A now 19-year-old white man who targeted shoppers in a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket in May simply because they were Black, according to authorities, this week pleaded guilty to murder charges and one charge of domestic terrorism motivated by hate. In his not even 20 years on this earth, this gunman, who casts serious doubt on the onetime hope of optimists that young people would save us, was nurtured by racist lies and fueled by conspiracies of “replacement.”
The white supremacist (and I won’t say his name), who murdered 10 human beings and wounded three others, was on a mission, and he seemed proud to livestream his heinous actions. He can live his life, something he denied his victims, and if spared the death penalty on federal charges, he will spend the rest of it in prison.
His beliefs, however, are not going anywhere. In fact, they are having a moment.
White supremacy, antisemitism, misogyny and all kinds of hate are being lifted up by some of those who want to lead the country and ignored or dismissed by others who, at the very least, are afraid of alienating the haters — people who would destroy everything America is supposed to stand for. After all, they could be voters.
It’s not a shock that former president and current presidential candidate Donald Trump welcomed Kanye West, Nick Fuentes and a dude named Jamal to his Mar-a-Lago dinner table. Nor is it surprising that the few Republicans who have spoken out, at times tepidly, against Trump’s supper are being praised as heroes, proving the definition of that word has diminished over time.
In a dreary reminder that there is no bottom to GOP delusions, the usual suspects have continued to infantilize a 76-year-old man, blaming those around Trump rather than the man himself, as though what transpired at his Florida compound was a lapse in judgment, just a faux pas.
I know white guys are given the benefit of the doubt well past their sell-by date; they pretty much originated the term “youthful indiscretion” as a ready-made excuse. But to ask anyone to ignore Trump’s well-documented history, his both-sides wink at the deadly Charlottesville, Va., “Unite the Right” rally and his involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol (both of which were graced with Fuentes’ presence), should be a step too far, even for the former president’s No. 1 apologist, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Remember, once upon a time, Trump also claimed he didn’t know who former Klan grand wizard David Duke was.
Knowing all that, it’s not that hard to imagine the conversation at Trump’s dinner from hell.
Trump could whine about his legal troubles and the injustice of the Supreme Court ruling against him, despite the trifecta of justices he placed there to do his bidding. Mention of the “stolen” 2020 election would surely arrive before the main course.
Ye could rival his host by playing the victim, though he really needs to own the deliberate provocations that were his undoing, his antisemitic attacks adding to an earlier pronouncement that slavery was a “choice.”
Fuentes could lean back on the catalog of bile he has already compiled in his 24 years, racist rants that deny the Holocaust and cheer segregation, attacks on LGBTQ Americans, Muslims and immigrants, accompanied by the creepy grin of an insecure bully.
He can now claim a presidential candidate, one who says he doesn’t know him but won’t condemn him. “He gets me,” Trump has reportedly said of Fuentes.
Fuentes can add that nod to a collection that includes appearances at his America First Political Action Conference by GOP House members Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona, someone whose own family can’t run away from him fast enough.
Of course, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is trying unsuccessfully to scrub their reputations and their tracks before he elevates them when he finally (he desperately hopes) is voted speaker in January. If catering to the fringe is his path to ruling over a slim, bickering majority, he’s on board.
That’s the future of Congress: House members who have posted threatening videos and memes of their colleagues calling the shots and setting the agenda for America.
Besides, the problem is about much more than one man. It’s about legitimizing hate, offering it a seat at the table of a former president, with the Republican Party he still leads meekly offering only cursory resistance and many Americans writing it off as political noise.
Have the GOP, the media and the country learned their lessons? Even after the shaky midterm results of Trump’s election-denying disciples, the jury is still out. If more of them had won, his party would be celebrating.
And if Trump manages to win the 2024 nomination, I would bet the house that the majority of Republicans would follow him, with Fuentes and the true believers who see nothing wrong with the white nationalist nation he dreams of welcomed as part of the base.
We don’t have to guess where that much hate can lead. We saw exactly where this week, in an Erie County, N.Y., courtroom, where family members mourned their loved ones and a clean-shaven young man who carried out vengeful white supremacist fantasies stood blank-faced to take responsibility — and, maybe, in some twisted minds, credit.
Fortunately, the players are showing us exactly who and what they are in this potentially deadly game, with time enough for Americans to say “no.”
If the midterm results showed us anything, it was that “we the people” are at least paying attention.
Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. She is host of the CQ Roll Call “Equal Time with Mary C. Curtis” podcast. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.