How the ‘Great Replacement’ Theory Has Fueled Racist Attacks
The man who opened fire in a Buffalo grocery store on Saturday, killing 10 people, appears to have been motivated by a white nationalist ideology known on dark corners of the web as the “great replacement theory.”
The ideology, centered on the baseless belief that the white population is being replaced by immigrants—in part intentionally through policies put in place by ‘elites’—has inspired numerous violent attacks in recent years, including the 2019 Christchurch mosque shooting in New Zealand. Surprisingly though, a surprising number of Americans support the idea.
The Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research conducted a December national poll and found that nearly a third believe there is a plot to bring in immigrants to replace Americans born here. The poll revealed that 29% of Americans fear that native-born Americans will lose their political and cultural influence due to the increase in immigrants.
These figures are even more pronounced among Republicans. A separate poll from the University of Massachusetts Amherst conducted in December found that two-thirds of Republicans believe that the growth of the number of immigrants to the U.S. “means that America is in danger of losing its culture and identity.”
Here’s some background on the racist ideology.
What is “replacement theory” What is the origin of this invention?
The “great replacement” refers to the idea that the political power and culture of the white race is being intentionally replaced by immigrants and minorities. The conspiracy theory has been attributed to white supremacists, anti-immigration groups, and white supremacists who argue that the pro-immigration policies are designed by elites in order to subvert or eliminate the white race.
There are many variations of this argument, but the most common talking point is the false assumption that all non-white immigrants vote in the same way, which would diminish the power of the white race. According to the National Immigration Forum,
The concept picked up steam when white nationalist writer Renaud Camus coined the “great replacement” phrase in a 2011 book, claiming that Muslims in France were destroying French civilization and culture due to their higher birth rates.
However, the concept has roots back in Europe. Maurice Barres, the father of French nationalism, said in the early 1900s that Jewish people would take over and “ruin our homeland.” Versions of the theory were promoted in Nazi Germany. In the U.S., white supremacists used similar rhetoric in 2017 when they marched across the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, carrying tiki torches and chanting “Jews will not replace us” and “you will not replace us.”
According to police, Payton Gendron (18-year-old) was a white teenager who killed 10 people and wounded three others in Buffalo’s predominantly Black neighborhood. He wrote a manifesto of 180 pages expressing similar views. He referenced “racial replacement” and “white genocide” in his writing, warning people of color to “leave while you still can.”
Continue reading: Buffalo Shooter Targets a city haunted by segregation
The theory was elevated by conservative politicians
For years, “replacement theory” was confined to internet forums and white nationalist sites. The ideology is now mainstream in America, as conservative media outlets and politicians are more open to the idea that an influx from immigrants and peoples of color could alter the future election results and wipe out the culture and history of western countries.
The Buffalo suspect claimed that he was engrossed in the theory, as well as other types of racist content, but these ideas are being adopted by more right-leaning lawmakers and candidates through campaign ads, appearances on talk shows, social media, and even in advertisements. In August, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on Fox News that leftists were attempting to “drown traditional, classic Americans with as many people as they can who know nothing of American history, nothing of American tradition, nothing of the rule of law.” (Gingrich told the New York Times that “replacement theory” is “insane” and that he is opposed to anti-semitism and “the white racist violence in Buffalo.”)
New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking House Republican, released a campaign ad on Facebook in September claiming that Democrats were plotting “a PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION” by granting amnesty to illegal immigrants which would “overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington.”
In 2021, in response to criticism about her ads, Stefanik wrote in a Facebook post, “To equate opposition to illegal immigration with Nazism and white supremacy is a desperate attempt to stoke outrage & avoid covering Joe Biden’s border crisis.”
However, not all Republicans share these sentiments. Wyoming’s Liz Cheney and Illinois’ Adam Kinzinger, respectively, denounced their party as enabling anti-semitism and white nationalism. “History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse,” Cheney tweeted Monday. “@GOP leaders must renounce and reject these views and those who hold them.” Kinzinger called out Stefanik by name, asking his followers in a tweet “Did you know: @EliseStefanik pushes white replacement theory?”
“Replacement theory” is also linked to right-wing media, and in particular, Tucker Carlson, who has promoted the ideology more vigorously than any other media personality. New Yorker Times investigation, Carlson has elevated “replacement theory” or similar beliefs on more than 400 episodes of his Fox prime-time show, arguing that Democrats want to force demographic change through welcoming immigration policies.
“@TuckerCarlson is CORRECT about Replacement Theory as he explains what is happening to America,” Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz tweeted after the Anti-Defamation League called on Fox to fire Carlson.
Fox News refused to comment, however on Carlson’s criticism. The Washington PostNBC reported that a spokesperson pointed out on-air statements by Carlson in which he disavowed violence.
The recent AP-NORC poll found that people who mostly watched right-media outlets like Fox News, One American News Network, and Newsmax were more likely to believe in “replacement theory.”
Its involvement in hate crime
Saturday’s mass shooting in Buffalo, which is being investigated as a “hate crime and an act of racially-motivated violent extremism,” according to Attorney General Merrick Garland, is the latest in a string of racially motivated attacks in recent years.
Six Sikhs were killed in Wisconsin at a Gurdwara for Sikhs in 2012. Nine people died at a Black South Carolina congregation in 2015, 11 in Pennsylvania at an Synagogue in 2018, 23 at a Texas Walmart 2019 and 50 at a New Zealand Mosque in 2019.
Each of these attacks, authorities believe, were rooted in beliefs similar to the “great replacement” theory. Minutes before the Texas shooting three years ago, a hate-filled, anti-immigrant manifesto by the suspected shooter appeared online referencing a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” It listed a plan to separate the U.S. into territories by race and warned that white people were being replaced by foreigners.
The mass shooting in Buffalo is now the latest tragedy seemingly inspired by “replacement theory.”
Here are more must-read stories from TIME