MAY 29, 2022
US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said racism and white nationalism are wrong, but he has not denounced the racist Great Replacement Theory. – J. Scott Applewhite/AP
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are quick to say racism and white nationalism are wrong, but they won’t denounce a racist conspiracy theory that claims Democrats are trying to replace white voters with voters and immigrants of color.
Some Republican candidates and lawmakers who are running for reelection have espoused the same theory shared by the alleged gunman in the Buffalo mass shooting, who said Black people were “replacers” of white Americans. Authorities say he killed 10 people in a Buffalo supermarket because they were Black.
Republicans have accused Democrats of politicizing the mass shooting. Party leaders in Washington, D.C., say they have never supported white nationalism or white supremacist ideology.
But none would give a yes-or-no answer when asked multiple times by USA TODAY if they denounce the Great Replacement theory. They also have not called for their colleagues to stop repeating the theory.
Democrats and analysts say the words of Republican politicians have “dangerous” consequences, ultimately giving validity to the language linked to racially-motivated killings.
House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., accused Republicans recently of “fanning the flames of hatred and embracing a racist conspiracy theory.”
“We’re still waiting for a single House Republican leader to denounce replacement theory,” he said.
Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a former member of House Republican leadership, quickly placed the blame on those leading her caucus.
“House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and antisemitism,” she said on Twitter shortly after the Buffalo shooting. “History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse. @GOP leaders must renounce and reject these views and those who hold them.”
So far, her colleagues have not answered that call.
The top three House Republicans, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Minority Whip Steve Scalise and Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, who replaced Cheney as the third-ranking Republican in the House, have not denounced the Great Replacement theory.
Scalise, who was a victim of gun violence in 2017, and Stefanik shared statements calling the Buffalo shooting a tragedy but said nothing of the theory or language that accompanied it.
When asked if Stefanik denounces the replacement theory, her office pointed to a statement she released days earlier. The statement did not denounce replacement theory, and her office did not respond to questions from USA TODAY seeking clarity.
Rep. Scott Perry, a Republican from central Pennsylvania and the leader of the Freedom Caucus, also hasn’t denounced the Great Replacement theory. HInstead, he appears to have embraced it.
“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 political landscape of this very nation,” he said during an immigration hearing in April 2021.
A spokesperson for Scalise referred to links showing comments the minority whip made last week. His comments said white nationalism was wrong, but they didn’t include his stance on the replacement theory. His office did not respond to follow up questions from USA TODAY.
McCarthy’s office did not respond to questions from USA TODAY.
The House minority leader previously faced criticism in February when he did not punish Republican Reps. Paul Gosar of Arizona and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia for going to a white supremacist conference. But he did call their attendance “appalling and wrong.”
He has not released a public statement on the shootings in Buffalo or Texas. After 19 elementary school children and two adults were killed in a mass shooting Tuesday, McCarthy was in Ohio slamming President Joe Biden’s border policies.
Why aren’t GOP leaders denouncing the Great Replacement theory?
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell condemned racism at a news conference rece but would not explicitly denounce replacement theory.
When reporters asked McConnell whether he believed the theory that Democrats are allowing amnesty for undocumented immigrants for political gain, McConnell responded by criticizing Biden’s border policies.
The way Republican leaders are responding – or not responding – is a matter of political expediency, said Kurt Braddock, assistant professor of public communication at American University.
“By denouncing racism generally without specifically mentioning the Great Replacement, the Republicans are able to be on both sides of the argument,” he said. “They can seem morally aligned with an obvious evil by denouncing racism, but by not specifically denouncing the Great Replacement narrative, they can stay consistent with the one-third of Republican voters who believe it.”
An AP-NORC poll on conspiracies and immigration earlier this month found a third of Americans believe “a group of people is trying to replace native-born Americans with immigrants for electoral gains. A similar share (29%) also express concern that an increase in immigration is leading to native-born Americans losing economic, political, and cultural influence.” The 1 in 3 Americans who believe that are likely to be conspiratorial thinkers and get their news from right-wing sources, according to the poll.
“Unfortunately, without explicitly criticizing or condemning Great Replacement-related disinformation,” Braddock said, “they fuel the false notion that it’s true, which itself is a key foundation of hate and violence.”