Murder, fear and racist fliers in Fargo

By Danielle Paquette, The Philadelphia Tribune

WEST FARGO, N.D. – The aroma of barbecue ribs used to comfort him, but now Manny Behyee worried it could attract trouble. Walking up to Teta’s garage cookout, he’d scanned the cars lining her suburban street. Should everyone have parked further apart? Was it obvious they were having a party?

The Liberian immigrants had tried to keep a low profile since someone – a stranger? a neighbor? – distributed hundreds of fliers labeling them a threat to White children. A mile away, people woke up one September morning to small plastic bags on their lawns containing a picture of a Liberian man who had recently been convicted of killing a 14-year-old girl in Fargo.

The caption invoked a racist theory that foreigners of color are “replacing” White Americans in the United States: “THE GREAT REPLACEMENT AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.”

The victim’s father had appeared in court with who he called “pro-white advocates.” Anti-Black stickers and graffiti showed up on streetlights and buildings, including the international grocery store where Behyee shopped.

The 37-year-old hospital chef had survived two civil wars that killed a quarter million Liberians between 1989 and 2003. He wore Old Navy jeans over the bullet scar on his left knee and black Vans over the one of his right foot.

“I came here for safety,” he said in Teta’s garage, where West Africans who’d fled the conflict often gathered to eat. “It feels like the safety is disappearing.”

Behyee wasn’t sure what “Great Replacement” meant until he asked a co-worker. The definition bewildered him: People actually believed that Western elites, controlled by Jews, were plotting a “migrant invasion” to wrest power from conservative White voters?

The theory hinged on the idea that all Black immigrants backed Democrats, which he found laughable: Behyee hoped to vote for Donald Trump in 2024. A Lutheran charity had brought most of his Liberian friends to North Dakota so they could live in peace – not fulfill the electoral bidding of imaginary puppet masters.

Behyee’s exasperation – “ridiculous! just ridiculous!” – chilled to fear upon reading about the mass shooters who have referenced the Great Replacement.

The White man who opened fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018, killing 11, had blamed Jews for bringing immigrant “invaders” to the United States. The White man who gunned down 23 people at an El Paso Walmart in 2019 told police he’d targeted Mexicans after rambling about the “Hispanic Invasion of Texas.” The White man who targeted Black shoppers and employees at a Buffalo supermarket last May, killing 10, had written that African Americans were part of a conspiracy to “ethnically replace my own people.”

Were the Liberians in North Dakota at risk, too? Could the Afrobeat music at their cookout bring danger?

“You always want to be alert,” Behyee said, fidgeting in his foldout chair. “Just in case.”

The Great Replacement, a doctrine of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups for decades, has lately been finding a bigger audience.

Tucker Carlson, one of the nation’s most popular cable television hosts, name-checked it last year in a monologue about Haitian migrants seeking asylum in Texas. President Biden wanted to “change the racial mix of the country” with lax border control, Carlson said. “In political terms, this policy is called the ‘Great Replacement,’ ” he said. “The replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from faraway countries.”

Such rhetoric has become a pillar of far-right rallies with animosity aimed at undocumented immigrants. Days before Behyee’s cookout, Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-Ga.) told an Arizona audience that outsiders were “on the verge of replacing you, replacing your jobs and replacing your kids in school and, coming from all over the world, they’re also replacing your culture.”

Similar language has emerged on racist leaflets nationwide as politicians amplify it, said Jeff Tischauser, a research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center who tracks the spread of white supremacist propaganda.

“It is such a low-effort way to recruit and terrorize,” he said, “and create that psychological trauma for the targeted groups.”

Tangy smoke-filled Teta’s garage. Even in light jacket weather, the group of immigrants kept the door shut. They’d taken a cue from the area’s Liberian churches, which had begun bolting their entrances during service.

They feared someone – a stranger, a neighbor – could show up with a gun.

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