The Great Replacement Theory Explained
Although it started out as a fringe theory mostly espoused by white supremacists, The Great Replacement Theory (“GRT”) has quickly moved into the mainstream, becoming a dangerous and deadly part of our national conversation surrounding race. Because of what the theory believes, anyone who espouses GRT is necessarily a white supremacist.
In essence, this theory dictates that immigrants from other countries are “invading” America under the active encouragement of political forces aligned with the Democratic Party. According to people who espouse the GRT, the goal is to allow immigrants into the U.S. who are non-white because they will be more likely to vote Democratic.GRT stereotypes non-white voters and implies that those voters will somehow strip away privileges and rights that GRT proponents believe the white majority in this country are entitled to.
First proffered by the white supremacist movement, this theory is the latest variant of their long-held beliefs in an impending “white genocide.” And as with the tenets of those long-held beliefs, GRT believers have no evidence or facts to support GRT, and it is completely without merit. The dangerous problem is that this once fringe conspiracy theory has made its way into mainstream media to propagate and instill fear and division at a time when this nation desperately needs unity.
How It Has Spread
The ecosystem of information, and the very ways in which we communicate and interpret the world around us, have undergone a seismic shift in the last few years. This change has been so rapid that those in the communications field are still trying to map out the new rules. Even the World Health Organization has begun looking into this shift, calling this moment in our history an “Infodemic,” where falsehoods spread like a virus amid a torrent of media, drowning out the truth.
Many of these falsehoods take the form of conspiracy theories, incubating in dark corners of the Internet before spreading through social media, private chat apps, Fox news talk shows such as Tucker Carlson, and fringe news organizations. While conspiracy theories have been around for decades, from the moon landing to the JFK assassination to 9/11, they have until recently stayed outside the bounds of public plausibility.
But in recent years, conventional news organizations have pushed these conspiracy theories into the mainstream to increase their ratings and push certain propaganda. Like the “birther” movement which promoted the theory that President Obama was not an American citizen, these theories have made the jump from the web to people’s television sets. And much like the birther movement, replacement theory is difficult to refute with facts or real-world evidence, no matter how overwhelming, because the very nature of the conspiracy theory is one that defies reason. In the philosophy of conspiracy, “facts” are almost always planted by powerful figures to mislead to get their way. Evidence is just the wool that’s pulled over the eyes of the unsuspecting.
And there is a profit to be made from spreading these theories. For the news organizations that spread these lies, there are huge ratings to be had and a following to be gained from viewers who think they are the only outlet who “tells the truth.” Time and time again, we see pundits spreading conspiracy theories about mass shootings being “false flag” operations by the government or offering up a watered-down form of replacement theory. When confronted with facts, they simply they are “just asking questions” while offering a sly wink to their audience.
For the politicians, these theories offer a way to bolster their base. As these baseless theories spread, they divide. In one camp, “true believers” are ready to follow whichever leader agrees with them. In the other camp, everyone else. Whereas you and I might simply see neighbors divided, ambitious politicians see potential voting blocs. They need only believe in the same theories as their base (or pretend to) and they have secured a large group of highly motivated supporters.
Why It’s Dangerous
At the very least, the divisions these theories create foster a sense of tribalism that can spill out into violence. Whether it’s a mass shooting at a church in South Carolina and a supermarket in Buffalo, or a mob of people storming the United States Capitol, there are real-world conflicts that spring out of these online theories. And these conflicts can quickly turn deadly.
But that tribalism is just one consequence. When it comes to replacement theory, the effects can be far-reaching, fueling racism and adding to the difficulties of non-white immigrants. Since the theory specifically deals with a perceived “invasion” by immigrants and people of color, they are by extension perceived as part of the problem. Even if they aren’t aware of the grand conspiracy, they are theoretically a part of, these people can find themselves under attack by those who subscribe to this false notion.
And those attacks can be quite literal, reflected in a rise of hate crimes that has dovetailed with the rise of replacement theory. Just as attacks against Asian-Americans rose following baseless theories about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, attacks against all immigrants and people of color rise whenever replacement theory rears its head.
And the effects go far beyond that. The physical assaults that come with these hate crimes engender long-lasting negative impacts on the health and mental wellbeing of children and adolescents. Growing up on the wrong side of this conspiracy theory has had a measurable impact on stress levels, causing depression and a sense of hopelessness among already marginalized communities.
What Can Be Done?
On a grand scale, more needs to be done to understand the new rules of communication and educate the public on their own media savvy. Starting at the earliest levels, we should be arming young people with the tools they need to carefully consider the intent behind the things they read or watch online and who might gain from manipulating them with this information.
We also need to foster a greater sense of communication among everyone, young and old alike. The danger in these conspiracy theories lies in their divisiveness, closing off avenues for discussion between those on either side. We need to encourage people to really listen to each other without immediate judgment or criticism, discuss their views rationally and impartially, and help each other recognize their own unconscious beliefs or biases that are leading to more division among fellow neighbors, friends, family, and communities.
Finally, and most importantly, GRT needs to be called out in all of its forms, for only when people confront and address systemic racism and white supremacy can we fix our broken criminal legal system. This open approach to the truth is one of our vital missions at the Fair Fight Initiative. Our advocacy and awareness campaigns aim to shine a light on injustice within our society. Through crowdfunding, we provide litigation and community advocacy to help people seek justice.
Fair Fight relies on financial support from the public to continue the fight against systemic racism and the broken system of justice in America. We ask everyone to consider donating to the Fair Fight Initiative. Your gift will be used to allow us to continue our fight against racism and white supremacy, and for justice in our country.
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