The alleged teenage mass shooter in Buffalo, New York, wrote and posted a 180-page manifesto. I read the whole thing, and the only part that surprised me was the banality of his stated intention to eat “corn beef hash” for breakfast, followed by lunch at McDonald’s, before killing as many Black people as possible. He expects to go to prison and either die there or someday be freed as a hero, after white people fight back en masse against the attempt to “replace” them in the lands where they live. Committing what he calls “an act of terrorism” is his method of warning all non-white people to “leave [white territory] while you still can, as long as the White man lives you will never be safe here.”
My friends in the terrorism-analysis community engaged in preemptive scolding as news of the manifesto came out. “Don’t post the fuckin manifesto anywhere,” tweeted Amarnath Amarasingam, a professor at Queen’s University in Canada. “Folks in our field: You should read the manifesto,” Seamus Hughes of George Washington University wrote. “You shouldn’t share it.” They are right, of course. You should not circulate it, any more than you should store your feces and fling them around the neighborhood out of your car windows, rather than flushing them down like a normal person. It is a sick document, neither edifying nor entertaining, and it is better sent for analysis to the ideological sewage-treatment plants where Amarasingam and Hughes and I spend so much of our time.
But sometimes there is no substitute for the smell of effluent, and I think it is worth considering what we lose by discouraging members of the public from singeing their nostrils on the offending material directly.
When I was in high school, The New York Times and The Washington Post caved to the Unabomber’s demand that they publish his 35,000-word manifesto, “Industrial Society and Its Future.” He vowed to stop killing people if they published him, and the Clinton administration recommended that they do so. I found a copy about a week later, opened it in a giddy spirit of adolescent subversion—and promptly realized I had tricked myself into reading a tedious screed that held zero reward. Indeed, the only way the author could get anyone to read it was by threatening to kill someone.
Is the Buffalo killer’s manifesto more dangerous? It offers extensive suggestions about how to arm oneself and choose targets. I wonder whether newspapers would have published the Unabomber’s pamphlet if it contained instructions on how to make a bomb out of fertilizer and common electrical components, most of which are about as accessible as the guns and armor recommended in the Buffalo manifesto. It is written more casually (“plz” for please, and other bits of 4chan jargon), and it clears the very low bar of being a more engaging read than the Unabomber’s. Perhaps the presence of graphics, cartoons, and jokes—however unfunny—make it more likely to draw readers in. But I doubt they will convince anyone. I found on nearly every page of the Buffalo manifesto evidence of profound moral deformity, and inability to think about history, science, race, or humanity in sophisticated and adult ways. It is pathetic, stupid, and witless.
Many have noted the similarity between the Buffalo shooter’s “Great Replacement” theory—that liberals are trying to replace the current electorate with new, more obedient voters from the Third World—and theories espoused on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News. This is because Carlson has said (I quote from his show), that liberals are “trying to replace the current electorate with new, more obedient voters from the Third World.” The existence of this belief cannot be suppressed. It is on social media; it is on Fox News. But I rarely see it expressed in a form as repulsive as the one it takes in this manifesto, with its images of hook-nosed, “demonic” Jews and grotesque, animalistic caricatures of Black people. If Carlson aired these images, he would be fired during the first commercial break, and aghast viewers would return from their reverse-mortgage ads to find a stricken-looking Sean Hannity, hastily wheeled out from his makeup station to pull a double shift.
I think Carlson himself would be repulsed by these images—and for the sake of all, including his soul, I would like him to distinguish his views from those expressed this weekend. Does he believe that Jews controlled the slave trade and owned 78 percent of slaves in the United States? (Those who remember the 1990s might notice the debt white anti-Semites owe to that era’s propaganda by the Nation of Islam.) Does he consider Black people subhumans fit only for child abandonment and crime? How does his version of the Great Replacement differ from the one in the manifesto, which considers the history of race in America a colossal and genocidal crime against white people? (The Buffalo shooter does seem to think American Indians got a raw deal, but that it is too late to make amends.)
Suppressing this manifesto is in some ways an act of kindness to its author, who comes across as a crass amateur who learned his history from cartoons and 4chan. And it is unfair to Carlson, who may struggle to deny his association with a killer whose words are hidden from the public. He deserves his chance to explain why his views are not just genteel versions of the manifesto, especially because many of those in a position to analyze and summarize the manifesto hate him. I am reminded of “soft” Islamists, who believe that Islam is the fundamental answer to political questions, welcomed nonviolent overthrow of secular regimes, and were stunned to watch ISIS take that view to a ghastly extreme. Charity and recrimination alike required the world to demand that these soft Islamists explain their relationship to their violent cousins—an explanation made harder by those who wished to suppress the words of ISIS altogether and leave the softies shadowboxing with a vague and formless opponent.
I have no sympathy with Islamism of any kind, and I think all notions of a “Great Replacement” rely on an obtuse understanding of American history, which has always been a churn of forced and voluntary immigration, conquest, and demographic change. But I want those who disagree with me to squirm. Reading this manifesto is unlikely to convert anyone to its cause. The experience would be uncomfortable and unpleasant for anyone but a hardened, violent racist. And if I were Carlson, nothing would make me squirmier than the knowledge that the author of this irredeemable nonsense might have thought I was onto something.