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The Deadly Race Theory
Unlike Critical Race Theory, “Great Replacement Theory” is deadly.
Last Saturday, an 18 year-old self-described white supremacist got in his car and traveled two hours from his home to a grocery store in Eastern Buffalo to commit an unimaginable act of violence. Armed with an assault rifle, he shot thirteen people, killing ten.
Every single victim was black.
Before his rampage, the terrorist — and let’s make sure to call him that — published a 180-page screed. In it he cited the “Great Replacement Theory,” a deeply racist theory that posits that a cabal of elites are actively attempting to “replace” white people with Black and brown people. The most direct articulation of this “Great Replacement Theory” comes from a 2011 book by a French author Renaud Camus who argued that French elites were replacing white French people with Muslim immigrants from North and West Africa. Since, “replacement theory” has come to dominate the white nationalist dark web where the Buffalo shooter seems to have been radicalized.
From these wicked roots, the theory has grown several branches ,some extreme, some mainstream, but all wrapping around the same central theme. They target South and Central American immigrants and Black Americans — and finger American elites, with an antisemitic focus on Jewish Americans — as perpetrating an imagined replacement of whites through pro-immigrant and racial equity policies and counterpose these policies with a falling white fertility rate to demonstrate replacement in progress.
But there’s a less hoary version sanitized for the evening news. It’s the version that Tucker Carlson spews every night on the most popular primetime cable news program in the country. It scrubs off the most explicit parts — you know, the ones where Jews are specifically trying to bring down the white birth rate — but keeps the main arguments intact. Here’s Tucker Carlson’s version in his own words:
[Democrats] can embrace the issues the middle class cares about, or they can import an entirely new electorate from the Third World and change the demographics of the U.S. so completely they'll never lose again.
Democrats know if they import enough new voters, they'll be able to run the country forever. Dramatic demographic change means many Americans don't recognize where they grew up. As with illegal immigration, the long-term agenda of refugee resettlement is to bring in future Democratic voters. Illegal immigrants are the key to their power.
The point is to import as many new Democratic voters as possible. The whole point of their immigration policy is to ensure political control, replace the population.
This policy is called the great replacement, the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from faraway countries.
In Carlson’s telling, this is just about politics. But in an era where negative partisanship has turned our civics into something barely short of all-out war, his viewers are to understand this venom in the apocalyptic tones in which it’s intended. Carlson performs a critical service to the more extreme version of this theory. Mainstreaming the sanitized version on television gives credence to the viler version on 4Chan, where it’s found by impressionable young people like the Buffalo shooter. Meanwhile, those who’ve never heard of it are just a few searches away.
“Replacement Theory” motivated the murder of 10 innocent people. But those aren’t its only victims. In fact, the Buffalo terrorist copied and pasted whole swathes of his murder manifesto from the terrorist who killed 51 worshippers at a masjid in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019. The same arguments were cited by the terrorist who killed 11 at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Here’s the brutal irony. For the past year, we haven’t been debating “Replacement Theory.” We haven’t engaged in a national discussion about how racist it is. Governors haven’t tried to ban its teaching in schools, or ban books about it. It hasn’t been a must-ask debate question in Republican primaries.
No — that was a different theory about race — Critical Race Theory.
Rather than debate a racist theory that has literally incited terrorism, the same exact voices peddling “Replacement Theory” have bamboozled us into a national debate about a theory that specifically articulates the way that racism has been baked into the structures, norms, and mores of our society. In fact, this isn’t the first time white supremacists have attacked people over “replacement.” It happened nearly a century and a half ago. In her newsletter, historian Heather Cox Richardson explains:
When Black Americans began to come to their state, Indiana Democrats immediately howled that the Republicans were importing Black migrants to shift the state back toward the Republicans in the 1880 election. Their clamor was loud enough to cause a Senate investigation. The Democratic majority on the select committee concluded that the Republicans must have induced the Black southerners to leave their region because there was well-paid work and no violence in the South; Republicans retorted that if they were really trying to flood the electoral system, they would have left Black Americans where they were.
But the conspiracy theory took root. White Hoosier Democrats met Black migrants with showers of rocks and vowed to “clean out all the g–d d– –n***ers in the county before the  election.” After a political rally in Rockport, Indiana, Democrats attacked local Black inhabitants, shouting: “Kill them, kill them.” After they shot Uriah Webb, one rioter stood over his body and said, “One vote less,” while the others cheered Democratic presidential candidate Winfield Scott Hancock.
Racial hostility kept the Black population of Indiana small, but it also fed the cultural and social discrimination that made Indiana the beating heart of the resurgent Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. Under violent con man David Curtis Stephenson, who raped, mutilated, and murdered a female state employee, the Indiana Ku Klux Klan developed the idea of “100% Americanism,” which argued for a hierarchy of races in which the white race was uppermost. Immigrants and Black Americans, that theory said, were destroying traditional America.
That argument has poisoned American politics since the 1870s.
In 2022, that argument took the lives of 10 Black folks doing nothing more than going to buy the week’s groceries for their families. And it will continue to happen if we can’t address how and why.
Rather than a debate over the process by which racism shapes our national institutions, perhaps its time we debate that murderous racism itself.