When Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, was asked by CNN’s Manu Raju on Monday if she disavowed “replacement” theory, Stefanik stopped herself short.
“I disavow,” she said, cutting herself off. “I have never made a racist comment.”
That refusal to disavow changed on Tuesday, when a top adviser said, in no uncertain terms, that Stefanik denies support for replacement theory.
Stefanik has faced scrutiny this week for using rhetoric that aligns with the racist ideology, albeit primarily in a less explicit way. Now, Stefanik says she denies supporting the same racist “great replacement” theory that an 18-year-old white man referenced in a manifesto before targeting Black people in a deadly shooting that killed 10 and injured three others at a Buffalo supermarket on May 14. In addition, Stefanik’s linkage to the root tenets of replacement theory comes less than a week after the third-ranking Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives said she is “proud” to be “ultra-MAGA,” just as some of the most prominent voices of the far-right of the Republican party have been called out for espousing watered-down versions of replacement theory.
The great replacement theory is a false, inherently racist ideology that blames Jewish people, leftists and/or Democrats for systematically trying to replace white people and dilute their political power in the United States through immigration, according to Rachel Carroll Rivas, a senior research analyst with the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Following the weekend shooting in Buffalo, Stefanik has faced backlash this week, in part because of a Facebook advertisement her campaign posted last year that said Democrats are planning a “permanent election insurrection.”
The ad claims, “[Democrats’] plan to grant amnesty to 11 million illegal immigrants will overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington.”
Carroll Rivas said Stefanik has expressed inherently racist beliefs that are connected to great replacement.
“There are definitely some pieces of great replacement that Stefanik and her campaign have pushed out fairly explicitly,” Carroll Rivas said. “There are other times where they are really engaging in this in a slightly more coded way, or a way that is hiding the real racist and anti-Semitic underpinnings of it.”
For her part, Stefanik denies supporting the great replacement theory, according to Alex deGrasse, a senior adviser to the congresswoman. In response to The Daily Gazette’s request for a phone interview with Stefanik, DeGrasse sent a prewritten statement calling members of the press “groveling hacks.”
In part, that statement says: “Any implication or attempt to blame the heinous shooting in Buffalo on the congresswoman is a new disgusting low for the Left, their Never Trump allies, and the sycophant stenographers in the media. The shooting was an act of evil and the criminal should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Despite sickening and false reporting, Congresswoman Stefanik has never advocated for any racist position or made a racist statement,” the statement reads. “She opposes mass amnesty for illegal immigrants and Joe Biden’s wide open border. Like the vast majority of Americans, she opposes giving illegal immigrants the right to vote which NY Democrats support and have made legal in New York City. She strongly supports legal immigration and is one of the national leaders credited with diversifying the Republican Party through candidate recruitment and messaging.”
Reactions to Stefanik’s use of great replacement rhetoric have run the gamut from national news outlets reporting on Stefanik’s great replacement rhetoric to a former “South Park” writer, Toby Morton, revealing on Twitter that he is the owner of the website elisestefanik2022.com, which mocks Stefanik’s use of great replacement theory language.
She’s faced heat from politicians on both sides of the aisle.
Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming tweeted, “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.”
Matt Castelli, a Democrat who is running for the 21st Congressional District seat, said in a statement: “We know that extremist rhetoric has the power to incite extremist violence. Elise Stefanik, the House GOP messaging chief, used her platform to spread the same extremist replacement theory that inspired the Buffalo attacker. Stefanik continues to legitimize rhetoric that allows violent extremism to thrive, endangering our communities and our law enforcement sworn to protect them.”
Public scrutiny over Stefanik’s words follows this weekend’s shooting in Buffalo, where the alleged gunman’s own writings show that he frequented white supremacist corners of the internet, where people discuss how white people’s power is being intentionally weakened by liberal elites.
Immigrants’ rights groups said Stefanik is helping to spread a dangerous message.
“Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and other Republicans who have been helping to mainstream ‘replacement’ and ‘invasion’ conspiracies are neither chastened nor apologetic. In fact, Rep. Stefanik and other enablers are doubling down and lashing out at critics and observers highlighting her role in mainstreaming the formerly-fringe ideas,” reads a statement from America’s Voice, an organization focused on immigration reform.
As replacement theory has been introduced to the greater public consciousness this week, influential voices in the Republican party have long been promulgating the theory’s underlying message, according to an investigation by The New York Times. Fox News host Tucker Carlson has amplified the notion that Democratic politicians and others want to force demographic change through immigration in more than 400 episodes of his show, the newspaper’s investigation found.
“What we see today is leaders – including media pundits and political leaders like Stefanik – elevating these false and discriminatory ideas. When leaders in our communities do that, it brings legitimacy, it allows for people to feel more comfortable repeating it, and allows for some people to even encounter it for the first time,” said Carroll Rivas of the SPLC. “When it’s coded or when it has a less-explicit nature to it, that doesn’t change the danger because that explicit version, that deep anti-Semitic or anti-Black version, is just one step away. It only takes minutes for someone to go from hearing that and then searching for it on the web, where they will be inundated with all the deeply awful racist and anti-Semitic pieces of it. The door will be open.”
An Associated Press poll released this month found that a third of American adults believe an effort exists “to replace native-born Americans with immigrants for electoral gains.”
Yet even as Republicans like Cheney have denounced replacement theory, The New York Times has reported that former President Donald Trump has used terms like “invaders” when arguing for a border wall.
After starting her career as a moderate Republican who worked for President George W. Bush’s administration, Stefanik is now more closely aligned with Trump than ever.
During a January fundraiser at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Trump appeared with Stefanik and declared the congresswoman could be president someday.
“Man, is she moving fast. That means at this rate she’ll be president in about six years,” Trump said.
House Republicans voted Stefanik into her current rank last year after she voted not to certify the 2020 election results and supported legal action attempting to overturn the results.
Carroll Rivas said she is hoping the country uses this moment to move in the right direction.
“Quite honestly, this could continue to go really badly. We could have more really violent acts. We could be making poor policy decisions that further isolate and segregate people,” Rivas said. But, with increased public scrutiny on ideologies like great replacement, “I don’t know if I’d call it optimistic, but I do believe that we can turn it around, and we do not need to have another weekend like this.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.