Members of the public are held off at a distance as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden visit the scene of a shooting at a supermarket to pay respects to victims of Saturday's shooting in Buffalo, New York, Tuesday, May 17, 2022.
On May 14, a white gunman went on a shooting rampage at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, killing 10 people and injuring three others.
Eleven of the victims were Black.
The mass shooting highlights the growing threat posed by far-right extremism — not just in the US — but across the globe.
Marco Werman: Our first impulse often is to think of a terrible shooting like this as a domestic thing. But you're alluding to the Christchurch shooter and the last 27 pages of this shooter's document. It is a global phenomenon, isn't it?
Amarnath Amarasingamm: Yeah, I think the far-right movement now, it has domestic expression, I would say, you know, his attack is very much a kind of anti-Black anti African-American attack. Whereas in other parts of the world that have been inspired by this movement, the victims have been the Muslim community or immigrants or refugee centers, that sort of thing. And so they're part of this transnational hate movement, which is driven in the online space and kind of solidified in the online space. But it manifests itself on the ground colored by kind of domestic politics, in a way. So for him, he's still part of this transnational thinking of white genocide and the great replacement that he feels is happening in parts of Europe and other parts of the world. But for him, the way it plays out in his local context is through anti anti-Black racism.
What do we know about how these sorts of extremists are learning from one another around the world?
The online community is quite powerful. They share these manifestos around. They have long running conversations on some of these more darker corners of the internet about what's happening to the white community and this kind of emergency mindset, I would say, right, this idea of the white population is being slowly eroded and killed off and that's being deliberately planned and carried out by kind of a shadowy cabal of Jewish media...So it's very much woven into a kind of conspiratorial mindset of demographic takeover. And you can see it dripping throughout his old manifesto which is this "someone needs to do something right away" phonemenon. And that part is also dangerous because it creates the impression that this is a kind of moral emergency for them that they need to react to before it's too late.
So again, let's scrutinize the word "theory" here, as in "great replacement theory." That does seem to give these ideas more weight than they deserve.
It's not a theory. It's a conspiracy theory. They believe that there is a deliberate campaign by evildoers, most often the Jewish community, to kind of deliberately put plans into place to kill off the white race, so whether that's manufacturing policy that would increase immigration or refugees, whether that's propaganda through the media to convince the rest of us that immigration is a good thing, they believe it's a kind of orchestrated plan to kill off the white people, basically. And so this notion of the white genocide that's happening, that's part of what drives, at least in this case, this kind of sense of urgency and emergency that we need to, you know, that he needs to do something and someone needs to act and he needs to inspire other attackers and the next generation of attackers to kind of do something as well. In his manifesto he says, "I don't want to die." Right? "I want to be arrested alive. I want to be taken in alive because I want to see from jail whether what I did actually accomplished anything." And he fully expects, he says, to be released from prison and celebrated once this kind of race war begins. And so there is this sense of an impending liberation or awakening within white consciousness that's supposed to vindicate his actions. And all of these attackers from New Zealand to El Paso [Texas] onward will be celebrated as the people who led the charge, I guess, to wake up a sleeping masses.
Have you found that kind of thinking with the other attackers, like in Christchurch or in El Paso?
There was a 16-year-old who was arrested in Singapore who was influenced by great replacement ideas. And the Poway synagogue shooter, also influenced by great replacement ideas. And so it's become a kind of powerful consolidator of various different ideas, I think, in the far-right space. And it's becoming, as some people have noted recently, it's becoming much more mainstreamed as well through platforms like Fox News and Tucker Carlson and others who may not use the words great replacement precisely, but they kind of peddle in those ideas that somehow, you know, the very slogan "Make America Great Again" is an idea that something about what it means to be a true American is being eroded, the Western culture is in danger and somebody needs to do something about it. It's becoming much more mainstream, which is deeply worrisome, I would say.
How do these global extremists communicate with one another?
Sometimes they don't. I think there's this assumption, I think through our al-Qaeda lens or the ISIS lens, that somehow these are fully fledged organizations where there is a hierarchy and a leadership and things like that doesn't necessarily exist in the kind of far-right movement that we're seeing now. These are much more nebulous networks of people who are just reading each other's content, often anonymously. I mean, they're not out there with their real name and location or anything like that. And so they're kind of part of this broader social movement, extremist movement, transnationally "organized" is the wrong word, but you know what I mean? But the attack often happens through these kind of lone-actor attacks. Right. So all of these individuals take it upon themselves to put this ideology into effect individually and domestically and locally. But the broader ideology still remains.
Help us understand how these fringe twisted ideas went mainstream so rapidly in so much of the world.
I mean, it really got going, I would say, after the Syrian migrant crisis in 2015. It was then that groups like Generation Identity in Europe really got speaking in this kind of language of "we are being overrun," right? That there is a mass migration of, in this case, Muslims from Syria, who are not going to integrate, who are not going to assimilate to "our way of life," who are slowly going to erode kind of the purity of Western culture and so on. That started around that time. Before that, you had Renauld Camus' book called "The Great Replacement," published in 2011 in French, where he initially began discussion of these great replacement ideas. His book, at least a shorter version of it, was translated into English. A lot of American and Canadian far-right influencers on YouTube and other platforms were very much linked to this broader alt-right generation-identity scene as well. And so you had ideas seeping in through those people and they became just, when we say, "YouTube celebrities," that kind of dismisses their importance, but some of them became quite influential, far-right talking heads with, you know, hundreds of thousands of followers and putting out content regularly. And then I would say it was fully mainstreamed under the Trump administration. Right? This idea that something about what it meant to be a true American was being eroded and that this was happening with some sort of deep state cabal came out of the mouth of the president himself or not.
This interview was lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
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