After a gunman, apparently driven by racist conspiracy theories, shot 13 people, killing 10 in a Buffalo supermarket Saturday, critics are calling out north country Congresswoman Elise M. Stefanik for elevating similar theories herself.
According to law enforcement officials, an 18-year-old from Conklin, near Binghamton, traveled to a Tops Friendly Markets store in Buffalo on Saturday, where he shot 13 people, 11 of whom are Black. Out of those 13 shot, 10 died, all of whom were Black. He was apprehended outside the store and has since been charged with murder.
Evidence so far uncovered points to a racially motivated crime, as police review a 180-page manifesto posted online that is believed to be written by the shooter.
The screed repeatedly reiterates the shooter’s belief in the “great replacement theory,” an explicitly racist conspiracy theory that posits white people in the U.S. are at risk of being replaced by non-white people — a trend that must be stopped by removing or killing non-white people and encouraging births among white people, according to the white supremacist theory. In the online document, the shooter, who is white, focuses his hate on Black and Jewish people, calling for wholesale genocide and forced emigration of non-white people “occupying White lands” like the U.S.
Since the shooting, critics including Republican and Democratic members of Congress and state leaders have begun pointing to instances of anti-immigration rhetoric from Republican spokespeople, namely Congresswoman Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, who leads the House Republican Conference and controls messaging for House Republican membership.
On Monday morning, Congresswoman Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., called out top House Republicans for their rhetoric in a tweet: “The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-semitism. 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.”
Rep. Stefanik replaced Rep. Cheney last year as the No. 3 House Republican after Rep. Cheney was removed from the role over her criticism of former President Donald J. Trump.
Last year, Rep. Stefanik circulated an ad alleging that Democrats were planning to use illegal immigration and amnesty to overturn the American electorate and ensure Democrats win all elections going forward.
“Radical Democrats are planning to use their most aggressive move yet, a permanent election insurrection,” read one version of the ad, circulated nationwide on Facebook in September 2021. “Their plan to grant amnesty to 11 million illegal immigrants will overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington.”
One of the congresswoman’s Democratic challengers in this year’s race for the 21st Congressional District seat, Matthew F. Putorti said in an interview Monday that Rep. Stefanik’s language is dangerous, and even in light of criticism she isn’t backing away.
“Elise Stefanik has used replacement theory language in fundraising ads, and even earlier today she’s tweeted language that is very similar to that,” he said.
On Monday morning, Rep. Stefanik’s personal Twitter account shared a message reiterating what she said in her ad last year: “Democrats desperately want wide open borders and mass amnesty for illegals allowing them to vote.”
Mr. Putorti said using terms like “illegal” to refer to undocumented immigrants dehumanizes them and can easily inspire racism. He said the congresswoman’s recent messaging has reflected similar themes, like her current push to stop the flow of baby formula to Department of Homeland Security holding facilities that hold undocumented immigrants crossing the border.
“She’s argued not feeding migrant children who are in U.S. custody, that’s language that is fueling hate, and that she hasn’t come out unequivocally and said the opposite is further proof, she means what she says,” Mr. Putorti said.
Mr. Putorti said those anti-immigration positions, which he called radical, don’t represent the congresswoman’s constituency at all.
“She is the representative of this district,” he said. “The people here do not believe the things she says. She’s not representing us, she’s dividing the country and radicalizing it. It’s so dangerous.”
Matt Castelli, the other Democrat running to unseat Rep. Stefanik, also criticized the congresswoman for her rhetoric in a statement Sunday morning.
“It appears that the shooter was motivated by the same ‘replacement theory’ we’ve seen from Elise Stefanik, the House GOP messaging chief, use her platform to embrace,” he said.
Mr. Castelli said the Buffalo shooting is an act of domestic terrorism, similar to the terrorism he fought as a CIA officer in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“The major difference between the terrorism I spent my career combating overseas and the terrorism we now see here at home is that politicians like Elise Stefanik have legitimized the rhetoric that allows violent extremism to thrive,” he said.
State Senate Majority Leader Andrea A. Stewart-Cousins, answered a question about the messaging from Rep. Stefanik and other state GOP leaders during a press conference on Monday.
“If you want to have the power to hate and to make sure that people are afraid, then you’re really not serving,” she said. “And you should stop.”
In a statement shared Monday morning, Rep. Stefanik said she is heartbroken and saddened by the tragedy in Buffalo, and thanked police for their work.
The Stefanik campaign did not provide a response when asked about their position on the “great replacement theory,” specifically.
Rep. Stefanik’s senior adviser Alex deGrasse was the one to address the criticisms of the congresswoman. He blamed liberals, never-Trump Republicans and news outlets for creating a narrative to blame her for the shooting.
“The shooting was an act of evil and the criminal should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” he said. “Despite sickening and false reporting, Congresswoman Stefanik has never advocated for any racist position or made a racist statement.”
In slightly less inflammatory language than is featured in the congresswoman’s ads, Mr. deGrasse said Rep. Stefanik stands behind her opposition to mass amnesty and voting rights for “illegal immigrants.”
“She strongly supports legal immigration and is one of the national leaders credited with diversifying the Republican party through candidate recruiting and messaging,” he said.