The Virginia Connection to the Buffalo Mass Shooting

Chanting White lives matter! You will not replace us! and Jews will not replace us! several hundred white nationalists and white supremacists carrying torches marched in a parade through the University of Virginia campus last night. Beginning a little after 9:30 p.m., the march lasted 15 to 20 minutes before ending in skirmishing when the marchers were met by a small group of counterprotesters at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson, the university's founder. (Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

By Meghin Moore
May 18, 2022

It’s been four days since a mass shooting that took the lives of ten people in Buffalo, New York took place. You might have been hearing about “The Great Replacement Theory” and the Buffalo shooter’s hate-filled manifesto in news broadcasts. Did you know that there’s a connection between the manifesto and Virginia?

We go back to one night in May 2017, when white nationalist and University of Virginia (UVA) graduate Richard Spencer first led a rally in Charlottesville. The rally, planned to protest plans the city had to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park, had over 100 participants who shouted “Jews will not replace us!” This rally was designed to intimidate residents, as protesters stood by the statue with lit torches.

However, this was not the infamous “tiki torch” march.

On Aug. 11, 2017 the white nationalists returned – this time unannounced – wielding tiki torches as they marched. They marched through the UVA grounds chanting racist slogans including “Jews will not replace us” and “You will not replace us,” the latter of which is tied directly to “The Great Replacement Theory,” mentioned in the Buffalo shooter’s manifesto.

The next day, the deadly Unite The Right Rally took place, with white nationalists chanting Nazi-era phrases, waving Confederate flags. Virginia is also an open-carry state, where people do not have to hide their guns and can openly display them in public (barring some restrictions). The rally eventually became violent, leading officials with the Virginia State Police to declare the rally an “unlawful assembly” around 11:22 a.m., with then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe declaring a state of emergency nearly an hour later. The violence escalated, ultimately ending up with James A. Fields driving his vehicle into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer.

Fast forward nearly five years later, where the slogans shouted in Charlottesville were amplified with the Buffalo shooter’s manifesto. What exactly does the theory say, and why is it harmful in today’s society?

“The idea is to instill paranoia in whites that they are about to be replaced by ‘others,’ that it is an intentional plan of liberals, or Democrats, or George Soros or whomever, and they need to fight to maintain their control. It is, of course, sick and corrosive. As we now know well, this thinking leads to violence and murder,” Larry Sabato, director at the UVA Center for Politics, told The Daily Progress earlier this week.

Five years ago, the attack, which led then-President Donald Trump to declare that there were “very fine people on both sides,” was just the start of a wave of radicalization that has somehow seeped into the mainstream. Despite that, the theory has been around much longer, first conceived in the early 1900s. It was first popularized by a known neo-Nazi in 1995, and is a conspiracy theory that really started to gain traction in the late 2000s among white nationalists, as the “alt-right” movement started to grow.

In the case of the Buffalo shooter, blame was placed on Jewish people and Black people for “white genocide.” The shooter also had been inspired by other extreme right-wing mass shooters, who he thought were “heroes.”

White nationalism has increasingly become a larger problem in American society. In 2019, the US House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security held a hearing about the alarming rise of hate crimes and white nationalism. Rep. Ben Cline was one of the members of the House subcommittee, but was not present at the hearing.

Even though Virginia’s lawmakers have not discussed the Buffalo shooter’s manifesto, or made any claims adding credibility to the replacement conspiracy theory, they have appeared in the past on news programs linked to known white nationalists and Nazi sympathizers, including Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who appeared on Sebastian Gorka’s show ahead of the 2021 gubernatorial election.

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