Tag Archives: Replacement theory

How Deep It Goes

I left the Republican Party in 2000, but for several years after my departure I held to the belief that the changes I’d seen–the growing radicalization and disregard for evidence that concerned me–remained an essentially fringe phenomenon. Yes, the fringe was growing; yes, it was exerting a troubling amount of control over the reasonable folks who still were in the majority, but it wasn’t (I fondly believed) a wholesale abandonment of sanity and reason in service of bigotry.

I was wrong.

There are undoubtedly people who remain part of the GOP from inertia, or denial, but it is no longer possible to view the Republican Party as anything but a threat to American liberty and equality. In the wake of the horrific massacre in Buffalo, Dana Milbank described the GOP’s transformation from a traditional political party to a White Nationalist cult. He cited statistics for the proposition that the problem–the moral rot– goes “well beyond the rhetoric of a few Republican officials and opinion leaders. Elected Republicans haven’t merely inspired far-right extremists. They have become far-right extremists.”

The study, released on Friday by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, a decades-old group that tracks right-wing extremism, found that more than 1 in 5 Republican state legislators in the United States were affiliated with far-right groups. The IREHR (which conducted a similar study with the NAACP in 2010 on racism within the tea party) cross-referenced the personal, campaign and official Facebook profiles of all 7,383 state legislators in the United States during the 2021-22 legislative period with thousands of far-right Facebook groups. The researchers found that 875 legislators — all but three of them Republicans — were members of one or more of 789 far-right Facebook groups. That works out to 22 percent of all Republican state legislators.

I haven’t had time to access the study to ascertain how many of those state-level legislators are members of Indiana’s Statehouse, but I’m sure the number is significant.

The numbers reported are hair-raising enough, but the study excluded from its definition of far-right groups what it called “historically mainstream conservative groups” such as the National Rifle Association and even pro-Trump and MAGA groups. It included  contemporary iterations of the tea party and selected antiabortion and Second Amendment groups, white nationalists, neo-Confederates and sovereign citizen organizations that claim to be exempt from U.S. law.

In other words, the study looked only at the most radical of the reactionary groups.

Arguably, then, the study understates the true overlap between state-level Republican legislators and the far right. (Also, for obvious reasons, researchers couldn’t count legislators who belong to the several extremist groups that keep their memberships secret.)

Some of these far-right figures already have high profiles. ProPublica last fall identified 48 Republican state and local government officials — including 10 sitting state lawmakers — on the membership roster of the Oath Keepers, a militant extremist group. One Arizona state senator, Wendy Rogers, gained national attention for a speech to a white-nationalist conference in February during which she called for violence. Her remarks to the gathering (which Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) also addressed) earned her a rebuke by her fellow GOP state senators but proved to be a fundraising bonanza.

Proponents of “replacement theory” have been growing in number since Fox News’s Tucker Carlson has been championing the claim.

Though based in actual demographic trends — Americans of color will gradually become a majority in coming decades — “Great Replacement” holds that Democrats and the left are conspiring by nefarious means to supplant White people.

This idea, expressed by the alleged Buffalo killer (11 of the gunman’s 13 victims were Black), has found support from Stefanik (N.Y.), the No. 3 House Republican. She accused Democrats of “a PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION” in the form of an immigration amnesty plan that would “overthrow our current electorate.”

Variations of this have been heard from Republicans such as: Rep. Scott Perry (Pa.), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus (“we’re replacing … native-born Americans to permanently transform the political landscape”); Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin (Democrats “want to remake the demographics of America to ensure … that they stay in power forever”); Rep. Gaetz of Florida (Carlson “is CORRECT about Replacement Theory”); Vance, the party’s Senate nominee for Ohio (“Biden’s open border is killing Ohioans, with … more Democrat voters pouring into this country”); and Gingrich, former Republican House speaker (“the anti-American left would love to drown traditional, classic Americans … to get rid of the rest of us”).

It’s one thing to name (and–one hopes–shame) the highly visible Republicans promoting this racist bilge, but they aren’t the real problem. The real, very scary problem is that these  people are garnering votes and winning elections.

The real problem is the rank-and-file Republicans who support them.

Fear Of” Replacement”

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.