In Buffalo and some other mass shootings, a shared racist belief

The idea that white people should fear being replaced by 'others' has spread through far-right online platforms
Last Updated 15 May 2022, 09:29 IST

Through the 180 pages of hate-filled writings that Payton S. Gendron posted online, a common theme emerged: The notion that white Americans are at risk of being replaced by people of colour.

Gunmen have referenced the racist idea, known as “replacement theory,” during a string of mass shootings and other violence in recent years. It was once associated with the far-right fringe but has become increasingly mainstream, pushed by politicians and popular television programs.

And it has repeatedly been the motivation for attacks across the United States and beyond, from the Poway, California, synagogue shooting in 2019 to the killing of 51 worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, the same year.

The racist theory was directly referenced in a four-page screed written by the man charged with killing more than 20 people in El Paso, Texas, which described an attack in response to “the Hispanic invasion of Texas” and outlined fears about the group gaining power in the United States.

One year earlier, when 11 people were killed at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the accused gunman had espoused similar racist views, referring to the people helped by a Jewish agency that aids refugees as “invaders.”

The theory was conceived in the early 2010s by Renaud Camus, a French author who has written about fears of white genocide, arguing that immigrants who give birth to more children represent a threat to white people.

Camus has attempted to distance himself from violent white supremacists, decrying killings even as his ideas have been referenced in more attacks. But he told The New York Times in 2019 that he still stands by the notion.

The idea that white people should fear being replaced by “others” has spread through far-right online platforms, shaping discussions among American white nationalists, the Times has reported.

It has also been evident across some acts of violence. About 60 per cent of the extremist murders committed in the United States between 2009 and 2019 were committed by people espousing white supremacist ideologies like the replacement theory, the Anti-Defamation League found.

“It is the most mass-violence-inspiring idea in white supremacist circles right now,” said Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. “This particular idea has superseded almost everything else in white supremacist circles to become the unifying idea across borders.”

Experts have said the belief represents a shift in the conversations of white supremacists. Several decades ago, they often proclaimed that they were superior because of their race. While that continues today, many now focus on the idea that they fear extinction at the hands of people of colour. At a racist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, marchers chanted, “Jews will not replace us.”

Gendron, an 18-year-old white man, espoused similar views in the manifesto, directly referencing “racial replacement” and “white genocide.” The first page contained a symbol known as the sonnenrad, or black sun — two concentric circles with jagged beams emanating from the centre. The Anti-Defamation League has said it was commonly used in Nazi Germany, and has now been adopted by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

Gendron praised nationalism and blamed European men for allowing themselves to get “ethnically replaced.” He lamented diversity in America, writing that people of colour should “leave while you still can.” And he criticised progressives, saying they had succeeded only at “teaching white children to hate themselves.”

Beirich, who reviewed the manifesto Saturday, said it seemed to contain a “hodgepodge of every crazy white supremacist idea.”

(Published 15 May 2022, 09:28 IST)

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