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The Great Replacement Theory Is Just Republican Orthodoxy Now

The vile conspiracy that led to a mass shooting in Buffalo has been normalized by leaders on the right.

New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik speaks during a Congressional hearing.
Joshua Roberts/Pool/Getty Images
New York Republican Representative Elise Stefanik

One of the most horrific things about the lengthy, vile manifesto posted online by the gunman who murdered 10 people in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, is just how familiar this script has become. Not so long ago, the “great replacement theory”—a racist conspiracy that posits that Democrats and other elites are bringing nonwhite foreigners into the United States for the purpose of destroying the white race—was a fringe idea, something you would only encounter in the nether reaches of the internet. In recent years, it has become not only a key narrative within the right-wing media ecosystem—from 4-Chan and Breitbart to Fox News—but an idea increasingly embraced by Republican leaders. 

No one has done more to mainstream the great replacement theory than Tucker Carlson, the perpetually be-sneered Fox News host. A recent New York Times investigation found that he had devoted hundreds of segments on his show—more than 400 in total—to the idea that “Democratic politicians and other assorted elites want to force demographic change through immigration.” His inspiration? It often, the Times pointed out today, came from the same places as the Buffalo gunman’s sources—racist corners of the internet devoted to smearing immigrants as filthy criminals. Carlson has flirted with openly embracing the theory for years—even after a mass shooter in New Zealand killed more than 50 in events after espousing similar views. Last year, Carlson openly began pushing the idea, saying 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.”

Carlson’s embrace of this paranoid fantasia is part of his larger project of accusing Democrats and elites of manufacturing crises that they can exploit to their own ends. It’s also about ensuring that his audience keeps coming back for more. His show routinely uses segments about crime—involving, for instance, the violent gang MS-13—as a way of arguing that Democrats are purposefully putting the lives of Americans—white Americans, he rarely needs to underline—in danger for their own malicious and hidden ends. These fears keep viewers engaged, with political violence as a by-product. 

Carlson is hardly alone, even if he has done far more than other mainstream figures to normalize the great replacement theory. Matt Gaetz, the perpetually scandal-plagued Florida Republican, tweeted that Carlson was “CORRECT about Replacement Theory as he explains what is happening to America.” J.D. Vance, currently running for the Senate in Ohio, made similar comments, arguing that Democrats were trying to bring about “a shift in the democratic makeup of this country” and that they were purposefully allowing fentanyl into the U.S. “to kill a bunch of MAGA voters in the middle of the heartland.” 

Elise Stefanik, the number three Republican in the House, accused Democrats of launching a “PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION”—of opening the borders so that undocumented immigrants could vote for them—last September. On Monday, she lashed out at critics in a screed of her own, accusing them of twisting her words. But in the same statement, she lambasted Democrats for supporting “mass amnesty and voting rights for illegals”—exactly the kind of conspiracy that motivated this most recent mass murder. 

Those who push and normalize the great replacement theory will typically insist that they are opposed to violence and that they are not racist; they’ll certainly disavow what happened in Buffalo to some degree. Carlson will likely lead his show on Monday with some variation on this narrative: that the left is once again making him into a bogeyman, that he has no responsibility for violence—which he does not condone—that he is simply telling his audience the truth, which is that immigrants really are taking over the country and that they’re doing so to advance the dastardly interests of the Democratic Party. 

Whether for ratings or votes, these ideas are now central to the Republican Party’s political messaging: that they are the one thing holding the country back from total chaos; that voting for Democrats will inevitably lead to policy shifts that will, in quick succession, lead to the downfall of the white race. This is the brunt of the political message that half of Republican voters have adopted, thanks in large part to the efforts of figures like Carlson and other Republicans: Ideas that were once shunned are now the foundation of the party’s platform; the best way to turn voters out in November is to ensure that they’re scared out of their minds.  

That fear is now so central to the right’s political might that it cannot be put aside, even after something as horrible as what happened in Buffalo on Saturday. That is exactly where that fear leads: to hatred and violence and bloodshed. Anyone who says otherwise is evading responsibility, though we may be well past the point of holding those who perpetuate great replacement theory, whether in whispers or in declamations, to account. The great replacement theory is here to stay. It’s practically a plank in the GOP platform.