“Great Replacement” is trying to make foot soldiers for someone else’s war.
My neighbor, Brian, was leaning on the chain link fence that divided our yards as I mowed. I liked Brian. He was affable, gregarious, and had helped me change my tire once. An over-the-road trucker, Brian made more money than most of the people on our block, but he paid for it in long weeks away from home and a bad back.
Our conversation seemed unremarkable, common even. We complained about our greedy bosses, bad wages, and long hours — similar conversations might well have been happening in yards all across our neighborhood. But then Brian leaned in towards me, lowered his voice and said: “There’s going to be a race war.”
I wish I could remember how I responded. I hope it was something smart, something that shut him down or shifted his world view, but honestly I was so shocked I may have just gone back to mow my lawn without saying a word.
I stopped being friendly with Brian. I knew that foul and bigoted ideas like “race war” existed, but mostly in the margins — the stuff of neo-Nazi skinheads and white power bands. It was 2006 and ideas like Brian’s were considered extreme and gross.
Fast forward to today and those same ideas are being mainstreamed in dangerous ways — with murderous results. Four times in as many years, the “great replacement” conspiracy theory has motivated acts of far-right terrorism, including the massacres at Christchurch, the Tree of Life Synagogue, the El Paso Walmart, and, now, at Tops Supermarket in Buffalo.
The suspect in Buffalo left behind a 180 page screed riddled with references to the “great replacement.” Notably, most of his racist spouting don’t appear to be his own. Huge sections of his “manifesto” are copied and pasted from the internet.
What does it mean that an 18-year-old will end the lives of 10 people and ruin his own for borrowed and plagiarized racist conspiracy theories? For poor and working people (and for an enormous swath of the precarious middle class) the “replacement” of white people is being marketed as the reason for our uncertain jobs, dicey savings, and wages that barely cover rent. These conspiracies are not logical or organic explanations for our woes, but they are predatory and plundering.
Today, politicians are exploiting a diversifying country to scare white Americans. In 2016, Michelle Bachman said: “This is it. This is the last election… It’s a math problem of demographics and a changing United States.” In 2017, Steve King said “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” In 2019, Dennis Baxley said of immigrant’s children: “You see that there are long range impacts to your society when the answer is to exterminate.” In 2020, Trump claimed the election was rigged with “illegal immigrant voters.” Huge amounts of corporate money is backing these “replacement theory” politicians and the pundits echoing them (Facing South, May, 2022).
No one has done more to push replacement theory into the mainstream than Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. “I know that the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term ‘replacement,” Carlson said last year, “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. But they become hysterical because that’s what’s happening actually.”
But when Tucker Carlson talks about “replacement” he isn’t fretting about the instability working people — people of all races– are feeling. He’s worried about his own power and the power of people like him who’s wealth and careers rely on a divided working class. He’s cynically deploying conspiracy theories to make foot soldiers for his own interests– not for ours. It was the plantation owners who stood to gain the most by racialized politics in the 1800s, just as it’s the mega-rich and corporations who will gain the most by our destructive tendencies today.
The “migrant caravan” coming towards the border, the “immigrant invasion,” the uproar over Critical Race Theory, statistics circulating about white people becoming a minority– all of this only matters if you think that race is the only thing we have in common. But if we consider our most basic needs– things that are increasing out of reach like healthcare, decent education, good jobs, a healthy environment, affordable housing– then we can understand that deepest connection we have to each other is class. My old neighbor Brian and the terrorist in Buffalo have more in common with who they believe they are at war with than they do with the people — and politics — that turned them out to fight.
The good news is also the bad news: Poor and working class people will never become a minority in this economic structure. Marked by ever increasing inequality, our economy creates very few winners but an incredible number of “losers’ (WEF, 2021). Tucker Carlson stands to lose everything as demographics shift, but working class people have everything to gain. We never have to worry about being “replaced.” Across race, working people are the vast, vast majority. We need to wield, not destroy, our collective power.