Great Replacement Theory? Try language of death wielded by opportunistic right-wing figures

·7 min read

If you want to know part of what inspired the racist shooting spree at a Buffalo grocery store, you need to start listening.

To Fox News. To a number of high-profile Republican politicians. To the constant chatter on right-wing radio.

What you'll hear isn't subtle. It comes from popular figures like Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, from Republican governors in states along the southern border and even from Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, the No. 3 House Republican.

And it goes, roughly, like this: Liberals (evil) are attempting replace replace true Americans (white people) with invaders (non-white people/immigrants).

The 18-year-old white man accused of gunning down 10 people at a store in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo live-streamed the shooting. Images from the livestream show a racial epithet written on the shooter's gun. Investigators are working to confirm the authenticity of a 180-page document that details the shooter's plans and contains his name.

The New York Times reported: “His writings were also riddled with racist, anti-immigrant views arguing that white Americans are at risk of being replaced by people of color, a common trope on the far-right known as the ‘great replacement’ theory. The same ideas have motivated gunmen in several other mass shootings.”

Fear-mongering conspiracies, then this

Stephen Belongia, special agent of charge of the FBI's Buffalo field office, said: "We are investigating this incident as both a hate crime and a case of racially motivated violent extremism."

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The fear-mongering conspiracies about white people being replaced by people of color clearly inspired the suspected Buffalo shooter. And now 10 people are dead, three more are wounded and many Americans are wondering how this could happen.

All they need to do is listen.

Last fall, Stefanik had ads running on Facebook that warned: “Radical Democrats are planning their most aggressive move yet: a PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION. Their plan to grant amnesty to 11 MILLION illegal immigrants will overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington.”

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You, white Americans, are going to be replaced. By scary immigrants. By people of color. There will be no more America if these scheming “Radical Democrats” get their way.

Normalizing 'great replacement theory'

This is the Great Replacement Theory, a ludicrous conspiracy that has been around since some white Christian person with power first felt an “other” might pose a threat to that power.

It’s bilious garbage, and it now exists not just in the fever swamps of the internet where it belongs but in mainstream political talk.

And it leads to shootings, including:

► The October 2018 massacre of 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh by a white supremacist. Right before the shooting, he posted online that a Jewish group that works with refugees “likes to bring invaders that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

► The March 2019 attack on two mosques in New Zealand by a white supremacist whose manifesto was called “The Great Replacement.” He killed 51 people.

► The April 2019 attack on a synagogue in California in which a white supremacist killed one person and injured three others. He posted a letter online that, among many other things, blamed Jewish people “for their role in voting for and funding politicians and organizations who use mass immigration to displace the European race.”

► The August 2019 white supremacist attack on a Walmart in El Paso. That man killed 23 people and posted a document online that included this sentence: “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

Replacement. Invasion. Displacement.

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This is the language of death. It has been around for decades, but only in recent years has it been given oxygen by opportunistic right-wing figures like Donald Trump who are more than willing to leverage white grievance for political gain.

Writings echo Tucker Carlson

The 18-year-old white man who police say opened fire at the supermarket in Buffalo posted a 180-page document parroting the nonsense that’s either expressed directly or implied nearly every night on Carlson’s hugely popular Fox News show: White people are in danger of being replaced by people of color.

Last April, Carlson said: “I know that the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term ‘replacement,’ if you suggest the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World. But they become hysterical because that’s what’s happening, actually.”

Tucker Carlson on March 2, 2017, in New York.
Tucker Carlson on March 2, 2017, in New York.

He continued: “I have less political power because they're importing a brand new electorate. Why should I sit back and take that? The power that I have as an American, guaranteed at birth, is one man, one vote, and they're diluting it. No, they're not allowed to do that. Why are we putting up with this?”

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In January, Carlson attacked billionaire George Soros, who contributes widely to liberal causes and politicians and is a regular target of anti-semitic conspiracy theories, saying: “But his program for the past 15 years at least has been to make the societies he focuses on more dangerous, dirtier, less democratic, more disorganized, more at war with themselves, less cohesive. In other words it's a program of destruction aimed at the West.”

Millions inundated with hateful ideas

Every night, this destructive, end-of-civilization rhetoric is beamed into the brains of millions of Americans, then it’s recycled endlessly on social media, reaching many, many more.

So what happens? A December poll found that more than half of Republican voters believed that “influence the outcome of elections” or “change the American way of life” were at least minor factors in why immigrants come to the United States. More than 25% of Republican voters thought those two reasons were “a major factor” in immigration.

A person waits outside the scene as police investigate after a shooting at a supermarket on Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y.
A person waits outside the scene as police investigate after a shooting at a supermarket on Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y.

This truly unhinged belief in “white replacement” has moved from the stuff of kooky conspiracy theorist to mainstream thinking with a swiftness that should scare the tuna salad out of those of us who see its danger.

News of the shooting in Buffalo was still developing Saturday when Blake Masters, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Arizona, tweeted: “The Democrats want open borders so they can bring in and amnesty **tens of millions** of illegal aliens – that’s their electoral strategy. Not on my watch.”

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Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas have both described immigrants at the southern border as part of “an invasion.”

Pay attention, and call it out

What happened in Buffalo is a horrendous, despicable act. But it’s an act anyone paying attention knew was coming.

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Police speak to bystanders while investigating after a shooting at a supermarket on Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y.
Police speak to bystanders while investigating after a shooting at a supermarket on Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y.

If you aren’t paying attention to the nature of this mainstreamed rhetoric on the right, if you don’t watch Fox News or pay attention to politicians like Stefanik or many others, this cruel act of hate might seem shocking.

If you feel that way, if you think America is better than this, you need to start paying attention. And we all need to speak up and tell pundits, politicians, news networks, advertisers and anyone else involved in the free-and-easy use of the language of death one thing, in one loud, collective voice: “This. Must. Stop.”

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Buffalo shooting at marketplace inspired by 'great replacement theory'