The Racist ‘Great Replacement’ Conspiracy Theory Is Becoming A Mainstream GOP Talking Point

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 27: U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) speaks to members of the media outside the hearing Michael Cohen, former attorney and fixer for President Donald Trump, testifies at before the House Committ... WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 27: U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) speaks to members of the media outside the hearing Michael Cohen, former attorney and fixer for President Donald Trump, testifies at before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform at Rayburn House Office Building February 27, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Last year Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a $50,000 fine for tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, unlawful excessive campaign contributions and lying to Congress as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) MORE LESS
Start your day with TPM.
Sign up for the Morning Memo newsletter

Last week, Tucker Carlson taught his millions of primetime viewers about something he referred to as the official policy of the Biden administration: “The great replacement,” Carlson said. “The replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from far-away countries.” 

Carlson had just finished commenting on the “flood” of Haitian asylum seekers at the border. He said the situation was “awful on every level” before implying that the Haitians would overwhelm America’s hospitals and schools. Then, he said the “suicidal” policy was, in fact, all part of a more sinister plan. 

The blatant racism that followed used to be at least slightly taboo among right-wing elites. Not anymore.

Carlson laid things out for viewers with a spliced-and-diced clip of Joe Biden from 2015, in which the then-vice president referred to the “unrelenting stream of immigration” as a benefit throughout American history. Biden predicted that by 2017, people who were “Caucasian, of European descent” such as himself would be a minority in the United States. “That’s not a bad thing,” he added. “That’s a source of our strength.”

“‘An unrelenting stream of immigration,” Carlson echoed after the clip ended. “But why? Well, Joe Biden just said it. To change the racial mix of the country. That’s the reason. To reduce the political power of people whose ancestors lived here, and dramatically increase the proportion of Americans newly arrived from the third world.”

As Carlson faced a wave of criticism for the comments, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) reiterated the point on his behalf, writing Monday that Democrats “are importing new voters.”

If Americans have become numb to this sort of bigotry — referring to “imported,” “third world” immigrants as “obedient” in comparison to “legacy Americans” and “people whose ancestors have lived here” — it may be because the “great replacement” conspiracy theory has exploded in popularity among right-wing elites in recent months. 

As the Biden administration resettles thousands of refugees from Afghanistan and accepts a portion of Haitian asylum-seekers at the border, the right has grown more openly extreme.

“Absolutely, ‘great replacement’ theory is being mainstreamed by a number of politicians and pundits, basically on the right,” said Marilyn Mayo, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. Carlson is only the tip of the iceberg.

‘A Third-World Electorate’

The “great replacement” theory posits that immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers are merely political pawns for left-wing politicians intent on erasing whites from the United States. The term itself dates from a 2011 book of the same name by the French writer Renaud Camus, though the idea of a white population being purposefully displaced — often at the direction of Jews — is much older. The 1973 novel “Camp Of The Saints,” for example, imagines a rush of Indian immigrants overrunning the French coast like an “anthill slashed open.” The book has been cited by far-right politicians including France’s Marine Le Penn and former Trump advisor Steve Bannon. 

In recent years, the “great replacement” conspiracy theory has inspired white terrorists around the world, including two American synagogue shooters, the El Paso Walmart shooter, and the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque shooter.

Gunmen motivated by the theory have killed 99 people since 2018, according to a report from the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism in July last year. 

One of the authors of that report, Wendy Via, noted in an interview that the conspiracy theory had become shockingly commonplace among mainstream Republican politicians and conservative commentators. 

“It is like night-and-day in terms of people using this phrasing,” since last year, Via said.

The conspiracy theory is now asserted unapologetically: In April, when Carlson said Democrats were “trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters, from the third world,” the Anti-Defamation League called for his firing and Fox Corporation CEO Lachlan Murdoch offered a meager defense of the host. 

This time, Carlson skipped the formalities. “Fuck them,” he said of the ADL in an interview with Megyn Kelly Friday.

Republican politicians and pundits seem to sense the wind changing.

Last month, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said “the anti-American left would love to drown traditional classic Americans with as many people as they can who know nothing of American history, nothing of American tradition, nothing of the rule of law.” 

This month, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), the third-ranking Republican in the U.S. House, released an ad warning of a “permanent election insurrection” if Democrats’ are able to provide a path to citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants — which she referred to as an effort to “overthrow our current electorate.” 

A few days later, Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) referred to Democrats’ “open borders” strategy as key to a Democratic takeover.

“They want to replace the American electorate with a third-world electorate that will be on welfare and public assistance, put them on a path to citizenship and amnesty, enfranchise them with a vote, and they will have a permanent majority,” Babin said.

‘Somebody Else’s Babies’

It was only recently that “great replacement” talk was relegated to the far right. 

Take, for example, former Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who told a far-right Austrian publication in 2018 that “We are replacing our American culture 2 to 1 every year” via the addition of “somebody else’s babies.” 

Fox News and Donald Trump, of course, softened the ground with relentless attacks on immigrants. Trump’s reelection campaign ran thousands of ads referring to the “invasion” at the southern border.

“During these last few years, there’s been a sense that it’s much more normalized to voice these things openly,” Mayo said. “We’re seeing that where Tucker Carlson will say — very explicitly this past week — that whites are being replaced, and you’ll have people saying ‘He’s not saying anything racist, he’s just telling the truth.’” 

“This is not something that is a conspiracy at all to them, this is real,” she added. “They actually feel threatened.” 

Stephen Miller, Trump’s sounding board for immigration policy, was even more explicit, saying in private emails ahead of the 2016 election that Jeb Bush used “immigration to replace existing demographics.” But Miller’s extreme views are now nearly GOP orthodoxy.

“We have always had this problem, but now folks in power have a term to explain away their racism, to explain away their nativism,” Via said. 

“We’ve always wanted to keep immigrants out. We’ve always wanted to keep Black and brown people out. We’ve always wanted to keep their numbers low and disempowered. But now we have a reason to do it in the form of the ‘great replacement’ conspiracy theory.” 

Latest News
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: