By Associated Press
NEW YORK — Several mainstream Republican Senate candidates are drawing on the “great replacement” conspiracy theory once confined to the far-right fringes of U.S. politics to court voters this campaign season, promoting the baseless notion that there is a plot to diminish the influence of white people in America.
In some cases, the comments have gone largely overlooked given the hard-line immigration rhetoric that has become commonplace among conservatives during the Trump era. But a weekend mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, that may have been inspired by the racist theory is drawing new attention to the GOP’s growing embrace of white nationalist creed.
Three weeks ago in Arizona, Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters accused Democrats of trying to flood the nation with millions of immigrants “to change the demographics of our country.” A few days later in Missouri, Senate hopeful Eric Schmitt, the state attorney general, said Democrats were “fundamentally trying to change this country through illegal immigration.” And in Ohio, Republican Senate nominee JD Vance accused Democrats of trying to “transform the electorate.”
Warning of an immigrant “invasion,” Vance told Fox News Channel that Democrats “have decided that they can’t win reelection in 2022 unless they bring a large number of new voters to replace the voters that are already here.”
Some of the Republican campaigns denied that their statements amounted to replacement theory, but among the experts, there is little question.
Five experts on hate speech who reviewed the Republican candidates’ comments confirmed that they promote the baseless racist theory, even though the Republicans don’t mention race directly.
“Comments like these demonstrate two essential features of great replacement conspiracy theory. They predict racial doomsday, saying that it is all part of an orchestrated master plan. It’s only the language that has been softened,” said American University professor Brian Hughes, associate director of the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab. “The basic story they tell is the same one we see in white supremacist chats across the internet: An enemy is orchestrating doom for white Americans by plotting to fill the country with nonwhites.”
Indeed, a mainstream interpretation of replacement theory in the U.S. baselessly suggests Democrats are encouraging immigration from Latin America so more like-minded potential voters replace “traditional” Americans, says Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism.
Such a message has become a central component of the modern-day conservative movement’s appeal to voters. Former President Donald Trump repeatedly warned of an immigrant invasion on the southern border, and he was slow to condemn white supremacy throughout his presidency.
Shortly after taking office, Trump shared a social media post from someone with the username WhiteGenocideTM.
Replacement theory is being investigated as a motivating factor in the Buffalo supermarket shooting, which killed 10 Black people and left three other people injured.
President Joe Biden condemned replacement theory directly — and those who spread it, although he did not name names — after meeting with victims’ families Tuesday in Buffalo.
“Hate, that through the media, and politics, the internet, has radicalized angry, alienated, lost and isolated individuals into falsely believing that they will be replaced — that’s the word, ‘replaced’ — by the others, by people who don’t look like them,” Biden charged.
“I call on all Americans to reject the lie,” the Democratic president continued. “And I condemn those who spread the lie for power, political gain and for profit.”
Rep. Liz Cheney , who was ousted from House Republican leadership for her outspoken criticism of Trump, blamed her own party on Monday for enabling “white nationalism, white supremacy and anti-Semitism.”
“History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse,” Cheney tweeted. GOP “leaders must renounce and reject these views and those who hold them.”
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell was asked three times Tuesday, in different ways, about replacement theory — if leaders have to speak out about it or believe it themselves — and declined to fully respond.
“Well, certainly the episode of this horrible episode in Buffalo is a result of a completely deranged young man who ought to suffer severe as possible penalty under the law,” he said.
Asked about Biden’s call to reject the lie, McConnell shifted responsibility more broadly: “Racism of any sort is abhorrent in America and ought to be stood up to everybody, both Republicans, Democrats, all Americans.”