Posts tagged with "southern poverty law center"

Buffalo Massacre: A Year Later, White Supremacist Propaganda Continues To Spur Violence


On May 14, 2022, a gunman carried out a horrific, racist attack on the Black community, killing 10 people and wounding three others at a Tops Friendly Markets grocery store in east Buffalo, New York. The gunman left behind an online screed suggesting the attack was motivated by a racist conspiracy theory that has previously inspired other white supremacist acts of terror.

On the anniversary of the atrocity in Buffalo, we remember and mourn those lost in the attack and those whose lives have forever been altered. To honor them, we call for urgency and vigilance in preventing and countering extremist violence and the white supremacy behind it. While testifying before the House Oversight Committee in June 2022, Zeneta Everhart, whose son Zaire was wounded in the shooting, spoke candidly about the nation’s problems stemming from white supremacy and gun violence.

“Domestic terrorism exists in this country for three reasons,” Everhart said. “America is inherently violent. This is who we are as a nation. The very existence of this country was founded on violence, hate and racism.” A lengthy digital footprint said to be associated with the shooter shows false conspiracy theories about a “great replacement” spurred him to drive more than 200 miles to a predominantly Black neighborhood to carry out the massacre.

The “great replacement” theory is a central tenet of white nationalism. Steeped in racist and antisemitic narratives, it falsely asserts there is a concerted and covert effort to replace white populations in white-majority countries with immigrants of color. The conspiracy theory has inspired many other attacks carried out by white extremists against people of color, immigrants, Jewish people and Muslims. Once a fringe idea propagated by hate groups and other extremists – frequently in online message boards – the “great replacement” theory and ideas akin to it have been normalized and dragged into the mainstream, in part, with the help of conservative political figures, media personalities, lawmakers and lobbying groups.


Tucker Carlson, the now-former Fox News commentator, was one of the biggest media purveyors of “great replacement” ideas. He used his prime-time spot to stoke fear about immigration at the southern border and falling birthrates as existential threats to white people. While Carlson was careful to avoid using the more overt terms favored by avowed white nationalists, these extremists have praised him for mainstreaming their ideas.

These ideas have had a far-reaching effect. In a survey by the Southern Poverty Law Center and Tulchin Research, nearly seven in 10 Republicans agreed to at least some extent with the notion that demographic changes in the U.S. are deliberately driven by liberal and progressive politicians attempting to gain political power by “replacing more conservative white voters.”

A year after the Buffalo massacre, this type of rhetoric is still prevalent. This year, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives has held multiple committee hearings on immigration featuring extremist voices and giving a platform to xenophobic rhetoric about a migrant “invasion” happening at the southern border.

On March 6, U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, the ranking member of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, sent a letter signed by all committee Democrats to Rep. James Comer, the committee chairman, asking him and his Republican colleagues to denounce the white nationalist “great replacement” conspiracy theory. The letter said that during one hearing on Feb. 7, Republicans “invoked dangerous and conspiratorial rhetoric echoing the racist and nativist tropes peddled by white supremacists and right-wing extremists.” This included warnings about “invasion” and accusing the Biden administration of implementing a plan “to deliberately open our border” for purposes of “changing our culture.” Comer and all the other Republicans refused to sign, calling it an attempt to “distract” from issues about the border.

This rhetoric has had deadly consequences. Aside from the Buffalo massacre, “great replacement,” antisemitic and invasion-style rhetoric has inspired numerous domestic terror attacks and other acts of violence – in places like Christchurch, New Zealand; El Paso, Texas; and Poway, California. The Buffalo anniversary this year comes during the trial of a man accused of killing 11 Jewish worshippers in a 2018 antisemitic mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

The Black community of Buffalo was already dealing with the daily impacts of racism, false conspiracy theories and violence before the shooting.

“This attack compounded the preexisting generational and ancestral trauma that plagued this targeted Buffalo neighborhood and its Black residents,” wrote Thomas Beauford, president of the Buffalo chapter of the National Urban League, in the organization’s 2023 State of Black America report.


Too often, following white supremacist acts of terror, politicians and others who refuse to take real action offer their “thoughts and prayers.”

But thoughts and prayers for the victims of extremist violence are not enough, says Zeneta Everhart. She told lawmakers, “We need you to stand with us in the days, weeks, months and years to come, and be ready to go to work and help us to create the change that this country so desperately needs.”

In fact, there are a number of policy actions that can be taken to mitigate the impact of far-right extremism. They include:

  • Improving the collection of hate crime data. The most recent FBI hate crime report documented the highest number of hate crimes ever reported, including the highest number of race-based crimes – mostly directed against Black people. After 30 years of incomplete data and underreporting from the FBI, Congress should enact legislation to require credible hate crime reporting by local and state law enforcement as a condition of receiving federal funds.
  • Expanding upstream prevention initiatives to build community resilience. The FBI, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Justice have all confirmed that the primary domestic terrorism threat comes from racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists who advocate for the superiority of the white race. To bolster community well-being and ensure that everyone is prepared to inoculate young people against radicalization, federal and state governments should provide funding for long-term prevention and education initiatives. The SPLC has partnered with American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab to produce resources for parents and caregivers to assist them in helping to steer young people away from extremist propaganda. And the White House must follow through on the wide array of government initiatives and public-private partnerships against hate and extremism announced last September at the United We Stand Summit.
  • Defending and promoting inclusive, truthful education. As many states push new laws to restrict inclusive education and restrict teaching about difficult history in the U.S., more needs to be done to ensure young people are presented the unvarnished facts about this country’s history – both good and bad – to shape a better future. In her testimony, Everhart stated, “We cannot continue to whitewash education, creating generations of children to believe that one race of people are better than the other. Our differences should make us curious, not angry. … That awful day that will now be a part of the history books … let us not forget to add that horrific day to the curriculum that we teach our children.”
  • Promoting online safety and holding tech and social media companies accountable. Tech companies must be held accountable for their role in spreading extremist disinformation and indoctrinating young people into racist and other hateful ideologies. These companies should create and enforce policies and terms of service to ensure that social media networks, payment service providers and other internet-based services do not provide platforms where hateful activities and extremism can thrive.

Finally, elected officials, civic leaders, law enforcement and business leaders must repudiate dangerous and false ideas like the “great replacement” theory. A year after the Tops supermarket shooting, far too many political figures and pundits continue to perpetuate this dangerous rhetoric.

As we remember those who were killed and those whose lives were permanently changed because of the hate-based violence in Buffalo, we must come together to challenge white supremacy in all its forms and strive for a world free of it.

Caleb Kieffer is a senior research analyst for the SPLC’s Intelligence Project.

From Immigration Status, Green Card To Passport; The Real Costs Of Becoming An American Citizen



The American dream, to many, is increasingly symbolizing the old Irish folktale about the Leprechaun and his pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And unluckily, refugees and new immigrants under the administration of President Donald J. Trump are losing their way trying to find that elusive pot of gold in the maze of America’s immigration and refugee resettlement system. Gauging the national discourse, no wishes will be granted if it was solely up to the Republicans now in charge of the White House, Senate and the House of Representatives.

The chaotic role-out of the first executive order barring immigration from majority Muslim countries sent shock waves across the country and the world, signaling a clear attempt to set the tone of a new era of American politics and her role in the free world. The ripple effects of the first so called “Muslim ban” is still stirring up fears, and forcing agency-wide adjustments, as well as, increasing costs for refugee and new immigrant service providers. Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees is not immune to the shifts underfoot. The agency’s sole mission is to resettle refugees and help usher in new immigrants to America with the promise of a better life and a chance to achieve the American dream.

MVRCR, Executive Director, Shelly Callahan says, “The number of refugees that we receive in a year is down. We were hoping that there would be some recovery but it looks like our numbers are just going to be down. Typically we resettle about 400, or a little over 400 [refugees] a year. We’re now around 130, or 140 and I’m not sure if it’s going to go up much from there.” Callahan says it’s because of the way the two executive orders have been handed down, “The chaos and just the constantly shifting grounds for refugee resettlement agencies has been really, really damaging,” she said. Southern Poverty Law Center agrees and filed its own federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the ban last week. The suit brought by SPLC on behalf of a Yemeni couple essentially charges that Trump’s order is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

Following the roll out of the first executive order Callahan says there was some confusion about who could and couldn’t travel. “There was a short window of time where certain refugees could travel, but what happened, the overseas processing centers where refugees typically go before they travel to their resettlement country, the chaos had refugees leaving the overseas processing centers thinking that they couldn’t leave to the U.S. and then it turned out that some of them could.” She says flights were booked and rebooked many times with people still missing them. And, workers traveling to airports to pick up refugees that didn’t make their flights were costly. Toting up to the confusion is the real agony witnessed when families get separated due to the lack of clear communications and understanding of the new immigration and resettlement policy.  “When these travel bans happen, there’s real concern that these families aren’t going to be able to reunite,” she said. The lawsuit filed by SPLC is to assist the Yemeni couple reunite with their two children that are currently unable to travel to the U.S. due to the executive orders.

Callahan says the agency operates with, “not a lot of fat” to begin with and the increase in costs for refugee resettlement is hitting them hard. Add to that depiction, the decrease in refugee resettlement numbers impacts the work being done to help displaced people around the world that in turn help to improve economically depressed regions like Utica, NY. If Republicans and President Trump’s position and rhetoric on immigration continue to advance on its current path, the impact of losing refugee and new immigrant resettlement programs will undoubtedly be felt by the communities that benefit from their contributions. Refugee resettlement programs bring people and dollars to communities that open their doors to them. For starters, MVRCR gets $950 to resettle each refugee, and an additional $1,150 to be spent on their behalf. The money goes to finding and setting up their housing. “So, for each case, a combination of that $950 that goes to the agency and the $1,150, for a single case, we’re getting them housing, getting their lights turned on, furnishing it all for $1,150, which can be challenging, but for families of 3, 4, 5, 6…that’s a little bit easier and they may actually get money back when we close their case because we wouldn’t have spent down all those dollars,” Callahan explains.

Each refugee also equates to other federal and state dollars for the county through other avenues like grant funding for different programs to help advance the resettlement process. From learning how to drive and understand American driving rules, to language, job training and placement. Nevertheless, Callahan says the U.S. resettlement programs encourage self sufficiency. She said, “So, it’s a hand-up. The refugees come here owing their airfare back to the federal government 6-months post arrival. They’re expected to start paying that down. I think it’s a misconception to think that refugees come here and are given all sorts of resources. They’re definitely given some but it really is a program that expects them to work very hard to be successful.”

Callahan also touts the healthy relationship that’s been cultivated with local and out of area businesses that credit the employment program, and the work undertaken by MVRCR with the rebirth of a dying city. “I think this city would be a ghost town without refugee resettlement,” Callahan said. Refugees and new immigrants bring value to the region that surpasses those aforementioned returns, as their impact can be felt and seen economically, culturally, and socially. Not to mention Utica’s evolving culinary scene. “We have definitely, as a community, benefited enormously from the 36-year history of welcoming these folks in to our community. Our community is absolutely richer for it. I can’t think of anything over those decades that have had a bigger impact, economically and socially, than the population added,” she said.

Long established locals still remember and commiserate about a time when large numbers of employers were leaving the area, properties sitting abandoned for years, until the first major wave of resettlement efforts that started with the Bosnian’s in the 1990s, ushered in a new energy. “There was a time when the population was in danger of dropping below 50-thousand, which would have had some really horrific impacts in terms of federal dollars that the city was able to access for any of its recovery work, but if you just think about the numbers; 16-thousand refugees, just through this center alone, and that doesn’t count secondary migrants, which are refugees that come from other places in the U.S., but if you think about the population number and what its impact for the positive, having these folks resettle in Utica has been, in terms of the economic impact, cannot be overstated,” she said.

But the winds of change are shifting and refugees and other new immigrants fear the worst. Azira Tabucic, Manager, Immigration & Citizenship at MVRCR says the number of people looking to change their immigration status to avoid being deported has increased significantly. “The numbers are really, really large this time. Not only for green card seekers but for many folks that never thought about the importance of being citizens are applying for citizenship. My schedule is booked till May,” she said.

Tabucic explained that the actual cost of becoming a citizen ranges from zero to $5,000, or more, depending on the circumstances of the person being resettled. Refugees and Asylum seekers go through a different process than new immigrants. And economic status, along with a host of other  measures determine how much an individual or a family has to pay for legal status in the U.S. Additionally, the cost to go through the immigration process with assistance from a federally designated agency like MVRCR, separate from other application and medical testing fees, increased in December of 2016. And, from start to finish the process can take about 6-years if individuals follow the rules and timeline set forth by U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, (USCIS). Adding to an already difficult and lengthy process, Tabucic says the increased cost can be waved or decreased depending on the person’s economic or immigration status. More information, including worksheets, forms, applications, a list of changes and new costs can be found on the USCIS website. Click Here for a direct link to the USCIS fee schedule used by MVRCR.

The U.S. immigration process is a complicated one, with many shifts and turns depending on criteria, status and a host of other measures, making the work of MVRCR crucial for folks looking or forced to call the U.S. home. Callahan says locally there have been people picked-up by immigration officials, including some refugees that had some criminal aspects to their background, and sent to deportation centers. She says there is this undercurrent of fear and confusion about what is going to happen next and who it’s going to impact.  “What this means for us is…one of the things we do through the Office of New Americans and our Immigration and Citizenship office is have our attorney’s here, pro bono, twice a month to work with people who might have some complications with regards to their resident status,” she said.

Another way the agency is preparing refugees and new immigrants for an uncertain future as they make their way through the U.S. immigration process is via education on immigrant’s rights and emergency planning. She said, “This is pretty heart-breaking…we help people go over what to do if you are scooped up in a raid and essentially disappear from your family and community. We’re having parents work on Power of Attorney with their children; we’re having them get all sorts of things in place so that if they get scooped up in one of these situations they know what to do.” Callahan says when someone gets picked up by immigration officials they don’t get a phone call or due process one may expect, by informing other agencies or even their family members about a detainees’ whereabouts. “You just get picked up and you essentially disappear,” she says.

Although Utica is not considered a sanctuary city, the local police department is in step with other police departments across the country, like in Boston, NYC and Los Angeles. According to Callahan, Utica Police have made it clear that they are not going to act as agents of immigration. “Our Utica Police Department have been great. They’ve come here; they’ve talked to staff and clients and assured us that that isn’t their role. They’re not looking to get people in trouble with immigration,” she says. She adds it would be a detrimental position to take considering the work that’s been done to foster and build relationships with the refugee population and other immigrant groups. In spite of the anti-refugee and anti-immigration sentiments across the country, Callahan says she remains hopeful in an uncertain world enforcing boundaries, while adhering to humanitarian standards and coping with displaced people yearning for salvation, “I think that most people believe what is written on the Statue of Liberty. This country has always prided itself on its moral leadership, and I think that’s still who we are.”