The alleged white supremacist who slaughtered 10 people at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store on Saturday was inspired by the racist “great replacement” theory—one that’s been tweaked and adopted by a significant number of Republican lawmakers and candidates in recent months.
The alleged murderer specifically cited extremist white supremacist websites in his manifesto, saying he was radicalized on 4chan and came across the theory on neo-Nazi sites like the Daily Stormer. But the views he espoused aren’t far removed from those pushed by some mainstream Republicans and conservative news outlets.
The “great replacement” theory claims that a cabal of global elites (in many versions, Jews) want open borders to allow an “invasion” of non-white immigrants to replace white, native-born citizens and out-breed the native population.
The slightly sanitized Republican version swaps out global elites and Jews for Democrats. Instead of claiming the goal is full population replacement, some Republicans argue that the Democrats’ goal is to encourage immigrants to storm the country, give them citizenship, and change the electorate so Republicans can never win again.
Upstate New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking member of the House GOP, has faced the most criticism since the shooting. A series of paid Facebook ads her campaign ran last fall that explicitly used great replacement theory rhetoric.
“Radical Democrats are planning their most aggressive move yet: a PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION,” read one of the ads. “Their plan to grant amnesty to 11 MILLION illegal immigrants will overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington.”
But she’s far from alone. A bevy of Republican candidates and lawmakers have pushed similar rhetoric in recent years, including a handful of other Congress members as well as a half-dozen Republicans running for Senate this year.
“This administration wants complete open borders. And you have to ask yourself, why?” Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson asked during an April 15 Fox News appearance with Larry Kudlow. “Is it [that] really they want to remake the demographics of America to ensure that they stay in power forever?”
Ohio GOP Senate nominee J.D. Vance has pushed similar rhetoric in campaign advertising.
“Joe Biden’s open border is killing Ohioans, with more illegal drugs and more Democrat voters pouring into this country,” he claimed in one TV ad.
Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Scott Perry claimed in a committee hearing last year that many Americans worried that “we’re replacing national-born Americans, native-born Americans to permanently transform the landscape of this very nation.”
The theory is believed by a substantial number of rank-and-file Republicans.
A recent Associated Press-NORC poll found that one-third of Americans, and almost half of Republicans, believe that “there is a group of people in this country who are trying to replace native-born Americans with immigrants who agree with their political view.”
The Buffalo shooter is the latest violent white supremacist to be inspired by the conspiracy theory. At the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017, tiki-torch-wielding white supremacists chanted “You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us.” The murderers who killed 11 Jewish worshippers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018 and 23 mostly Mexican-American shoppers in El Paso, Texas in 2019 promoted the theory, as did the 2019 New Zealand mosque shooter.
The most extreme version of this theory was first popularized in France a decade ago. But as alt-right and white supremacist websites brought it to the American far-right, more mainstream conservative outlets began adopting some of its rhetoric to push a longstanding GOP claim that Democrats are pro-immigration because they want Latino and Asian-American votes much further into conspiratorial territory.
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson has played a key role in this. In a September segment, he specifically used the expression “great replacement,” claiming Biden wanted to “reduce the political power of people whose ancestors lived here and dramatically increase the proportion of Americans newly arrived from the Third World.”
After Stefanik’s ads were highlighted by critics, she doubled down on Monday morning, declaring “It is a FACT that DEMOCRATS have been explicitly pushing for amnesty for years—specifically for political and electoral purposes,” while her team accused reporters of a “dishonest and dangerous” smear campaign.
“We thank the groveling hacks in the media for reminding voters that Republicans oppose amnesty and will secure the border while Democrats support mass amnesty and voting rights for illegals,” Stefanik senior adviser Alex Degrasse said in a statement.
Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney took aim at Stefanik, who replaced her in GOP House leadership after an ugly fight last year.
“The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and antisemitism. History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse. @GOP leaders must renounce and reject these views and those who hold them,” Cheney tweeted Monday morning.