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Rep. Elise Stefanik's shameful doubling down on 'great replacement' principles

After the Buffalo shooting, the Republican congresswoman went all in on defending the racist conspiracy theory.
Photo Illustration: Elise Stefanik and an image of the Buffalo supermarket where a recent mass shooting took place
Rep. Elise Stefanik has come under fire for her affiliation with the tenets of extremist "great replacement" theory. MSNBC / Getty Images

When Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., posted advertisements last fall embracing tenets of the “great replacement” conspiracy theory — the false white supremacist assertion that the left seeks to remake American society by replacing white people using immigration and interracial marriage — it was extremely alarming. One bigoted ad, paid for by her campaign committee, claimed: "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."

Democrats criticized her for the ads, but Stefanik, the No. 3 House Republican, paid no consequences for them within her own party. And remarkably, Stefanik’s support for the noxious ideas behind them has just intensified further.

She’s showing how the modern GOP is increasingly unabashed about opening its arms to militant white nationalism.

Amidst a national conversation about how the suspect behind the Saturday mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, was allegedly motivated by belief in the “great replacement theory," Stefanik has chosen to double down on the idea in lightly cloaked language. In the process, she’s showing how the modern GOP is increasingly unabashed about opening its arms to militant white nationalism.

The discovery of the suspect's purported allegiance to the "replacement theory" has sparked a new round of national conversation about how the idea encourages white supremacist violence.

As Cynthia Miller-Idriss, a scholar of extremism at American University, wrote in her most recent MSNBC column, that “great replacement theory" conjures up the idea of “whites’ extinction or loss of power,” and that, among many those who subscribe to the theory in extremist spaces online, “mass violence is seen not only as means to an end, but a preferred solution.”

It would seem Stefanik would want to rethink her affiliation with “great replacement” thinking after reflecting on what happened in Buffalo, which is only the latest city to see violence inspired by that conspiracy theory. But instead, Stefanik decided to dig in further.

On Monday morning she tweeted out a statement calling the Buffalo shooting “tragic,” but then pivoted to a point about the need to honor law enforcement and paramedics at a time of “skyrocketing violent crimes” — an anti-Biden talking point. And, in an unusual feature for a press release, the statement from Stefanik was followed by one from her senior adviser, who lashed out at critics who had pointed out that Stefanik had boosted the same white supremacist theory cited by the Buffalo shooter. “Stefanik has never advocated for any racist position,” Alex DeGrasse states in the release, while defending her virulent anti-immigrant record.

Just 22 minutes later (and less than 48 hours after the shooting), Stefanik tweeted out a thinly veiled defense of … ideas tied to “great replacement” theory: “Democrats desperately want wide open borders and mass amnesty for illegals allowing them to vote,” her tweet read. “Like the vast majority of Americans, Republicans want to secure our borders and protect election integrity.”

The tweet isn’t as baldly inflammatory or explicitly aligned with “great replacement theory” as her ad campaign last autumn. But the core idea remains: that Democrats want to alter the electorate through immigration, and the way to defend against that is to slow down or prevent immigration. Critically, Stefanik implies that naturalizing immigrants is at odds with or a threat to “election integrity.” That harks back to the idea in her Facebook ad that allowing immigrants to become citizens would mark the “overthrow” of the electorate.

If we were to take Stefanik’s innuendo about Democratic strategy seriously here, it’s easy to refute her argument by pointing out things like the fact that Democrats don’t favor “open borders,” that no ethnic group has fixed political preferences, and that Latino voters are manifestly swing voters — which is to say that a large increase in their numbers would certainly not be a slam dunk for Democrats.

But ultimately that’s a diversion from the underlying purpose of this line of messaging, which is about whipping up racial resentment and framing the idea of America as belonging to white people. White nationalists like Fox News’ Tucker Carlson think that immigrants of color are naturally inclined to subvert the American polity, and wrest it from its “true” owners. This ludicrous and backward framework assumes that people from different races have fixed and inherently clashing interests. Moreover, it expresses a hostility to bedrock democratic principles in that it sees ethnic identity as bearing upon membership in democracy, rather than agreement to the rules and duties of citizenship.

In other words, it’s deeply, deeply dangerous stuff. Republicans have the option to openly repudiate these concepts and the kind of political violence and social corrosion they incentivize. But Stefanik, who continued to triple down on her replacement theory-adjacent remarks with even more tweets later in the day, has instead decided to lean into them.

As my colleague Steve Benen has pointed out, what makes Stefanik’s behavior so chilling is that she used to be a Trump-averse conventional Republican. In her pivot toward Trumpism, it seems she’s gone all in on these extreme ideas because she believes it’s what makes the Republican base tick, and will help her party win. And just as the leader of her movement has shown, never apologizing and never feeling an ounce of shame is a critical part of the playbook.