How The Great Replacement Went Mainstream
The far-right conspiracy theory has jumped off the dark web message boards and into political parties around Europe including Britain
In August this year, Fox News shock-jock Tucker Carlson broadcast his show from Budapest, Hungary. He reported from the Hungarian-Serbian border where, in 2015 thousands of families fleeing war in the Global South sought asylum in Europe and where today, people referred to as “illegal aliens” are photographed and returned across the border. This, Carlson says, is “the most civilised thing we have seen in years.”
Hungary, Carlson claimed, takes this hard line on migration as it “has no desire to destroy itself.”
In an earlier monologue delivered on Fox News, Carlson praised Hungary’s Family Protection Policy which incentivises married, ethnic Hungarians to have more children. He claimed Western countries are “struggling with low birth rates”, before saying the US takes the “George Soros way” – introducing an antisemitic conspiracy about the Jewish billionaire philanthropist – and “imports a replacement population from the third world”. In contrast, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán actually cares about “making sure their own people thrive, instead of promising the nation’s wealth to every illegal immigrant in the third world.”
Carlson’s rhetoric about Hungary is part of the mainstreaming of the Great Replacement – a baseless conspiracy theory that posits white people in the West are being ‘replaced’ via migration from the Global South. The theory stokes ungrounded fears that a ‘white genocide’ is being aided by left-wing elites, feminists who repress the birth rate with abortion rights, and ‘Cultural Marxists’ – an antisemitic dog whistle. The conspiracy was amplified on far-right and neo-Nazi Telegram channels, where influencers and activists plan for an ethnic war – sometimes codenamed ‘boogaloo.’
What Carlson’s ill-informed rant about the “Soros way” exposes is how this deadly theory – the Christchurch mass-shooter wrote a manifesto titled The Great Replacement before murdering 52 people in New Zealand – has become mainstream in both the media and in Western politics.
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From Budapest to Paris via Amsterdam
There are historic precedents for the Great Replacement. Italy’s fascist dictator Mussolini launched a ‘Battle for Babies’, designed to increase the Italian birth rate and “reclaim” Italy from foreign influence. In a 1927 speech, Mussolini claimed the “cradles are empty and cemeteries are expanding… The entire white race, the Western race, could be submerged by other races of colour that multiply with a rhythm unknown to our own”. Nazi Germany offered a medal system to incentivise women to have large families and US President Theodore Roosevelt believed that “race purity must be maintained” before admonishing white American women who didn’t have children for their “wilful sterility.”
These are policies and ideologies that were meant to be confined to the past. And yet, just under a century on from Mussolini’s fascist takeover, they have returned to electoral politics.
The moment the conspiracy really hit the mainstream was in 2019, when Orbán gave a speech where he falsely claimed that “political forces want to replace the white European population with ‘others’. If in the future Europe is to be populated by people other than Europeans, then we will effectively be consenting to population replacement: to a process in which the European population is replaced.”
Orbán had hinted at such ideology in previous speeches. But with this address to an international demography conference, the theory had fully travelled from murky internet message boards to a Prime Minister of an EU member state.
Hungary is not, however, alone. Great Replacement conspiracism is being repeated by political leaders in Italy, the Netherlands, the US and just across the Channel in France.
It should perhaps be no surprise that France’s election campaign is becoming a fight on the Great Replacement – the theory originated with French philosopher Renaud Camus. The country’s new far-right hopeful, Eric Zemmour – whose side Camus has historically taken – has claimed he wants to “save” France from “immigration and liberalism”. He falsely argues France is being “submerged” by people of colour from Muslim countries, taking Great Replacement ideology to the ballot box.
Zemmour’s book The French Suicide also propagates the Great Replacement – claiming that France has been “in decline” since the 1960s due to migration, feminism and LGBTIQ rights. His inclusion of the latter is critical, reflecting as it does the far-right’s obsessive misogyny and homophobia which sees both women’s and LGBTIQ rights as a tool used by ‘neoliberal elites’ to repress white birth rates.
While in Hungary, Orbán’s supporters are older and rural, Zemmour has attracted “le buzz” – with a youthful following calling itself “Generation Zemmour”. This mainly online community is made up of predominantly young, male users who share links to France’s burgeoning fascist YouTube scene and debate their hero’s theories.
Despite his false claim that France’s Nazi-collaborating Vichy regime protected Jewish people during World War Two, The Spectator wrote a fawning profile of the far-right candidate. The headline ran: “Immigration is war.”
Zemmour is not fringe, as The Spectator profile shows. He is a mainstream writer and a Presidential hopeful. Early polls in November 2021 predicted he would make it to the second round of the election, although his standing has slipped since.
North of Paris in Amsterdam, and the far-right is also using Great Replacement tropes and a focus on anti-immigrant, anti-feminist and anti-LGBTIQ messaging to win Parliamentary seats.
Thierry Baudet of Forum for Democracy has spoken of Cultural Marxism in his speeches, and repeats Great Replacement-style tropes in his writing. In an essay for the conservative American Affairs Journal, Baudet claimed that women’s liberation was causing a “demographic decline”. Clarifying his remarks to Politico, he explained “it certainly is the case that when a society does not reproduce in sufficient numbers to maintain itself, then either the economy is going to experience a very deep decline, or you’re going to have to compensate for that loss in reproduction rates by immigration, which is a very destructive force for your national culture.”
While his views are extreme – Baudet was told to delete social media posts comparing Coronavirus restrictions to the Holocaust – he is in the mainstream. Baudet is an elected Dutch MP and his party won 5% of the House of Representatives vote in 2021, as well as 15.87% in 2019’s Senate elections.
The UK Connection
Unlike in France, the Netherlands, Hungary and other European countries such as Italy and Spain, there is no far-right party with a foot in power in the UK. That does not mean, however, that the UK is free from this mainstreaming of far-right conspiracy – not least because many of the parties using Great Replacement rhetoric are our allies in Europe.
The Conservative Party’s membership of the European Conservatives and Democratic Alliance in the Council of Europe means it lines up alongside Forum for Democracy, Fidesz and other far-right parties – including Vox in Spain and the Brothers of Italy. The latter’s Giorgia Meloni is another politician whose anti-migrant rhetoric and focus on “globalist ideology” aiding migration echoes and mainstreams the Great Replacement.
Since 2019, various Conservative MPs have repeated the phrase “Cultural Marxism”, an antisemitic dog whistle and a non-existent phenomena that far-right actors blame for the Great Replacement. Attorney General Suella Braverman was criticised for using the term, while 30 MPs and peers signed an open letter pledging to “safeguard British values” from “cultural Marxist dogma”.
Their comments form part of the Conservative Party’s culture war against what it calls “the small but vocal woke brigade”. Part of this culture war is a backlash against “lefty lawyers” – a term used by Home Secretary Priti Patel to describe legal professionals working on immigration.
The Byline Times has reported how the far-right is increasingly putting political pressure on the Government to take a hard-line on immigration, with concerning results. A movement of extremist activists drop banners in ports saying “we will not be replaced”, while accusing the Conservatives of failing to “push back” people seeking asylum, is fuelling a political programme that seeks to criminalise people arriving in the UK via small boats or lorries.
This is not a Government promoting Great Replacement. But right now, it risks being a Government that acts in response to those conspiracy theorists who do.