By Eric Vandenbroeck 5 August 2019
El Paso and the great replacement conspiracy theory
Across the globe this year, white supremacists have left manifestos referencing to the grand replacement conspiracy theory to justify slaughtering religious and ethnic minorities. The El Paso shooter writes in his manifesto that he did not intend to target the Hispanic community until he read The Great Replacement.
In the evening of Friday 11 August 2017, 300 alt-right supporters, many in khaki pants and white polo shorts and chanting "Jews will not replace us." A counterdemonstration then was followed by an attack by James Fields Jr. who drove his grey Dodge Challenger car into the crowd whereupon a number of people were severely wounded and Heather Heyer died as Fields drove his car into her. Few of the millions of people that watched this drama unfold on their TV (and other) screens will have realized that the "will not replace us" refers to the grand replacement conspiracy theory that white people will be systematically replaced. According to political scientist Jean-Yves Camus and historian Nicolas Lebourg, the Jewish plot was a reason for its broader success.
Having until then escaped the attention of the political establishment Richard Spencer's response to Trump’s election victory had been to bring an audience of around 100 followers of different far-right groups to Washington DC where he delivered a speech culminating in the words, Hail Trump.
Spencer has argued that he’s not a white supremacist but merely has a sense of white pride. This is hard to square those claims, however, with what Spencer has said in the past. He has argued that black and Latino people have lower average IQs than white people and are genetically predisposed to commit crimes, views that aren’t backed by actual evidence. And at times, Spencer has explicitly argued that he believes white people are superior.
“I think there is something within the European soul that we haven’t been able to measure yet and maybe we never will,” Spencer told Mother Jones, “and that is a Faustian drive or spirit, a drive to explore, a drive to dominate, a drive to live one’s life dangerously … a drive to explore outer space and the universe. I think there is something within us that we possess and that only we possess.”: Meet the white nationalist trying to ride the Trump
But while thus definitely fascist-inflected Spencer's initial intention was not merely to be another of Neo-Nazism but perceived himself as being closer to the tradition of Alain de Benoist and the French New Right. It this context it is also notable that Spencer's wife translated the works of Alexander Dugin who similarly claims to be an Integral Traditionalist.
Since then, however, Spencer increasingly came to be associated with white nationalist websites and groups, including Andrew Anglin's Daily Stormer, Brad Griffin's Occidental Dissent, and Matthew Heimbach's Traditionalist Worker Party. In 2015 it attracted broader public attention, particularly through coverage on Steve Bannon's Breitbart News, due to the above-noted support for Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. And in July this year (2019) he was interviewed on CNN.
The great replacement and the new language of hate
Assured of the supremacy of his race and frustrated by the inferiority of his achievements, he binges online for hours every day, self-medicating, slowly sipping a cocktail of rage. He gradually gains acceptance in this online birthing den of self-described “lone wolves,” but he gets no relief, no practical remedies, no suggestions to improve his circumstances. He just gets angrier.
And then he gets a gun.
It is a myth that racist killers hide in the shadows. Investigators found that most offenders openly advocated their ideology online, often obsessively posting on racist forums and blogs for hours every day.
The great replacement can generally be understood as two core beliefs. The first is that “western” identity is under siege by massive waves of immigration from non-European/non-white countries, resulting in a replacement of white European individuals via demographics. The second is that replacement has been orchestrated by a shadowy group as part of their grand plan to rule the world, which they will do by creating a completely racially homogenous society. This group is often overtly identified as being Jews, but sometimes the antisemitism is more implicit.
Thus alleged killers in Christchurch, New Zealand; Poway, California; and El Paso, Texas believed in this theory that claims white people are being “replaced” by people of color through mass immigration. Conspiracy theorists often falsely claim this is a deliberate effort by any number of groups demonized on the far right: liberals, Democrats, Jews, Muslims. It’s the theory peddled by white supremacist groups seeking recruits and the torch-bearing marchers in Charlottesville two years ago. It’s also a thinly disguised, and often not disguised, talking point from some conservative politicians and pundits.
Despite is recent proliferation, the great replacement theory was first popularized decades ago in the 1973 novel Le Camp des Saints (The Camp of the Saints) by Jean Raspail, a vastly influential book in contemporary white supremacist discourse.
In this work of speculative fiction, Raspail paints an apocalyptic picture of the complete collapse of all western society and culture stemming from a “tidal wave” of immigration from the “third world”. Over the course of the 20th century, the theory proliferated in different white supremacist and ethno-exclusion spaces. It was in 2010, however, that the great replacement theory truly took flight.
The white supremacist Renard Camus introduced the term in his book De l’Innocence, warning of the replacement of white Europeans by peoples coming from the Middle East and North Africa. This is the text that influences much of the white supremacist discourse that we see today, and fuels the growing identitarian movement around the world. Identitarians advocate for an ethnically and racially heterogeneous world; they believe that racial mixing (ie sex and reproduction between people of different races) weakens the fabric of our society and is an imminent threat to the stability of majority-white, western nations, as well as the world.
This idea is echoed by the El Paso shooter, who writes that he is “against race mixing because it destroys genetic diversity and creates identity problems ... Cultural diversity diminishes as stronger and/or more appealing cultures overtake weaker and/or desirable ones.” Thus identitarians point to the great replacement as both a direct threat and a key motivator.
Though the idea began in Europe, it has certainly found fertile ground for xenophobia and racism in the United States. Popularized by far-right social media personalities who populate the darker corners of YouTube, Reddit, Gab and even Twitter (I won’t be naming or linking to them, so as to prevent amplification but you can read this report instead), the great replacement theory has taken root in the USA.
In the memo believed to have been written by the El Paso shooter, he wrote: “I can no longer bear the shame of inaction knowing that our founding fathers have endowed me with the rights needed to save our country from the brink of destruction. Our European comrades don’t have the gun rights needed to repel the millions of invaders that plaque [sic] their country. They have no choice but to sit by and watch their countries burn.”
Though it is difficult to write about without giving a platform to these mass shooters and their ideas, it is important to understand precisely what beliefs are galvanizing many of the mass shootings we are seeing today. It is important to understand that white replacement is a trans-national idea and discourse, influencing killers from Germany to New Zealand, to here in the US. It is a widespread fear of ethnic replacement, shifting to suit the context of the place in which is presents. In the US, that is a fear of ethnic replacement by migrants from South and Central America. It is also made much more deadly by the US’s epidemic of available guns – which has led to 251 mass shootings in 2019 alone.
The great replacement is a deadly conspiracy – as well as one that is immensely popular on social media and among fearmongers like Tucker Carlson, whether it is overtly referred to or merely dog-whistled.
The US has its own identitarian movement now, the hate group Identity Evropa, and the great replacement theory has become immensely popular among a breadth of rightwing hate groups. The phrase “Jews will not replace us!”, chanted by neo-Nazis at Charlottesville, was in direct reference to the belief that white replacement is being orchestrated by a shadowy Jewish elite.
One of the reasons that the great replacement theory was able to take hold so firmly in the US was because of the history of white replacement conspiracies here. The US has its own theory, called the “white genocide” conspiracy, which came about in the Reconstruction-era after the abolition of slavery and constitutes a belief that the US is on the brink of a “race war”, in which freed slaves would rise up and kill their former masters. This belief has cropped up again and again throughout the 20th century (perhaps you will remember it from the Manson family murders), and most recently has been expressed in the manifestos of white supremacist killers like Dylann Roof and Frazier Glenn Miller.
The gap between the two theories, however, is closing. As white replacement theory propagates online (galvanized by anti-immigrant rhetoric from far-right populists the world over, from Trump to Hungary’s Viktor Orbán), so does the belief in an all-encompassing “white, European identity” in need of saving. This is not a purely US-based conspiracy, but rather a call to arms to protect what is seen as the white race on a trans-national level.
That America is becoming more diverse is well documented. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that racial and ethnic minorities will outnumber white people in 25 years. That the tide of white nationalism is on the rise is also well documented. In 2015, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented 892 hate groups across the nation. In 2018, there were 1,015, a 14% increase in just three years. However, today fears of violence take on a new significance in an era of mass shooters with military-style weapons.
Nationally, the rhetoric turned against the shooter’s apparent motivations but not always clearly. At the White House Monday, President Donald Trump said, “Our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated.” But the same day, Trump tweeted that the shootings could help lead to “desperately needed immigration reform.”
Trump’s claim that it is a question of mental illness has however been disproven, as seen above, the problem is one of radicalization, the growing tendency for people to seriously entertain paranoiac conspiracy theories, apocalyptic visions and calls for political revolution, and then ultimately commit acts of terrorism. For those who study the psychology and organization of radical movements, the above mentioned manifestos and other writings are vital first-person narratives, critical evidence of extremist thinking and the issues that motivate the violent fringe. We can’t stop the spread of this disease unless we understand it.
Whereby the answer is obvious: restrict the ownership of certain types of guns, as New Zealand did after the shootings in Christchurch, and introduce proper background checks. Such measures will not prevent all gun deaths. The constitution will not be rewritten and too many weapons are in circulation. Yet given the number of fatalities, even a 5% reduction would save many innocent lives. Mass shootings in America have become like deforestation in Brazil or air pollution in China, a man, made an environmental hazard that is hard to stop.
So what is next?
There is no longer any question of whether the country is facing the rise of domestic white supremacist terrorists. The question is how far they will go.
While the United States has been focused on the trafficking of nuclear and radiological materials abroad, experts at the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) have argued that the threat of dangerous radiological materials being used in America’s own backyard is “just as serious.”
With a wide variety of civilian uses, including in the medical, industrial, and research fields, radiological materials rated by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as Category 1 threats, such as cesium-137, cobalt-60, and strontium-90, are left relatively unguarded. These materials could be used to contaminate a major U.S. city with devastating consequences.
That is what makes these devices so attractive to modern terrorist organizations. The Islamic State declared its intent to get its hands on a nuclear device in its propaganda magazine Dabiq. Al Qaeda trained the domestic terrorist José Padilla in Egypt and Afghanistan and then sent him back to the United States to detonate a dirty bomb.
The budding nationalist white supremacist terrorist movement in the United States is no different. Consider the case of the “All-American Nazis.” Four neo-Nazi roommates lived together until one of them converted to Islam and shot two others for disrespecting his religion. The double homicide shed light on an organization called Atomwaffen (German for “nuclear weapons”). Devon Arthurs, the convert to Islam, described Atomwaffen as a terrorist group that had 60-70 members nationwide and planned bombing attacks on synagogues and nuclear plants. Brandon Russell, the roommate who wasn’t home at the time of the argument, had been collecting thorium since the 10th grade. These are not isolated incidents; in 2004 and 2013, the FBI arrested two white supremacists interested in acquiring and detonating a dirty bomb.
Moreover, these are not “lone wolves.” They are part of an extremist network bound by white supremacist ideology, far-right hate, and online indoctrination. And there is no shortage of evidence that they want to acquire their own radioactive weapons.
When it comes to public knowledge about dirty bombs, there are a lot of misconceptions. An RDD does not have to be a bomb; it could be a radiological material in a crop duster or any other tool that can disperse the material. Positioned correctly, even wind itself could disperse a radiological material like cesium-137, which is a powder in its most common form.
During the research for this article, I came also across different bodies in Europe that discuss related subjects one of them being the European Commission against racism and intolerance round tables.