Since the end of April, there have been three mass shootings that can be directly tied to white nationalism. The victims of these white supremacist terrorist attacks were almost all from minority communities, including Jewish people at a synagogue in Poway, California, Muslims in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and most recently Latinx people at a Walmart in El Paso.
Last Saturday, although one person was injured, another such attack was thankfully prevented by ordinary citizens in Baerum, Norway. Each of these murderers created and published manifestos online, using these texts to make it clear that they’d drawn inspiration from the violent rampages that preceded their own.
Although there is a centuries-long history of white supremacist terror throughout the world, the particular reasoning (or lack thereof) behind these massacres and attempted massacres really gained public notice after a Norwegian man released his manifesto before going on a bomb and killing spree targeting young leftists in Norway on July 22nd, 2011, killing 77.
In his manifesto, the Norwegian spoke of an idea called the Great Replacement, a paranoid fantasy that posits that there’s a systemic plan by ‘globalists’ to replace white people in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand through immigration. In the United States the term is sometimes used interchangeably with the even more absurd concept of ‘white genocide’.
Sometimes before but usually after these terrorists massacre innocent people, they are lauded (or ridiculed for not going far enough) by others on message boards like 8chan, where hateful memes showing their victims are also spread. Many of those calling for these kinds of attacks online take the concept of the Great Replacement further, advising a strategy of ‘accelerationism’.
As explained by the Southern Poverty Law Center, “Accelerationism is the belief among some far-right extremists that committing acts of terrorism will cause society to collapse. Following the collapse of Western civilization, the accelerationists believe they will have opportunities to build a country for only white, non-Jews that are unimaginable under the current system.”
While not every person spreading the idea of the Great Replacement states it outright, many of these far-right extremists use the term ‘globalist’ interchangeably with ‘Jewish’ and although most of us didn’t know it at the time, the chants of ‘Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville at the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in August, 2017 make more sense given this context.
Interestingly, over the period of time that this conspiracy theory has been floating around, figures on the left as diverse as UK opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn and Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota have received far more coverage in the mainstream press on both sides of the Atlantic for perceived anti-Semitism, because they are unafraid to criticize Israel’s right-wing government.
As I’ve noted before, literal fascists like Richard Spencer, although they often show admiration for Israel as an ‘ethno-state’, typify the kind of anti-Semitism that was dispossessing and killing Jewish people, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, long before the state of Israel existed. The widespread use of liberal financier George Soros in memes and cartoons that are derived from old tropes, even by the son of Israel’s prime minister, shows how pernicious this traditionally right-wing anti-Semitism still is.
Often mentioned in the context of the Great Replacement is a book called “The Camp of the Saints”, written by a French author, Jean Raspail, and released to mostly terrible reviews in 1973. It’s a dystopian novel that most had never heard of until a certain Steve Bannon began promoting it in 2015, comparing the refugee crisis in Europe at that time to Raspail’s work of fiction, which features a main character called the ‘Turd Eater’ who, along with his monstrous son, leads a million people from Calcutta to the shores of France.
The actual term Great Replacement itself also comes from France, where a right-wing academic named Renaud Camus drew on Raspial’s fiction for a book with this title published in 2012. It was also the name that the Australian perpetrator of the Christchurch massacre gave his pathetic manifesto.
Featured alongside the Great Replacement in the manifestos of the last two shooters in New Zealand and Texas are eco-fascist ideas that are almost as dangerous and in some ways crueler. These killers aren’t calling for everyone to live more sustainably or for green energy solutions to the climate crisis, they’re calling for the violent deaths of immigrant communities, many long-established, to allow white people in the United States and elsewhere to maintain their current lifestyle.
As the white supremacist terrorist in El Paso wrote in his manifesto, considering the fact that he’d concluded that most Americans are unwilling to change their lifestyles, “…the next logical step is to decrease the number of people in America using resources.”
Those involved in environmental activism need to be aware of the growing influence of these ideas in some quarters. With some naive people having already called for a ‘red/brown’ alliance to end unnecessary wars, there may be an even greater danger of far-right infiltration into mainly left-wing environmental groups where their general racism and rabid misogyny are not needed.
Having said all this, many conspiracy theories are pretty harmless. Take the Flat Earth theory, which is mainly annoying in that people who believe in it argue at length for a really dumb idea after having spent a large amount of time that could have been used productively to research it. However, talking to these people, at least those that aren’t just trolling, one often finds that they come to their conclusions from an earlier realization that things have gone very wrong in the world.
This is the point that the progressive left needs to be making to all who will listen: there’s no need for overarching conspiracies to see what’s as obvious as your own nose. In some ways we are almost 8 years into a social revolution that began in Zucotti Park with Occupy Wall Street and identified the real enemy with the simplest of slogans: “We are the 99%”.
While there is growing momentum created by leaders like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn who rose in the wake of Occupy, issues of inequality have also found a growing audience on the right, whose demagogic leaders simplistically blame immigrants and even refugees for their supporter’s struggles, dividing working people from each other. By encouraging conspiracy theories like the Great Replacement in all but name, figures on the mainstream right, up to and including the current president of the United States, have helped create a tsunami of violence that is likely to continue to spread. Only a rising populist left that offers real solutions rather than high flown rhetoric for the problems created by the current economic system can truly defeat the growing terror emanating from the far right.