When the torchbearers of Charlottesville yelled “Jews will not replace us,” they were actually doing a bit of translation. The infamous phrase was based on an idea that took hold in France, gained traction in Austria, had deep roots in violent American white supremacist thinking, and has been supercharged by social media in multiple languages and forms.
The Great Replacement Theory, or the White Replacement Theory, catapulted back into the headlines earlier this month when Tucker Carlson of Fox News espoused it on prime-time television.
“This is a voting rights question,” Carlson said. “I have less political power because they’re importing a brand-new electorate. Why should I sit back and take that? The power that I have as an American guaranteed at birth is one man, one vote and they’re diluting it. No, they are not allowed to do that. Why are we putting up with this?”
That prompted Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, to take the rare step of calling for Carlson’s removal in a letter to Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott.
“At ADL, we believe in dialogue and giving people a chance to redeem themselves, but Carlson’s full-on embrace of the white supremacist replacement theory on yesterday’s show and his repeated allusions to racist themes in past segments are a bridge too far,” Greenblatt wrote.
Carlson’s comments are far from original. His invocation of “importing a brand-new electorate” was originally “le grand remplacement,” the title of a 2011 book by Renaud Camus—no relation to Albert Camus.
The “replacement theory” posits that white European populations are being deliberately replaced as an ethnic and cultural power through the planned migration and subsequent growth of minority communities. And it suggests that this is happening around the globe.
“Camus believes that all Western countries are faced with varying degrees of “ethnic and civilizational substitution,”’ Thomas Chatterton Williams wrote in The New Yorker.
This belief has been linked to mass murders like the Tree of Life shooting and the New Zealand mosques.
Interestingly, languages are part of this conspiracy theory.
According to Chatterton Williams, Camus “points to the increasing prevalence of Spanish, and other foreign languages, in the United States as evidence of the same phenomenon. Although his arguments are scarcely available in translation, they have been picked up by right-wing and white-nationalist circles throughout the English-speaking world.”
The Great Replacement Theory has gotten a lot of gasoline from social media. “We identified around 1.5 million tweets referencing the Great Replacement theory between April 2012 and April 2019 in English, French and German language,” Jacob Davey and Julia Ebner of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue wrote in a research paper on the subject. “The volume of tweets steadily increased in the seven years leading up to the Christchurch attack, with the number of tweets mentioning the theory nearly tripling in four years from just over 120,000 in 2014 to just over 330,000 in 2018.”
The theory is more popular in some languages than others.
Davey and Ebner found that, though the theory was discussed most in France, “English-speaking countries account for 32.76 percent of online discussion around it.”
When the search is expanded to words that are synonyms for the “Replacement Theory,” the situation becomes more chilling.
“We found over 540,000 tweets using the term ‘remigration’ between April 2012 and April 2019,” Davey and Ebner wrote. “This concept calls for forced deportations of minority communities and essentially represents a soft form of ethnic cleansing. Since 2014, the volume of tweets about remigration has surged and reached broader audiences, rising from 66,000 tweets in 2014 to 150,000 tweets in 2018.”
So who is orchestrating this “grand replacement?” For many conspiracy theorists, that answer is simple — Jews.
Here is where the European branch of this conspiracy theory appears to intersect with American white supremacy, which has Jew-hatred as one of its tenets.
The term “white genocide” can be traced to the infamous white supremacist David Lane.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Lane was a member of the terrorist group The Order, which was responsible for the 1984 assassination of Jewish radio host Alan Berg and many other crimes. Lane became even more of a movement icon after penning what rapidly became the best-known slogan of the U.S. white supremacist movement, the so-called “14 Words” (“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White children.”)
Lane was sentenced to a total of 190 years for his crimes as a member of The Order. But despite that prison sentence, we are now hearing permutations of his hateful thoughts once again.
The Great White Replacement conspiracy theory is clearly built on a foundation of antisemitism. It is also blatantly racist and virulently anti-immigrant. But at its core, it is a deeply sexist movement focused on women’s bodies.
“For people in the white power movement, everything is framed through reproduction and gender,” Kathleen Belew, a history professor at the University of Chicago told Nellie Bowles of The New York Times.
White supremacists believe that male power is in decline because women are reluctant to reproduce.
“As far-right groups have grown across the world, many of their members have insisted that the most pressing concern is falling birthrates,” Bowles writes. “That concern, which they see as an existential threat, has led to arguments about how women are working instead of raising families. The groups blame feminism, giving rise to questions that were unheard-of a decade ago — like, whether women should have the right to work and vote at all.”
Jessica Valenti, author of six books on feminism, uses the term “misogynist terrorism.”
“Despite a great deal of evidence that connects the dots between these mass killers and radical misogynist groups, we still largely refer to the attackers as ‘lone wolves’ — a mistake that ignores the preventable way these men’s fear and anger are deliberately cultivated and fed online,” Valenti wrote in The New York Times.
It’s certainly worth noting that Carlson has also made comments about women in the military, and specifically, women’s bodies, that were condemned by the Pentagon.
“When Fox News host Tucker Carlson called military efforts to better integrate women a “mockery” of the warrior ethos, pointing out a new pregnancy flight suit and more flexible hairstyle rules, Pentagon leaders mounted an unusually sharp public counterattack,” Missy Ryan reported in March in the Washington Post.
And in a signal that social media is the new battleground, high-ranking Pentagon officials took to Twitter to register their immediate disavowal of Carlson’s comments.
“America’s female troops “will dominate ANY future battlefield we’re called to fight on,” Michael Grinston, the U.S. Army’s top enlisted official, wrote on Twitter in a retort to Carlson’s grousing about a more “feminine” military.
There is a terrifying historical precedent for this extreme focus on women’s bodies.
The idea that women’s fertility needs to be harnessed to promote “racially pure” nationalism is a cornerstone of Nazi ideology. The Lebensborn was an SS program designed to propagate Aryan traits, and many children found out decades later that their fathers were high-ranking SS officers.
This program was spearheaded by none other than Heinrich Himmler, who, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, “encouraged SS and Wehrmacht officers to have children with Aryan women.”
“The purpose of this society,” the Jewish Virtual Library writes, “was to offer to young girls who were deemed ‘racially pure’ the possibility to give birth to a child in secret. The child was then given to the SS organization which took charge in the child’s education and adoption.”
Of course, the Nazi focus on controlling women’s bodies for the purpose of creating the population makeup they desired was not unique and did not end with the Nazi defeat. Other dictators, like Josef Stalin and Nicolae Ceaușescu, also tried this tactic. “The foetus is the property of the entire society,” Ceaușescu was quoted as saying in The Guardian.
All of this history — and the people who paid the price — should be in our minds as we hear the Great Replacement Theory on prime-time television.
When men marched with lit torches chanting,“Jews will not replace us” on a major American college campus, it was a huge and unforgettable warning. With the Great Replacement Theory now discussed openly on primetime American television, we are witnessing the platforming of a melding of racist and sexist ideology, powered by anti-immigrant sentiment and virulent antisemitism — and it is a combination that is increasingly comfortable in the public eye.
This is one conspiracy theory that has gone global, which is what makes it especially dangerous.
Popular in multiple countries and multiple languages, revived and reinvigorated by social media, it morphs to accommodate headlines like voting rights and fertility rates — and it seems to thrive with time and translation.
Aviya Kushner is The Forward’s language columnist and the author of The Grammar of God (Spiegel & Grau) and the forthcoming Wolf Lamb Bomb (Orison Books.) Follow her on Twitter @AviyaKushner