great replacement theory

Great replacement theory is a racist, right-wing conspiracy theory that the “elites” of Western countries are deliberately trying to “replace” their white populations with immigrants and other people of colour. People who hold this belief generally feel that it’s only the white people in those countries who are the “legitimate” population, and everyone else is at best a guest. They become incensed by the idea that POC’s votes could outnumber white conservatives’ and get progressives elected, or that POC could get “good jobs” that they think are white people’s by right, or that POC could actually contribute to shaping public discourse in a way that takes account of their own experiences.

The theory emerged in France around the year 1900, a product of French nationalism. It was more or less openly anti-Semitic, alleging that a shadowy cabal of puppetmasters (not always but often enough explicitly identified as Jews) planned to “replace” white people with immigrants as part of their devious scheme to rule the world. Some of these nationalists’ fear stemmed from their awareness that France had brutally exploited the people of its colonies abroad, who had at times risen up in revolt against their colonial oppressor (e.g. the Haitian Revolution). The nationalists seemed to think immigrants from the colonies might’ve been playing some devious long game (in collaboration with the Jews, obviously) to exact their revenge.

Great replacement theory experienced a resurgence in the 2010s (although it’s not like the intervening period did not feature white right-wingers getting mad about white people being “replaced” by immigrants; just the specific theory receded in popularity). It is certainly still popular among the French right-wing today; it was, for example, a frequently-cited concern by voters for Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour in the 2022 presidential election.

In the USA, the belief is a common feature of Republican Party supporters’ (and representatives’) politics. It is the underlying assumption behind why they feel entitled to gerrymander districts, pass draconian voter ID laws that disproportionately affect POC, or drastically under-supply urban areas (like inner-city Atlanta) with polling booths such that they do not have the capacity for everyone who wants to vote there, so some people miss out. In the US, the belief has informed and merged with the American-born “white genocide theory”, which has similar origins (fear of uprisings by brutally exploited racial minorities in the Jim Crow era, plus an anti-Semitic belief in Jewish puppetmasters).

The theory has become a core tenet of modern-day far-right belief in Europe and the Anglosphere. It’s been explicitly referenced by perpetrators of right-wing terrorism, including the far-right militant who killed 77 people at a youth camp in Norway in 2011, the El Paso mass shooter (Aug 2019), and the Buffalo mass shooter (May 2022).

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