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Payton Gendron in court

Chances are, deluded mass murderer Payton Gendron doesn’t actually know any Black people to speak of. According to the 2020 census, his home town of Conklin, New York, roughly 200 miles from the Buffalo supermarket where he acted out his deadly fantasies, has an African-American population smaller than one percent. Gendron needed to drive for hours to locate a Black neighborhood to shoot up.

No matter. The killer wasn’t shooting individual human beings. He was shooting symbols, imaginary projections in his own twisted mind.

Republican thinkers today call it “Replacement Theory,” the notion that Democrats are scheming to subvert American democracy by importing non-white immigrants to support leftist ideology. It’s the particular passion of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. The New York Times has documented more than 400 mentions on his program since 2016—keeping his audience of suspicious old coots sitting there anxiously clutching the TV remote.

There’s no sign Gendron was directly influenced by Carlson. This particular delusional system has a long history in the United States. Only the identity of the racial enemy changes. Back in the 1840s, it was my own Irish Catholic forbearers that threatened to contaminate the nation’s precious bodily fluids. According to the Know Nothing party, the Pope was conspiring to destroy America’s Protestant democracy by flooding the country with Irish and German immigrants.

Blacks, of course, were already here centuries earlier. Indeed, the Know Nothings died out as a political party partly because they could never agree about slavery. Abraham Lincoln once wrote a private letter to a friend explaining why he couldn’t join the movement: “As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equals, except negroes and foreigners and Catholics.’”

Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was a Know-Nothing as well as a Confederate sympathizer.

The idea of subversive immigrants has never gone away. The Ku Klux Klan exploited many of the same impulses; so did George Wallace’s “American Independent Party” in 1968. More recently, Donald Trump’s “Birther” movement portrayed President Barack Obama as racially and religiously unfit. Indeed, Obama’s election caused millions of bigots to lose their collective minds.

What’s more, you don’t have to be an exponent of Critical Race Theory to notice that as other immigrants (such as the Irish) become honorary white people, Blacks remain permanently suspect to the kinds of losers and lone dementos who populate the fringes of the online, nativist far right.

Which brings us back to 18-year-old Payton Gendron with his soldier costume, his largely-plagiarized 180-page manifesto, and his arsenal of semi-automatic rifles. He’s too young to buy a six-pack, but Gendron had no difficulty arming himself like a one-man infantry platoon.

It’s entirely mad, yes, but it’s also the American Way: The Second Amendment as a constitutional death pact.

“White supremacy is a poison,” President Biden said in an impassioned speech in Buffalo, “and it’s been allowed to fester and grow right in front of our eyes. No more.”

Well, it’s a nice thought.

Alas, I fear that for a substantial fraction of the population, race remains a key component of American identity. Gendron’s online manifesto shows that he avidly consumed what I call “race porn.” In his fractured mind, he saw himself as a heroic figure, linking himself with mass shooters worldwide: the 2019 Christchurch, New Zealand, shooter, who killed 51 Muslims in a mosque; the punk white supremacist who murdered nine Black parishioners in Charleston, S.C in 2015., the anti-Semite who slaughtered eleven Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018, and the shooter who killed 23 people in 2019 an El Paso Walmart in an effort to defeat the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

Saner minds, of course, recognize these deadly sad sacks for what they are: fearful weaklings whose only legacy is sorrow and destruction.

Meanwhile, what is there to say about cynical opportunists like Tucker Carlson and his Fox News colleagues who peddle this poison for fun and profit? Laura Ingraham, also a prime-time Fox News host, tells viewers that Democrats are conspiring to “replace you, the American voters, with newly amnestied citizens and an ever-increasing number of chain migrants.”

Supposedly, it’s Hollywood celebrities and shadowy billionaires who are behind the unholy scheme.

Author Ann Coulter peddles the same line. One of her recent books was titled Adios, America: The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole. GOP politicians such as J.D. Vance, Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene have gotten aboard as well.

One prominent Republican has dissented. “The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-Semitism,” Rep. Liz Cheney tweeted. “History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse.”

Painting imaginary targets on real people for self-intoxicated young men to shoot.

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Former president Donald Trump and Rep. Kevin McCarthy

Screenshot from NBC News


Donald Trump is poolside at Mar-a-Lago, waving to guests as they go by.

GUEST #1: Mr. President!

TRUMP: See you at the fundraiser for J.D. Vance tonight. Have the steak.

GUEST #2: Stop the steal!

TRUMP: Have the steak!

An aide walks up to inform him he has a telephone call and hands him a cell phone.

AIDE: It’s Kevin McCarthy.

TRUMP: Again? Should I tape it?

He takes the phone.

TRUMP: My Kevin! You should call more.

McCARTHY: So, Mr. President, now they’ve subpoenaed me.

TRUMP: The Academy Award.

McCARTHY: I’m not accepting it.

TRUMP: Don’t go up there and slap them. You tell me, which is worse and which is more dishonest, the Oscars or the Emmys? Should have won the Emmy. A con game. An irrelevant show. Can you believe that The Apprentice lost to The Amazing Race? No credibility. Low ratings. A joke. Should have gotten it. Stolen.

McCARTHY: They want to ask me about what I said on that tape.

TRUMP: Just say it’s fake.

McCARTHY: I did already. When it came out, I said, “The New York Times’ reporting on me is totally false and wrong.”

TRUMP: You’re on the tape saying, “What Trump did is unacceptable. Nobody can defend that and nobody should defend it.” And you told Liz Cheney you were going to tell me to resign. It’s on the tape.

McCARTHY: I told Fox News, “I never told the president to resign.”

TRUMP: And what else?

McCARTHY: I told Fox, “It was a conversation that we had about scenarios going forward.”

TRUMP: Kevin, you know what your problem is?

McCARTHY: But I told Fox, “What was brought to me, it said I called the president to say that – to resign. I never called the president to say ‘resign.’” Now they say I’m a liar.

TRUMP: They only believe you’re telling the truth if you’re lying.

McCARTHY: But I said I never told you to resign.

TRUMP: Don’t kid a kidder. You couldn’t lie your way out of a traffic ticket.

McCARTHY: So, what do you suggest?

TRUMP: You want some lessons, my Kevin? Let’s go to the tape. First thing, you say the New York Times reporting is wrong. Right?

McCARTHY: It’s two New York Times reporters with a tape.

TRUMP: That’s your first mistake. The tape is a phony, it’s fake, it’s made up, somebody forged it, it’s a counterfeit.

McCARTHY: Deny the tape? With my voice on it?

TRUMP: Until they’re willing to say who gave it to them, it’s a fake. And, guess what, they’ll never say where they got it, never name their source. You win, it’s a fake.

McCARTHY: And resign, asking you to resign?

TRUMP: Resign? Nobody was on that call but you and me. You tell me what you said. So, you’re not lying if I say you’re not lying. What do you think I should say? I’m your friend, aren’t I, Kevin? But there are others who are not your friends.

McCARTHY: Liz says she didn’t leak the tape.

TRUMP: Listen, Pollyanna, it’s someone else who wants to put a knife in your back, wants to shove your corpse to the gutter so they can be Speaker. It’s replacement theory. Liz can’t be Speaker. Didn’t you love it when Elise Stefanik blamed the Democrats as “pedo grifters” for the baby formula shortage? A gift for words. A girl after my own heart.

McCARTHY: Are you suggesting Stefanik leaked that tape?

TRUMP: She’s got purity of heart. Not a dropout, like, well, not personal. You know, I like Matt Gaetz. I like Marjorie Taylor Greene. Don’t forget Jim Jordan. He’s subpoenaed, too. No tapes with him so far. But Elise, she went to Harvard. If I were you, Kevin, when I sit down, I’d make sure my back is against the wall. Make sure you can see who’s coming and going.

A guest walks by.

GUEST #3: Let’s go Brandon!

Trump gives a thumbs up.

TRUMP: Get the steak!

McCARTHY: Yeah, I’ll have a steak tonight, rare.

TRUMP: Well done.

McCARTHY: Thanks.

TRUMP: I mean the steak.

McCARTHY: And I’m not going to testify.

TRUMP: If you do, they’ll refer you for perjury.

McCARTHY: Not if I tell the truth—not that I’m testifying.

TRUMP: Nobody believes you’re telling the truth unless you lie all the time. When you lie all the time, that becomes the truth. Then people will believe you. But if you tell the truth and then lie, nobody will ever believe you if you tell the truth, or believe you when you lie. And for the people who don’t believe you, if you lie all the time, they have to say that you think that you’re telling the truth—“on the one hand, on the other hand.” If you get to be “on the other hand,” that’s the truth. The pundits can say “on the one hand,” but if you’re “on the other” you’re just as true. If it’s two truths, you’re still the truth. If you lie all the time, you’re “on the other hand” at the worst, which means that it’s true. Maybe “on the one hand” is true, but maybe it’s a lie, but because of “the other hand” is true. If you lie all the time, that’s the reality, and reality is true, it’s reality, so that’s the truth, but only if you’re lying, that is, all the time.

McCARTHY: I’m trying to follow.

TRUMP: On the one hand, you said something on that tape, and on the other hand you said it’s false. Might be too late for you, my Kevin. Flunked acting. The problem is you have to lie all the time.

McCARTHY: But I am subpoenaed. If I talk and I lie, they’ll say I’m lying. What do I do now?

TRUMP: Don’t talk.

Sidney Blumenthal, former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, has published three books of a projected five-volume political life of Abraham Lincoln: A Self-Made Man, Wrestling With His Angel ,and All the Powers of Earth. His play This Town, about a scandalous White House dog, was produced in 1995 by LA TheatreWorks. This is the fourteenth in his "Trump Cycle" series of one-act plays published in The National Memo, including The Pardon, Epstein's Ghost, Ivanka's Choice, Sunset Boulevard, The Exclusive, The Role Model, A Modest Proposal, The Exit Interview, The Hitler Gospel, Father Knows Best, The Gold Medal Winner, All I Want For Christmas Is Melania’s Non-Fungible Token, and Puppet Theater.