“This is history! We took the Capitol,” yelled Greg Rubenacker, a 25-year-old from New York who Snapchatted photos of smoking weed in the rotunda. On January 6, he joined hundreds of mostly white men, who ransacked the Capitol, defecated on floors, and searched for politicians to try to kidnap or even kill. After the melee, he returned to Long Island and a month later, in February, was arrested by the FBI.
Many of the Trump loyalists who attacked the Capitol came from Democratic strongholds, where the number of white people had declined as diversity increased. Political scientist Robert A. Pape said, “More than half came from counties that Biden won.” For example, Trump backers who were later arrested for their role in the January 6 attack came from these New York ZIP codes: Farmingdale, 04344, Huntington, 11743, Bellmore, 11710, Glen Falls, 12803, Pawling, 12564, and Manhattan, 21120.
This revelation shattered the myth that the coup was incubated largely in Republican ZIP codes, and crystallized the danger of the right-wing paranoia over “replacement.”
If you live in a Democratic city, it is still possible that one of your neighbors is planning for civil war. They may own many guns. They may stay up late, scrolling far-right websites to read about the “Great Replacement theory,” which fears whites are being overtaken by people of color. The paranoid fantasy has led to violence and will cause more. The further conservatives fall into racial fearmongering, the less they can see how white supremacy fuels the systems of class exploitation that spread suffering and insecurity through white communities too.
Invasion of the Status Snatchers
When black cars pulled up to Rubenacker’s house in Long Island, it was part of an FBI sweep to capture those involved in the Capitol breach. Arrest after arrest took place not in cliché “red states,” but in deep “blue” or Democratic states and cities.
Conservatives who live in the multicultural U.S. are sometimes triggered by anxiety and transformed by ideology to become extremists. They seethe at a culture that no longer uniformly reflects them. (In reality, of course, it never did.)
They are often middle class, older and new to the extreme right. Political scientist Robert A. Pape wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Post and another in The Atlantic that mapped the background of the January 6 participants. He said in The Atlantic, “the demographic profile of the suspected Capitol rioters is different from that of past right-wing extremists. The average age is 40 … and 40 percent are business owners or hold white-collar jobs.” The middle-class entitlement of many of the rioters is combined with having a front-row seat to diversity. Pape explains in the Post, “Counties with the most significant declines in the non-Hispanic White population are the most likely to produce insurrectionists who now face charges.” The 27 people arrested in New York for breaching the Capitol came out of Democratic counties, three of them from a county that saw the white population drop.
These white racist conservatives look at change in their neighborhoods and their fear spikes. In 2017, Jennifer Richeson, Maureen Craig and Julian Rucker published an academic article titled, “The Pitfalls and Promise of Increasing Racial Diversity.” They write, “Because the increasing racial diversity in White neighborhoods, states and nations implies a smaller White population share, Whites may perceive these demographic changes as threatening to their status.” The shock comes from more than the physical presence of different people. It comes from the unnamed privileges that buttressed white status being picked apart.
The multicultural U.S. these white people fear is already here. In 2019, people of color were the majority for the cohort 16 and younger. In 2050, whites are projected to be a minority at 47 percent of the population. The friction is not caused by sheer numbers but in the challenge to the country’s white supremacy. Statues of slave owners are pulled down. Police brutality is protested. The idea of the U.S. as the “City on a Hill” has been repeatedly dismantled by historians from Howard Zinn to The New York Times “1619 Project.” As the nation abandons these harmful myths, white racist conservatives cling to nostalgia — and increasingly turn to violence.
Happiness Is a Warm Gun
“We may see an act of mass casualty terrorism sometime in the near future,” said reporter A.C. Thompson on Democracy Now! last week. “We have a massive pool of radicalized individuals who have been fed an abundance of lies by the former president, by this entire conspiratorial right-wing media and social media ecosystem.”
In Democratic cities and suburbs, white supremacists will likely continue to try to plan another civil war — or in their terms, a “boogaloo.” In Oakland, California, a Boogaloo Boi named Steven Carrillo recently killed a federal agent and a sheriff’s deputy. It is one act of violence in a swelling tide of blood. In March, the Biden administration released a report that highlighted the increasing danger of “domestic violent extremists.” Kristian Williams analyzed the report for Truthout and found it wrongly grouped people on the left and right in the same categories, papering over the fact that the right uses violence far more. The Biden administration’s report names as driving forces President Trump’s lies about election fraud, conspiracy theories and COVID-19 lockdowns, and mentions ethnic hatred but overlooks the increasing white racial anxiety over diversity. Without acknowledging that element, any response to extremism will fall short.
We saw this rage leave pain its wake. It was Dylann Roof shooting 12 people, killing nine Black parishioners at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. It was Robert Bowers killing 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was Kyle Rittenhouse — a supporter of “Blue Lives Matter” and Donald Trump — murdering two men and injuring a third in the Black Lives Matters protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin. It is the beating of Asian Americans in the street, in broad daylight.
Racist violence is surging and the conditions are in place for ongoing — and even escalating — violence to resist the “Great Replacement.”
The Poverty of Hatred
I have witnessed white rage my whole life. In the 1980s, it was my friend’s uncle claiming he couldn’t get a job because he was a white man. In the ‘90s, it was being in class with white college students angry that they were being “blamed” for everything. In the 2000s, it’s been the election of Trump and the harmful myths that “cancel culture” is destroying white jobs and that Black Lives Matter protests are coming to burn down white homes.
What I never understood was how they never saw the cost of white supremacy. I saw them vote for Republicans who broke their unions, fought hiking the minimum wage, fought universal health care, fought free college, and fought increasing social services in any way, shape or form. The reality is that white supremacy comes at the cost of a broad-based, interracial working-class radicalism that could have saved the lives of many white people too. Cornel West made this truth plain in a 2018 speech when he said, “White working class brotha, we know you have pain, we know it’s difficult to get access to a job with a living wage … what we’re asking you to confront the most powerful, not scapegoat the most vulnerable.”
I remember hearing my friend’s grandfather, dying in the bedroom, breathing through a ventilator because they could not afford treatment. I get calls from a former partner, who lives out of a van in abandoned fields with her child because they can’t afford rent. The whiteness that the Proud Boys or Ku Klux Klan or Oath Keepers or Nazis fight so hard to protect comes with a price. Jonathan Metzl’s book Dying of Whiteness and Heather McGhee’s The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone detail how racism justifies policies that are deadly for people of every race. Metzl points out how the Republican fetish for guns as a sign of white freedom results in heart-breaking levels of gun suicides. McGhee shows how the racial and class stigma attached to Medicaid leaves poor whites to die.
We’re approaching a turning point where the reality of diversity crashes against the crumbling edifice of white supremacy. If the Great Replacement fantasy continues, we’ll continue to lurch from mass shootings to violent coup attempts to racist and antisemitic tiki torch parades.
It’s time for us all to confront the future of violent racist backlash that is already looming. Living in a Democratic ZIP code or a multicultural city doesn’t protect you from the hatred that is brewing. This is not a problem located far away or in another state. It’s all around us.