Janine Jackson interviewed Matt Gertz and Eric K. Ward about the Buffalo massacre and “replacement theory” for the May 20, 2022, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.
Ten human beings were killed and three wounded in Buffalo, New York, this week. By the killer’s own admission, he sought to kill Black people because they are Black, and he is a white supremacist who believes there’s a plot to replace white people with Black and brown people, a plot run by the Jews.
If you’re news media, you could go all in on media outlets and pundits and political figures whose repeated invocations of this white replacement theory are the obvious spurs for this horrific crime. Or you could be the Washington Post, and tweet that Joe Biden “ran for president pledging to ‘restore the soul of America.’ A racist massacre raises questions about that promise.”
A press corps that wanted to go down in history as doing better than pretending to raise questions about the “soul of America” would be busy interrogating deeply the structural economic political relationships that promote and platform white supremacy. They’d be using their immense and specific influence to interrupt business as usual—to demand, not just today, but tomorrow and the next day, meaningful response from powerful people, including, yes, Democrats and Biden and whomever. They would not be accepting that murder, mass murder, in the name of white supremacy and antisemitism is ultimately just another news story to report in 2022 America, film at 11.
We’ll talk about what we ought to be talking about with Matt Gertz, senior fellow at Media Matters for America. He’s been tracking Fox News and Tucker Carlson and their impact on US politics for years now.
That’s coming up this week on CounterSpin, brought to you each week by FAIR, the national media watch group.
Janine Jackson: There are some tropes about corporate news media that you wonder if people even wonder at them anymore. Did you catch that when Michael Brown was killed by law enforcement at age 18 in Ferguson, Missouri, AP described him as a “Black man,” but the white 18-year-old who killed 10 people in a Buffalo supermarket because it was in a Black neighborhood and he’s a racist, AP instructs readers to understand as a “teenager.”
That language-level bias is meaningful. But in the case of the racist hate-based crime of this past week, the media question is also writ very large. I will surprise no one by saying that Fox News and primetime host Tucker Carlson see there is no relationship whatsoever in the Buffalo killer’s explicit reference to the same white replacement theory that they have been pushing for years, and his acting in response to those ideas that, again, they have pushed night after night with vigor. At a certain point the rest of US civil society pretending that white supremacy is not a central factor in our conversation and our politics becomes a dangerously willful ignorance.
Our next guest has been surveying this swamp and its meaning and its impact for years now. Matt Gertz is senior fellow at Media Matters for America. He joins us now by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Matt Gertz.
Matt Gertz: Thank you for having me.
JJ: Depending on which day of the week you ask me, frankly, I have different thoughts about how and whether to respond to people—in media, but also in life—who are saying, without defending this mass murder, that when people talk about immigration, they’re not saying to hurt people. “Immigration,” “demographic shifts”—that’s just language. It seems important to acknowledge, when you hear a Fox News host talking about “demographic shifts,” it’s not a wild interpretive leap to say that they’re actually calling for some sort of action. You’ve been talking about those connections for years now, right?
MG: I have been, yes. I’ve been working at Media Matters in some capacity or another for almost 14 years, and in that time, I’ve spent much of my career surveying Fox News and the various threads that run through it. And I have to say, in the speed and completeness with which a white supremacist conspiracy theory took hold on the nation’s most popular cable news network, it’s really quite astounding.
When we talk about the great replacement theory, I think we’re often talking about a couple of different things. The US has, obviously, a long history of xenophobia. America is sort of a competition between our best ideals, in which we imagine that we can bring new people into our body politic and all be Americans together—and backlash that comes against that, that came against the Irish and the Italians and Eastern European Jews, and so on and so forth down through the decades, the fearmongering, the idea that “the other” is joining America in a way that spoils it, that in some way makes it dirtier. So there’s that long story.
More recently, though, the great replacement is a very particular conspiracy theory, that builds on those long hatreds. And this is the idea that there is some shadowy force that is deliberately bringing in unchecked immigrants, an invasion of them. And the purpose of that is to replace the white populace, and in doing so, gain and retain power. That is a very dangerous phrasing; the idea of replacing one race with another is something that, almost by definition, seems to require some sort of active response to it.
JJ: Right. Some people belong to be here. If you say “replacement,” that means people being pushed out who are rightfully here by, implicitly, people who are not rightfully here.MG: Yes. And so this was an idea that, in its recent form, popped over from Europe in 2011. It’s this essay by a Frenchman who wrote in 2011 that French society, white French society, was going to be replaced by Muslim immigrants. And that idea was sort of ported over across the sea to America and, when it was incorporated into the standard white supremacist discourse here, the people who were bringing about this replacement were often described as Jews, and anti-Black racism, obviously, took on a key role. Anti-Black racism, anti-Latino racism, and it took on more of a racial character than the religious one that it had over in France.
At first, this was largely confined to explicit white supremacist spaces. It’s the sort of thing you’d read if you were on the neo-Nazi Stormfront website, or something like that. It was really kept out of mainstream discourse.
But it’s not anymore. It’s really everywhere. And the reason for that is Tucker Carlson and Fox News. Tucker made it his mission to bring this white supremacist conspiracy theory into the mainstream, to sanitize it just a little bit so you could get it on the air without it being incredibly obvious what he was doing.
He started doing this around 2018, and over the years he’s become more and more explicit in his language, until it’s really not different at all from the manifesto that that shooter put out. You don’t have to read that manifesto; it’s not pleasant reading. But you can also get much of the same material if you just turn on Fox News. The conspiracy theory is recited almost on a nightly basis for an audience of millions of people.
JJ: It’s so meaningful, and I think that CounterSpin listeners know that there are such worldviews and ideologies at work, and that sometimes they’re given platform, and that sometimes others are marginalized. But I think that listeners do understand that this supposedly ideological battle is being fought out in a context of corporate capitalism.
And Tucker Carlson didn’t put up a lemonade stand and become a millionaire because his lemonade is better. He’s supported and held up and pushed in front of people by a system and a structure that, if we can’t say they wanted him there, we can certainly say they’re happy with him being sustained there. And I just wonder, how do we try to move the conversation from, you know, this twerp with his dumb ideas, to what we could actually push on to change, to push aside the interest in maintaining this kind of fountain of harm and hatred?
MG: You’re certainly right that he is not some sort of lone actor. He is in his position because Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan Murdoch want him there, and he is doing, frankly, his job. He’s doing exactly what the Fox News brass wants him to do. They want his blood-soaked conspiracy theories. If they didn’t, they could stop him.
You know, it’s always sort of unclear whether they’re doing it because they have an affinity with what he’s saying, whether they agree with him, or if they’re simply doing it purely for money. But if they’re doing it for the money, I think that the option available is to try to remove the profitability of Tucker Carlson, for Americans to tell advertisers: “We don’t want you advertising on Fox News. They’re promoting hate and bigotry and, frankly, domestic terrorism.” To tell cable carriers we want an option not to have a bundle that includes Fox News, so that we don’t give them our money every month when we pay our cable bills. That’s really the leverage point, making it not profitable for Fox News to have this kind of hate on its airwaves.
JJ: I think it’s a big thing to say; part of what we’re critiquing at FAIR is corporate ownership and sponsorship of media, and the leverage that they exert. But given that they exert that leverage, well, exert it, you know?
I’ll just ask you, finally, because I know it’s the latest thing, “upfronts,” those are places where outlets talk to advertisers and talk to media buyers, and they talk to stockholders and that sort of thing. That kind of behind-the-scenes conversation is where we heard Les Moonves of CBS say, “Donald Trump is bad for America, but he’s good for CBS. So let’s do it.” We just had upfronts for Fox two days ago. No indication there that they are thinking, “Oh, my gosh, people were just murdered based on ideas we’re putting out there. Let’s think about that.” That was not the vibe.
MG: To the contrary, to some extent, they were rubbing a lot of this in the faces of the advertisers. I mean, the timing for them is really, obviously, quite bad. They were holding this conference, bringing in the nation’s leading advertisers and media buyers, 48 hours after a mass shooting in which the shooter repeated the same talking points that you can hear on Fox News any given night.
And so they did not talk about Tucker Carlson, I think quite deliberately, at that event. But the person that they had instead flacking for the company was Pete Hegseth, who is another Fox News host who has said that there’s a full-scale invasion of migrants coming to your backyard. Much of the same replacement theory languages as Carlson does, but he’s also one of the network’s biggest defenders of the January 6 insurrection.
And then there were no apologies, obviously, for Fox News from the Fox News lineup. In fact, they seemed quite clear that they want to brand themselves as victims, that facing criticism in the way that they have is somehow unfair and unjust to them.
So they are clearly not giving advertisers much to work with, other than to accept that if they continue funding this network, then what they’re doing is giving money for white supremacist propaganda.
JJ: And we’re gonna end it there for now. We’ve been speaking with Matt Gertz. He’s senior fellow at Media Matters for America. They keep receipts on this sort of thing, and you can find them online at MediaMatters.org. Matt Gertz, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.
MG: Thank you for having me.
Janine Jackson: You may have heard the Buffalo mass shooting described as “senseless,” and in some ways that is true, but in other ways, less so. Because we know the man who killed 10 people and wounded three others was armed, not just with military gear and weaponry, but with a particular set of ideas about white people like himself in existential peril, and that these ideas in various forms are being promulgated in an alarming number of places today.
It’s not about trying to “read the mind” of a murderer, but thinking about what systems and institutions and ideas contribute to such a horrific act, and what different things need to happen to prevent its recurrence.
Our guest has been working on these issues for many years now. Eric K. Ward is a senior fellow with the Southern Poverty Law Center, and executive director of Western States Center. He was the 2021 recipient of the Train Foundation’s Civil Courage Award, the first American to receive that honor. He joins us now by phone from Portland, Oregon. Welcome to CounterSpin, Eric Ward.
Eric K. Ward: Such a pleasure to be with you. Thank you for having me. I’m sorry that it is around yet another tragedy.
JJ: Absolutely. Well, I think that a lot of people have avoided learning about this stuff. It’s toxic and upsetting, and why give it space in your head, you know? So with the acknowledgement that knowing about the particular fear and anger that, by his own account, drove this man’s violent actions, that’s not the same thing as appeasing it. So acknowledging that, what should we know about white replacement theory and the worldview that it offers?
EKW: We have to understand that, at the end of the day, there’s another social movement on the terrain of America, and it is not one grounded in the inclusion of racial, environmental and economic social justice groups. It is one that is grounded in exclusion and ethnic cleansing, and it’s known as white nationalism. White nationalism has a narrative, and that narrative is called the replacement theory. It is a story that teaches that a secret elite are at war to destroy white Christian America, through immigration, through interracial dating, through expanding civil rights for the LGBTQ community, the list goes on.
But we should all be clear that replacement theory is merely a retelling of an old antisemitic narrative called The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a forged antisemitic document by Russian Czarist police from 1903. It’s the same story; it tells a story of a secret Jewish conspiracy seeking to destroy European Christendom. And it was brought here to America by Henry Ford, proliferated to tens of thousands of Americans. It was used to try to explain why white segregationists lost against the Black civil rights movement of the 1960s. And today, it’s being called replacement theory, and it’s being used to justify racial terror of Jews, Muslims, African Americans, Latinos, Asians and others.
But not only is it being driven by the white nationalist movement: Irresponsibly, there are cynical elected officials who are promoting and credentializing this antisemitic theory, and it’s not only killing Jews, it is killing all of us. And we have now lost ten more people from the Black community from this racial terror, and it’s time for us to understand that we are fighting antisemitism.
JJ: I think sometimes the conversation gets divided according to victims, and then it can make it difficult to see the overarching thing. And so I think when some people hear you, they’re going to say, “Antisemitism? This is about racism.” But it’s important to see the connections of those two streams.
EKW: That’s right. We, as Black people, have always faced the brunt of all forms of bigotry in American society, along with indigenous communities, we have always been victimized by racism. But we have to be sophisticated enough, particularly those of us on the left, racial justice leaders, we have to be honest with our communities and help them understand what is happening.
The attacks on Latinos in El Paso in the Walmart that occurred in August of 2019, the targeting of Latinos at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in 2019, the targeting of Jews at the Tree of Life, the targeting of African Americans in 2015 in Charleston. Yes, these were anti-Latino, these were anti-Black, these were attacks on Jews. But in all of those cases, and in many more, they were driven by this antisemitic narrative.
And we have to let our people know that we are being targeted because of antisemitism. It doesn’t take away from the racism. It doesn’t take away from the xenophobia that Latinos and Asians are facing this community. It is merely helping us understand where the driver is, and if we can disrupt the driver, perhaps we can begin to turn the violence around.
JJ: Attention right now is focused, with reason, on Fox News, and Tucker Carlson, and folks who had explicitly talked up white replacement theory for a long time, though apparently Fox has gone very quiet on it just now.
But we’ve also seen establishment media fail to really be anti-racist and fail to vigorously defend inclusive democracy, as well as kind of a general framework that does tend to present political issues as zero sum. And then again, when Les Moonves said, “Donald Trump might be bad for America, but he’s good for CBS. So keep going, Donald.” That was just dereliction of duty, as far as I’m concerned.
But as you have just indicated, we know there are more people who oppose this hateful worldview then support it. We know that, although it’s hard not to focus on horrific acts and hate crimes, we know that most people actually support the idea of participatory democracy and inclusive democracy and anti-racism. So I guess my question is just, what do you think is necessary to grow that movement, where’s the energy that we could present in that direction?
EKW: There is absolutely a pro-democracy movement that is building in the United States. But it’s going to take a broad coalition, meaning lasting progressive movements, and leaders in the United States are going to have to come to terms with what it means to sit in broad coalition with others who may not be progressive or liberal. I’m not talking about some kind of mediocre, Kumbaya, “we’re going to get along and ignore our differences.” It means recognizing that there has to be a broad-based social movement that supports democracy and the functioning rule of law in the United States. And I think there are some things that folks can specifically do.
So the first is simply this. The first is you have to begin to name that you are part of that pro-democracy movement in this country. “I’m in a pro-democracy movement that opposes authoritarians, that is opposed to bigoted and political violence, and demands that government step up and do its job, that it be of the people.” So that’s the first thing that needs to happen.
The second is this pro-democracy movement needs to take media accountability, and that includes social media platforms, seriously. We have places like Fox News Entertainment openly promoting an antisemitic theory that has been used in targeting minority communities across this country. Yes, shame on Fox News. But shame on the FCC, shame on the Federal Trade Commission, and shame on the Department of Justice for allowing that to happen without accountability and without consequence. Shame on international businesses who are engaging in business and commerce in United States on the blood of minorities, across this country, who have been attacked over the last five years. Shame on law enforcement for putting ideology ahead of its mission to protect and serve.
JJ: I just want to ask you one final question, which is, I know that you are a musician, and it sounds trite, but it’s true that music and culture can be healing, and can bring people together. And if you have thoughts on that space, I’d just be happy to hear them.
EKW: Yes, every musician and artist that is listening right now, if you work in art, if you work within music, your voice and your energy is needed more than ever. We aren’t hearing real stories on social media; we’re being manipulated through algorithm, and we need the stories to be told. And stories get told also through music and through art. And it’s time for artists to tell the real story of America, one that wants to move forward together. We need artists to tell the stories that won’t get told during these times, that keep us moving forward and give us hope.
JJ: We’ve been speaking with Eric K. Ward from Southern Poverty Law Center and Western States Center. Thank you so much, Eric Ward, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.
EKW: Thank you.
The post ‘The “Great Replacement” Builds on Those Long Hatreds’ appeared first on FAIR.
This content originally appeared on FAIR and was authored by Jim Naureckas.