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How is the 'Great Replacement' theory tied to the Buffalo shooting suspect?


Investigators are looking at a screed that was posted online in relation to Saturday's mass shooting in a predominantly Black part of Buffalo, N.Y. The 180-page document cites a racist conspiracy theory known as the "Great Replacement." This idea has circulated for at least a decade among far-right extremists. Now it's become mainstream through cable news. Republican talking points are also tweaking the language a bit. Here to discuss is NPR's domestic extremism correspondent Odette Yousef.

Odette, can you explain what this is, "Great Replacement"?

ODETTE YOUSEF, BYLINE: Yes. The "Great Replacement" conspiracy theory baselessly claims that a cabal of powerful elites are systematically replacing white people in America with people of color. And while the term, you know, "Great Replacement" was coined around 2012, as you mentioned, this has actually been a conspiracy theory within the organized white supremacist movement for many decades. You know, they've long claimed that the elites are bringing in immigrants and also promoting interracial marriage to dilute the white population. And you even still hear claims of white genocide within these circles.

MARTINEZ: Hasn't this always gone hand in hand with antisemitism?

YOUSEF: It has. The organized white supremacist movement at its core revolves around a conspiratorial belief that Jews control the media; they control Hollywood; they control the banking system and that they wield outsized influence in politics. It was clear that this conspiracy theory was bleeding out of the KKK and neo-Nazi circles in 2017, A, when you'll recall, we saw footage of mostly young white men in polo shirts and khakis marching on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville chanting, you will not replace us, or, the Jews will not replace us.

MARTINEZ: You know, we remember that. As we noted earlier, the replacement theory is more mainstream. Can you explain how that happened?

YOUSEF: It is. A recent poll has found that 1 in 3 American adults now believes in replacement theory. I spoke with Matthew Gertz about this. He's with Media Matters, and he's been following this conspiracy for years. He says initially it was only on fringe neo-Nazi websites.

MATTHEW GERTZ: And then they found their champion. It was Tucker Carlson who started talking about the same conspiracy theories night after night. Other hosts at Fox News started doing it, too, and then Republican politicians. And now here we are. It's a mainstream Republican talking point.

YOUSEF: Fox News declined to comment when I reached out to them about this, A. But it's worth noting that earlier in Carlson's time at Fox, the language was crafted more around political theory than race. He wasn't saying Jews were replacing white people. Instead, he was advancing a baseless theory of voter replacement, a conspiracy claiming that Democrats are replacing so-called native-born Americans with immigrant voters.

But Gertz says you don't have to look too closely to read between the lines here. Carlson focuses more on immigrants from Central America, for example, than those from Scandinavia. But he says that framing it as a political conspiracy has made it much more palatable to a wider audience that might turn away from it if the racial subtext were more explicit.

MARTINEZ: But in this online document that may be linked to the gunman in Buffalo, was Tucker Carlson - or Fox News, even - cited anywhere as a source for these beliefs?

YOUSEF: They weren't. The author of that document claimed he was radicalized on the internet, primarily through the kind of fringe websites where the "Great Replacement" theory first found currency among the "alt-right." But what's disturbing is that the walls between the violent and racist worldviews you find in those spaces and other conspiracist worldviews that have become more popular recently - you know, those walls have become really fluid. And so normalizing conspiracies on cable news can get people onto a very dangerous path, A.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Odette Yousef, thank you very much.

YOUSEF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Odette Yousef
Odette Yousef is a National Security correspondent focusing on extremism.