When 18-year-old Payton Gendron arrived in the parking lot of Tops Friendly Supermarket in Buffalo, New York, last Saturday afternoon he began a shooting spree that would leave ten black people dead. Gendron allegedly posted a 180-page manifesto on the internet that outlined his motivations inspired by The Great Replacement Theory – a racist belief that Jews are planning to replace white Americans with non-whites. Gendron began by killing blacks but his ultimate target was Jews: “The real war I’m advocating for,” said Gendron in his manifesto, “is gentile verses the Jews… by their Jewish ways, they turn us against each other. When you realize this, you will know that the Jews are the biggest problem the Western world has ever had…they must be called out and killed.”
Gendron’s meticulous and mundane approach to mass murder reminds me of what Hannah Arendt once called, “The banality of evil.” Gendron admits his inspiration came from Christian values and uses theological phrases in his manifesto to describe his rational: “I wish all JEWS to HELL! Go back to hell where you came from DEMON.” He quotes the Talmud and rants against the belief that the Jews are the chosen people.
According to Gendron, he was inspired in-part by the Poway Synagogue shooter, John Earnest. Like Gendron, Earnest’s attack on a synagogue was based on religious conviction and like Gendron, Earnest wrote a manifesto that included theological symbols and metaphors: “To my brothers in Christ…be strong. Although the Jew who is inspired by demons and Satan will attempt to corrupt your soul with the sin and perversion he spews, remember that you are secure in Christ.” Pascal was right when he said, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction.”
When you examine the manifestos and motives of white supremacist killers Payton Gendron learned from, the chilling fact is they are often motivated by religious piety mixed with a genocidal, racist, and eliminationist ideology. The Great Replacement Theory the killers collectively embrace may not be rooted in religious conviction but certainly draws from it. Replacement Theology is inspired by jealousy over God’s calling the Jews as His chosen people. This theology flourished in Christendom for 1,700 years leading up to its violent zenith during the Holocaust. It falsely claims the Jews murdered Christ and therefore gentile Christians have replaced Jews as the new Israel and now have become God’s new chosen people. John Earnest drinks from the poisoned well of Replacement Theology when he condemns the Jews to hell for their “role in the murder of Christ.” Replacement Theology has made a dramatic comeback in the last 25 years and is flourishing once again in Christian colleges, seminaries, and church pulpits around the world. The fear of being replaced has preoccupied much of Christendom in its attempt to replace the Jews for millennia – often resulting in brutal violence against the Jews. The Great Replacement Theory and Replacement Theology are consumed with the same fear of Jews.
The killer, Robert Bowers, who perpetrated the Pittsburgh Tree of Life murders headlined his social media profile with, “Jews are the children of Satan – John 8:44.” Dylann Roof, the South Carolina man who murdered nine black worshipers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston proclaimed in his manifesto, “In my opinion, the issue with Jews is not their blood but their identity. I think if we could somehow destroy the Jewish identity then they wouldn’t cause much of a problem.” One of the core values of Jewish identity is chosenness and Dylann Roof as did Payton Gendron when he challenged Jewish chosenness, desired to destroy that identity – a motivation behind Replacement Theology since its inception.
The late Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said, “Antisemitism is about the inability of a group to make space for difference. And because we are all different, the hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews. Antisemitism is the world’s most reliable early warning sign of a major threat to freedom, humanity, and the dignity of difference. It matters to all of us. Which is why we must fight it together.” As I mourn the lives lost and injured in Buffalo last week, I fear the present wave of Antisemitism may be a new normal. That an old religious hatred of Jews and Judaism has been rekindled – a hatred that threatens all of humanity. If the threat continues to grow, I can protest the scourge of racial hatred by being diligent to “make space for difference,” welcome the stranger, and love my neighbor as myself. Let’s hope the world can replace great hatred with something far greater: The dignity of difference. This would be a great replacement, indeed.