First, we must remember the victims of hate. Thirteen people were shot in a Buffalo market. Ten have died. They were mothers, grandmothers, a retired police officer, a volunteer, grocery store employees, just ordinary Americans going about their day.
Except, what the shooter, who was white, saw was predominantly African Americans, and he pulled the trigger because his rage was fueled by a dangerous and completely false conspiracy theory.
Racism has always been lethal, and it is getting even more so. We must confront this in the loudest way we can.
The shooter, 18-year-old Payton Gendron, was radicalized by a global conspiracy ideology called “the great replacement theory.” We don’t have to guess about this, since he left a 180-page screed describing how this motivated him. This abhorrent racist idea holds that white people are being intentionally “replaced” by racial/ethnic minorities around the globe.
Yes, it’s an Internet-driven conspiracy fueled by a global pandemic, but it is given credence by politicians and media pundits and they are especially the ones who need to be called out in no uncertain terms.
Last year, Rep. Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican, elevated this extreme fringe idea in a congressional hearing, no less, saying “For many Americans, what seems to be happening or what they believe right now is happening is what appears to them is we’re replacing national-born American — native-born Americans to permanently transform the landscape of this very nation.”
And Tucker Carlson, the widely viewed host on Fox News, has done irreparable harm by touting this ideology with his combination of vitriol and outright lies. “I know that the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term ‘replacement,’ if you suggest for the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World,” he said in April 2021. “But they become hysterical because that’s what’s happening, actually.”
And mothers, grandmothers, a retired police officer, a volunteer, grocery store employees, and just ordinary Americans going about their day end up dead or grievously injured because prominent people give radical, fringe ideas cover instead of joining the majority of Americans in rejecting these hateful, white nationalist ideas.
Hate spreads so virulently in this fear-driven age of pandemics, war and the upheavals of destruction from rapidly increasing climate catastrophe. It can seem like there is threat everywhere, and conspiracies are attractive because they offer some group of people to blame.
And 10 people end up dead, three injured and we all get more fearful.
No. It has to stop and that means all of us need to do everything we can to prevent the spread of hate. Vote for candidates who espouse community, not blame. Reject pundits who mindlessly repeat lies. Tell your friends and neighbors hate should have no place in this society.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us, “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”
Paralysis. Confusion. Darkness. Doesn’t that sound like where we are today? We are becoming paralyzed as a society, polarized to the breaking point. We are often confused about why such horrible things are happening and it can seem difficult to clearly see a way out.
There is no way out of this but to reject hate at every turn.
Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is president emerita and professor emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.