On May 14, 2022, an eighteen-year-old man murdered ten people and injured three more in a supermarket in a carefully chosen majority-black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York. His stated goal was to kill as many black people as possible.
The young man has been described in numerous media reports as “disturbed,” “quiet,” “idiosyncratic,” and “a lone wolf.” These portrayals undercut the reality of the murderer’s state of mind. He was and is not insane: His 180-page manifesto reveals no sign of the random, confused, and disordered thinking one might expect from a genuinely psychotic person. Nor is he a “lone wolf.” He is part of a massive, growing movement of adherents to an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory variously called “White Replacement Theory,” “Great Replacement Theory,” and “White Genocide Theory.”
It’s easy to confuse the actions of a die-hard, anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist with those of a person suffering from psychosis. Both kinds of people are disconnected from reality. However, a psychotic person’s problem is a malfunctioning nervous system. He or she sees and hears things that aren’t real, and these hallucinations can feed various delusions—think of Russell Crowe’s portrayal of mathematician John Nash in A Beautiful Mind.
Advocates of the Great Replacement Theory don’t hear voices or see phantoms. They are disconnected from reality for a completely different reason: They have allowed themselves to be convinced that all the world’s problems are caused by a secret cabal of Jews who are determined to eradicate white people by promoting, among other things, immigration and interracial marriage.
The Blame Game
The Great Replacement Theory is tailor-made to appeal to a specific demographic: young white men who feel that opportunities available to earlier generations have been stolen from them.
The typical Great Replacement Theorist’s father and grandfather had well-paying jobs and married relatively young. They were able to retire comfortably. Over the past fifty years, however, outsourcing and automation have obliterated the American manufacturing sector. Wages have stagnated as housing, education, and healthcare costs have skyrocketed. The dream of owning a suburban house and supporting a nuclear family on a single income is becoming less and less attainable.
The economic and social problems these young men face are systemic and complicated. They don’t have simple or easy solutions, and gridlocked legislatures seem incapable of providing any solutions at all. These factors have created an audience ripe for conspiracy theories.
A conspiracy theory is a simple, erroneous, often bad-faith attempt to explain a complex problem. It provides a personal target for anger and hatred in place of the hopelessness and powerlessness that inevitably arises when someone is faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Looking for a place to vent their anger and grief, many young men have looked for camaraderie on the Internet. There they find countless Internet forums dominated by anti-Semites pushing the Great Replacement Theory. This conspiracy theory gives young men someone to blame for their financial and romantic precariousness: immigrants, black people, and Jews.
The Great Replacement Theory is gaining traction. The Buffalo shooter isn’t the first of his kind; much of his manifesto was plagiarized from a similar document (not coincidentally titled “The Great Replacement”) produced by a man who killed fifty-one people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019. His actions also parallel the 2011 Norway attacks, during which a similarly motivated Norwegian killed seventy-seven people under the delusion that Muslims were replacing the Nordic peoples of Europe with the aid of “multiculturalist” Jews.
These are not lone wolves. As Ian Fleming’s Auric Goldfinger famously said, “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.”
The Theory’s Origin
Readers who have been connected with us for a while know that First Fruits of Zion has long pointed out the error and danger in replacement theology. Replacement theology is based on the idea that the followers of Yeshua have replaced the Jewish people. This idea is antithetical to both the Old and New Testaments; it has shrouded the Bible’s story of Israel’s exile and redemption from the eyes of generations of Yeshua’s followers. It has kept us from seeing Yeshua as an observant Jewish rabbi and has deprecated the Torah as largely irrelevant. However, despite the similarity in nomenclature, the Great Replacement Theory doesn’t have anything to do with replacement theology—except perhaps that both misunderstand and scapegoat the Jewish people. Nevertheless, the fact that they both contain the word “replacement” is a coincidence.
This still leaves the question of where the Great Replacement Theory came from. As with all other anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, this one is both ancient and modern. It’s keyed to the unique situation of post-civil-rights-era Americans, but its particulars are mostly window dressing. At its heart, it is a rehash of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the great-grandfather of all modern anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
The Protocols was produced by the Russian secret police sometime in the late nineteenth century. At the time, Russia struggled under a sluggish economy and an autocratic ruler. Workers and farmers demanded better living conditions. The tsar rightly feared revolt; an attempted revolution would come as soon as 1905. The Protocols was designed to distract the common people of Russia, to convince them that their problems were not the fault of the decadent and incompetent tsar but instead a secret cabal of Jews controlling society from the shadows.
After the February Revolution finally unseated the tsar, the Protocols exploded in popularity. Communism was widely characterized as a Jewish plot for world domination. Nazis made the Protocols part of school curricula and tied Jews and communists together in an attempt to demonize both. This hybrid of anti-Semitism and anti-communism found inroads all over the Western world.
America was no exception. A 1939 pro-Nazi rally in Madison Square Garden saw banners reading “Smash Jewish Communism.” McCarthy-era anti-communist investigations were principally aimed at Jews. The modern Great Replacement Theory was born as these anti-Semitic notions were wedded to racism and anti-immigrant sentiment. Before its modern-day renaissance, it last was in the spotlight when the Supreme Court unanimously ruled public-school segregation unconstitutional in 1954. The ensuing decades saw racists protest the decision en masse, holding picket signs with slogans like “Stop the Race Mixing March of the Antichrist” and “Race Mixing Is Communism.”
Of course, putting white and black children in the same schools has nothing to do with Marxist economic theory, but by this time, “communism” had just become a catch-all term for whatever phenomena anti-Semites wanted to ascribe to the supposed machinations of the Jews. “Race mixing is communism” simply means “the Jews want to eradicate white people.”
As the civil-rights movement garnered incremental success, these sentiments slowly disappeared from the public eye. It was less and less fashionable to be an open racist. However, the Great Replacement Theory didn’t go away—it went underground. The 1978 genocide-fantasy novel The Turner Diaries—which gleefully portrays the total extermination of Jews, black people, and white “race traitors”—sold hundreds of thousands of copies despite being available only through mail order.
Despite inspiring several high-profile domestic-terror incidents, including the Oklahoma City bombing and the Tate-LaBianca murders, the Great Replacement Theory continued to fly under the radar until the mid-2010s when prominent “alt-right” activists such as Mike Cernovich, Richard Spencer, and Jack Posobiec began to regurgitate long-discredited claims of white genocide.
The fearmongering reached a fever pitch during the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where tiki-torch-wielding men loudly chanted, “Jews will not replace us.” At the local synagogue, Beth Israel, congregants feared anti-Semitic violence and arson, quietly leaving the back door after morning prayers and taking the Torah scrolls with them.
Normalizing the Unthinkable
While many adherents of the Great Replacement Theory may actually fear “white genocide,” its behind-the-scenes proponents are under no such delusion. These unfounded fears are merely a smokescreen, one of many methods employed to advance their real agenda—eradicating the Jewish people. Anti-Semites are experts at channeling economic anxiety, racial tensions, suburban loneliness, and a multitude of other sources of ennui into a simple anti-Semitic worldview in which one great enemy—the “international Jew”—is responsible for all the dissatisfaction that comes with being a young, underemployed white man in twenty-first-century America.
Their conspiracy theories are just the latest rendition of the centuries-long tradition of European anti-Semitism. It’s been distilled and repackaged in a new form, but the substance is the same: a hatred of Jews and Judaism born of the darkest impulses in the human heart.
Pundits and politicians who try to harness the momentum of these conspiracy theories to advance their own political agendas are playing a dangerous game. By promoting the Great Replacement Theory—even when they leave out the part where they specifically blame the Jews—they are creating signposts that lead to a toxic online community of virulent anti-Semites. Hints of this darker side have already bubbled up in mainstream political discourse, with one U.S. representative blaming the 2018 California wildfires on “space lasers” commissioned by the Jewish Rothschild family—a common target of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
This gradual mainstreaming of anti-Semitism should alarm all of us. Anti-Semitic canards that would have been unthinkable for a public figure to utter even a decade ago are slowly becoming a normal part of American national dialogue. This does not bode well.
I wrote above that the Great Replacement Theory and replacement theology have nothing to do with each other. This is mostly true. However, as we trace each of these errant philosophies through the dust of history, we find that cultural anti-Semitism in Europe would not have been possible had Europe’s Christians not already deprecated the Jewish people in their theology.
Replacement theology shaped European culture. Whether it was expressed through medieval ghettos and expulsions or Martin Luther’s tirades against the Jews, Europeans have been primed for millennia to see the Jew as the other, the interloper, the one whose ultimate allegiance lies elsewhere and who, if given the chance, would betray the Gentiles among whom they live for the advancement of their own interests. These sentiments crossed the Atlantic essentially unchanged; Americans are not immune to anti-Semitic propaganda.
None of this would have been possible without replacement theology—the idea that the church has replaced Israel as the “real” people of God because the Jews killed Jesus. None of this could have happened if Christians throughout the centuries had remembered that their salvation came through the faithfulness of an observant Jewish rabbi.
Messianic Jewish teaching promotes a return to an authentic, first-century expression of faith in which the people of Israel are recognized as the people of God according to the terms of God’s unchanging Word. In this worldview, there is no room for anti-Semitism. The more Christians recognize their Messiah’s Jewishness, the less likely they will be to fall for the wild conspiracy theories that continue to inspire acts of terror. No one with a clear view of the coming kingdom and the role of the nations in God’s plan would commit mass murder to promote white supremacy.