Inside the data that debunks the ‘Great Replacement’ theory

Versions of racist ‘great replacement’ conspiracy have become mainstream in recent years (AFP via Getty Images)
Versions of racist ‘great replacement’ conspiracy have become mainstream in recent years (AFP via Getty Images)

He spoke with great certainty, and yet none exists.

Even within the racist, trope-filled universe of anger and bigotry into which the alleged Buffalo shooter had stepped, the handrails of hate on which he relied, do not survive scrutiny.

Even judged by its own white suprematist underpinning, the so-called “Great Replacement” theory that led an 18-year-old man from Conklin, New York, to drive two hours to Buffalo, and allegedly open fire inside a supermarket where he hoped to target people of colour and where 10 people lost their lives, does not stand up.

In essence, white people are not suffering a “genocide” in the United States and Europe, and even though there is demographic change, its scale and extent is hotly debated by experts.

Furthermore, say commentators and social scientists, even as the US population becomes more racially diverse, there is little likelihood that white people, as a group, will lose the privileged position it currently holds.

“This event was committed by a sick, demented individual who was fuelled by a daily diet of hate,” said New York’s Attorney General, Letitia James.

“Let us come together as one and let us put aside any differences and let us all stand and remember the words of Dr [Martin Luther] King, that love, only love, will overcome hate.”

Authorities in Erie County, New York, have charged Payton Gendron with a single count of first degree murder, to which he has pleaded not guilty.

They have said the young man wished to “continue his rampage” after attacking a Tops supermarket on Saturday.

“He was going to get in his car and continue to drive down Jefferson Avenue and continue doing the same thing,” Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia told CNN.

Officials in New York are presently scrutinising a 180-page “manifesto” published on the 4chan website, allegedly posted by the 18-year-old before embarking on the shooting spree, which he live-streamed. It says he was inspired by watching a video of the 2019 mass shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, which were also streamed live.

“This crisis of mass immigration and sub-replacement fertility is an assault on the European people that, if not combated, will ultimately result in the complete racial and cultural replacement of the European people,” says the manifesto, which echoes many of its kind, including that posted by white supremacist Dylann Roof before attacking a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015.

The manifesto repeats many of the assertions made by believers in the Great Replacement theory, an idea of white defeat and decimation that has existed for decades, even centuries, but that has only more recently made use of that name.

During the centuries of Black slavery in the United States, there were constant racist claims that white people would lose their place if African Americans were regonised as full citizens.

In early 20th Century Europe, there was a belief among some that white elites could lose out to migrants from those nations’ colonies.

The racist themes at the heart of Nazi ideology alleged that white people were going to be wiped out by Jewish people. In his defence of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has falsely claimed that Russian-speakers in Ukraine were being wiped out.

In terms of publications promoting such an idea, the FBI suggests that among the most influential are the The Turner Diaries, a 1978 novel written by William Luther Pierce under the pseudonym Andrew Macdonald, about a violent revolution in the United States with a race war, and Le Grand Remplacement, or The Great Replacement, published in 2011 by Renaud Camus, a French writer.

These ideas have utterly entered the mainstream in US politics over the past decade, with everyone from Donald Trump to Tucker Carlson, repeating its core idea, that white people are losing their place to people of colour.

Ten people killed after white gunman intentionally targeted grocery used by people of colour (AFP via Getty Images)
Ten people killed after white gunman intentionally targeted grocery used by people of colour (AFP via Getty Images)

Last year, Carlson, who has denied being racist and has disavowed acts of political violence, was criticised for a segment in which he said the Democratic Party was “trying to replace the current electorate” in the United States with “new people, more obedient voters from the Third World”.

Among those who come to Carlson’s defence, were Republican congressman Matt Gaetz, of Florida, saying in a tweet the TV host was “CORRECT about Replacement Theory as he explains what is happening to America”.

The demographics of America are certainly changing. The Census Bureau said in its most recent publication: “The White alone adult population (age 18 and over) went from 74.7 per cent in 2010 to 64.1 per cent in 2020. In contrast, the Multiracial adult population increased from 2.1 per cent in 2010 to 8.8 per cent in 2020.”

But Richard Alba, a professor of sociology at the City University of New York (CUNY), and author of Remaking the American Mainstream, tells The Independent that the statement is misleading.

The seemingly dramatic decrease, he says, is less about a shift on the ground than a shift in coding by the Census Bureau, and a decision to allow people to choose to report more than one race to indicate their identity.

“I think that ’the great replacement theory’, like a lot of the common, alarmist-to-whites ways of looking at demographic change, is premised on a binary view of society which is that society is made up of two ethno-racial components, whites on the one hand and non whites on the other hand,” he says.

“What that distorts is the amount of mixing that’s going on in the United States today, that is to say, whites and non-whites forming families, having children.”

Some estimates suggest that white people in the US could become “minority white” by 2045, meaning that year, whites will comprise 49.7 per cent of the population in contrast to 24.6 per cent for Hispanics, 13.1 percent for Blacks, 7.9 per cent for Asians, and 3.8 percent for multiracial populations.

Alba, who most recently published The Great Demographic Illusion: Majority, Minority, and the Expanding American Mainstream, says there is far less certainty about when the US becomes “majority minority”.

He also argues that the the rising numbers of young Americans from ethno-racially mixed families, consisting of one white and one nonwhite parent, is being ignored.

“The contemporary intellectual landscape, dominated by theories about race and racism, has engendered the majority-minority conception of the American future, in which white people are outnumbered by Americans of color by midcentury,” he writes in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

“But assimilation, as a set of processes with societal ramifications, is still potent, driven by demographic dynamics that generate opportunities for minority mobility, and is linked to increasing family mixing between white and non-white people.”

Even with the landscape of a shifting America, others have pointed out other key tenets of the “Great Replacement” theory do not stand up.

An article in the The Daily Dot rebutted another claim – that white birth rates are falling. It said, according to Pew Social and Demographic Trends, birth rates for self-identified white, Black, Hispanic, and Asian people are all in decline.

It also nailed as false, another longstanding right-wing talking point – that non-white populations are more violent or prone to crime. It pointed to a report from 2015 by the The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that said “neighborhoods with greater concentrations of immigrants have much lower rates of crime and violence than comparable nonimmigrant neighborhoods”.

Meanwhile, a highly regarded article by The New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo in the aftermath of the March 2019 white terror attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, pointed out that numbers alone did not tell the whole story or the power or influence of different groups.

He made the argument – a point that was repeated during the protests for racial justice that swept the US in then summer of 2020 following the murder of George Floyd – that structural racism protected the relative privilege of white people.

The same is true in places such as South Africa, where, three decades after the end of apartheid, whites control 70 per cent of arable land and dominate in business, despite constituting just 10 per cent of the population.

“Demography is not destiny, either,” Manjoo wrote in the New York Times.

“Even if, several decades from now, whites do become a racial minority, they will not automatically lose much of their vast economic and political power, because this is America, where inequality is tolerated and an aggrieved and wealthy political minority can hold sway indefinitely.”

Additional reporting by Associated Press