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The ‘Great Replacement’ Theory: From Conspiracy to Mainstream Violence

On May 14, an 18-year-old white gunman drove more than three hours from his home to a grocery store in a predominately Black community in Buffalo, New York. He wore tactical gear, a helmet, and a camera to livestream his movements. He was heavily armed, brandishing an assault weapon with the N-word spelled out on the barrel and the number “14” written in white paint. He would open fire in the store, killing ten people and injuring three (Buffalo News). Eleven of his 13 victims were Black. The Buffalo mass shooting on Saturday was one of six shootings this past weekend and the deadliest one this year (Gun Violence Archive). It was a racist act of terrorism carried out by a white supremacist motivated by a far-right conspiracy theory that resulted in racial violence and murder.

The “Great Replacement,” or “white replacement theory,” is a conspiracy theory that claims there is an effort to replace white people in the U.S. with non-white immigrants in a move to undermine the “political power and culture of white people living in Western countries” (National Immigration Forum).

TAKE ACTION

• Donate directly to support the victims of the Buffalo shooting. All of these are verified by GoFundMe:
Victims Fund for Tops Buffalo NY Shooting
the families of the victims of the Buffalo shooting
Buffalo Memorial – for funeral service costs

• Avoid sharing or posting the manifestos of mass shooters as they typically act as instructional materials for potential future shooters.

The theory asserts that non-white immigration is not only a threat to “white America” but is a “life-or-death scenario” if left unchecked. The use of polarizing terms like “invasion” or “conquers” while talking about immigration, claims of voter replacement or fraud, and antisemitic ideas that Jewish elites are behind these efforts are used by white supremacists and anti-immigrant groups. It’s also been embraced by media figures and politicians, who have taken the extremist ideology mainstream. 

In April 2021, Fox News host Tucker Carlson backed the theory that the Democratic Party is “importing a brand new electorate” of immigrants from the “Third World” to weaken American political power as “true” (Business Insider). And again, in September, in response to the immigration of non-white people to the U.S. and the changing demographics of the U.S., where white people would be the minority, he said, “in political terms, this policy is called the ‘great replacement,’ the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from faraway countries (National Immigration Forum, Fox News). 

Fox News Channel is currently the most-watched network in basic cable and has been for the past 81 consecutive quarters. So far in 2022, their average total audience for prime time is 2.554 million viewers, compared to MSNBC, with an average total audience of 1.205 million (Forbes). “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” which became the highest-rated cable news show in history in 2020, has an average viewership of 3.39 million (New York Times, Deadline).

Other Fox News hosts have mentioned the replacement or ‘replace” ideology, including Laura Ingraham in 2018 and Jeanine Pirro in 2019 (Media Matters, Media Matters). Along with elected politicians, like Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who said during a 2020 interview on Fox News that “there is an attempted cultural genocide going” and “the left wants us to be ashamed of America, so they can replace America” (Twitter). In 2017, former Republican Congressman Steve King, in support of an anti-immigration activist from Europe, said, “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies” (Washington Post). In 2021, Arizona Senator Wendy Rogers tweeted multiple times about the country being “invaded” by immigrants, including a tweet where she said, “we are being replaced and invaded,” in response to a Breitbart post on the alleged apprehending of “730K Migrants” (Twitter).

One in three U.S. adults believes that a group of people is trying to replace native-born Americans with immigrants for electoral gains. 29% are concerned that an increase in immigration leads to native-born Americans losing economic, political, and cultural influence (AP-NORC).

The origins of the “great replacement” theory date back to the 1900s with ties to French nationalism books but are widely credited back to two writers:

        • In 1973, Jean Raspail wrote of the collapse of France and other white, Western civilizations due to mass immigration from Latin America, Asia, and Africa in “The Camp of the Saints.” The book influenced French writer Renaud Camus and later gained the praise of Trump adviser Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon, and Iowa Representative Steve King (The New York Times). 

        • In 2011, writer Camus wrote, “Le Grand Remplacement,” which states that native, white Europeans are being “reverse-colonized by Black and Brown immigrants, who are flooding the Continent in what amounts to an extinction-level event” (The New Yorker). Camus has been credited for popularizing the “Great Replacement” theory. The white supremacist slogan, “you will not replace us, Jews will not replace us,” that was chanted at the 2017 Unite the Right rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, is a reference to Camus’ book.

But the anti-immigrant rhetoric is not exclusive to migrants, having been used globally in attacks against other non-immigrant racial, ethnic and/or religious groups.

The Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, the El Paso shooting at a Walmart of Latino shoppers, the Charleston shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand were linked back to this ideology. The attackers shared similar verbiage in their manifestos as the Buffalo shooter (New Yorker).

The number “14” that was written on the Buffalo shooter’s rifle is assumed to be a reference to the “14 words,” a white supremacist slogan that reads, “we must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children” (Washington Post). This phrase mirrors the Jim Crow era rhetoric that justified lynching Black men, who were typically wrongfully accused, to protect white women.

Racist sentiments shared by white supremacists globally view the mere existence of people of color as a threat to their livelihood. Phrases like “diversity = white genocide,” and seemingly innocuous words like “invasion” and “replace” stoke fear and empowers racist actions in the hopes of white preservation. But time and time again, these conspiracy theories ignore the hold that whiteness and white hierarchy have throughout the U.S. and globally. And the deaths of Roberta A. Drury, 32; Margus D. Morrison, 52; Andre Mackneil, 53; Aaron Salter, 55; Geraldine Talley, 62; Celestine Chaney, 65; Heyward Patterson, 67; Katherine Massey, 72; Pearl Young, 77; and Ruth Whitfield, 86, are examples of that reality.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

• The mass shooting in Buffalo was a racist act of terrorism influenced by the “great replacement” theory. 

• The theory claims that elites are trying to replace white people with obedient non-white immigrants to gain political power. 

• This theory has been peddled by white supremacist groups, along with media personalities and conservative politicians who have taken it mainstream. 

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