What is this ‘Great Replacement’ theory Tucker Carlson and white supremacist mass shooters are raving about?

In a 180-page white supremacist manifesto posted online before the racist May 14 mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, domestic terrorist Payton Gendron wrote that he wanted “to spread awareness to my fellow whites about the real problems the West is facing.”

“This crisis of mass immigration and sub-replacement fertility,” the 18-year-old white man wrote, “is an assault on the European people that, if not combated, will ultimately result in the complete racial and cultural replacement of the European people.”

In addition to the Buffalo shooting, where the white supremacist terrorist slaughtered 10 innocent Black people and wounded three others, this white supremacist theory has inspired attacks on ethnic and religious minorities as far away as Christchurch, New Zealand, and El Paso, Texas.

French origins

The idea that nonwhite immigrants could eventually displace native-born white Europeans has roots in 20th century French ethnic nationalism. But the term itself was coined and popularized by French white nationalist author Renaud Camus (no relation to Albert Camus).

As he recently told the right-wing outlet Konflikt Magazin, he first came up with the expression in the 1990s in a small, medieval village in the south of France.

There, near “Gothic windows and Gothic fountains,” were Muslim women in veils and men in djellaba robes, he recalled. “I was, of course, accustomed like everybody else to seeing the change of people in [the predominantly Arab and Black] suburbs, but there it was especially striking.”

Camus said he later gave a speech titled “The Great Replacement” in a nearby town, and in 2011, self-published a book of the same title in French.

Though never translated into English, the book helped spur the launch of a trans-European far-right network with connections to extremists in the United States, according to Wendy Via, co-founder and president of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism.

“The ideas were picked up almost immediately, and they comported with other white supremacist ideas here in the U.S. and other places,” Via said.

“The great replacement theory is a conspiracy theory that says that white people are purposely being replaced with immigrants, migrants, Muslims, refugees across the world, primarily affecting the Western European countries and the United States,” Via said.

American proponents

The white replacement idea gained traction in the United States among white supremacists who adopted it as a substitute for their theory about “white genocide” as they sought to rebrand themselves as white nationalists in recent years.

“The idea of replacing is somewhat easier to understand than genocide for people to accept,” said Michael Edison Hayden, a spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Many Americans first became familiar with the term in 2017 when alt-right activists organized a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where activists chanted, “You will not replace us,” and “Jews will not replace us.”

The rally turned deadly when a neo-Nazi sympathizer drove his truck into counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

Going mainstream

The replacement idea is no longer confined to the outer edges of the far right. Increasingly, prominent conservative television hosts and politicians have faced accusations of using it as a trope to condemn “mass immigration.”

Fox News host Tucker Carlson has become one of the most vocal proponent of the Great Replacement Theory and has promoted on his show as well as to his significant social media audience with 5.2 million followers on Twitter, nearly 5 million on Facebook, and 1.8 million on Instagram.

According to the ADL, white supremacists have consistently praised Carlson’s promotion of the Great Replacement theory, the racist, antisemitic and xenophobic conspiracy that posits that white Americans are at risk of being disenfranchised by non-white immigrants, sometimes described euphemistically by Carlson as “demographic change” or “replacing the population.”

Carlson has elevated the conspiracy theory that Democrats are plotting to replace “legacy American” voters with immigrants in more than 400 episodesof his show and discussed the falling white birth rate and shifting gender roles, another key component of the conspiracy, in over 200 episodes.

“In political terms, this policy is called ‘the great replacement,’ the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from faraway countries,” Carlson said last September.

Matt Gertz, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Media Matters, said Carlson started regularly discussing the idea in 2019.

“It was a core white supremacist conspiracy theory that suddenly he was talking about on his Fox News show, and then suddenly, other Fox News hosts were doing the same thing. And then Republican politicians,” Gertz said.

During a segment last year, Carlson said that Biden’s policy of “mass immigration” is designed “to change the racial mix of the country.”

During a visit to Buffalo to pay tribute to victims of the shooting, President Biden said he condemned “those who spread the lie” about white replacement. The White House has previously dismissed suggestions that it is promoting an “open borders” policy.

Other Fox News hosts such as Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham have charged that Democrats are seeking to bring in immigrants to replace Americans for political gain.

In the wake of the Buffalo shooting, Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik has drawn criticism from Democrats and some Republicans for promoting the racist theory.

Link to violence

Extremism experts say the replacement idea propelled by Camus has inspired a string of deadly attacks by white supremacists on Jews, Muslims, Hispanics and Black Americans in recent years.Those include the massacre of 13 worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018; the slaughter in 2019 of 51 Muslims at two mosques in New Zealand; and the mass killing of 23 people, most of whom were Hispanic, at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, in 2019.

“It is a substantial influence on these types of attacks,” Hayden said.

Hayden noted that before the replacement idea gained currency in recent years, most mass shootings in the country did not appear to be ideologically motivated. For example, the gunman in the 2012 massacre at a movie theater in Colorado suffered from severe mental illness and had no known extremist beliefs.

Now, shooters have found an ideology to justify violence, Hayden said.

“This functions in almost the same way that terrorists of all kinds are able to find sociopathic people or unstable peoplje and fill them with a sense of purpose,” he said

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