At least 20 people were killed in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas on Saturday by a gunman fuelled with hate. The victims, most of whom were Latinos, were the intended target of the white male gunman, who traveled for hours from his hometown to carry out the attack. The “domestic terrorism” incident is one of the many this year which has been influenced by the white-nationalist and alt-right “Great Replacement Theory.”
The theory, made famous by Renaud Camus in his 2011 book, states that the white population is being “replaced” through mass migration and demographic growth. And while right-wing politicians and pundits don’t use the term “Great Replacement,” many of them have peddled the idea that white people are being replaced by immigrants.
The El Paso shooter left behind a manifesto, a trend noticed in the earlier shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand and Poway, California. The El Paso and Poway manifestos both referenced the Christchurch massacre, and the manifestos are a way to call other people to action, as Kelly Weill of The Daily Beast notes. “White supremacists are trying to add to a long and growing library of terror, and get others to follow their examples,” she writes.
What is the Great Replacement Theory?
The theory, brought forward by Camus in his books states global and liberal elites, whom he refers to as “replacists,” are allowing the replacement of white people by people of color. He calls it “genocide by substitution.”
However, Camus himself took inspiration for this theory from Jean Raspail and Enoch Powell.
Raspail’s 1973 novel Le Camp des Saints is based around the collapse of Western culture by immigration from the Third World.
Powell, in a 1968 speech, criticized the rates of immigration into the United Kingdom from the Commonwealth countries. The Economist claimed in an editorial on the 50th anniversary of the speech that Powell’s rhetoric had a “lasting and malign effect” on “the way in which race and migration are discussed, or not discussed.”
The idea of a “superior race” is not new. Rudyard Kipling’s poem “White Man’s Burden,” has been used as a justification of imperialism. The poem advocates the inherently racist idea that the Western world should deliver civilization to the non-whites. This white-superiority complex and the ‘us and them’ divide is also what led to the Holocaust and the killing of six million Jews and other groups considered deviant or racially inferior.
The Great Replacement Incites Violence
In 2019, after the Christchurch massacre, Camus made an effort to distance himself from the violence carried out by those inspired by his work. The French writer said he believes in non-violence and those carrying out attacks against immigrants and minorities fail to understand his work.
“At the center of my work is the concept of innocence, which is to say, of non-aggravation, non-violence,” he added.
Thomas Chatterton Williams notes in the New Yorker that “Camus can play the role of ‘respectable’ reactionary because his opposition to multicultural globalism is plausibly high-minded, principally aesthetic, even well-mannered.” However, it would be naive to believe there is no connection between intellectual incitement and violent action. Camus’s ideas have influenced far-right terrorists and movements.
The Christchurch attacker referenced ‘The Great Replacement’ in the title of his manifesto. The El Paso shooter was also motivated by immigrant hate. In his manifesto, he wrote: “They are the instigators, not me. I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.” And in 2017, white supremacists in Charlottesville chanted “You will not replace us.”
Camus said he condemned the violence that took place and he didn’t believe the protestors were influenced by him. But he expressed “sympathy with the slogan”, stating he thought “Americans have every good reason to be worried about their country.”
It’s not only those who engage in violence that echo Camus’s ideas. “Politicians and political commentators have been key in mainstreaming the Great Replacement narrative by making explicit and implicit references to the conspiracy theory in their speeches, social media posts and policies,” note Julia Ebner and Jacob Davey.
U.S. President Donald Trump has referred to Hispanic immigrants as “invaders”. In 2018, he said immigrants entering the U.S. was “like a war“. And, at a rally three months prior to the El Paso shooting, Trump laughed after a supporter suggested Mexican migrants should be shot.
Camus may continue to distance himself from the influence his ideas have had on white nationalists. However, it’s difficult to see the bigger picture and not see the link between hateful rhetoric employed by right-wing politicians and thinkers and domestic terrorism in the U.S. If Trump continues to see “fine people” on both sides, the U.S. will continue to see hate crimes such as the one in El Paso. And Pittsburgh. And Poway.