In a poll released Wednesday, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) announced that nearly 70% of Republicans nationwide believe in central tenets of the “great replacement” theory, which posits that white people are being replaced by those who are foreign and nonwhite. Mass shooters have referenced the conspiracy in manifestos, including the suspects behind 2019's El Paso Walmart massacre and last month’s Buffalo supermarket slaying.
The SPLC went on to note that more than a third of Democrats (35%) agree that changes to the country’s demographics are being motivated by "liberal leaders actively trying to leverage political power by replacing more conservative white voters.”
The poll illustrates that hate and extremism are jeopardizing the nation’s education system, communities and democratic foundation, said Susan Corke, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project. It also found that more than 50% of Republicans and nearly 40% of Democrats think a civil war could soon erupt.
“Just in the past week, we have again seen firsthand the deadly impact of white nationalist propaganda being mainstreamed,” she said in a statement. “What is even more disturbing is that we see an embrace of violence — particularly on the right — as a political tactic that is buttressed by a belief that we could be heading toward a civil war in the near future.”
Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, called the poll’s results “absolutely horrifying.” Over the years, the great replacement theory has been pushed by former President Donald Trump and other powerful players in the conservative movement, such as FOX host Tucker Carlson.
It’s disturbing because the idea has been directly related to multiple mass terrorist attacks, including those targeting Jews, Muslims and Black people, Beirich said. The fact that it’s been mainstreamed to this extent is “almost beyond comprehension.”
Meanwhile, certain Texas politicians have publicly expressed similar views. In April, Congressman Pete Sessions tweeted that the current presidential administration wants to change America's demographic makeup, purposefully opening the border so the country can be “overrun by illegal immigrants.”
"The Texas Republican Party is particularly radicalized into great replacement ideology." – Dr. Heidi Beirich, Extremism Expert
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also spewed anti-immigrant vitriol during a recent FOX interview. He warned of an “invasion” of refugees who will procreate to create “millions and millions and millions of new voters.”
The Biden administration is intentionally trying to change the makeup of this country, opening our border up to be overrun by illegal immigrants. pic.twitter.com/1fUYX28G5t— Pete Sessions (@PeteSessions) April 14, 2022
To Beirich, the Texas GOP stands out for its promotion of the conspiracy theory, especially as it pertains to immigrants.
“The Texas Republican Party is particularly radicalized into great replacement ideology,” she said, “and they’re using race-baiting to activate their base.”
One online extremism watchdog recently found that the state has around 80% more searches for targeted violence, per capita, than the nation's average, such as directions for bomb-making. The Anti-Defamation League also reported that Texas was home to the most incidents of white supremacist propaganda in 2020.
People can find dozens of videos on YouTube from one particular white supremacist group parroting great replacement theory — without warning labels, Beirich said. Social media has worked to spread the theory, so some people don’t understand it’s an untrue conspiracy rooted in white supremacy.
It’s ridiculous to say white people are being replaced by people of color, she added; they aren’t.
Beirich doesn’t know why such theories are being allowed to spread online. She wishes that social media companies would hold influencers and elected officials to the same anti-hate standards as everyone else.
“But they’re not, and it’s causing this crisis,” she said, “this horrible idea that’s connected to violence is spreading among the general populace — more so on the right, but as the poll shows, beyond that.”