“If there’s one thing I want you to get from these writings, it’s that White birth rates must change.”
So reads the first line of the Buffalo shooter’s rambling 180-page message to the world (much of it plagiarized from previous mass-shooter “manifestos”). And through many portions of the document, 18-year-old Payton Gendron obsesses over women and their fertility, regurgitating right-wing talking points about the loss of white supremacy as other races fill America.
He rants about “broken families with soaring divorce rates” and young people choosing not to get married at all. He frets over “sexual hedonism” and denigrates Madonna as “childless.” He bemoans the fall of the “Western” man, weakened in the face of “enemies bound by faith, culture or tradition with higher levels of fertility, trust and in-group preference.” He laments the rise of OnlyFans and masturbation, which he frames as killing motivation for “real relationships.”
Under the pressure of such influences, he advocates for violence, again and again: “The high fertility replacers will destroy us now, it is a matter of survival we destroy them first,” he writes.
Beyond the “great replacement” theory that the Buffalo shooter espouses, his fascination with fertility and birth rates is indicative of how far-right men frame their existence through emasculation, and advocate for violent heroism as a reaction. Such men have always struggled with feminism, bodily autonomy and queerness — for them, these are cultural fights over the ability to control women and their place in society, all under the guise of “family values.”
The concept of the bleak “demographic winter,” hastened because of falling birth rates, isn’t a new one, nor even an explicitly right-wing one; sociologists, economists and even the Pope use it to discuss the potential harms of stagnant population growth. But the concept has become a favorite tool of the American conservative movement, wielded by the religious right, mainstream conservative politicians and violent extremists alike.
Conservatives continue to link population decline to a loss of power, both geopolitically for America as a whole but also within the nation’s own hierarchy. This framework has fomented a convenient relationship between white supremacists and the powerful Christian right, including organizations like the World Congress of Families, the American Life League and Alliance Defending Freedom, which fought in the infamous Hobby Lobby case and is funded in part by the DeVos, Prince and the Templeton Foundation.
These groups are intertwined with more secular groups, such as the right-wing Population Research Institute, which aims to “dismantle population control” efforts (such as contraception and abortion) while spreading the word about a “demographic winter.” Without being explicitly white nationalist, such organizations and figureheads provide fuel and cover for more extreme forms of rhetoric and action in the war to make white fertility supreme.
Consider how Harry Laughlin, a leader in the American eugenics movement who literally collaborated with Nazis, helped enact the forced sterilization laws that passed in 31 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. His intent was to tilt the scale in the favor of white births; indeed, women of color were disproportionately affected by these laws.
Then there are the intertwined roots of anti-abortion and racist sentiment in America, beginning with agitators like 19th-century scholar Horatio Storer, who argued that white families would lose demographic ground to other races if abortion became normalized. At the turn of the century, even white doctors were feeling the pressure of their racist existential crisis. “While laws regulating abortion would ultimately affect all women, physicians argued that middle-class, Anglo-Saxon married women were those obtaining abortions, and that their use of abortion to curtail childbearing threatened the Anglo-Saxon race,” sociologists Nicola Beisel and Tamara Kay noted in a 2004 report.
When political extremism grew in the latter half the 20th century, fertility became a flashpoint for violence: The KKK starting putting up “WANTED” posters asking for the personal information of abortion providers in the 1980s, and far-right militias helped anti-abortion groups target providers and patients with violence and intimidation the 1990s. That decade also saw a huge swell in lone wolves attacking and killing doctors.
Today, we continue to see violent extremists trying to blend population growth, white fertility and “traditional values” in their argument that a white America is a stable America. The most notable example may be the white nationalist hate group Patriot Front’s multiple attempts to ally with anti-abortion organizers and marchers, including by spreading literature extolling the benefits of “strong families.” But they’re hardly the only ones: All manner of white Proud Boys and hateful livestreamers have latched onto anti-abortion protests in recent weeks.
The far-right’s obsession with fertility is one symptom of how polarized political discourse has become in America, even on issues that once had more diverse bipartisan support. “Whites who score high on measures of racial resentment and racial grievance are far more likely to support strict limits on abortion than whites who score low on these measures,” Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University, tells the New York Times. “This is part of a larger picture in which racial attitudes are increasingly linked with opinions on a wide range of disparate issues including social welfare issues, gun control, immigration and even climate change.”
And, uncoincidentally, research suggests that hardcore abortion opponents — who are disproportionately white in America — are more likely to be committed to a “patriarchal worldview in which the control of reproduction, and female sexuality in particular, is thought to be central in maintaining a gender hierarchy that (as they see it) sustains the family,” as Katherine Stewart, the author of the 2019 book The Power Worshipers, also observes to the Times.
It all fits neatly into the conservative’s view of the Culture War®, in which a shadowy assemblage of intellectual and political elites is steering white America to its demise under the guise of racial diversity and equitable policies. In this framework, white supremacists are currently on the back foot, needing to fight back against a societal wave.
As far-right conspiracist Laura Loomer wrote on her Telegram channel on May 14th, hours after the Buffalo shooting took place: “It is a fact that a lot of the mass migration in America is funded by Left-wing Jewish groups. Wanting closed borders is not a radical stance. Its [sic] not a white supremacist stance. Being worried about replacement theory is also not a radical stance. It’s a pro life and pro preservation stance.”
It hardly matters that these racist fearmongers yelling about the decline of the white population have little nuance in understanding the issue; immigration, for example, isn’t quite the right thing to blame if you look into the data. But a good-faith argument about birth rates was never the point. The “New Right” knew white anxiety could be wielded as a cudgel against feminism and multi-racial movements; today’s far-right extremists, including Gendron, want this anxiety to burst into full-fledged war.
“Eventually, when the white population of the USA realizes the truth of the situation, war will erupt. Soon the replacement of the whites within Texas will hit its apogee and with [it] the non-white political and social control of Texas. … Within a short time regular and widespread political, social and racial violence will commence,” he wrote.
In typical fashion, the racist far-right views itself as part of a last stand on home turf, screaming and shouting that diversity will destroy America. Unfortunately, their take on the “demographic winter” has been bastardized beyond recognition with pseudoscience — a melange of basic economic theory and legitimate data, blended with anti-Semitic conspiracies, panic over “open borders,” racist talking points about “Black violence” and endless overtures about the value of “European culture.”
Panic over white fertility is, in other words, one big rage fantasy for white supremacists — and one that will keep re-emerging in American society every time social unrest mounts.