How a dangerous right-wing conspiracy theory became part of midterm election season

This week, the nation marked the fourth anniversary of the Tree of Life massacre that left 11 people dead at a Pittsburgh synagogue. The alleged white shooter used to post anti-Semitic slurs on social media associated with what is known as the ‘great replacement’ conspiracy theory. This same dangerous theory, which promotes the baseless idea that there is a conspiracy to weaken white influence in America, was also peddled by some mainstream Republican candidates during the 2022 midterm election season. To help further explain just how dangerous the conspiracy theory is, where it came from and how it made its way into mainstream politics, Yahoo News spoke with Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against hatred and extremism; Marilyn Mayo, senior researcher at the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism; and Michael Edison Hayden, senior investigative reporter at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Video transcript

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MARJORIE TAYOR GREENE: Joe Biden’s 5 million illegal aliens are set to replace you, replace your jobs, and replace your kids in school, and come from all over the world. They also replace your culture.

JD VANCE: The Democratic leadership, the people he answers to in Washington DC, are very explicit about this. They say they want more and more immigration because if that happens they will ensure that Republicans can never win another national election.

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HEIDI BEIRICH: The great replacement, I call it a conspiracy theory, is a white supremacist idea that there is a conspiracy, either orchestrated by elites, or globalists, or sometimes Jews in an anti-Semitic version, to replace white populations in what they consider their homeland. country with people of color. And the main thing is that this is considered an orchestrated plot. So there is something being done specifically by these terrible forces to annihilate white people in what they consider their country.

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MARILYN MAYO: This idea has been around for a while, but the most recent iteration really comes from a French writer named Renaud Camus, who wrote a book and before that, an essay called “The Great Replacement”. He wrote about Europe and about immigrants from Africa and Arab countries replacing white Europeans. And of course, white nationalists around the world were very influenced by this essay.

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The Great Replacement Theory has inspired a number of extremist assassins. And we have seen a wave of horrific extremist mass murders in recent years. Anders Breivik in Norway, who inspired a lot of people who came after him, because he killed 77 people because he was against immigration and wrote a manifesto about it, about his opposition to arrival of immigrants in Norway and Europe, etc. .

The people who have followed him very specifically, and I’m talking about Brenton Tarrant, and I’m talking about Patrick Crusius, as well as the Buffalo shooter, they all specifically mention the great backup. And in fact, they said that was a motivation for the act they were doing.

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TUCKER-CARLSON: The Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate. Voters are now voting with new people, more obedient Third World voters. But they get hysterical, because that’s what’s really happening. Let’s say it’s true.

HEIDI BEIRICH: Fox News’ Tucker Carlson has brought up the replacement many, many times and basically confirmed that it’s actually happening. And after the Buffalo mass shooting where the shooter was inspired by the grand replacement theory, Tucker Carlson tried to blame Democrats for engaging in the replacement.

TUCKER-CARLSON: The great substitute? Yes, it’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s their election strategy. And we know it because they say it all the time.

MARILYN MAYO: It’s been weaponized in many ways because these pundits and politicians are basically talking about it in the context where these people are coming in and they’re going to take your position or your job or something. And therefore, you should fear these people.

Congressman, what is your opinion on the Great Replacement Theory?

Tim Ryan: I think that’s nonsense. I think it’s based on some of the most racial, divisive writings in the history of the world. And he’s the one he hangs out with, talking about replacement theory. There is no big big plot. It is a country that has been enriched by immigrants.

JD VANCE: You seek political power so much that you will accuse me, the father of three beautiful mixed-race babies, of practicing racism. We are fed up. You can believe in a border without being racist.

HEIDI BEIRICH: I think the way the big replacement has become so mainstream in terms of election strategy for candidates goes back to the fact that Trump made the decision to take on Latinos, to take on immigrants from the first day he announced his race. And in doing so, they injected a racial question around immigration into the countryside.

And so now the Conservatives are using this as a way to mobilize their base, demonizing immigrants, using the great substitute to argue that there’s some kind of conspiracy involved with people coming here. And for their base to get upset over a racial issue to come out and vote.

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MICHAEL EDISON HAYDEN: Our poll found that nearly 70% of Republicans believe this type of great replacement theory is orchestrated by liberal elites, basically that elites step in to try to change the demographics of the United States, either to gain political advantage, either to weaken white people and white political power in the United States.

It’s been a trend that, while disappointing, isn’t at all surprising given the kind of rhetoric we’ve seen from people with massive followings really starting in 2015 and coming here. The normalization of this rhetoric is truly undeniable.

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Sharon D. Cole