Show caption A makeshift memorial near the scene of Saturday’s shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo this week. Photograph: Matt Rourke/AP Opinion The alleged Buffalo shooter was also inspired by Islamophobia. That’s telling Moustafa Bayoumi The alleged shooter copied the manifesto of the New Zealand mosque attacker – showing how easy it is to replace Muslim with Black or Jewish in the logic of the extreme right @BayoumiMoustafa Sun 22 May 2022 11.17 BST Share on Facebook
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On 14 May, an 18-year-old white supremacist shot and killed 10 Black people in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, about 200 miles away from his home, according to police. The alleged shooter scrawled a racial epithet on the barrel of his gun and live-streamed his killing spree. He (I prefer not to name him) was clearly participating in a long and horrible American tradition of murderous hatred toward Black people, and media coverage and commentary have rightly emphasized the long reach of anti-Black racism that motivated this killer.
But the alleged shooter’s motivations were not only anti-Black racism. He uploaded a 180-page document shortly before carrying out his attack, and even a quick perusal will show the disgusting antisemitism that he also wallows in. Pages and pages of anti-Jewish slurs – including an excerpt from Der Giftpilz, a Nazi-era children’s book published by Julius Streicher of Der Stürmer infamy – fill the document. At one point, the killer writes, “If the Jews did not have connections to Judaism, then I believe that they would be able to live in White countries such as the USA. But because of the irreversible rabbinic teachings they must be removed from all European and White countries.”
The document is clearly an expression of replacement theory, a garbage conspiracy theory that believes Jewish and corporate elites aim to “replace” white people from their own countries through mass immigration. To explain “replacement theory”, media reports immediately began citing the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, when white men in starchy polo shirts carried tiki torches while screaming “Jews will not replace us.”
The main frames of analysis for this attack, in other words, have been thoroughly American. Seen through the domestic American lens, this attack looks very much like a toxic mix of America’s anti-Black racism with a virulent strain of American antisemitism. There’s no doubt that this is true, but it’s not the entire story. Almost completely absent from the discussion is Islamophobia, and how this kind of extreme rightwing violence is in significant part a byproduct of the war on terror and the Islamophobia it spawned.
Consider how the Buffalo shooter acknowledges, in his document, that the person who radicalized him the most was none other than the man who, in 2019, live-streamed himself shooting and killing 51 worshipers in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. In fact, the title of the Buffalo shooter’s manifesto (“You wait for a signal while your people wait for you”) is a line written in the New Zealand shooter’s manifesto, which itself was titled The Great Replacement.
Moreover, the Buffalo shooter’s manifesto lifts many lines verbatim or nearly so from the New Zealand shooter’s manifesto, a move that is quite typical of the genre. A few examples must suffice, but in truth there are many more. Both documents adopt a question and answer format.
New Zealand shooter’s document:
Why did you carry out the attack? To most of all show the invaders that our lands will never be their lands, our homelands are our own and that, as long as a white man still lives, they will NEVER conquer our lands and they will never replace our people.
Buffalo shooter’s document:
Why did you decide to carry out the attack? To show to the replacers that as long as the White man lives, our land will never be theirs and they will never be safe from us.
New Zealand shooter:
Did/do you personally hate muslims? A muslim man or woman living in their homelands? No. A muslim man or woman choosing to invade our lands live on our soil and replace our people? Yes, I dislike them. The only muslim I truly hate is the convert, those from our own people that turn their backs on their heritage, turn their backs on their cultures, turn their back on their traditions and became blood traitors to their own race. These I hate.
Did, or do you personally hate blacks? A black man or woman living in their homelands? No. A black man or woman choosing to invade our lands, live on our soil, live on government support and attack and replace our people? Yes, I dislike them. The only people I truly hate are the converts, those from our own people that turn their backs on their heritage, turn their backs on their cultures, turn their back on their traditions and become blood traitors to their own race. They are not completely hopeless however. I believe some can come back, so it’s important to welcome them when they are awoken instead of shaming and ostracizing them.
New Zealand shooter:
Do you consider it a terrorist attack? By the definition, then yes. It is a terrorist attack. But I believe it is a partisan action against an occupying force.
Do you consider the attack an act of terrorism? By definition yes. But I believe it is a partisan action against an occupying force.
The point of this comparison should not be about plagiarism. All these far-right manifestos freely cut-and-paste texts and images from each other and from around the web. They are, as I’ve written elsewhere, better understood as wikis of the far right, where each person contributes their literary share of hate. Such compendiums are avenues to crowd-source the energy and commitment required for mass murder.
But by placing them side-by-side, what’s both amazing and completely unsurprising to see is how easy it is to replace Muslim with Black in the logic of the far right, grimly ironic for an ideology that is so violently dead-set against “replacement”.
It’s likewise important to see the glee with which these bored and lonely individuals find heroism in fascism. (The Buffalo shooter says he started browsing 4chan in May 2020 out of extreme boredom in the early days of Covid.) They want to be called terrorists. They glow at being labeled racists. Dick Cheney once stated that, to win the war on terror, the United States would have to work through “the dark side” and “use any means at our disposal to achieve our objectives”. These shooters, in murderous delusions of grandeur, want to see themselves as the final bulwarks of an otherwise dying western civilization – doing what they have to do to save us from the invaders, just as Jack Bauer saved us from terrorist invaders weekly in Fox’s drama 24. They have moved to the dark side – for us. (Though not for me, obviously.)
As Kathleen Belew chronicles in her book Bring the War Home, the defeat of the United States in Vietnam contributed significantly to the rise of the modern white supremacist movements in the 1970s and 1980s. Similarly, it’s time we confront the fact that the (definitionally) inconclusive war on terror, which has also displaced somewhere between 38 and 60 million people, continues to fuel the rise of rightwing movements around the globe.
We do ourselves a disservice when we see the right wing narrowly and understand the right exclusively through an American lens. Is it any wonder that the American Conservative Political Action Conference (Cpac) traveled to Victor Orbán’s Hungary for their conference this year? From the fringe to the mainstream, the right wing increasingly gathers strength by nurturing its international connectivity. If we want to protect ourselves from more of these shooters, we must do the same.
Moustafa Bayoumi is the author of the award-winning books How Does It Feel To Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America and This Muslim American Life: Dispatches from the War on Terror. He is professor of English at Brooklyn College, City University of New York. He is a contributing opinion writer at Guardian US