Elise Stefanik pushed 'replacement theory' that inspired Buffalo shooter. Got free ride in media.
No. 3 in GOP House leadership, the New York Republican is more influential than Cawthorn, Gosar, Greene and others. And promotes white supremacy just like them.
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You will likely soon see much of the media playing catch-up, focusing on New York GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik, and how she promoted “White replacement theory” — the white supremacist ideology that inspired the Buffalo mass shooter.
But Stefanik’s rancid promotion of hate should have been consistently and sharply focused on by the media over many months. And this craven, abhorrent example of a congressperson should have been confronted and vigorously challenged by Beltway political reporters in the halls of Congress daily about her vicious, racist messaging.
When Stefanik began running Facebook ads last September pushing replacement theory — claiming Democrats were engaging in a “permanent election insurrection” by providing pathways to citizenship for immigrants — there was indeed a fair amount of media coverage. And the Albany Times-Union, which covers Stefanik’s largely rural, upstate New York district, wrote a scathing editorial, noting “the hateful rhetoric that Ms. Stefanik and far too many of her colleagues so shamelessly spew.”
And rightly so. Stefanik’s PAC was paying Facebook to run ads that reached voters across the country with racist appeals — voters far beyond her district — pushing a white supremacist conspiracy theory that is distilled almost nightly on Fox News by Tucker Carlson: the idea that Democrats are hellbent on “replacing” white people, and thus white voters, and that the nation is in the midst of a full-scale “invasion” by people of color.
But while immigration groups like America’s Voice continued to sound the alarm about Stefanik, much of the media soon dropped the story. Washington political reporter in particular didn’t hound Stefanik day in and day out, peppering her with questions — the way they would if a Democrat had done anything remotely as horrendous — clearly wanting access to the GOP leadership and treading lightly. This, even as Stefanik continued using “invasion” rhetoric, including on the House floor a few weeks ago.
Notably, The New York Times, just this past March, didn’t even mention the Facebook ads or Stefanik’s promotion of white supremacist ideology in a piece that focused on Stefanik’s complete embrace of Trumpism. The article, headlined, “Elise Stefanik, Reinvented in Trump’s Image, Embodies a Changed G.O.P.,” did a fair job of showing the radical turn by Stefanik, who was once considered a moderate, and underscored her ambitions as she stabbed Liz Cheney in the back, moving into Cheney’s leadership post as Cheney was ostracized for standing against Trump.
But the story failed to report on Stefanik’s promotion of White replacement theory (and it doesn’t appear that the Times reported on Stefanik’s Facebook ads last September when they began running either). In fact, the Times piece, by Annie Karni, appeared to try to distinguish Stefanik from others who promote extremist ideas in the party (bold added for emphasis):
And as her party veers toward extremism, Ms. Stefanik refused to condemn the Republicans who speak most loudly to the fringe. Asked about Ms. Greene, who recently spoke at a white nationalist event, and Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, who has called President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine a “thug,” she said the two were merely reflecting the views of the voters in their districts.
But Stefanik herself is speaking “loudly to the fringe” when she runs Facebook ads promoting white supremacist ideology — and when she sends out unmoored tweets like the one last week attacking her adversaries as “pedo grifters,” invoking QAnon conspiracies, or the one in which she seemed to suggest starving brown babies at the border. How is she any different from the others?
In fact, it is the very replacement theory Stefanik espouses and promotes to millions that inspired an 18-year-old in rural upstate New York to drive several hours into Buffalo on Saturday to a supermarket in a Black neighborhood where he shot 13 people, killing 10, and livestreamed the violent act of domestic terrorism. He was arrested at the scene and pleaded not guilty, and the Justice Department is now investigating this horrific mass shooting as “a hate crime and an act of racially-motivated violent extremism.”
The shooter, Payton Gendron, from the rural, 97% white, small town of Conklin, New York, referred to “replacement theory” several times in a manifesto, according to law enforcement authorities, ranted about “white genocide,” and lamented low birth rates among white women:
Mr. Gendron praised nationalism and blamed European men for allowing themselves to get “ethnically replaced.” He lamented diversity in America, writing that people of color should “leave while you still can.” And he criticized progressives, saying they had succeeded only at “teaching white children to hate themselves.”
Compare these ugly and unhinged ideas with the copy from one of Stefanik’s Facebook ads:
Radical Democrats are planning their most aggressive move yet: a PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION. Their plan to grant amnesty to 11 MILLION illegal immigrants will overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington.
When Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona — an organizer of the “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6th — tweeted out an animated video of himself killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez last fall, there was a media uproar, and he at least received a meek if pathetic rebuke from House Minority Leader McCarthy, as did Marjorie Taylor Green when she spoke at a white supremacist conference this year.
And Madison Cawthorn, who dared to begin promoting QAnon conspiracies against the GOP itself — saying Republicans in Congress had invited him to sex orgies and did cocaine in front of him — now faces the GOP itself trying to take him down.
But not only did Stefanik not receive any condemnation from GOP leaders for her ads; she’s doing them in concert with the leadership and its message. Replacement theory has been mainstreamed in the GOP, and many Republican politicians use code words to push it but are no less promoting white supremacist ideas. That has only helped catapult this sick ideology. Once a conspiracy theory on the fringes, it is anchored within a Republican Party in which nearly half now believe in replacement theory.
Because Stefanik is someone who was formerly a moderate rising star in the party, she’s portrayed by media pundits and commentators — who describe her in years past as having been “smart,” “media-savvy’ and “polished” — as if she’s making a clever if terribly cynical play for power. The implication is that Stefanik doesn’t really believe what she says — she’s just ruthlessly ambitious — and thus isn’t the same as a true believer like Greene or Gosar.
But what is the difference, really? If Stefanik is promoting a dangerous ideology that has been used by several mass shooters to engage in racist terror attacks, does it matter if she believes it or not?
More importantly, why hasn’t she been made repeatedly to own her own statements as someone in a powerful leadership position in the party? And why aren’t reporters asking other Republican leaders about her by name, and asking them to condemn her actions?
The day after the mass shooting in Buffalo, CNN’s Dana Bash, among those Washington reporters who covets access to politicians, asked Republican Governor Pete Ricketts of Nebraska about the shooting, and about replacement theory being “perpetuated by some right-wing media and even some political figures.” Without naming Stefanik in her question — or even stating that the “political figures” are solely in the GOP — Bash allowed Ricketts to make a boilerplate statement about racism being “un-American” when he should have been made to condemn Stefanik and her ads.
Again, can you imagine if this were a Democrat who promoted vile ideas? Do you think any Democratic leader would be able to sit on a Sunday show without being forced to condemn that person? Once again, we see the media holds GOP leaders to different standards, walking on eggshells and not calling people out by name.
Late on Sunday, the Washington Post published a story — “Stefanik echoed racist theory allegedly espoused by Buffalo suspect” — in which Stefanik’s senior adviser responded with a pathetic statement of denial and outrage: “Any implication or attempt to blame the heinous shooting in Buffalo on the Congresswoman is a new disgusting low for the Left.”
The story, which seemed to be spurred by a fellow Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, criticizing Stefanik on Twitter, was good to see. But will be the focus last? Will Stefanik be allowed to continue to hide behind a statement from a staffer? Or will she be hounded with questions by political reporters in the House directly, until she answers adequately? And will McCarthy as well as other GOP leaders be confronted over and over again?
Reporters must make GOP leaders own their words on replacement theory — that is journalism’s mission, holding leaders accountable — and they must put every GOP leader on the spot about Stefanik’s disgraceful actions.