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On May 14, 2022, Payton Gendron, of Conklin, NY, drove some 200 miles to Buffalo armed with a high-powered assault rifle and bulletproof body-armor and killed 10 people and wounded three others; 11 victims were Black and two white.
Pres. Joe Biden lamented, “A racially motivated hate crime is abhorrent to the very fabric of this nation.” He added: “Any act of domestic terrorism, including an act perpetrated in the name of a repugnant white nationalist ideology, is antithetical to everything we stand for in America.”
The shooter livestreamed the attack on the streaming service Twitch and apparently issued a 180-page manifesto both of which have been withdrawn. The manifesto’s first page was marked by the neo-Nazi symbol known as a “sonnenrad” (aka “sunwheel” or “black sun”).
Gendron is said to have been inspired by Brenton Tarrant who livestreamed himself killing 51 people in March 2019 at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Tarrant released a 74-page manifesto – approximately 15,430 words — on 8ch.net called The Great Replacement – Toward a New Society We March Ever Forwards.
Belief in the Great Replacement has increasingly become an accepted theory, a fact of life, among Trump supporters and many Christian conservatives. Robert Pape and his associates at the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Threats (CPOST) note in the revealing study, “Understanding American Domestic Terrorism,” that the belief involves “the idea that minorities will have more rights than whites ….”
The CPOST study called it “a key driver” of the “committed insurrectionists” who stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Many white Americans, especially men, believe they are being “replaced” by women, African Americans, Jews and the growing number – and diversity – of immigrates who’ve settled in the U.S. over the last quarter century. Pape found that “63 percent of the 21 million adamant insurrectionists in the country believe in the ‘Great Replacement.’”
An October 2021 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) mirrors the CPOST findings. People were asked whether “God intended America to be a new promised land where European Christians could create a society that could be an example to the rest of the world.” A majority (52%) of white evangelical Protestants said they completely or mostly agree. The opinions of other religious groups are illuminating — 46 percent Hispanic Protestants agreed, with nonwhite Protestants (38%), white Catholics (37%), Hispanic Catholics (35%) and white mainliners (34%). Agreement shrinks among those targeted by the Great Replacement — Jewish Americans (27%), Black Protestants (26%), other non-Christians (15%) and the religiously unaffiliated (11%).
The belief in the Great Replacement has been promoted by conservative media and politicians. Months before the January 6th attack, Fox TV host Tucker Carlson ranted on-air about it. “In political terms,” he said, “this policy is called ‘the great replacement,’ the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from far-away countries.” “They brag about it all the time,” he added, “but if you dare to say it’s happening they will scream at you with maximum hysteria.”
In October 2018, Fox News host Laura Ingraham argued, “your views on immigration will have zero impact and zero influence on a House dominated by Democrats who want to replace you, the American voters, with newly amnestied citizens and an ever increasing number of chain migrants.” In addition, numerous Republican politicians have invoked the concept, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) and Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. More troubling, white nationalists who participated in the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville (VA) shouted the slogans, “You Will Not Replace Us” and “Jews Will Not Replace Us.”
Renaud Camus, a French philosopher and writer, coined the concept, “Great Replacement” in his 2011 book, Le Grand Remplacement. Camus was preoccupied with Muslim immigration to Europe and his theory that Muslims — and other non-white populations — had a much higher birth rate than whites. The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs notes, “the great replacement … argues that white Christian populations are under threat of extinction due to (Muslim, non-white) mass migration and declining birthrates, both promoted by a global elite (often coded as Jewish).”
Dora Apel argues in The Migrant Image: Fear of ‘Replacement’ and the Resurgence of White Nationalism, “There are a variety of sources for replacement theory, which has been expressed in Europe, North America, South Africa, Russia, and Australia, including the neo-Nazi concept of ‘white genocide,’ which refers primarily to contraception and abortion ….”
Anders Breivik, a Norwegian far-right nationalist, was the first mass murderer inspired by Camus and fears of the Great Replacement. In July 2011, he killed 77 people in Norway. He first detonated a car bomb outside the prime minister’s office in Oslo, killing eight people, and then drove to Utoya island where, dressed as a police officer, he killed 69 people, most of them teenagers attending a Labour Party youth camp. The New Jersey’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness (NJ-OHAP) report found that Breivik “has been the inspiration for multiple white supremacist extremists ….”
Hours before Breivik started the killings, he published in English a 1,500-page manifesto on the internet, “2083 – A European Declaration of Independence.” About 700 pages of the manifesto is devoted to attacking Muslims. One excerpt suggests Breivik’s vision:
The new “conservative order” should (once consolidations of Western and/or Eastern European cultural conservative military tribunals have been established) prepare for mass deportations of all Muslims living in Europe. The first step will be the construction of huge transit zones.
He went further, arguing, “We need to create an environment where the practice of Islam is made difficult. Muslim citizens should be forced to either accept our secular ways or leave if they desire sharia.”
Breivik’s killings and manifesto inspired a series of other mass killings. One of them was Robert Bowers. On October 27, 2018, he entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, yelling, “All Jews must die.” Armed with an assault rifle and several handguns, Bowers opened fire upon the Sabbath congregants, killing 11 and wounding six others, including four police officers. When captured, Bowers said he “wanted all Jews to die” and that Jews “were committing genocide against his people.” Another was the New Zealander Brenton Tarrant.
Breivik also inspired John Earnest who, on April 27, 2019, killed one and injured three at a synagogue in Poway, CA. In a letter he released online, Earnest claimed that Jews were responsible for the genocide of “white Europeans.” He wrote [#64]:
I hate anyone who seeks the destruction of my race. Spics and niggers are useful puppets for the Jew in terms of replacing Whites. Of course, they aren’t intelligent enough to realize that the Jew is using them and they will be enslaved if Europeans are eliminated. Do they actively hate my race? Yes, I hate them. Are they in my nation but do not hate my race? I do not hate them, but they aren’t staying. Are they out of my nation and do not hate my race? Fine by me.
Still another inspired by Breivik was Patrick Crusius who killed 23 people and wounded almost two dozen others at a Walmart store on August 3, 2019, in El Paso, TX. In the manifesto posted on 8chan shortly before the attack, he stated: “in general, I support the Christchurch shooter and his manifesto.” He added:
My whole life I have been preparing for a future that currently doesn’t exist. The job of my dreams will likely be automated. Hispanics will take control of the local and state government of my beloved Texas, changing policy to better suit their needs.
Crusius concludes, warning: “My death is likely inevitable. If I’m not killed by the police, then I’ll probably be gunned down by one of the invaders. Capture in this case if far worse than dying during the shooting because I’ll get the death penalty anyway. Worse still is that I would live knowing that my family despises me. This is why I’m not going to surrender even if I run out of ammo.” He claimed that he was “simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.”
In the 1850s, the U.S. was besieged by the Know-Nothing movement that railed against the then-new racial and religious threat, Irish Catholics. Irish Catholics were then considered “non-white” as were Italian Catholic “wops” (i.e., “without papers”) and Eastern European Jews. Chinese immigrants were also targeted. Drawn to the West Coast of the U.S. in the wake of the 1840s California gold rush, 325 Chinese arrived at the San Francisco’s customhouse in 1849; three years later, the number of Chinese immigrants jumped to more than 20,000.
However, by the mid-1870s, the gold rush was over, and the U.S. was plunged into a depression with nearly a quarter of San Francisco’s workforce unemployed. Amidst the fury, John Bigler, the California governor, ranted against the “coolie race.” This fueled racist — and often violent – attacks against the Chinese population throughout the West Coast, including San Francisco, Tacoma, Seattle and other cities. The anti-Chinese rage culminated in with the adoption of Chinese Exclusion Act of 1862.
A century-plus later, Trump played the Great Replacement card in his two campaigns for the presidency. He linked China and Chinese Americans to the Covid pandemic referring to it as the “Chinese Virus” and “Kung Flu,” fueling numerous racist attacks on Chinese people. Prior to his 2016 presidential run, he railed against Mexicans riding the escalator at Trump Tower: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” He denounced non-documented Latinx immigrants fleeing violence and persecution as an “invasion.”
Today’s Know-Nothings are represented by race nationalists like Richard Spencer. In “The Charlottesville Statement,” published on August 11, 2017, to coincide with the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally, he insisted: “Race is real. Race matters. Race is the foundation of identity.” He further argued: “’White’ is shorthand for a worldwide constellation of peoples, each of which is derived from the Indo-European race, often called Aryan. ‘European’ refers to a core stock—Celtic, Germanic, Hellenic, Latin, Nordic, and Slavic—from which related cultures and a shared civilization sprang.”
Spencer and other race-nationalists champion “the ideal of a white ethno-state — and it is an ideal — is something that I think we should think about in the sense of what could come after America.” He also declared, “We [white people] conquered this continent. … Whether it’s nice to say or not, we won and we got to define what America means and we got to define what this continent means.” He warned, “America, at the end of the day, belongs to white men.”
The Buffalo shooter, Payton Gendron, along with white Christian conservative backers of Trump who adhere to the Great Replacement theory, fear that America’s white nationhood is being superseded. Black Americans, together with other people of color — especially new immigrants, be they Latinx or Asian, as well as Jews and Muslims — will “replace” them. And, as the 2020 Census documents, they are being superseded. It seems that as their relative proportion of the U.S. population shrink, white rage increases.
In the 2020 census, 34 million Americans checked off the “Two or More Races” box when listing their racial identity – a decade earlier, nine million Americans did so. That’s a 276 percent increase! As the American Prospect points out, “That reflects the rise of cross-racial coupling and resultant childbirths, of course, but it probably also reflects more Americans’ willingness to acknowledge racially mixed parentage or ancestry.”
The 2020 Census makes clear that the demographic clock is ticking against white conservatives – and they know it! The racial/ethnic composition of the country is changing and, by 2050, the U.S. will be a “majority-minority” country, with white non-Hispanics making up less than half of the total population. Equally critical, the U.S. is becoming an ever-increasing urban nation with about 83 percent of the population living in cities. Rural America is losing it population to more attractive urban centers, most often supporting Democrats.
We live during an historical moment that may be best expressed by a line from Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” on the 1965 classic album, Highway 61 Revisited:
Because something is happening here
but you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?
Yes, “something is happening” – it’s happened before and is it’s happening again. The make-up — the demographic composition — of the country is changing. For many, especially racial nationalists, so too what it means to be an American. And they are resisting, fighting history. While they will likely be defeated in their efforts to make the U.S. a “white-only” country, the rest of us will pay a heavy price.