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Calling out the GOP’s dangerous emboldening of white supremacy

After another racist massacre, Democrats should stop being polite and start getting real about naming Republicans who incite far-right extremism.

After delivering remarks on the racist massacre at a Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, N.Y., President Biden spoke to reporters at Buffalo-Niagara International Airport on Tuesday.Doug Mills/NYT

No Republican politician or candidate should ever again be permitted to leave an interview or walk off a debate stage without being asked whether they denounce so-called great replacement theory and say what steps they will take to dismantle white supremacy and its violent extremism.

In a nation built by enslaved Black people on lands stolen from Indigenous people for the enrichment of white people, white supremacy remains an existential threat to America and its still-unfulfilled democracy. Last weekend, a self-identified white supremacist allegedly targeted a Buffalo supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood and shot 13 people. Every person killed was Black.


In a speech during his visit to Buffalo after the massacre, President Biden called white supremacy “a poison” that runs “through our body politic.” He said, “We need to say as clearly and forcefully as we can that the ideology of white supremacy has no place in America. None.” Biden added, ”Silence is complicity. . . . We cannot remain silent.”

Biden didn’t specifically identify those who openly traffic in racist and antisemitic lies. Refusing to name them, or even the party to which they belong, also plays into the complicity of silence that the president wants to shatter.

With fragile Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, democracy is on the ballot in November’s midterm elections. So is white supremacy. Whether voters will reject Republicans who promulgate lies about the 2020 presidential election, immigration, reproductive justice, gender-affirming health care, and American history may depend on Democrats’ ability to stop being polite and start getting real about calling out Republicans and their extremist platform.

A vigil for victims of the racist massacre in Buffalo on Tuesday. MUSTAFA HUSSAIN/NYT

On the Senate floor, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, accused “MAGA Republicans” and “cable news pundits” of legitimizing replacement theory, which is a notion concocted by white supremacists that white people are being deliberately replaced by people of color, especially immigrants, to shift voting demographics, usurp jobs, and diminish white status.


“Every time they falsely claim that millions of undocumented people cast ballots in our elections, every time loud, bigoted voices bemoan the disintegration of an imagined classic America, the subtext is clear,” Schumer said.

That’s the message Democrats should be amplifying, especially because few Republicans are condemning the right-wing ideologies that have driven several racist massacres in the past decade, including the one in Buffalo. Not surprisingly, the only two Republicans speaking frankly about their party’s political exploitation of racist hate are also the only two Republicans on the House committee investigating the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection.

“The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and antisemitism,” Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming tweeted after the Buffalo massacre. On CNN, Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois called out his fellow House Republicans, including Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Elise Stefanik of New York, and Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader, as extremism’s enablers.

“Did they pull the trigger [in Buffalo]? No. Did they call this guy up and tell him to do it? Of course not,” Kinzinger said. “But when we as a party or a movement or people like, frankly, Tucker Carlson, throw out these theories or fish in the waters of white replacement theory or echo some of those kind of fear-based things, you can’t be surprised when some people take that to the level of going and massacring people.”


Of course, this is a message a lot of white people, regardless of how they vote, won’t want to hear over the coming weeks and months. After George Floyd’s murder two years ago, we saw yet again this nation’s limited capacity for reckoning with racist violence and its origins.

Instead, many retreat from what they perceive as a personal indictment of their unwillingness to challenge racist political extremism, even though this nation faces no greater threat. According to the Anti-Defamation League, most political violence in the past 10 years has been committed by those on the right. A majority of extremist murders — 55 percent — were linked to white supremacy. That’s why murderous white supremacists so often create manifestos. They want their motives clearly understood in a blueprint designed to inspire more violence.

Nearly 50 percent of Republicans agree with at least some white replacement theory beliefs. A Jan. 6 insurrectionist who continues to lie about the 2020 presidential election outcome could become Pennsylvania’s next governor. On Wednesday, Kinzinger was the only Republican to vote for House passage of the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act. (Cheney was a no.)

When that bill inevitably fails in the Senate because of GOP intransigence, Democrats should drill down on the fact that one party would rather court extremists than protect constituents from homegrown political violence. As Biden has defined Russia’s unprovoked invasion against Ukraine as “Putin’s war,” the president and his fellow Democrats must do the same with the Republicans’ unprovoked white supremacist war against American democracy and lives.


Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.