On May 14, an 18-year-old white man traveled to a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, armed with a shotgun and semiautomatic rifle. He opened fire at a grocery store, killing 10 people and injuring three others.
There is no ambiguity about why the killer did this, because he was taken alive into custody and left a 180-page manifesto. In it, he explicitly stated his goal was to kill as many Black people as possible.
What drove him to attack Black people? A racist, antisemitic conspiratorial idea known as the “great replacement” theory.
-Invasion, which claims that immigrants are “invading” the country and will eventually “conquer” or destroy “white America.”
-Voter replacement, which typically posits that Democrats want loose immigration policies, because those immigrants will vote for Democrats and will diminish the electoral influence of white Americans.
-Antisemitism, which claims that Jewish elites are encouraging immigrants to “overrun” predominantly white countries. As with many conspiracy theories, antisemitism often is at the core of the “great replacement” theory.
Versions of the “great replacement” theory have existed for decades — if not longer, as anti-immigrant sentiment has a long history. But the modern version of this racist ideology was both formalized and popularized by French writer Renaud Camus.
In 2012, he published the book Le Grand Remplacement (“The Great Replacement”), in which he posits that Black and brown immigrants were reverse-colonizing white European nations. Versions of the theory made their way across the world, including in the U.S. where it often targets immigrants from Mexico and Latin America.
A disturbing number of people believe in some form of the “great replacement” theory. One in three Americans, including half of Republicans, believe in the rhetoric behind this conspiracy, according to a recent Associated Press poll, if not believe in the theory itself.
And what was once a fringe theory that was largely spread online on unmoderated sites like 4chan and 8chan has now made its way into mainstream American politics. Republican politicians including Steve King, Matt Gaetz, Elise Stefanik, Wendy Rogers, Dan Patrick, and Newt Gingrich, among others, have all used “replacement” rhetoric.
If there is one person most responsible for the mainstreaming of the “great replacement” theory, though, it is probably Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
Carlson has long used anti-immigrant rhetoric, but he explicitly referenced the “great replacement” theory on his show on April 8, 2021, per the Anti-Defamation League, and has since brought it up on many occasions.
According to an investigation by The New York Times, Carlson has referenced the racist, xenophobic theory more than 400 times on his show, which reaches millions of Americans every night.
In 2017, white men chanted “Jews will not replace us” at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where counterprotester Heather Heyer was killed.
In 2018, 11 people were killed at a Pittsburgh synagogue by a white supremacist who believed Jewish-run refugee charities were bringing “invaders in that kill our people.”
In 2019, 51 people were killed after a gunman attacked mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The killer repeatedly touted “great replacement” in a manifesto. A few months later, a gunman who ranted about the “Hispanic invasion” of Texas killed 23 at a Wal-Mart in El Paso.
And last week, a self-identified white supremacist attacked a supermarket in a Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, killing 10.
As the “great replacement” theory continues to be mainstreamed by the right, including mainstream political figures who not only refuse to distance themselves from the racist ideology but actually tout and promote it, violence from far-right extremists continues to increase.
According to an analysis published in The Washington Post, white supremacist attacks are at an all-time high. These attacks will likely continue if the mainstream Republican Party continues to actively court them.