Fear of “Replacement” is at the Heart of Republican Politics, and It Kills People

At least 49 Muslims in worship at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand dead. That’s more worshippers than were at the church I attend last Sunday.

The gunman wore a bodycam that provided a live feed to Facebook so that he could broadcast his mass murder.

He wouldn’t have done that if he didn’t expect to be viewed as a hero by some people.

As the rest of the world grieves today, a segment of it will be celebrating his acts. Already, social media sites are fighting to take down messages praising him. Over the next weeks, he will receive fan mail in prison, letters, gifts, and promises of sexual favors when he gets out–from women as well as from men who will promise him access to women they control.

Others who think that mass murder of men, women, children, and babies is wrong will still lay some blame at the feet of Muslims and immigrants for daring to exist in a what they believe should be a white Christian nation. Whether these people believe that Muslims (or, other versions of this argument, Jews or immigrants) will “replace” white Christian Americans or they only believe that white terrorists believe this, this shooting will be invoked to justify white nationalism, the exclusion of Muslims from “Christian” societies,” and anti-immigration policies. This is a 2019 version of the argument that interracial marriage hurts the children of such marriages, that segregation is better for African Americans, that freed slaves should have been sent back to Africa. It is the logic invoked when queer victims of street violence are blamed for “flaunting” their sexuality or when someone is labeled as “rude” or “loud” or “angry” when they are just Jewish or an African American woman and then fired or bullied out of the workplace. It is the argument that white nationalism isn’t white supremacy, just a rational solution to human discord. Only it always turns out that when we divide up the world, the white people get the good stuff.

See the source image

Above, police officers respond to mass violence at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. Some people will look at this picture and think, “See? Wherever there are Muslims, violence follows.” This will then justify efforts to prohibit the building of mosques, bans on immigration from Muslim-majority nations, and attacks on refugees and immigrants. 

When we accept these lesser claims–that the world would be better off if people stayed in their “place” (slaves in slavery or, better yet, in Africa; women in the kitchen and not in the workforce; gay people in the closet; immigrants in their home nations)–we are accepting white supremacy. It is at the very heart of the Trump administration, which is why the New Zealand shooter appears to have praised the American president as a “symbol of renewed white identity and purpose” in his manifesto describing his plan to kill–and it is why every single person in Congress who supports him, every single member of his cabinet, and every single Trump voter in 2016 (when we already knew this) and in 2020 is responsible for contributing to the normalization of hate. Every single dollar donated to his campaign comes from someone who, even if they denounce the slaying of Muslims at prayer, stands on the side of the hate that encourages such violence. This is true even if they denounce such violence in its specifics.

Central to Trumpism is fear of replacement–that the people who “deserve” to be at the center of America are being displaced by immigrants. That there will be taco trucks on every corner where there should be Pacific 66 stations. That black kids are taking college admissions slots that rightfully belong to white kids. That “Happy Holidays” will replace “Merry Christmas.” That colleges will teach world literature instead of only dead white men. This is the motive for mass violence like we have seen in Charleston, SC, Pittsburgh, and, now, New Zealand. It is why the shooter titled his manifesto “The Great Replacement.” It is the undergirding structure of American conservativism, whether conservatives like that or not. And it’s why the fight against hate is inherently political.


Updated: Here is just one expression of this sentiment, from a rightwing Senator from Australia:

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