White replacement theory’s antisemitic origins

As early as 2008 white replacement theory started being discussed in the newly emerging alt-right movement in America.

White replacement theory (also known as white genocide theory or “the great replacement”) has its roots in antisemitic ideology.

Popularized by white separatist neo-Nazi David Lane in the mid-1990s, the theory states that white people are being replaced by minorities and that the perpetrators behind the so-called replacement are Jewish.

The theory has inspired numerous deadly racist, antisemitic attacks in the United States and around the world, with the most recent being at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York.

Early history

An antisemitic anti-immigrant cartoon, from 1890. (Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

American historian Richard Hofstadter identified a rise in American white populism in the late 1890s that had conspiratorial concerns similar to today’s white replacement theory. 

“The origin of the conspiracy was, typically, European bankers and, on occasion, Jewish bankers working with foreign powers or for themselves,” a research paper on his findings concluded.

It was around this same time the phrase “white replacement” began to first appear in the far-right of France in the writings of Maurice Barres in the early 20th century.

The theory regained popularity once again in the 1920s with a book written by American eugenicist and lawyer Madison Grant called “The Passing of the Great Race.” In the book Grant claimed that the white race which “built” America was in danger of “extinction” unless the U.S. government reined in the immigration of Jews and others.

The theory and the book were later praised by Adolf Hitler, who called the writings his “Bible,” however by the 1930s Grant’s thoughts and beliefs fell out of fashion in the United States.

Nazi Germany

Antisemitic propaganda of an agricultural worker kicking a stereotypically depicted Jewish man through a fence. It reads “German export: Out of our German country with the slimy Jewish band.” (Courtesy: Dottie Bennett)

White replacement theory was used widely by the Nazis in their propaganda leading up to their takeover of Germany. 

Nazis distributed pamphlets from the “Research Department for the Jewish Question” titled “Are the White Nations Dying?” in which they blamed the Jews for long-standing historical prejudices and problems. As it was already popular at this time to consider Jewish people a distinct race separate from white Europeans, the Nazis double down on this and exploited this belief which later developed into the Final Solution which saw 6 million Jews murdered.

Adoption by neo-Nazis and the European far right

Following World War II white replacement theory found a home in far-right European circles. In 1948, the popular French militant political activist René Binet wrote in his newspaper L’Unité: 

“We accuse the Zionists and anti-racists of the crime of genocide because they claim to be imposing on us a crossbreeding that would be the death and destruction of our race and civilization.”

Binet went on to write the book “Théorie du Racisme” in 1950 which argued that “systematic race mixing [was] nothing more than a slow genocide.” His book went on to influence several far-right movements in Europe.

American adaptation

The term “white genocide” begins to appear once again in America in the 1970s, popping up first in the American Nazi Party’s White Power newspaper and then used later by the White Aryan Resistance.

Twenty years later, neo-Nazi David Lane further popularized the theory in his “White Genocide Manifesto,” claiming that the government policies of many Western countries were intent on destroying white European culture and making white people an “extinct species” due to being under the influence of the Zionist Occupation Government or “ZOG” who’s goal is to eradicate the white race. ZOG to this day is a popular term used in alt-right and white supramicist circles.

Lane remains one of the most “important ideologues of contemporary white supremacy” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. For Lane, “Jews were the real enemy,” preaching that they were “the literal descendants of Satan.”

Lane made famous the “14 words,” a core belief in white supramicist movements: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White children.”

Adoption by the “alt-right”

A man makes a slashing motion across his throat toward counter-protesters as he marches with other white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the “alt-right” during the “Unite the Right” rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. After clashes with anti-fascist protesters and police the rally was declared an unlawful gathering and people were forced out of Emancipation Park, where a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is slated to be removed. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

As early as 2008 white replacement theory started being discussed in the newly emerging alt-right movement in America.

Alt-right ideology is fixated on white identity but within the movement there is a range of different ideologies on what this looks like– ranging from white supremacy, to radical traditional Christian theology, to neo-reactionaries. One uniting factor is that there is a primary focus on so-called “Jewish influence,” people who hate whites, and liberals trying to demolish white rule. All of these groups are commonly cited by the alt-right as being the main factors leading to a “white genocide.”

During this time the writings of Maurice Barres were rediscovered and made popular by French writer and critic Renaud Camus. In 2011 Camus published an essay titled “Le Grand Remplacement,” or “the great replacement.” Alluding to the “great replacement theory,” Camus argued that non-white immigration to Europe was leading to the extinction of the white race.

Camus’ essay made its way through the American alt-right who then put its own spin on the theory, using the scapegoats of Jews and liberals– an ideology that made its national debut in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Nazis chant “Jews will not replace us,” during the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville. (Courtesy: Vice News)

Richard Spencer, one of the largest figures in the alt-right movement at the time, organized the deadly 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville now infamous for its “You will not replace us, Jews will not replace us” tiki march.

“The rallying cry of the white nationalists who marched on Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 — ‘You will not replace us’ — could be traced to Mr. Camus and other French theorists like him,” French author Thomas Chatterton Williams told the New York Times in 2019.

According to Vox:

“Richard Spencer has spent a decade attempting to edge his views into the mainstream, the same effort the alt-right and so-called “America First” movement is taking on as we speak.”

Mainstream appeal

“You don’t find this philosophy just on the fringes of the Internet and among the most extreme groups anymore,” said Milan Obaidi, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Oslo who has studied “great replacement” rhetoric and the violence it has provoked, told the Washington Post. “It’s becoming mainstream. You see established politicians in Europe and the U.S. touting similar ideas.”

In fact, recent polling found that nearly 1 in 3 Americans are extremely or very concerned that “native-born Americans are losing economic, political, and cultural influence in this country because of the growing population of immigrants.” 

Rep. Liz Cheney, (R-Wy.) called out politicans for “[enabling] white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-semitism.” Saying “history has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse.”

Deadly U.S. attacks

Multiple attackers have either been motivated by or have directly invoked variations of the white replacement theory in their attacks.

Pittsburgh Shooting Spree

Richard Baumhammers killed five people in an antisemitic, racially motivated shooting spree in Pittsburgh on April 28, 2000 (one other person was paralyzed). 

Baumhammers killed his next-door neighbor, a 63-year-old Jewish woman, and set her house on fire. He then drove to the synagogue where his neighbor was a member, fired into the windows and spray-painted two red swastikas on the building. He then shot and killed a person at a nearby Indian grocery store and paralyzed another who died years later due to complications from their injury. 

Following that deadly rampage he then traveled to another synagogue and shot out its windows. Baumhammers then entered a nearby Chinese restaurant and killed two workers, one who was Chinese and another who was Vietnamese American. He then drove to a karate center and killed a Black man exercising there.

Baumhammers was later arrested and sentenced to death (which was later commuted to life in prison). Police found a manifesto in which he complained that European Americans were being outnumbered by minorities and immigrants.

Overland Park Jewish Community Center shooting

OVERLAND PARK, KS – APRIL 17: Crowds pass by a makeshift memorial following an interfaith service honoring victims of Sunday’s shootings on April 17, 2014 at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City, in Overland Park, Kansas. White supremacist Frazier Glenn Cross is in custody, charged with murder in the killing of two people outside the center and a third victim at a nearby Jewish retirement home on April 13. (Photo by Julie Denesha/Getty Images)

Former Klansman and neo-Nazi, 73-year-old Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. killed three people on April 13, 2014, at the Overland Park Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom in Overland Park, Kansas.

Miller’s victims were a 14-year-old boy and his 69-year-old grandfather, and a 53-year-old woman who was in the parking lot of Village Shalom where her mother resided. All were not Jewish.

During his trial Miller took on his own defense and stated that he found out that he was in bad health and wanted to “kill as many Jews as possible” before he died. During his closing arguments he wrote on an easel: “Diversity is a code word for white genocide!”

He then told the jury:

“Everything I did for our people, to secure the existence of our people and the future of white children.”

Miller was sentenced to death but died in prison before his execution date.

Charleston church shooting

Monte Talmadge walks past the memorial on the sidewalk in front the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church after a mass shooting at the church killed nine people on June 20, 2015 in Charleston, United States. Dylann Roof, 21 years old, has been charged with killing nine people during a prayer meeting in the church, which is one of the nation’s oldest black churches in Charleston. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

On June 17, 2015, white supramicist Dylann Roof walked into a Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and murdered nine worshippers, wounding another, before a nationwide manhunt.

Roof told survivors of the shooting before walking out that “black people were taking over the country” and in his online manifesto he blamed it on “the Jewish agitation of the black race.” 

His manifesto also had an entire section dedicated to “Jews” in which he called for the destruction of “Jewish identity.” Roof later would ask for his court appointed lawyer, who is Jewish, to be dismissed from his team.

Roof was convicted of 33 federal hate crime and murder charges and was sentenced to death. 

Charlottesville car attack

White nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the “alt-right” with body armor and combat weapons evacuate comrades who were pepper sprayed after the “Unite the Right” rally was declared a unlawful gathering by Virginia State Police August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. After clashes with anti-fascist protesters and police the rally was declared an unlawful gathering and people were forced out of Emancipation Park, where a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is slated to be removed. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Neo-Nazi and white supremacist James Alex Fields, Jr. deliberately drove his car into a crowd of people peacefully protesting the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017, murdering one person and injuring 35.

An ex-schoolmate of Fields said that he would draw swastikas and talk about “loving Hitler” as early as middle school and his high school history teacher said that he was “deeply into Adolf Hitler and white supremacy.”

Fields was sentenced to life in prison plus an additional 419 years.

Tree of Life Synagogue shooting

Mourners visit the memorial outside the Tree of Life Synagogue on October 31, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Eleven people were killed in a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

The deadliest attack ever on the U.S. Jewish community took place on October 27, 2018, at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue during Shabbat services. At the end of the day 11 people were murdered and six were wounded, including several Holocaust survivors.

The attacker, 46-year-old Robert Gregory Bowers, was motivated in part by his hatred for the Jewish immigration agency HIAS. The attack occurred one week after the congregation hosted a National Refugee Shabbat in conjunction with the organization. 

Before entering the synagogue Bowers posted to Gab:

“HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

Bowers at some point during the attack also said “All Jews must die!”

On social media Bowers often evoked David Lane’s “14 Words” and other Nazi slogans. He also published posts on white genocide conspiracy theory.

As of October 2020, Bowers was still seeking a plea deal.

Poway Synagogue shooting

Mourners Heather Foy and her son Marshall, who live in the neighborhood, embrace at a make-shift memorial across the street from the Chabad of Poway Synagogue on Sunday, April 28, 2019 in Poway, California, one day after a teenage gunman opened fire, killing one person and injuring three others including the rabbi as worshippers marked the final day of Passover, authorities said. (Photo: SANDY HUFFAKER/AFP via Getty Images)

On April 27, 2019, Shabbat and the last day of Passover, 19-year-old John Timothy Earnest entered the Chabad of Poway Synagogue while 100 people were inside. During the attack Earnest’s weapon jammed forcing him to flee after murdering one congregant and wounding three others, including the congregation’s rabbi. He then later called 911 to report the shooting.

Officials found an antisemitic and racist manifesto posted to 8chan shortly before the shooting. The letter stated that Jews were preparing a “meticulously planned genocide of the European race.” He also condemned President Donald Trump as “a pro-Zionist traitor.”

Earnest was sentenced in federal court to life in prison with no chance of parole, plus 30 years.

El Paso Walmart shooting

EL PASO, TX – AUGUST 15: People gather at a makeshift memorial honoring victims outside Walmart August 15, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. 22 people were killed in the Walmart during a mass shooting on August 3rd. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

Patrick Wood Crusius, 21, killed 23 people and wounded 23 others at an El Paso Walmart on August 3, 2019. The shooting has been described as the deadliest attack on Latinos in modern American history.

Police believe a manifesto, titled “The Inconvenient Truth,” was posted by Crusius on 8chan shortly before the shooting. The manifesto spoke of a “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” and warned that white people in America were being replaced by foreigners. He also said that the United States should be divided into territories based on race.

Crusius confessed to detectives that he was the shooter, and admitted that he targeted “Mexicans” during the attack. His case has not yet gone to trial.

2022 Buffalo shooting

FBI agents look at bullet impacts in a Tops Grocery store in Buffalo, New York, on May 15, 2022, the day after a gunman shot dead 10 people. (Photo by USMAN KHAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Eighteen-year-old Payton S. Gendron is accused of killing 10 people and wounding 3 others at a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, on May 14, 2022.

An online manifesto reportedly written by Gendron, describes himself as a white supremacist and voices support for the great replacement conspiracy theory.

His manifesto also stated: “I wish all JEWS to HELL!”

International shootings

Temporary memorial with Utøya, Norway, in the background

In 2011 Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people and wounded 241 others, many school children, in a series of attacks. The attacks were the deadliest in Norway since World War II. In a 1,500+ page manifesto he emailed out before the attack, Breivik called himself a knight dedicated to stemming Muslim immigration into Europe.

Memorial in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Both the El Paso and Poway shooters in their manifestos said they were motivated in part by the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand that killed 51 people on March 15,  2019. Brenton Harrison Tarrant, a 28-year-old from Australia and self described member of the alt-right, live streamed part of the shooting. In his manifesto Tarrant talked about white replacement and white genocide.