whose chairperson, Ronna McDaniel, called the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection “legitimate political discourse,” and the white extremism it has now embraced in full.
For decades, Fox News has stirred racism, seething white animosities, and conspiracy theories. And every time that pot inevitably boils over, the network pretends it was nowhere near the kitchen. Carlson won’t own his responsibility for injecting into the mainstream beliefs that ended Black lives in Buffalo just as surely as their assassin’s hail of bullets. As the body count of innocents continues to grow, another American city prepares to bury its dead, and Carlson’s unvarnished doses of the baseless white grievance that killed them remain just a click away.