A Dive into the Great Replacement Theory

By Sydney Joa, 11th Grade

Payton Gendron, an 18-year-old white male, has been sentenced to life in prison after opening fire at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, on Saturday the 14th. In an attack that killed ten people and injured three more, most of the victims were African Americans, prompting authorities to call this a racially motivated hate crime. The shooting is currently shining media light on the white supremacist ideology known as the “great replacement” theory after it was revealed that Gendron had written and posted a 180-page manifesto citing this very notion prior to the attack.

The “great replacement” theory claims that nonwhite people are being brought into Western countries, most notably the United States and France, to replace white citizens–an idea that dates back to a conspiracy promoted by the French novelist Renaud Camus, author of “Le Grand Remplacement.” It states that “replacist elites” are involved in a larger scheme to enable demographic transformation through immigration, interracial marriage, and birthrate control. This theory is used largely by political conservatives, anti-immigration organizations, and white supremacists to justify violent attacks toward nonwhite people and prevent something they call “white genocide.” In the words of the Buffalo shooter, “all black people are replacers just by existing in white countries.” The theory portrays a misleading and statistically incorrect view that white citizens are threatened by social and political dominance.

But despite the conspiracy’s lack of legitimacy and its proponents’ unwarranted fears, the systematic assault on African Americans and other people of color remains a reality. According to the FBI’s 2020 crime statistics report, the country had the highest number of recorded hate crimes in a decade, with the majority of them being racially motivated. Experts believe that this kind of ideology inspired some of the country’s deadliest instances of mass violence, including attacks on Latino Walmart customers in El Paso, Black church members in Charleston, and Jewish worshippers in Pittsburgh.

The digital world has also played an important role in fostering an environment that glorifies and supports these sorts of activities. People easily consume the conspiracies that the right-leaning mainstream media actively endorses. In fact, the theory has become so popular among conservatives that the supporting elite is choosing to defend it rather than condemn it. As a result of transmitting these harmful narratives, a growing number of Americans are pushed deeper into a bottomless pit of dangerous theories and political strife.

What makes this more interesting is the theory’s resemblance to the country’s widespread nativist sentiments precisely a century earlier. The American immigration restrictionist Madison Grant published his book “The Passing of the Great Race” in 1916, asserting that immigration was killing the nation’s historic “Anglo-Saxon” population and, consequently, its self-governance legacy. Greatly influential, his ideas gave rise to racist immigration laws in the 1920s to restrict African, Asian, and Eastern and Southern European immigration–demographics “deemed genetically inferior to their Northern European counterparts,” as stated by The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer. They are similar in the sense that they advocate for white racial preservation and reproduction–something threatened by the intermixing of races and the belief in an existing villainous and elite organization intent on destroying it.

Nevertheless, the idea that increasing the immigrant population is inherently beneficial to a specific group is nonsensical, considering “racial identities are no more fixed than political ones,” as reported by Serwer. But the popularization of theories such as these raises the danger of polarization as well as the possibility of future instances of violence in the United States.



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