It was in August of 2017 that the torch-bearing mob in Charlottesville, Virginia marched and chanted “Jews will not replace us.”
Sines v. Kessler is a civil case growing out of that episode; it was brought against two dozen neo-Nazis and white nationalist groups who organized the 2017 Unite the Right rally. There are nine plaintiffs, including people who were injured when James Alex Fields Jr., a white supremacist, drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters and killed Heather Heyer, 32. He injured at least 19 others.
The New York Times had a recent update on those proceedings. The article focused on the testimony of Deborah E. Lipstadt, a renowned Holocaust scholar, who linked the chant to the history of Nazi anti-Semitism.
The plaintiffs, who seek unspecified damages, say they want to show Americans how the chants of the marchers are connected to other forms of racism and have gained a renewed foothold in American politics. Dr. Lipstadt declined to comment for this article — attorneys for the plaintiffs barred her from interviews before her testimony — but in a 48-page report she prepared for the trial, she wrote that “this fear of active replacement by the Jew, derived directly from the historical underpinnings of antisemitism, is a central feature of contemporary antisemitism.”
“Two animuses — racism and antisemitism — come together in the concept of a ‘white genocide’ or ‘white replacement’ theory,” Dr. Lipstadt wrote in the report. “According to adherents of this theory, the Jews’ accomplices or lackeys in this effort are an array of people of color, among them Muslims and African Americans.”
The Right-wingers who marched in Charlottesville were protesting the removal of Confederate monuments. They did so while “wearing and displaying Nazi symbols, waving Confederate flags and chanting slogans associated with the Third Reich.”
But since then, their animating ideology, great replacement theory — the false idea that religious and racial minorities are bent on eradicating white Christians or replacing them in society — has moved from the fringes to the mainstream, Dr. Lipstadt and civil rights groups say.
Replacement theory has joined–and supported– conspiracy theories about voting fraud, about Jewish “globalists,” and warnings of “invasions” by black and brown immigrants. The theory has been endorsed by Fox News commentators, by Republican members of Congress and–unsurprisingly–by former President Donald Trump, who insisted that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the chaos in Charlottesville. According to the Times, perpetrators of at least three mass shootings since 2017 have expressed belief in replacement theory.
In April, Fox News host Tucker Carlson espoused replacement theory on air. “The left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term ‘replacement,’ if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the third world,” Mr. Carlson said on the broadcast. “That’s what’s happening actually. Let’s just say it: That’s true.”
Carlson’s comments have been echoed by Ron Johnson, Republican Senator from Wisconsin, as well as by several Republican members of the House of Representatives, including the odious Matt Gaetz, lending the idea of “replacement” a faux legitimacy.
“There’s this kind of hate laundering that takes place, where fringe ideas move from the margins into the mainstream laundered by pundits, political candidates or even elected officials as if they are some kind of legitimate discourse,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, said in an interview.
Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism have persisted on both the political right and the far left, and have provided impetus for bigotries targeting other groups.
“When expressions of contempt for one group become normative, it is virtually inevitable that similar hatred will be directed at other groups,” Dr. Lipstadt wrote in “Antisemitism: Here and Now,” her 2019 book about the resurgence of antisemitism in different guises. “Even if anti-Semites were to confine their venom to Jews, the existence of Jew-hatred within a society is an indication that something about the entire society is amiss.”
I keep coming back to that speech in An American President, in which the film’s fictional President describes his opponent as someone who is “not in the least interested in solving your problems–he only wants to make you fear them and tell you who to blame for them.” Those lines are more relevant than ever.
Replacement theory is somewhat more sophisticated than space lasers funded by George Soros, but the intended effect is the same: to make White Christian Americans fear Jews and people of color, and blame them for whatever is going wrong in their lives.