Tops Supermarket, Buffalo, N.Y.
Tops Supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., the scene of a mass mur­der over the week­end in which 10 peo­ple were killed in a most­ly-black neigh­bor­hood. By Andre Carrotflower — Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

I’ve been hear­ing a lot about “replace­ment the­o­ry” late­ly. No doubt you have as well. I first heard it men­tioned about five years ago, but it most­ly stayed under my radar until I start­ed hear­ing it again ear­li­er this year. It’s entered the pub­lic con­scious­ness since the trag­ic racial­ly-moti­vat­ed mur­der of ten shop­pers in a Buffalo, N.Y. gro­cery store on Saturday.

I’ve writ­ten about oth­er con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries. Most of them are kooky, and most don’t cause phys­i­cal harm to any­one, at least not direct­ly. This one is insid­i­ous in its com­bi­na­tion of themes, a “great­est hits” of this type of mis­in­for­ma­tion. It checks all the boxes.

Elites run­ning the show. Check.

Stirring up anger or hatred towards cer­tain groups of peo­ple. Check.

Political moti­va­tions. Check.

Overriding sus­pi­cion and mis­trust of author­i­ty. Check.

Assumption of the evil intent of the alleged con­spir­acists. Check.

Playing the vic­tim. Check.

So what is this con­spir­a­cy about? Replacement the­o­ry, also called the grand replace­ment the­o­ry, is a par­tic­u­lar­ly nasty and dan­ger­ous notion. Like oth­er sim­i­lar the­o­ries, there are many vari­a­tions. The most com­mon ver­sion mak­ing the rounds in the U.S.–and the one that seems to have moti­vat­ed the Buffalo shooter–goes some­thing like this:

Democrats in the U.S. (pos­si­bly backed by Jewish pow­er bro­kers) are using immi­gra­tion poli­cies and oth­er tac­tics to “replace” white Americans of European descent with peo­ple of col­or from oth­er coun­ties, most­ly Latin America. Their goal is to cre­ate more vot­ers who will vote for Democrats, there­by dilut­ing the social and polit­i­cal pow­er of conservatives.

Notions such as this have been impli­cat­ed in oth­er racial­ly-moti­vat­ed mass mur­ders world­wide in recent years. There were two such killing sprees at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand; one at a sum­mer camp in Norway; anoth­er at a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina; and yet anoth­er one at a syn­a­gogue in Pittsburgh. 

All of these tar­get­ed peo­ple were minori­ties in their respec­tive communities–either by race, reli­gion, or both. And all of the alleged killers were in some way moti­vat­ed by the idea that their own in-group was being replaced by “oth­ers.”

In recent months, the talk­ing head on Fox News known as Tucker Carlson has been per­haps the most vocal and most promi­nent pro­po­nent of replace­ment the­o­ry in the U.S. Carlson has con­sid­er­able influ­ence over the far-right crowd. His show is the high­est-rat­ed “news” pro­gram on cable TV, and it isn’t even close. 

Carlson’s shtick is to say the most out­ra­geous things on air he and his staff can con­jure up, know­ing it will cre­ate an intense back­lash from pro­gres­sive and main­stream media. Then he fol­lows up on lat­er broad­casts by high­light­ing the back­lash and play­ing the vic­tim card, telling his view­ers that “they hate me, and they hate you.” 

Playing the vic­tim. Check.

But it gets worse. There was a time when ideas as vile and hate­ful as this were to be avoid­ed by seri­ous politi­cians and elect­ed offi­cials. Not so today. 

Florida Republican Matt Gaetz tweet­ed that Carlson was “CORRECT about Replacement Theory as he explains what is hap­pen­ing to America.”

Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Republican leader in the House, accused Democrats of launch­ing a “PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION.” She was refer­ring to bor­der poli­cies she claimed encour­aged undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants to enter the coun­try to vote for Dems.

Then there’s J.D. Vance, whose pre­vi­ous claim to fame was writ­ing the “blame the vic­tim” screed Hillbilly Elegy. After receiv­ing Donald Trump’s endorse­ment, he won his par­ty’s Ohio pri­ma­ry for a U.S. Senate seat and will prob­a­bly win that seat in the fall gen­er­al elec­tion. During his cam­paign, Vance charged that Democrats were try­ing to ush­er in a “shift in the demo­c­ra­t­ic make­up of this coun­try” and inten­tion­al­ly allowed fen­tanyl into the U.S. “to kill a bunch of MAGA vot­ers in the mid­dle of the heartland.”

Proponents of replace­ment the­o­ry like to tip­toe around using big­ot­ed lan­guage with phras­es like “clas­sic Americans” and “lega­cy Americans” rather than what they mean–white peo­ple, main­ly of Western European descent. 

I won­der how it must sound to the ears of Native Peoples to hear that “lega­cy Americans” fear being “replaced” by invaders from afar? 

The U.S.–and the world–are chang­ing. When change is inevitable, those who hold pow­er will do any­thing to pre­vent them­selves from los­ing that pow­er. This rep­re­hen­si­ble con­spir­a­cy is one exam­ple of that dynam­ic at work. 

The only “replace­ment the­o­ry” I’m inter­est­ed in is replac­ing Tucker Carlson, Matt Gaetz, and oth­er vio­lence-pro­vok­ing racists in media and gov­ern­ment. And the way to do that is through the tools of democ­ra­cy: vot­ing, both at the bal­lot box and with our attention. 

  • Pete Koutoulas

    Pete is an IT pro­fes­sion­al work­ing in Lexington. Formerly of Campton, he and his wife have lived in Winchester since 2015. Pete is a for­mer week­ly news­pa­per pub­lish­er and for­mer colum­nist for the Winchester Sun. These days, when not work­ing he can often be found on his back porch read­ing or writ­ing, in the back­yard tend­ing to his toma­to plants, or put­ter­ing around in his garage or work­shop. Reach Pete at pete@wincitynews.org.