Great Replacement theory exploited in US politics to intensify racial conflict
Published: May 19, 2022 02:19 PM
US flag and the statue of liberty photo: VCG

US flag and the statue of liberty photo: VCG

A racially motivated mass shooting in the African-American community of Buffalo in the US left ten dead and three injured, shocking the country. The suspect is an 18-year-old White supremacist Payton S. Gendron, who was deeply influenced by the "Great Replacement" theory.
The Great Replacement theory originated in the early 20th century with French nationalist Maurice Barrès, and was popularized in 2011 with the publication of French author Renaud Camus' book Le Grand Remplacement. According to Camus, the native white population of Europe is gradually being replaced by non-European immigrants, which will eventually cause the extinction of the native population. The theory aligns with, and is a part of, the larger white genocide conspiracy theory, and was quickly promoted by the white supremacist movement. 
The reason why the Great Replacement theory has gained popularity among the American right wing and stimulated the far right to commit terrorist crimes lies in the insecurity and anger of the Anglo-Saxon community due to the identity crisis under the drastic changes in the economic, social and cultural structure of the US. 
First, since the 1970s, the economic focus in the US has shifted from manufacturing to services. With the development of globalization, the economic and social status of traditional white people, as blue-collar workers, has been declining. At the same time, the implementation of neoliberal economic policies in the US led to a new wave of high-skilled immigrants, exacerbating economic inequality between the immigrant elites and the native grassroots. 
Second, in order to better integrate immigrants into society, the US Democratic government has implemented a policy of multiculturalism, which white supremacists perceive as a threat to traditional Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture. 
Third, the low birth rate and aging of the white population in the US have challenged their status. Under the influence of the high fertility rate of immigrants, the white community will face a big demographic change in the near future. 
Today, as partisan politics becomes increasingly polarized, US right-wing politicians and media are frequently using the "Great Replacement" theory to attract voters and audiences. Such types of propaganda have enabled the theory to become mainstream.
On the other hand, several realities and incidents - for example, the growing social inequality during the COVID-19 epidemic, the "Black Lives Matter" movement, and the Capitol Hill riot on January 6, 2021 - have driven the right wing to continue growing in US society.
Great attention now focuses on the links between the Buffalo mass shooting and the propagation of the "Great Replacement" theory. US society is also starting to reflect on the negative effects of the outspoken support that certain politicians and media figures have voiced for the theory.
Although the US government may increase its efforts to crack down on crimes related to far-right extremism, there will still be a market and audience for the "Great Replacement" theory for a long time. This is because the soil nourishing such a theory still exists in US society, since the deep-rooted contradictions in the country's economy, politics and society are unlikely to be fundamentally resolved soon.
The internet and social media also provide convenient conditions for the spread of far-right ideologies, while the development of far-right extremism in Europe will have a spillover and linkage effect on the US, pushing the far right to grow further globally.
Moreover, if the current US government led by Democrats enhance the crackdown on the far right, it may face serious resistance from them, which will lead to even greater racial conflicts and social divisions.
The Buffalo shooting is a microcosm of US' social crisis. Until the economic inequalities and structural problems are resolved completely, the far-right ideologies represented by white supremacy will continue to profoundly affect the environment of US society and undermine its stability.
The author is a research fellow at the Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn