What is great replacement theory, and why is it terrifying

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Last week I read a headline about a Nebraska Republican defending a six-week abortion ban because white people were being replaced. After checking that I had read it correctly, I wanted to know more. In his statement, Senator Steve Erdman was referring to the “Great Replacement Theory.” The theory, based in eugenics and white supremacy, states that white people are being purposefully replaced by people of color.

These ideas more than a century in extremist groups — it was championed by Hitler in Nazi-Germany, and has been part of the rhetoric of the Ku Klux Klan for a long time. This idea persisted in neo-Nazi and neo-Confederate groups, then moved online into alt-right communities, and now has entered mainstream culture and politics.

The term "great replacement" was popularized by French writer Renaud Camus in his 2011 essay stating that white Europeans were being replaced by Muslim immigrants. It gained popularity in U.S. mainstream media after white nationalists, perhaps offended by being perceived as “white trash,” developed a pseudoscientific explanation for their racism. In America, Great Replacement Theory focuses on Jews as the mastermind behind white replacement. It states — bear with me — that Jews have evolved to be smarter and more controlling than native-born Americans. They are tricking white women into having babies with people of color and tricking white men to become transgender to make the population less white and easier to control.

At the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, North Carolina, attendants chanted “you will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us.” Tactics like these are used to attract young supporters. They also spread fear of immigrants, attacks on white freedom, and anti-Christian sentiment — all common talking points of mainstream republicans. The end motive is to gain political power, and by spreading watered-down versions of their ideologies, they are able to achieve it.

White supremacy is the natural conclusion of Trumpism. Trump himself told the Proud Boys, a militant far-right group, to “stand back and stand by” during the 2020 presidential debates instead of condemning them. They received that as a statement of endorsement, and say it led to an increase in participants.

Examples of these ideas spreading in popular consciousness are everywhere. Tucker Carlson, a Fox News anchor, discussed how the Democratic party is importing people from the third world to be “more obedient voters” in an effort “to replace the current electorate.” White nationalists write books and articles explaining how white people evolved to have higher IQs and commit less crimes. By claiming these differences are evolutionary and not based on systemic oppression and racism they undermine government efforts to increase diversity and equality.

These ideas are also the basis of a lot of far-right politics, bringing us back to what pulled me into this terrifying subculture: the Nebraska Senator supporting abortion bans as a tactic to increase white births to counteract immigration. Ironically, abortion bans disproportionately affect people of color, which suggests that banning abortion will only increase the birthrate of people of color — but that isn’t the point. Their lack of logical consistency isn't an aberration, it's half the point; There is nothing rational or fact-based about white replacement theory. It's an ideology entirely based entirely on fear and the perception of a threat, and people can use it to defend whatever backwards policies they want. The fact that an elected official is able to stand up and openly admit that replacement theory is his motivator for policy making foreshadows a grim future, one that I am terrified of.