It's time to break the news.The Messenger's slogan

The Buffalo shooter’s inspiration — the ‘Great Replacement Theory’— came from France

The “Great Replacement Theory” is a global phenomenon.

The concept has spread widely in recent years, amplified by conservative media and — increasingly — articulated by politicians in the conservative mainstream. Its expressions have ranged from arguments for more restrictive immigration policies to horrific violence such as the terror of this past weekend.

Such racially driven, anti-immigrant thinking is hardly new, but in name at least, the Great Replacement Theory has a more recent history. And it’s not an American concept. It’s an import to this country — from France.

Origins of the term

He called his book “Le Grand Remplacement” — French for “The Great Replacement.”

Later, Camus spoke publicly about “remigration” — a word that carries the same meaning in English and French, and refers to the idea that the much-feared “replacement” could be avoided by returning migrants to their countries of origin. Camus became an influential member of the European New Right party and an icon of its youth wing, Generation Identity. The latter was founded in 2003 in southern France as a white nativist group that stands for an ethnically pure population in Europe.

“The theory had existed in other forms,” Josh Lipowsky, senior research analyst for the nonprofit Counter Extremism Project, told Grid, “but [Camus’ book] really brought it to the forefront, and we saw several groups latching on to it.”

Today, Camus’ theory is central to several far-right parties on the continent, and his general idea — that an invasion of nonwhites risks existential damage to white-majority nations — has captured the imagination of politicians and the media in the U.S. as well.

Violent fringe — and political mainstream

If the Buffalo killer was inspired by the ideas of a French author, he wasn’t the first.

The perpetrators of such atrocities “copy what they think worked, and build on weaknesses,” Amarnath Amarasingam, an assistant professor of religion at Queen’s University in Canada and an expert on extremism and political violence, told Grid. “The argument is the same — that there is a demographic emergency with white people in imminent danger of being overrun and outbred — and it’s up to them to wake up a sleeping white community to what they are facing.”

These are only the most violent expressions of the Great Replacement Theory. Beyond the killers, “Le Grand Remplacement” has been heard loud and clear in global political campaigns, in Europe in particular.

For many of these politicians, those immigrants — from Syria, Afghanistan and northern Africa — have been the catalyst for embracing the notion of “replacement.” Their arguments range from the supposed incompatibility of Muslims or Islam with democracy or the West, fears about the “Islamization” of Europe, or the general idea that their fellow whites are at risk.

The common thread: White majority life is under threat and must be saved. In other words, a “great replacement” looms.

A new name but an old idea

Technically, Camus can claim authorship of the term, but the “great replacement” is just a modern phrase for a strain of racism that has existed for centuries. Fears of racial mixing, fear of new arrivals — none of it is new. Adolf Hitler and other leaders of the Third Reich predicated their actions on fears that Jewish people were a danger to the Aryan nation that they craved. One might say National Socialism was an ideology built, in a sense, on the Nazis’ own “replacement theory.”

The sad fact is that the concept still finds a foothold.

When a group of families from Haiti was permitted to remain in the U.S. last September to pursue asylum claims (the majority of the Haitian arrivals had been returned), Fox News host Tucker Carlson offered his take under the banner, “Nothing About What’s Happening Is an Accident.” U.S. border policy, Carlson said, is designed to “change the racial mix of the country.” He went on to say that “this policy is called the ‘great replacement,’ the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from faraway countries.”

“Legacy Americans” — substitute “French” or other white-majority nationality, and the term might have been used by any number of European politicians. Or by Renaud Camus himself.

Start your day with the biggest stories and exclusive reporting from The Messenger Morning, our weekday newsletter.
By signing up, you agree to our privacy policy and terms of use.
Sign Up.