The Great Replacement theory, eco-fascism and the Buffalo shooter

The Buffalo shooter, Payton Gendron, carried out his racially motivated hate crime – he drove hundreds of miles specifically to attack African Americans – on the basis of the Great Replacement conspiracy theory. The latter, which asserts that mysterious ‘global elites’ are intent on replacing white majority communities with nonwhite people through immigration and multiculturalism, was also cited by the El Paso gunman, the white supremacist who killed Jews in Pittsburgh, and Norwegian white terrorist Anders Breivik.

Why is it important to confront this malicious conspiracy theory? While Donald Trump, the previous president, was a white supremacist, the threat of ideologically motivated domestic terrorism goes deeper than just one politician. Its racially paranoid foundations of alleged white victimhood provides a political worldview capable of mobilising discontent.

The El Paso gunman, back in 2019, rationalised his lethal attack in eco-fascist terms; his motivation, according to his rambling manifesto, was concern about growing numbers of nonwhite immigrants on an already overburdened natural ecosystem. He also legitimised his actions in terms of the great replacement conspiracy theory.

Immigration and multiculturalism, long demonised by conservative politicians as the devious implementation of a demographic conspiracy by ‘global elites’ to replace white European communities, are regarded as threats to the white majority communities in the Anglocentric nations. It is not surprising to see that the Great Replacement conspiracy theory moving into the mainstream.

The US Republican Party, increasingly the home of fascistic and white supremacist elements, has a longstanding practice of citing the Great Replacement theory, with a view to winning over disaffected white voters. In an article for The Atlantic, Adam Serwer writes that the conservative side of politics has advocated a sanitised version of the Great Replacement theory for decades.

Demographic insecurities of the white majority community in settler colonial nations has been a device exploited by conservatives to bolster the exclusionary nature of the polity. Equality for all is the promise of American and European societies; but whom exactly can partake in that equality is up for debate. Serwer writes that in the immediate aftermath of World War 1, the pseudoscientific premises of race science and genetically-based intelligence was used to argue for an exclusion of so-called inferior races from American life.

Back in 1916, American psychologist Madison Grant argued, in his book The Passing of the Great Race, that the Anglo-Saxon Christian majority in America was under threat of being swamped by an influx of nonwhite migrants, particularly from Eastern Europe. Numerous restrictive immigration laws were passed by US authorities in the 1920s.

However, it was European thinkers, in particular the French theorist Renaud Camus, who were responsible for the modern incarnation of the racist and antisemitic package of tropes that make up the Great Replacement conspiracy theory. Camus can take credit for coining the term, alleging that sinister elites – replacist, to use his description – were implementing a plan through mass nonwhite immigration, to reduce the white population in the home nations.

Camus repackaged this notion of demographic replacement – genocide by substitution, he called it – to fit in with the growing Islamophobia enveloping the European and American worlds. Camus was hardly alone in his way of thinking. Former French President Charles De Gaulle commented that, while it was heartening to see Frenchmen of all different colours, too many of them would dilute the essential Frenchness of the host nation. De Gaulle complained about the Muslims, with their turbans and djellabahs, not being French.

When right wing commentators have accepted the reality of human-induced climate change, their solution is an authoritarian and homicidal one – reduce the numbers of people through violence. Usually, this exterminationist perspective is applied, not to themselves, but to nonwhite communities, even though the main drivers of climate change are wealthier white populations in Western nations.

Environmental concerns have long been used by the fanatical Right to advocate not only for control of land and resources, but also who gets to control that land and natural resources. Eco-fascism, the uniting of ecological and far right ideas, was reflected in the manifesto of the Buffalo shooter, which he had largely plagiarised from the Christchurch killer.

Blaming immigration for environmental problems is perversely false, but this has not stopped the far right from latching onto environmental concerns in an effort to greenwash their hate. Taking its roots in the German nationalist ‘blood and soil’ myth, the eco-fascist denounces the private takeover of nature, but turns their critique into an attack on ethnic minorities. After accepting climate change, the far right nationalist advocates a kind of lifeboat ethics; the white community will be saved, and the rest be damned.

There is an urgent requirement for a stronger labour movement, because it is in the inter ethnic solidarity of working class struggles where racism, and its far right advocates, can be defeated politically and ideologically. As long as there are economically insecure people, suffering under austerity and job cuts, there will be more recruits into the cesspit of the ultranationalist Right.

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