White supremacist attacks stir GOP fears for safety of White people
Garnell Whitfield was testifying about his 86-year-old mother, Ruth, shot dead last month along with nine other Black people in a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket, allegedly by a white supremacist motivated by the racist “great replacement” conspiracy theory.
“What are you doing?” Whitfield demanded of the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee at their hearing on Tuesday. “Is there nothing that you personally are willing to do to stop the cancer of white supremacy and the domestic terrorism it inspires?” With breaking voice and sniffles, he added: “My mother’s life mattered. Your actions here today will tell us how much it matters to you.”
Then, Republicans on the panel answered — with accounts of violence committed by Black people and antifa.
“The Brooklyn subway shooter was a known Black supremacist who called for racial violence,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.). “The Waukesha attacker … was a viciously left-wing Black nationalist bigot. Another Black nationalist gunned down five police officers in Dallas.” Cruz went on, about “the violence of the antifa riots and the Black Lives Matter riots.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the top Republican on the panel, spoke of 2016, when “two Black racists killed eight police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge,” and of 2018, when “members of antifa in Philadelphia assaulted two Marines.” Extremism, Grassley said, “includes Black racism and antifa ideology.” And Sen. Mike Lee (Utah) focused on a (Black) man and (Asian American) woman who “had thrown a Molotov cocktail into a police vehicle during the antifa riots.”
Their illustrations served to build a case that the focus on white supremacy is “diminishing” violence against others, as Cruz put it, including “violence directed at White people” — and that, as Grassley asserted, “even though many in the press only focus on far-right attacks, the most deadly ideology often changes year to year.”
But that’s just not true. Since 2015, when the recent upsurge in political violence began, the brutality has been overwhelmingly perpetrated by the far right. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, right-wing extremists (generally either white supremacist or anti-government) were involved in 267 plots or attacks and 91 fatalities from 2015 through 2020. Far-left extremists (anarchists, anti-fascists) were involved in 66 incidents and 19 deaths. The proportion of left-wing attacks and plots increased in 2021 (40 percent of the total, compared to 49 percent by right-wing extremists), but right-wing attacks remained far deadlier, accounting for 28 of 30 political-violence fatalities in 2021.
Senate Republicans used similar arguments a couple of weeks ago to block consideration of the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, which would have created dedicated government offices to track domestic terrorism, including white-supremacist violence. That modest bill, with no added surveillance powers or criminal offenses, had passed the House and originally had Republican support. But at a time when Fox News’s Tucker Carlson and Republican officials including House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) have given voice to the “great replacement” conspiracy, Republicans have apparently lost interest in challenging white supremacy.
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Instead, they brought in their favorite all-purpose witness on Tuesday, law professor Jonathan Turley, who argued against the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act and claimed that the Jan. 6 insurrection was not an act of domestic terrorism. But mostly, Turley testified about himself: “I have received hundreds of threats against myself, my family, and even my dog. … I am generally viewed as something of a free-speech purist. … I come to this subject as someone who has written, litigated and testified in the areas of terrorism, extremist advocacy, and free speech for decades. I have also represented the United States House of Representatives in litigation. … I should confess to a bias as a Madisonian scholar.”
Committee chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), noting that Fox News’s Carlson alone has amplified the “great replacement” theory (in which White people are supposedly targeted for marginalization) on more than 400 episodes of his show, urged his colleagues to “speak in one voice and repudiate this incendiary rhetoric, along with any individual or extremist group that resorts to violence.”
But Republican senators declined that invitation, instead turning repeatedly to Turley and to their other witness, former U.S. attorney Justin Herdman, to support their desire not to focus on white supremacists; they wanted to evaluate the threat of terrorism without “any sort of analysis of the ideology,” as Herdman put it.
In his poignant opening statement, Whitfield spoke of the man who allegedly killed his mother: “He did not act alone. He was radicalized by white supremacists. His anger and hatred were metastasized like a cancer by people with big microphones screaming that Black people were going to take away their jobs and opportunities.”
Repeatedly, Whitfield asked the lawmakers what they would do about his mother’s death. Republicans, in their refusal to acknowledge the unique harm being done by Carlson, party leaders and white supremacists, gave their answer: not a thing.