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A police officer lifts the tape cordoning off the scene of a shooting at a supermarket, in Buffalo, N.Y., on May 15.Matt Rourke/The Associated Press

I am struck, time after time, by the depressing sameness of the murders, of the young men who commit them, and of the pastiche of confused and angry words they leave behind – hateful clichés plagiarized from the glow of the screens before them, from the babble of older men whose nonsense feeds messed-up minds.

Only the losses are unique: The 10 killed in Buffalo last week; the 11 in Hanau, Germany in 2020; the 51 in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019; the 11 in Pittsburgh in 2018; the six in Quebec City in 2017; the 77 in Oslo and Utoya, Norway in 2011; and those taken from us in similar public spaces in a half-dozen other near-identical crimes. These were great and indelible individuals, people beloved by their families and communities and neighbours – the best sort of citizens.

That is what made them targets. The killers, in the startlingly similar writings and verbal statements they have issued to explain these planned murders, have all used the same word: “invasion.” Copying each other, they have described their victims as invaders, or (in the cases of Pittsburgh or Oslo or the shooting in Halle, Germany in 2019) as enablers of an imagined invasion.

It shouldn’t be necessary to point out that this notion is utter delusion. It is a salve of meaningless words used to cover an inchoate sense of racial hatred.

The Buffalo massacre ought to make that abundantly apparent. The 18-year-old suspect chose his target carefully, so as to illustrate his ideas, such as they were – in fact, he reportedly drove for hours from his hometown to a certain corner of Buffalo in order to target one specific community.

His target of choice was one of the very few communities in the United States that does not have immigration in its background at all, and in fact has been in the country, not by choice, for longer than it has existed – that is, African-Americans.

Yet in the cobbled-together PDF the young man left before his murder spree, he repeatedly describes his fellow Americans of darker skin as “invaders,” and, like those other killers he imitated, he repeatedly blames his fellow Americans of Jewish faith for somehow enabling or secretly plotting this “invasion,” or, in a phrase he and many of these killers have used, “replacement.”

This combination of nonsensical concepts – that different-looking or -worshipping neighbours are an imposed threat, and that their existence has been imposed or enabled by elites most often described as Jewish – unites the manifestoes and screeds and police statements made by all of the murderers I’ve listed above. Some of them – in Oslo, Pittsburgh, Halle and elsewhere – deliberately murdered Jews or members of liberal organizations out of the belief that they were to blame for this “invasion.”

As many commentators have pointed out this week, this “theory” has recently emerged from the recesses of white-supremacist pamphleteering; it has become part of the rhetoric heard in the United States and France from politicians in parties on the mainstream right and from cable-TV commentators such as Tucker Carlson. You might think that a mass murder directly inspired by those “replacement” concepts would forever erase them from political or media language outside the deepest fringe. But the murders continue, and the rhetoric does not stop.

Intelligence agencies correctly call this wave of terrorism “ideologically motivated violent extremism.” But it’s wrong to characterize the ideology as “anti-immigration” or as a response to demographics (using phrases such as “white extinction”). That is not only misleading but gives undue credibility to the contents of the killers’ minds. The racial conspiracy theory that unites them has nothing to do with real-world demographics or with immigration or diversity or multiculturalism.

It is simply racial hatred. The hatred part comes from some place inside the killers’ minds, some tragedy of bad wiring. But the race part – that arbitrary and imaginary division of people who are the same – comes from outside.

At some point after the First World War, millions of Europeans became convinced that their otherwise identical neighbours of Jewish faith were part of an invasion, or a plot to replace them. The idea made no sense at all, but it was repeated, in almost exactly those words, by enough politicians and media figures that it became viral. First it infected a few violent young men, then whole villages, then countries. And it led to mass murder, first in the tens of thousands, then in the millions.

That virus is once again in the air. Stopping its spread, before more irreplaceable lives are lost, should be our priority.

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