NEW YORK (AP) — Half a dozen mainstream Republican Senate candidates are leaning on the “great replacement” conspiracy theory once confined to the far-right fringes of American politics to woo voters this campaign season, promoting the baseless idea that there is a conspiracy to diminish white influence in America.
In some cases, the comments were largely ignored given the hardline rhetoric on immigration that became commonplace among conservatives during the Trump era. But a weekend mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, which may have been inspired by racist theory, is drawing new attention to the GOP’s growing embrace of white nationalist creed.
Three weeks ago in Arizona, Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters accused Democrats of trying to flood the country with millions of immigrants “to change the demographics of our country.” Days later in Missouri, Senate hopeful Eric Schmitt, the state’s attorney general, said Democrats were “fundamentally trying to change this country through illegal immigration.” And in Ohio, Republican Senate candidate JD Vance accused Democrats of trying to “transform the electorate.”
Warning of an “invasion” of immigrants, Vance told Fox News Channel that Democrats “have decided that they cannot be re-elected in 2022 unless they bring in a large number of new voters to replace voters who are already here”.
Some of the Republican campaigns have denied that their statements amount to a replacement theory, but among pundits there is little doubt.
Five hate speech experts who have reviewed Republican candidates’ comments have confirmed that they promote baseless racist theory, even though Republicans do not directly mention race.
“Comments like these demonstrate two essential characteristics of the great replacement conspiracy theory. They predict racial apocalypse, saying it’s all part of an orchestrated master plan. It’s just the language that’s been softened,” said Brian Hughes, a professor at the American University, associate director of the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab. “The basic story they tell is the same one we see in white supremacist discussions on the internet: an enemy is orchestrating the fate of white Americans by plotting to fill the country with non-whites.”
Indeed, a prevailing interpretation of replacement theory in the United States baselessly suggests that Democrats encourage immigration from Latin America so that more like-minded potential voters replace “traditional” Americans, says Mark Pitcavage, senior fellow at the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism.
Such a message has become central to the appeal of the modern conservative movement to voters. Former President Donald Trump repeatedly warned of an invasion of immigrants on the southern border, and he was slow to condemn white supremacy throughout his presidency.
Shortly after taking office, Trump shared a social media post from someone with the username WhiteGenocideTM.
The replacement theory is being investigated as a motivating factor in the Buffalo supermarket shooting, which killed 10 black people and injured three others.
Representative Liz Cheney, who was ousted from the House Republican leadership for her vocal criticism of Trump, on Monday accused her own party of enabling “white nationalism, white supremacy and anti-Semitism.”
“History has taught us that what begins with words ends much worse,” Cheney tweeted. GOP leaders “must renounce and reject these views and those who hold them.”
Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, through a spokeswoman, declined to answer questions about whether the GOP condones the replacement theory. She instead accused her critics of playing politics.
“The attempt by Democrats and some media outlets to exploit the Buffalo tragedy by smearing millions of Americans is heinous,” McDaniel wrote on Twitter.
The White House declined to call out Republican rhetoric when pressed on Monday. But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., wasn’t so subtle.
“Unfortunately, every year it seems harder and harder to ignore that the results of replacement theory and other racially motivated views are increasingly being brought to light and given purported legitimacy by some MAGA Republicans and cable news pundits,” Schumer said.
“It’s dangerous,” he added. “It’s poisoning minds.”
It has also become a dominant view of the political right.
In a poll released last week, the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that about 1 in 3 Americans believe an effort is underway to replace Americans born in the United States with immigrants in electoral purposes.
Fox News’ most popular personality, Tucker Carlson, has been one of the theory’s biggest proponents. A five-year study of Carlson’s show by The New York Times found 400 instances in which he spoke of Democratic politicians and others seeking to force demographic change through immigration.
But so far, at least, less attention has been paid to Republican candidates gearing up to face voters in the weeks and months ahead who have, in some cases, promoted the theory again and again.
In interviews with conservative national television and radio over the past year, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson called the replacement theory a “great Democratic plan.”
“I have to believe they want to change the makeup of the electorate,” he told a conservative Minneapolis-area radio host last month.
The Johnson campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
In Missouri, at least two Republicans vying for the Republican Senate nomination have made similar statements more recently.
During a tour of the US-Mexico border last month, former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens said immigrants crossing illegally “were pouring into all 50 states, including Missouri.”
“What’s also very clear is that Joe Biden’s politics are an attack on the whole idea of America,” Greitens said. “He erases the distinction between citizens and non-citizens, and he does it on purpose.”
A week later, Schmitt, Greitens’ Republican rival, claimed that tens of millions of immigrants were entering the United States illegally because of Biden’s policies. He said Democrats intentionally encourage illegal immigration for their own benefit.
“They’re basically trying to change this country through their illegal immigration policy,” Schmitt told conservative commentator Glenn Beck.
Schmitt’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment. Greitens ignored questions about the replacement theory but called the mass shooting in Buffalo “truly horrific” in a written statement.
Interestingly, the Buffalo shooter wrote, ‘One of my favorite TV shows is The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.’ Maybe the media should talk about it as well,” Greitens said.
In Arizona, Masters has warned throughout his campaign against a Democratic plot to transform the American electorate.
“Obviously the Democrats, they’re just hoping to change the demographics of our country,” Masters told the Patriot Edition podcast late last month. “They hope to import an entirely new electorate. Then they call you racist and bigoted.
In Ohio, Vance has already secured a spot in the November ballot. He won Trump’s endorsement after embracing many of the former president’s tough views, including those related to immigration.
Vance told Breitbart News last month that Democrats were trying to illegally give the vote to 15 million immigrants in the country. “They are trying to transform the electorate of this country,” he said.
He made similar comments days later at a town hall in Portsmouth, Ohio.
Shortly after President Joe Biden’s inauguration, Democrats in Congress proposed legislation that would include an eight-year pathway to citizenship for the roughly 11 million people living illegally in the country, but the proposal stalled. and is unlikely to be approved by Congress.
“Now, of course,” Vance said, “you’re being accused of being racist for pointing it out. We decide, the people decide whether or not we transform the country.
The Vance campaign declined to comment.
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