What it means, where it came from

  • Last week’s mass shooting in Buffalo has drawn renewed attention to a racist conspiracy theory known as “replacement theory.”
  • The theory is often mischaracterized and confused with demographic changes that are happening in the United States.
  • True ‘replacement theory’ posits not just that demographics are changing, but that this change is being orchestrated by a sinister cabal.

A racist mass shooting that left 10 people dead in Buffalo, New York, put national attention on a concept that has alarmed experts in extremism for years: “replacement theory” or the “Great Replacement.”

The attack targeted Black people, and the man charged in the shootings purportedly wrote a hate-filled document nearly 200 pages long, as well as hundreds of pages of a personal diary posted online before the shooting, that cited the conspiracy theory extensively.

The racist belief was the shooter’s primary motivation, according to experts who studied the documents. Authorities worked to definitively link that file to the suspect, Payton Gendron, 18.

Before and since the attack, political commentators have sparred over what exactly replacement theory is. They debate whether the concept that matured on extremist websites and chat rooms is really the same as the talking points used by mainstream conservative pundits and politicians.

Understanding this idea, and its connection to hate crimes, requires examination of what replacement theory is – starting with what it is not.

Spreading replacement theory:‘Replacement theory’ fuels extremists and shooters. A top Border Patrol agent is spreading it.

When mass killers are called ‘saints’:Online, extremists turn shooters into ‘saints.’ Experts worry others aspire to join the ranks

A makeshift memorial near the scene of a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, NY, honors the victims of an attack being investigated as a racist hate crime.

What replacement theory is NOT

There’s widespread consensus among demographers that the racial and ethnic makeup of the American electorate is changing. It always has. Broadly speaking, if demographic trends continue, experts expect white Americans will become less than the majority of the population toward the middle of this century.

Legal and illegal immigration, combined with generally higher birthrates among nonwhite US residents, mean that the country is shifting toward an electorate that is majority nonwhite. Demographers at the Brookings Institution used census data to estimate that whites will become less than 50% of the US population around 2045.