Warnings about ‘replacement’ from the right build on political tropes dating back to the 19th century
By Joe Lowndes
In the wake of the mass shooting in a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood of Buffalo, public attention has turned to “The Great Replacement,” French writer Renaud Camus’s theory of White racial “genocide by substitution,” and its lethal impact in the United States. In just the last five years, this theory of racial apocalypse has apparently inspired three mass shootings.
But scholars and journalists have noted that in recent years, right-wing pundits and Republican politicians have also begun using the term “replacement” to assert without evidence that there is a liberal plot to outnumber Republicans with Democrats by opening the borders to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. This political version of replacement is neither an exotic import from European white nationalists, nor is it novel. Rather, its logic has deep roots in American democratic beliefs and practices.
Throughout U.S. political history, the fear of racial threats to democracy has emerged repeatedly, albeit in different forms. The principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, believed the nation would only survive the abolition of slavery through the wholesale deportation of formerly enslaved and free Black people. In the decades before the Civil War, White people without property who fought for political equality also fought to make sure it would not extend to African Americans.
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