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Understanding Accelerationist Narratives: The Great Replacement Theory

Understanding Accelerationist Narratives: The Great Replacement Theory
30th May 2022 Matthew Kriner

On 14 May 2022, an 18-year-old white male allegedly perpetrated a carefully planned mass shooting targeting Black Americans. He opened fire at a Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, New York, killing 10 and injuring three others; 11 of the individuals shot were Black. Preliminary analysis suggests the attack was an act of terrorism inspired by white supremacist views, particularly the Great Replacement conspiracy theory. The Great Replacement conspiracy theory posits that immigrants and existing populations of non-European descent – namely non-white people from African and Middle Eastern countries – are replacing white European populations in Western countries. It echoes similar conspiracy theories like Eurabia and white genocide. Each of these center around fears of demographic change and white extinction. The Great Replacement Theory first surged into the public consciousness in the immediate aftermath of the March 2019 Christchurch attack, and the subsequent release of the terrorist’s manifesto, whose accelerationist motivations we explored in our previous GNET piece. In fact, the Christchurch shooter titled his manifesto, ‘The Great Replacement’.

Therefore, this Insight explores how militant accelerationism manifested within the Buffalo attacker’s worldview, namely his belief in the Great Replacement Theory. It will demonstrate how militant accelerationism forms a critical framework through which we can understand the shooter’s individual radicalisation pathway, and the tactical manifestation of his violent ideations. The shooter’s tactics are consistent with militant accelerationism, which is common among right-wing violent extremists and is designed to exacerbate latent social divisions, often through violence, thus hastening societal collapse. Indeed, the Buffalo attacker’s rhetoric and language indicate a more opportunistic identification with accelerationism as a tactical framework to achieve his white supremacist goals.

The Buffalo Shooter: Melding the Great Replacement and Militant Accelerationism

Based on initial analysis of the accused Buffalo attack perpetrator’s manifesto and Discord logs, he did not seem to primarily identify as a militant accelerationist, in contrast to many participants in the global accelerationist network. Instead, he appears to have come to view militant accelerationism as the only solution to address what he perceived as the most pressing societal problems: those articulated in the Great Replacement Theory. Throughout his archived Discord logs and his manifesto, the alleged attacker stressed that no political solution existed to solve what he saw as an existential threat: a secret Jewish conspiracy to manipulate immigration and Black Americans to undermine and degrade white American culture.

In the months leading up to the attack, the reported shooter extensively used Discord in a manner similar to journal entries, documenting both his ideological progression and his tactical and operational plans for the shooting. According to the evidence available, he meticulously curated these Discord logs and invited a small number of people into his private server to read them right before committing the attack. It appears that his Discord was designed to be consumed rather than serve as an unfiltered internal monologue. This is vital in accurately understanding how he wanted to be portrayed and how he thought about his own radicalisation process.

In these entries, he did not write like an individual philosophically committed to the militant accelerationist movement, such as someone like Brandon Russell of Atomwaffen Division or Robert Rundo of the Rise Above Movement. Russell and Rundo are deeply entrenched in philosophical and metaphysical justifications for the use of militant accelerationism. They promoted and shaped the brands – the texts, memes, and other iconography – related to Atomwaffen Division and Rise Above Movement, respectively. In addition, hardened ideologues like these generally focus on long-term, ‘spiritual’ goals of accelerationist action. They pursue apocalyptic destruction for the purpose of spiritual transcendence and rebirth, rather than for addressing ‘material’ concerns like immigration, ethnoseparatism, or ethnic cleansing.

In contrast, the Buffalo attacker’s rhetoric and language indicate a more opportunistic identification with accelerationism as a tactical framework to achieve his white supremacist goals. Also, the Buffalo shooting suspect’s Discord content suggests that he did not intellectually engage with deeper philosophical or spiritual content related to accelerationism. He appears to likely not have had meaningful discussions with anyone about items like the framing of accelerationist goals or notions of apocalyptic rebirth.

Regardless, the alleged perpetrator of the Buffalo shooting directly engaged with militant accelerationism in two distinct ways. First, he mentions militant accelerationism in his Discord (e.g., the meme “A C C E L E R A T E”) and in his manifesto. Notably, these references appear to be either copied from the manifesto of the Christchurch shooter, or heavily inspired by the free-wheeling violent nihilism of 4chan’s /pol/ board. The second feature is the Buffalo suspect’s emulation of the aesthetics and tactics of the Christchurch shooter. He specifically chose to cover his black rifle with messages written in white lettering and painstakingly selected tactical gear that included a GoPro-based live video-streaming capability – akin to the Christchurch shooter’s. He also used the white supremacist sonnenrad symbol common in neofascist accelerationism networks both in his manifesto and on patches fixed to his plate carrier.

However, the extent to which these actions and aesthetics are copied from the Christchurch attacker makes it difficult to determine the Buffalo shooter’s reasons for using them.  While it is possible that the symbols were strategically used to spread a larger message and cause ripple effects like the Christchurch shooter intended, they may also simply have sprung from the mind of a hate-driven 18-year-old who spent considerable time in forums where these symbols and rhetoric are prominent. Still, this content resonated with him. What remains unclear is whether such resonance was an explicit part of his identity. In other words, did the content scrawled on the firearm, the sonnerad, and the live-streaming kit embody deep beliefs that led to his mobilisation? Or did he simply view them as racist shorthand adapted from the Christchurch shooter?

Ultimately, a key strategic question about any right-wing extremist attacker’s motivations revolves around whether their role in the movement will be as an innovator or a product of accelerationism. Accelerationist innovators create new patterns of attack, which are designed to be replicated, remixed, and revised; neofascist networks often idolise Ted Kaczynski and the Christchurch shooter as innovators. These terrorists aim to generate products of accelerationism: the copycats and remixers who adopt well-defined pathways for their own goals.

Based on our analysis, the Buffalo shooter was a product of militant accelerationism. Long-term monitoring of militant accelerationist spaces by the authors has shown that core networks in the movement explicitly seek to produce people like the Buffalo shooter, who are motivated by ‘material’ concerns like immigration and embrace accelerationist violence as the only possible solution.

Early reactions to the Buffalo shooter’s attack within 4chan and Telegram’s Terrorgram community suggest that users within those spaces see him primarily as a product of those attackers who came before. While some rhetoric included knee-jerk claims that the shooting was a ‘fed op’, deeper militant accelerationist channels and actors slowly shifted the discourse by embracing his action as living up to the legacy of the individuals he sought to be viewed alongside. Just a few days after the attack, references to him as a ‘saint’, like the perpetrators of the attacks listed below, became more common. Additionally, key channels began to express hope that many others were similarly influenced by the Christchurch shooter and will eventually carry out their own terrorist attacks like the Buffalo shooter did.

The Great Replacement Theory in a Militant Accelerationism Context

An examination of the available content suggests the arrested Buffalo shooter seems to have spent countless hours consuming and engaging with discourse and imagery of chan culture, an environment that is heavily saturated with militant accelerationism narratives, memes, and worldviews. The Great Replacement theory is one such narrative that is heavily represented on 4chan and that is also regularly found as a mobilising concept for the neofascist strain of militant accelerationism.

Since the “year of Europe’s refugee crisis” in 2015, militant accelerationists have carried out a spate of terrorist attacks that were at least in part motivated by the Great Replacement Theory or other conspiracy theories grounded in fears of white replacement or extinction. While the theory is not exclusive to accelerationists, its thematic components heavily align with accelerationist preoccupations, particularly those who hold white supremacist or neofascist worldviews.

The Great Replacement narrative, like militant accelerationism itself, has broad appeal across ideological and geographic spaces and is well-situated to instigate individuals to violence. This conspiracy theory has multiple historical links and predecessors that make its use by neofascist accelerationists today neither unique nor mutually exclusive from nationalist-racist uses of the phrase (e.g., through rallying cries like ‘white genocide’ and ‘multiculturalism is genocide’). Nor does violence related to the narrative exist solely within neofascist accelerationist milieus; instead, the narrative provides a foundation upon which accelerationists can build to mobilise others to violence.

Originally coined by French political thinker Renaud Camus, the Great Replacement Theory’s notion of mass coordinated white replacement is similar in sentiment to the infamous 14 words, conceived by white nationalist terrorist David Lane: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” The Great Replacement Theory’s foundational fear of white replacement and consequent extinction is echoed in the 14 words, and vice versa. The Buffalo shooter regularly used the 14 words or derivatives of the phrase within his Discord chats, and the Christchurch shooter used the 14 words in his manifesto.

Those who buy into the Great Replacement Theory frequently leverage claims of victimhood to strategically position themselves as the oppressed rather than the oppressors. As explained in the Institute for Strategic Dialogue’s 2019 report:

“Proponents of the so-called ‘Great Replacement’ theory argue that white European populations are being deliberately replaced at an ethnic and cultural level through migration and the growth of minority communities. This propagation often relies on demographic projections to point to population changes in the West and the possibility that ethnically white populations are becoming minority groups. Certain ethnic and religious groups – primarily Muslims – are typically singled out as being culturally incompatible with the lives of majority groups in Western countries and thus a particular threat.”

For neofascist accelerationists, one solution to this perceived existential threat is violence, justified by their belief that European-Western or American society is set to imminently collapse due to the intentional use of immigrants to undermine it. Frequent framings of this imminent collapse argue that the in-group (often white, European heritage cultures) is already in a war being directed by unseen forces belonging to a nefarious out-group. For some, this perceived attack begets a moral imperative, if not a moral obligation, to enact a drastic, violent response. In some subsets of accelerationist milieus, the clash between these forces is not just a threat, but rather a sought-after spiritual war that serves as an echo of the Crusades.

Influence on Terrorism

Prior to the mass shooting in Buffalo, the Great Replacement Theory narrative has played an influential role in at least nine terrorist attacks to date:

2011 Norway Attack. The terrorist attack in Oslo and Utøya on 22 July 2011, killed 77 and injured more than 300 individuals. The attacker bombed a government building in Oslo before traveling to Utoya island and opening fire on his intended targets – teenagers involved with the Norwegian Labour Party’s youth wing, who he viewed as responsible for the “deconstruction of Norwegian society” via their enabling of immigration from Muslim countries and the resulting multiculturalism. The terrorist’s 1500-page manifesto decried the alleged “Islamisation” of Europe, a direct allusion to the belief that Europe’s White Christian identity was being diluted by Muslim refugees and migrants taking refuge in European nations.

2015 Charleston church shooting. On 17 June 2015, a white supremacist shot and killed nine Black congregants at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. White extinction and replacement narratives were present in the radicalisation materials consumed by the Charleston shooter. The shooter was deeply motivated by the conspiracy theories of white genocide in South Africa and Rhodesia; a picture of him wearing the flags of those white supremacist states circulated in online spaces in the wake of the attack.

2017 Charlottesville rally. In August of 2017, a torch-lit procession of nearly 100 young men belonging to various white supremacist organisations chanted, “You will not replace us,” “Blood and soil,” and “White lives matter.” These slogans all stem from racist and antisemitic causes rooted in fears of white replacement and extinction. The next day, violent clashes erupted between the alt-right and white nationalist organisations and counter-protestors, and counter-protester Heather Heyer was murdered by a white nationalist associated with Vanguard America.

 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. Before committing a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the shooter took to social media to articulate his belief that the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) “likes to bring invaders in that kill our people.” He reposted content from other users that echoed this sentiment: “Jews are waging a propaganda war against Western civilisation and it is so effective that we are headed towards certain extinction within the next 200 years.” His deeply antisemitic posts represented yet another perceived out-group targeted by white supremacists and militant accelerationists.

 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings. On 15 March 2019, a gunman slaughtered 51 worshippers and injured another 50 at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The terrorist’s 74-page manifesto, titled ‘The Great Replacement,’ was uploaded online before the attack. He live-streamed the attack; at the time of writing, copies of the live stream remain easily accessible online. The perpetrator drew inspiration from other accelerationists including the 2011 Oslo shooter and the 2015 Charleston shooter. The Christchurch shooter’s manifesto, though riddled with the memetic trolling commonplace in far-right online content, clearly featured his embrace of the Great Replacement Theory and has become a favoured document within accelerationist communities.

2019 Poway shooting. On 27 April 2019, a gunman entered the Chabad of Poway synagogue in Poway, California, opening fire on those inside, killing one and injuring three others. The shooter’s manifesto is riddled with racism and antisemitism: “I hate anyone who seeks the destruction of my race. [Racist slur] are useful puppets for the Jew in terms of replacing Whites. Of course, they aren’t intelligent enough to realize that the Jew is using them and they will be enslaved if Europeans are eliminated.” The Poway attacker was, like many others on this list, inspired by the Christchurch shooter. The Buffalo shooter also mentioned the Poway attacker in his Discord logs.

2019 El Paso shooting. Before launching his attack on Walmart shoppers in El Paso, Texas, on 3 August 2019, the shooter posted a manifesto titled ‘The Inconvenient Truth’ online. The screed was violently anti-immigrant, drawing inspiration from the Christchurch shooter’s tirade against Muslims: “In general, I support the Christchurch shooter and his manifesto. This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” The shooter killed 20 and injured another 26 in his purported “fight to reclaim [his] country from destruction.” Themes of weaponised victimhood and justified violence in the spirit of defensive action are prevalent throughout.   

2019 Bærum shooting. On 10 August 2019, a gunman entered the Al-Noor Islamic Centre mosque in Bærum, Norway, just outside of Oslo, after shooting his teenage step-sister in their family home. The three individuals in the mosque at the time were able to subdue the attacker, though he was reportedly able to fire several shots. The attacker later shared the Christchurch shooter’s influence on him, and argued in court that he was acting out of “self-defence” for “the European people.” Before he conducted his attack, the gunman posted online that his “time is up, [he] was chosen by Saint Tarrant after all … We can’t let this continue, you gotta bump the race war threat in real life.” In his Discord logs, the Buffalo shooter cited the Bærum attacker as an influence on him.

2019 Halle shooting. On 9 October 2019, a gunman attempted to break into a synagogue to attack Jewish worshippers. Upon his failure to enter the synagogue, the attacker shot and killed two random passersby across two locations. The terrorist livestreamed the attack on Twitch, in which he stated his belief that feminism is the cause for declining birthrates in the West. In his manifesto, he wrote, “even killing 100 golems won’t make a difference, when on a single day more than that are shipped to Europe.” In his Discord logs, the Buffalo shooter referenced the Halle attacker as an influential individual.

Conclusion

Through his actions and his stated desire to mirror past terrorist attacks, the Buffalo shooter has joined the ranks of the racist and antisemitic extremists that came before him. In his archived Discord logs, he repeatedly spoke to the inspiring influence of these violent actors. He was open about his desire to be imprisoned with previous shooters, as well as his interest in befriending them. In addition, the Buffalo shooter mentions in his Discord logs that the Christchurch massacre was the catalyst for his journey down the Great Replacement Theory rabbit hole. This is a considerable admission in that it illustrates how terrorist actors like the Christchurch shooter continue to have pernicious, reverberating impacts well beyond their initial acts of terrorism. It is unsurprising, then, that the Buffalo shooter utilised whole sections of past terrorist manifestos, especially the Christchurch shooter’s, in his own. He even acknowledged in his Discord messages that the Christchurch shooter had written it better than he could, so he saw no point in trying to rewrite it.

Like the ‘sainthood’ attribution often assigned to right-wing attackers by supporters, this direct quoting of one manifesto in another illustrates a concerning trend: that militant accelerationism screeds and attacks are meant to be a point of continuity connecting seemingly disparate individuals. Indeed, the ways in which the Buffalo shooter leveraged the Great Replacement Theory and inspiration from previous adherents in an act of militant accelerationist violence is not exceptional, but rather, fits into a recurring, deadly pattern.