Congressional candidate Joe Kent took to Twitter last summer to repeat a racist theme that has become commonplace in the country’s immigration debate and upcoming elections.
“The left is supporting an invasion of illegal immigrants to replace American voters and undercut working class jobs,” Kent wrote.
Then in the spring, in an interview with a white nationalist group, he nodded along as the host said Democrats don't care about the "Anglos" or "the founding stock of America."
“You believe they’re trying to replace white Americans?” the host asked.
“Yes,” Kent responded. “Yeah, and they’ll say, if you even mention that, you’re some sort of a neo-Nazi, white nationalist, ‘That’s the replacement theories.’ Well, no. You’re literally trying to replace an American.”
Backed by former President Donald Trump, Kent is a Republican from Washington seeking to take a seat in Congress from Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach the former president for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
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Kent is not the only Republicanto repeat the central themes of the racist and antisemitic Great Replacement theory. All over the country, sitting members of Congress, candidates, state politicians and former officeholders have been doing the same, bringing a white supremacist conspiracy theory to the forefront.
They often try to distance themselves from the conspiracy theory’s antisemitic origins – a baseless belief that Jews are behind a systematic replacement of white people with immigrants and Black people – and instead say Democrats are trying to import nonwhite voters to take over American elections. They often denounce racism and bigotry in general, but not replacement theory.
“If you turn yourself into a perceived victim, it justifies the horrible things that you do to them (immigrants)," said Nolan Cabrera, an education professor at the University of Arizona who specializes in the influence of whiteness. "But in order to see yourself as that you need to have an aggressor."
This kind of rhetoric has been in politics for more than a decade, Cabrera said. He pointed to dialogue that surrounded Arizona’s 2010 immigration law, when politicians accused Mexicans of invading the country and said that they were drug dealers, among other disparaging comments.
"It was already there, that No. 1, white people are under attack, and No. 2, there’s this inferior people or harmful people that are invading and potentially do(ing) a lot of harm to white folks in that situation," he said. "And then it really, really spread.”
What is the Great Replacement theory?
White supremacists have espoused the Great Replacement since the early 1900s, according to the Anti Defamation League, but they revived the conspiracy theory in 2011 when a French nationalist published a book called "Le Grand Remplacement."
Those who picked up the Great Replacement theory and spread it in the United States blamed Jews for non-white immigration. The theory got its most widespread attention in 2017, when white men chanted, “Jews will not replace us,” at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Sophie Bjork-James, an anthropology professor at Vanderbilt University and an expert in the white nationalist movement, said the theory has been a key tool for white supremacists working since school integration in the 1970s to recruit white conservative Republicans to their cause.
A major reason the theory is so popular, she said, is that people can adopt the anti-immigrant and anti-Black parts of the conspiracy theory and instead of blaming Jews, blame the Democrats.
“Taking antisemitism out of it has allowed it to spread much further,” she added.
Chad Dion Lassiter, executive director of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and a national race relations expert, said changing the theory makes it no less dangerous, and instead may make it more dangerous because it’s becoming so popular.
Lassiter served in his position when a shooter targeted a synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, and he’s watched racism and extremism intensify since then.
“White supremacy continues to be front and center as a major threat to American democracy,” Lassiter said.
David Duke, former grand wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan who ran for office several times on an openly racist platform, sees his views being repeated by today’s Republicans.
“I ran my campaigns primarily on the immigration issue, on fair trade issues, on the issues of preserving American culture, on stopping the replacement of European Americans – which people are all talking about now,” Duke said on a podcast in October.
Members of Congress repeat theory
Sitting members of Congress whose seats are up for grabs in the November midterms have repeated the Great Replacement theory during this campaign season.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., the third highest-ranking Republican in the House, published a campaign ad last fall that accused Democrats of trying to create a permanent liberal majority. The background image showed President Joe Biden wearing aviator sunglasses, with migrants reflected in the lenses.
“Radical Democrats are planning their most aggressive move yet: a PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION,” the online ad said. “Their plan to grant amnesty to 11 MILLION illegal immigrants will overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington.”
Two days after a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, where the gunman espoused the Great Replacement theory in a diatribe he wrote before the event, she echoed the same idea on Twitter: "Democrats desperately want wide open borders and mass amnesty for illegals allowing them to vote."
Stefanik has said opposition to illegal immigration is not the same thing as Nazism and white supremacy. Comparing the two “is a desperate attempt to stoke outrage and avoid covering Joe Biden’s border crisis,” she said in September.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of the top fundraising Republicans who does not hold a leadership position, defended the Great Replacement theory by name in September after Fox News host Tucker Carlson came under fire from the Anti Defamation League for repeating it.
“@TuckerCarlson is CORRECT about Replacement Theory as he explains what is happening to America,” Gaetz wrote on Twitter in September. "The ADL is a racist organization.”
The Anti Defamation League’s mission is to “stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.”
Carlson has “amplified the idea that Democratic politicians and others want to force demographic change through immigration” in more than 400 episodes of his show, according to a New York Times investigation.
Joel Valdez, a spokesman for Gaetz, pointed to Gaetz comments May 16 that double down on the Great Replacement while denouncing racism.
"I have consistently rejected ethno-nationalism," Gaetz said. "I’ve never spoken of replacement theory in terms of race. I was speaking in race-neutral political terms about how Democrats in many urban cities have failed their voters of all color and kind. Thus, I charge that Democrats seek unchecked immigration to replace the people who have relied on them most to their detriment.”
In April 2021, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., asked on Fox Business whether the Biden administration wants open borders because “they want to remake the demographics of America to ensure their – that they stay in power forever.”
Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, said on Newsmax in September: “We know what the Democrats are up to here. They want open borders. This is exactly their strategy. They want to replace the American electorate with a third-world electorate that will be on welfare and public assistance, put them on a path to citizenship and amnesty, enfranchise them with a vote and they will have a permanent majority.”
Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., said in an immigration hearing in April 2021: “For many Americans, what seems to be happening or what they believe right now is happening is, what appears to them is we’re replacing national-born American – native-born Americans to permanently transform the political landscape of this very nation.”
In hotly contested primaries, those seeking the Republican nomination for a seat in Congress have flaunted their belief in the Great Replacement to prove their conservatism.
Josh Mandel, the former Ohio state treasurer who lost the state’s Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, said in September that there is a conspiracy for immigrants to migrate to other countries and use high birth rates to use the countries’ laws against them.
Mandel said it was happening in countries such as France, and now Democrats are working to make it happen in the US. He said some of the funding was coming from Democratic donor George Soros, who is Jewish.
J.D. Vance, a Trump-backed Republican who defeated Mandel, said on Carlson’s show in March that there is an "invasion" in the country because of "Democrat politicians who have decided that they can’t win reelection in 2022 unless they bring in a large number of new voters to replace the voters that are already here."
He repeated the theory in April at a town hall in Ohio, according to a SoundCloud recording obtained by Vice.
"You're talking about a shift in the democratic makeup in our country that would mean the Republicans never win a national election in our country ever again," he said.
Taylor Van Kirk, Vance's spokeswoman, said in a statement the candidate does not support replacement theory.
"Despite the media using leftwing activists posing as experts to distort the truth, it is a stone cold fact that JD Vance has never supported the great replacement theory and any insinuation otherwise is a disgusting lie," Van Kirk said.
Blake Masters, seeking the Republican nomination to unseat Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., in November, said: “Obviously, the Democrats, they hope to just change the demographics of our country. They hope to import an entirely new electorate. Then they call you a racist and a bigot.”
State politicians push Great Replacement
At the state level, politicians have pushed the Great Replacement.
In Arizona, state senator and self-described member of the extremist group Oath Keepers, Wendy Rogers, tweeted in July, "We are being replaced and invaded," with a link to a Breitbart article about a high number of immigrants being apprehended on the Texas-Mexico border.
A couple days later, following backlash over her comment, she wrote on Twitter, “We Americans who love this country are being replaced by people who do not love this country. I will not back down from this statement."
Rogers also appeared by video at white supremacist Nick Fuentes’ America First Political Action Conference in February. (Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., also appeared.)
Rogers and her staff did not respond to inquiries from USA TODAY sent through her website.
Texas Lt. Gov Dan Patrick, who is up for reelection in November, repeated the theory on Laura Ingraham’s show on Fox News. He said Democrats are “trying to take over our country without firing a shot” and that there will be “illegals in this country denying citizens the right to run our government.”
People who have retired from politics also have stayed in the limelight using their media appearances to repeat the Great Replacement theory.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich repeated the idea on Fox Business in August.
“The anti-American left would love to drown traditional, classic Americans with as many people as they can who know nothing of American history, nothing of American tradition, nothing of the rule of law,” he said. “When you look at the radical left, this is their ideal model, is to get rid of the rest of us because we believe in George Washington. We believe in the Constitution.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Republicans nationwide have repeated the Great Replacement theory