Protesters hold a rally against gun violence in Times Square in response to recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio on Aug. 4, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Go Nakamura/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — On the eve of the fourth anniversary of the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas in which 23 people were murdered, more than 160 religious, civil rights and immigrant advocacy groups called on congressional leaders to denounce lawmakers who use white supremacist, anti-immigrant rhetoric, arguing that it can lead to violence for marginalized communities.
Organizations from 24 states and the District of Columbia wrote an Aug. 1 letter to top congressional leaders from both parties asking them to not only “unequivocally denounce white supremacist, anti-immigrant rhetoric and its use by Members of Congress,” but to also “encourage Members of your caucuses to refrain from using this dangerous rhetoric.”
That rhetoric is known as the great replacement theory, a racist conspiracy theory that claims the growing numbers of immigrants and people of color will lead to the extinction of the white race.
It’s led to multiple mass shootings, such as the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, where 11 Jewish worshipers were killed. On Wednesday, a jury sentenced the gunman to the death penalty.
“The rhetoric we’re seeing in that same Congress points to a new wave of xenophobic politicians who want to … take our country in a dangerous direction,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas during a Wednesday call with reporters.
The organizations, which include the Southern Poverty Law Center and Immigrant Legal Resource Center, among others, noted that dozens of lawmakers have referred to migrants as “invaders” or an “invasion,” invoking the great replacement theory.
“Despite this repeated violence across the U.S., Members of Congress continue to invoke the antisemitic and anti-immigrant conspiracy theories that have inspired multiple violent attacks,” according to the letter.
The white supremacist shooter in Buffalo, New York, killed 10 Black people last year, and cited the theory as his reason for attacking a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Survivors of the Buffalo shooting have urged Congress to address domestic terrorism from white nationalists.
The letter was sent to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and U.S. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat of New York.
“When elected officials amplify dangerous rhetoric like the white nationalist invasion and replacement conspiracy theories, they create a climate that fosters political violence,” Vanessa Cardenas, the executive director of America’s Voice Education Fund, said on a Wednesday call with reporters.
Cardenas said that America’s Voice, an immigration advocacy group, found 34 lawmakers this Congress have amplified that theory. She added that seven pieces of legislation have been introduced that also invoke the “invasion” theory.
The shooter in the El Paso massacre was motivated by the great replacement theory, and he believed there was a “Hispanic invasion.” He killed 23 people and injured 22 more at a Walmart in a predominantly Latino neighborhood.
“Immigration is actually one of the drivers around the great replacement conspiracy theory,” said Caleb Kieffer, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Throughout the year, congressional Republicans have held multiple hearings about high migration at the U.S.-Mexico border, often criticizing the Biden administration.
House Republicans last week grilled U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for hours as part of a broader strategy to impeach him over the U.S.-Mexico border.
During those various hearings and meetings, Democrats have pushed back against Republican lawmakers who have used that language.
“The person who issued a racist manifesto, right before he went on a deadly mass shooting spree in El Paso, specifically used the words ‘immigrant invasion.’ So I would respectfully urge my colleagues on the other side to not use words like that, because whether they intend them or not to be utilized in violent ways, they are utilized in that way,” Democratic U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington said at a June 6 markup of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
Kieffer said what was once considered a fringe theory and associated with hate groups has now reached mainstream media and those ideas are now “amplified by elected officials, pundits and other political figures.”
“These xenophobic ideas fit into a larger fear around immigration, the nation’s changing demographics, and the perceived threat posed to white hegemony,” Kieffer said.
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