In a 180-page message posted online ahead of the May 14 mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, alleged gunman Peyton Gendron wrote that he wanted to “spread awareness of the real problems facing the West to his fellow whites.”
The problem, according to the alleged shooter? Mass immigration and white people not having enough children.
“This crisis of mass immigration and sub-replacement fertility,” wrote the 18-year-old white man, “is an attack on Europeans that, if not combated, will ultimately result in the complete racial and cultural replacement of European . people.”
Although he didn’t call it by its name, Gendron was referring to a far-right conspiracy theory known as the Great Replacement, which says that Western elites, especially Jews, were immigrants to replace whites. are bringing.
In addition to the Buffalo shooting, which killed 10 black people and injured three others, extremism experts say the racist theory has inspired attacks on ethnic and religious minorities such as Christchurch, New Zealand, and El Paso, Texas.
The idea that non-white immigrants could eventually displace Native white Europeans has its roots in 20th-century French ethnic nationalism. But the term itself was coined and popularized by the French white nationalist writer Renaud Camus (no relation to Albert Camus).
As he recently told a right-wing outlet conflict magazineHe first came up with the expression in the 1990s in a small, medieval village in the south of France.
There, near “Gothic windows and Gothic fountains,” were Muslim women in veils and men in jelaba robes, he recalled. “Of course, I was used to seeing change in people, just like everyone else. [the predominantly Arab and Black] suburb, but there it was particularly striking.”
Camus said he later gave a speech in a nearby town titled “The Great Replacement” and, in 2011, self-published a book of the same title in French.
Although never translated into English, the book helped launch a trans-European far-right network with extremists in the United States, according to Wendy Via, co-founder and president of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism.
“The ideas were picked up almost immediately, and they harmonized with other white supremacist ideas here in the US and elsewhere,” Via said.
Describing this as a “plain fact”, not a “theory”, Camus stated that the Great Replacement is merely a “change of people with a change of culture and civilization”.
Extremist experts say it is much more than this.
“The Great Substitution Theory is a conspiracy theory that states that white people are being deliberately replaced with immigrants, migrants, Muslims, refugees around the world, primarily affecting Western European countries and the United States, Via said.
The white replacement idea gained traction among white supremacists in the United States, who adopted it as an alternative to their theory about “white genocide” as they sought to rebrand themselves as white nationalists in recent years. had demanded.
“The idea of change is somewhat easier for people to accept than genocide,” said Michael Addison Hayden, spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Although Camus did not blame the Jews, American white supremacists have adopted his phrase as an anti-Semitic slogan.
Many Americans first became familiar with the term in 2017 when alt-right activists organized a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where activists chanted, “You won’t take our place,” and “Jews won’t take our place.”
The rally turned deadly when a neo-Nazi sympathizer drove his truck over protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
link to violence
Camus denied that his words inspired the violence. But extremism experts say the replacement idea has helped fuel a series of deadly attacks by white supremacists on Jews, Muslims, Hispanics and blacks in recent years.
These include the 2018 massacre of 13 worshipers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh; 51 Muslims slaughtered in two mosques in New Zealand in 2019; and the 2019 mass murder of 23 people, most of them Hispanic, at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas.
“It has a huge impact on these types of attacks,” Hayden said.
Hayden noted that before the idea of replacement came into vogue in recent years, most mass shootings in the country did not seem ideologically motivated. For example, the gunman in the 2012 massacre at a movie theater in Colorado suffered from severe mental illness and had no extremist beliefs.
Hayden said now the shooters have found an ideology to justify the violence.
“It acts almost in the same way that terrorists of all kinds are able to find sociopathic people or unstable people and fill them with a sense of purpose,” he said.
In his manifesto, Gendron wrote that the person who “radicalised” him the most was Christchurch mosques shooter Brenton Tarrant, whose 2019 genocide manifesto was titled “The Great Replacement”.
“Brenton began my real research into immigration and the problems with foreigners in our white land,” Gendron wrote.
Gendron said he decided to take matters into his own hands after “learning the truth” on right-wing message board 4chan that “the white race is dying, that blacks are killing whites disproportionately … and that Jews And the nobles were behind. This.”
Media Matters’ search of the message board found that users have mentioned the words “great replacement,” “white replacement,” or “white genocide” more than 90,000 times since July 2018.
Camus has sought to distance himself from the shooting in Buffalo and other attacks allegedly inspired by the Great Substitution Theory.
A Twitter account apparently linked to Camus said on Sunday that neither the Buffalo shooter nor the New Zealand mosque attacker had made reference to Camus or his book, dismissing suggestions that his book was a call to hate or violence. .
The replacement idea is no longer confined to the far outer edges. Increasingly, prominent conservative television hosts and politicians have faced accusations of using it as a trope to condemn “mass immigration.”
One prominent figure who has been accused of promoting the conspiracy is the conservative Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Matt Gertz, a senior fellow at left-leaning Media Matters, said Carlson began discussing the idea regularly in 2019.
“It was a core white supremacist conspiracy theory that suddenly he was talking about his Fox News show, and then all of a sudden, other Fox News hosts were doing the same thing. And then Republican politicians,” Gertz said.
During a segment last year, Carlson said Biden’s policy of “mass immigration” is designed to “change the nation’s racial mix.”
“In political terms, this policy is called the Great Replacement—the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient ones from distant lands,” Carlson said.
In comments Monday night, Carlson said the Buffalo shooter was mentally ill and not politically motivated and that “the great substitution theory is coming from the left” where activists and politicians push demographic change for political gain.
During a visit to Buffalo to pay tribute to the victims of the shooting, President Biden said he denounced “those spreading lies” about white replacements. The White House had previously rejected suggestions that it was promoting a policy of “open borders”.
According to Gertz, other Fox News hosts such as Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham have alleged that Democrats are seeking to bring in immigrants to replace Americans for political gain.
In the wake of the Buffalo shooting, Republican Congresswoman Alice Stefanik has drawn criticism from Democrats and some Republicans for promoting a racist doctrine. He has denied the allegation.