Whether it’s the “great replacement” or something else, the conspiracy theory espoused by the accused Buffalo, NY, shooter has inspired several mass shootings in recent years – in Canada and around the world .
Ten people died Saturday in the attack at Tops Friendly Market in a predominantly black neighborhood of Buffalo.
A manifesto linked to the 18-year-old accused shooter is being investigated by the FBI, which has described the fatal supermarket shooting as “racially motivated violent extremism”.
The text of the manifesto, which has been posted online, refers to the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, which raises fears that Europeans will be replaced by the so-called “white genocide”. He also explicitly states that the intent of the planned attack was “to show the replacements that as long as the white man lives our land will never be theirs and they will never be safe from us”.
Those who closely monitor violent extremism say this is another tragic example of how racist ideology fuels deadly violence.
“The grand alternative conspiracy theory is kind of like the overriding DNA of racist conspiracy theory,” said Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
Essentially, the plot – which is not true – suggests that there is an orchestrated plot to bring in more non-white immigrants to replace white “Europeans” in Western countries.
“They say it’s actually a concerted effort by dark elites – in some cases it’s the Muslim Brotherhood and in other cases they usually blame the Jews – [who] control the media and the government in order to deliberately reduce the white birth rate,” Balgord said of the conspiracy supporters.
The term great replacement was originally coined by French white nationalist Renaud Camus.
Balgord, who said the idea has gained momentum over the past decade, is quick to list recent mass murders rooted in ideology: the 2017 Quebec City mosque shootings, which left six people dead; the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, which left 11 dead; and the 2019 mosque attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, which left 51 people dead.
“All kinds of communities are targeted by this,” he said.
Using fear of an urgent threat to incite violence
What makes conspiracy theory such a catalytic force for violence is the sense of urgency and fear that white or “European” culture is under threat, according to Balgord.
He said that in online forums and sites like 4chan, the language around this idea of a “great replacement” is often violent.
“They’re convincing people that there’s an apocalyptic situation, that you and your children – they’re trying to replace you,” he said. “It’s scary for someone who believes that.”
The false sense of imminent threat makes the plot particularly dangerous, said Amarnath Amarasingam, assistant professor at Queen’s University School of Religion in Kingston and senior fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization.
“The problem with some of these ideas is that they kind of push general fear into some sort of emergency,” he said.
Arsalan Iftikhar, a Muslim American author and associate with the Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University’s Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, said the malleability of ideology also means it can – and has – been used to justify attacks on a range of minority communities.
“Racism is not isolated to any geographic boundary. We’re starting to see that metastasize,” he said.
Canada’s “great replacement” problem
Even though the replacement ideology originated in France, it has since been cited by multiple mass shooters in different countries.
In the wake of the Buffalo shooting, some commentators were quick to blame Tucker Carlson, Fox News host and some Republicans for championing racist theory. Analysts who study radicalization, however, said it was important to recognize that it was not an exclusively American problem.
Amarasingam said some Canadian far-right movements have been known to push similar narratives about the replacement of the majority population with immigrants, whether or not they use the term “great replacement”.
Earlier this year, overlaps between this ideology and the leadership of the so-called Freedom Convoy were revealed when previous racist comments from one of the main organizers surfaced.
In videos circulating on social networks, the leader of the protest Pat King speaks of “an endgame”, which he says aims “to depopulate the Anglo-Saxon race, because they are the ones who have the strongest bloodlines”.
WATCH | Convoy organizer Pat King answers questions about racist videos:
While the convoy as a whole was not a far-right event, Amarasingam expressed concern that some of the far-right leaders have now gained supporters.
“The convoy gave all these people a huge megaphone to play with,” he said.
Balgord said that beyond the rhetoric, you don’t have to look far to find violence in Canada inspired by the same kind of ideology.
A year ago, a A Muslim family was killed in London, Ontario.in a crime that police said was motivated by anti-Muslim hatred.
In 2017, a 27-year-old white man entered a Quebec City mosque during prayer, killing and killing six people and seriously injuring dozens more. The killer later said he was embarrassed by Canada’s openness to refugees.
During the trial of the Quebec mosque shooter, the video of his interrogation by the police has been released. When asked why he chose to attack a mosque, the gunman said he was afraid of terrorist attacks and said he was afraid his family would be “killed by terrorists”.
Around this time, Balgord said, Canada’s new far-right movement was taking shape and focused on Muslims.
“It may not have been explicitly called ‘big replacement theory’ everywhere…but elements of it are the same,” he said.
He said the Quebec shooter “believed there was an Islamic and Muslim takeover of Canada, because these garbage ideas were put in his head by traditional and more fringe figures.”
The “racist conspiracy theory to fill”
Balgord and other analysts said the ideology is part of a larger ecosystem — each attack that cites the racist conspiracy draws more attention to it.
In fact, the Quebec mosque shooter’s name was among the names scribbled on an ammunition magazine by the Christchurch shooter. The Buffalo shooter is said to have thoroughly researched the Christchurch shooting, according to the results of a preliminary investigation.
Iftikhar, author of Fear of a Muslim Planet: Global Islamophobia in the New World Ordersaid there was power in calling these attacks by name.
“Everyone is more than willing to condemn terrorism whenever a brown Muslim commits it…we [should] to be so quick to condemn terrorism when a white supremacist does it,” he said.
These attacks should not be viewed as disconnected or blamed on lone wolves, he said, when bound by shared beliefs.
“Unfortunately, the ‘great replacement’ conspiracy theory has become the grand unification theory for white supremacists everywhere. It’s literally what I call the ‘white racist conspiracy theory’.
Countering white supremacy at the community level
Canada’s Minister of Public Safety said the racism and white supremacy behind the Buffalo shooting are present in Canada.
In a statement sent to CBC News, a spokesperson for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) said the threat of ideologically motivated violent extremism is complex and “fuelled by supporters who are motivated by a range of ‘influences rather than by a singular belief system”.
CSIS said resolving this issue requires “a concerted and coordinated effort by intelligence and law enforcement agencies, in cooperation with civic and community leaders, academic researchers and others.”
Non-governmental extremism experts agree. They say tackling far-right hate should ideally take place long before law enforcement gets involved.
“The best solutions are located within the community and stop things before they get too far,” Balgord said.
He said there are concrete actions that can make a difference, like teaching educators to spot the warning signs, providing communities with tools to intervene if someone goes down the path of white supremacy. radicalization and appoint a mediator to work with social media companies to prevent violent radicalization.
If nothing changes, Iftikhar said, hateful violence will simply continue to happen.
“It’s a new normal,” he said.
“We have to decide, as a human race, whether we’re going to let our best angels prevail or go the other way.”