Stefanik denies embracing racist 'replacement theory,' critics say her ads suggest otherwise
North Country Rep. Elise Stefanik has been in the national spotlight since the mass shooting Saturday that killed 10 people in a mostly Black neighborhood in Buffalo. National media outlets and some members of her own Republican party claim Stefanik has embraced replacement theory, the false idea that there’s a plot to outweigh white voters with non-white immigrants.
On Monday's episode of the New York Times podcast The Daily, reporter Nick Confessore explained that part of the scrutiny on Stefanik stems from her campaign ads.
"Elise Stefanik, who is the third-ranking Republican in Congress, released a campaign ad on Facebook claiming that Democrats were plotting a 'permanent election insurrection by granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants.'"
A series of those Facebook ads ran last September. In one, a crowd of Latino-looking people is reflected in President Biden’s sunglasses. Big, bold text says “Stop Election Insurrection.” Stefanik’s ad falsely claims that Democrats are trying to flood the American electorate with millions of illegal immigrants
While some Republican leaders, including Stefanik, don’t explicitly mention racist ideologies, the Times' Confessore said the message appears clear.
“I think you can hear and see the echoes of replacement theory in their own language, of real Americans being disempowered, even cheated by immigrants and their enablers in the elite and the ruling class,” said Confessore.
Stefanik denies any embrace of replacement theory. Her office declined an interview request, but her senior advisor Alex DeGrasse said in a statement the Congresswoman has never advocated for any racist positions. DeGrasse called members of the media “groveling hacks” and said Stefanik supports legal immigration.
Paul Smith’s College professor Joe Henderson, who writes about white nationalism, thinks Stefanik is using fear and outrage for her own political gain.
“When I read those ads or those tweets, I see her speaking to a white electorate and trying to make them afraid,” says Henderson.
Some members of her own party say she’s taking it too far. Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger tweeted on Sunday that Stefanik is pushing replacement theory.
On Monday, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney tweeted that Republican leaders are enabling white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-semitism.
Henderson says racist and white supremacist ideologies do have supporters in Stefanik’s North Country district. Henderson lives in Saranac Lake, where people fly confederate flags and display other white nationalist and pro-militia symbols.
“I look around at some of the punisher logos in my community and three percenter flags that are flying around and there’s clearly a taste for that in the area. If you look at some of the maps of extremist groups, there are white supremacist groups in the area, there are militia groups in the area.”
A poll from the AP released last week found that about a third of Americans think there is a conspiracy to replace white voters with immigrants. Henderson says pushback from fellow Republicans and reporting from major news outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Politico likely won’t change Stefanik’s approach.
“I think the only thing that is going to have an effect on someone like Elise Stefanik is if the voters of this district tire of it. What is New York 21 going to do about this, about this increasing radicalization of our representative?”
Voters in the North Country have consistently reelected Stefanik to Congress. Since she was first elected in 2014, Stefanik has won every race by a double-digit margin. In a tweet on Monday, she said she looks forward to running for reelection this fall.