Column: White terrorists have ‘Tucker Carlson Syndrome.’ Millions are vulnerable to it

A street memorial of flowers and balloons
A memorial across the street from Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, N.Y., on Wednesday. The market was the site of Saturday’s fatal shooting of 10 people in a historically Black neighborhood by a young white gunman, which is being investigated as a hate crime.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

In nearly 700 pages of writings on the Discord messaging app, a person who identified himself as Payton Gendron, the 18-year-old suspect in Saturday’s mass shooting in a Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store, described his motivations. He expressed a reluctance to kill people: “What I want right now is something to pass or someone to do something so I don’t have to kill these people.” The attack killed 10 people and injured three; 11 of the victims were Black.

The writer on Discord, according to transcripts of the messages that I reviewed, had been radicalized to believe that white people’s survival depended on eliminating people of color, whom he called “replacers.” He planned to try to shoot victims twice in the head to minimize their pain.

Mental illness didn’t cause his monstrous actions. Mass bloodshed is the logical conclusion of embracing “replacement” theory, a white supremacist and antisemitic fiction espoused by some leading Republicans.


Opinion Columnist

Jean Guerrero

Jean Guerrero is the author, most recently, of “Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump and the White Nationalist Agenda.”

The GOP has been deflecting all week. On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the killer “deranged” while sidestepping questions about his party’s promotion of his worldview. Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has done more than anyone to mainstream replacement theory, attributed Gendron’s ideology to a “diseased mind.”

But Gendron’s beliefs aren’t uncommon among conservatives or Republicans. Carlson has used his most-watched show hundreds of times to popularize the lie that Democrats are trying to “replace the current electorate … [with] more obedient voters from the Third World.” An Associated Press and University of Chicago poll this month found one-third of U.S. adults now believe a version of this propaganda. Call it “Tucker Carlson Syndrome.”

What varies in different versions of it are the imagined puppeteers. Carlson and politicians such as Rep. Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking Republican in the House, blame Democrats. Gendron and other users of 4chan, digital sewers where Carlson’s spewed vitriol gathers, blame Jews.

How did replacement theory become so normalized? Yes, it has been legitimized and used politically by Carlson and other grifters. But it’s important to understand what makes people vulnerable to the lie. Gendron’s alleged Discord logs offer clues. They’re far more detailed than his 180-page “manifesto,” which was partly copied from another white terrorist’s writings.

The foundation of his thinking lies in the belief that demographic change means death. “Diversity is white genocide,” he wrote.

The Buffalo gunman had ‘14’ written on his rifle. I know that white-supremacist slogan because of demonstrations in my town of Thousand Oaks.

May 17, 2022

This fallacy, increasingly common among conservatives, confuses population growth and change with population erasure and cultural decay. “We have allowed the weak to interbreed with the strong, and this is dangerous,” wrote the alleged shooter. He was obsessed with declining white birthrates and wrote of photos of biracial children: “Don’t racemix guys come on.”


The myth of demographic change as doom for whites has a long history here dating back to anti-miscegenation laws in the 1600s, laws which continued to exist in the 1960s. Such laws gave the Nazis a template for the persecution of Jews. In 1946, a U.S. senator from Mississippi, Theodore Bilbo, warned in a speech that “mongrelization would destroy the white race.”

Obsession with racial purity gained a scientific gloss in the early 20th century, when Francis Galton, an anthropologist, spearheaded the eugenics movement by promoting the idea that you could perfect the human species through selective breeding. Galton was inspired by his half cousin Charles Darwin, whose theory of natural selection he misunderstood. In “The Origin of Species,” Darwin writes: “the more diversified the descendants become, the better will be their chance of success in the battle for life.”

The quest for racial purity led to policies limiting immigration from nonwhite countries as well as the legalization of sterilization of those categorized as “unfit,” such as those perceived as idiots or insane. Black and brown women were disproportionately sterilized through the 1970s.

The horrors of Nazism led these ideas to lose some mainstream allure after World War II. But they were resurrected in the 1990s when the white supremacist and nativist John Tanton republished an English translation of the French dystopian novel “The Camp of the Saints” to influence the immigration debate. Depicting the destruction of the white world by brown refugees, the book inspired President Trump’s immigration policy architect, Stephen Miller, and French writer Renaud Camus’ influential book “The Great Replacement,” another key text for replacement paranoia.

A ‘lone wolf’ killer? That might be a comforting thought, if only it were true.

May 16, 2022

These ideas have spread with the accelerant of the internet and will take root in many more people like Gendron, who in his alleged Discord messages called himself a “supporter of eugenics.” He was self-radicalized during the pandemic by racist disinformation online casting Black people as genetically inferior to whites. Though that lie isn’t new, it gains new currency with each new evangelist, among them Jared Taylor, another prominent U.S. white nationalist who has influenced leading Republicans, including the Republican front-runner in the 2021 California gubernatorial recall race, the talk show host Larry Elder.

The Buffalo shooter, inspired by the livestream of a replacement believer who massacred 51 Muslims in New Zealand, livestreamed his attack to encourage copycats. He idolized the anti-Mexican terrorist who murdered 23 people in El Paso. What these men have in common is not mental illness, but a Western cultural pathology: the creed of white supremacy, which demands white racial purity and sees our diversity as a declaration of war.