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The Great Replacement in the Manosphere: Implications for Terrorism

The Great Replacement in the Manosphere: Implications for Terrorism
30th November 2023 Alexander Faehrmann
In 16 Days, Insights

This Insight is part of GNET’s Gender and Online Violent Extremism series in partnership with Monash Gender, Peace and Security Centre. This series aligns with the UN’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gendered Violence (25 November-10 December).


Conspiracy theories can contribute to radicalisation by highlighting grievances and fomenting violence. We know that racist and religious extremists routinely traffic in conspiracies. Yet, relatively little is known about how conspiracy theories migrate to other ideologically motivated groups or how this might affect how grievances, goals and tactics are reframed. This Insight examines the case of the ‘great replacement’ conspiracy theory in the manosphere, how racialised conspiracy theories are employed within this space and the implications for gender-motivated terrorist violence. 

The Insight proceeds in three parts. First, we examine the relationship between conspiracism and the manosphere, defining these concepts and assessing the potential for conspiracy theories to connect vulnerable individuals to broader groups and narratives that advocate violence as a solution to their grievances. Second, we unpack some key conspiracy theories in the manosphere and examine the primary mechanisms that might inspire extremism in this space. We examine this relationship through a ‘3N model’ focused on needs, narratives, and networks. We conclude by discussing the implications of the increasing prevalence of the great replacement conspiracy within the manosphere. 

Conspiracy Theories 

Whilst belief in conspiracies themselves may not necessarily foment extremist behaviour, individuals primed to believe in conspiracies are more likely to believe in subsequent ones, even if they are unrelated or completely fictional, promoting a ‘monological belief system’ – an automatic mental structure closed to evidence or counter-argument which takes existing conspiracy beliefs as evidence of future ones. This may contribute to a conspiracy pipeline — where initial belief in some conspiracies transforms into an increasingly outlandish endorsement of unrelated conspiracies, often toward bigoted, exclusionary or otherwise harmful beliefs. 

A shared common language of conspiracy—with clear in-groups, out-groups and a degree of malevolent causality behind every event—can provide a pathway linking a range of grievances to simple and comprehensive explanations. In cultivating a sense of victimhood and threat, conspiracies can prompt curiosity to seek out alternative explanations suppressed by the political mainstream, with this suppression in itself enhancing its appeal. Conspiracy theories induce a strong sense of us versus them; once exposed to a conspiracy theory, individuals can even translate their conspiratorial mistrust to groups unrelated to the conspiracy itself, engendering subsequent beliefs that can be difficult to dislodge

Gendered Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theories can flourish in the internet’s dark corners, where unchecked and irrational explanations purport to connect complex events to seemingly simple explanations of hostile elite interference. Narratives of elite domination are central to a range of conspiracy beliefs, such as that of QAnon, which galvanised a community of populist conservatives through claims of a secret cabal of satanic paedophiles infiltrating the highest echelons of politics and culture. Inversely, the threat of potential domination itself can motivate conspiracies, with child grooming conspiracies targeted toward the trans community similarly justified through a satanic plot to target children and families enacted by activists and radicals.

Conspiracy theories are fundamentally animated by this dynamic of othering, drawing on simple and evident cultural constructs to distinguish the world into a conflict between ‘us’ and ‘them’. In doing so, conspiracies can reflect an understanding of the cultural and political contexts from which they originate, including patriarchal systems of domination. Whilst the role of sexuality and gender is relatively under-theorised in the study of conspiracies, prominent theories such as the great replacement often reveal central tensions and anxieties around masculinity, sexuality and gender. 

The great replacement refers to a subset of conspiracies animated around a central narrative of a purported replacement of whites in the Western world through the mass immigration of non-whites into Western societies. Popularised in the writings of French author Renaud Camus, this racially charged conspiracy asserts that Muslims and non-white immigrants would lead to the degeneration of Western culture and values, and is antithetical to the survival of whites in these societies. This process is framed as a form of demographic replacement and ongoing genocide. Later adopted in right-wing forums and spaces, additional elements of Jewish control of this plot emerged as others advanced this replacement framework. Fusing concerns surrounding the cultural and political representation of whites in French society at the time, Camus’ theory of white replacement in both a demographic and political sense proved popular among a range of right-wing extremist (RWE) groups. This narrative focus on demographics and replacement has proven particularly effective at invoking perceptions of threat and can enhance the appeal of Islamophobic attitudes and violence elsewhere.

Beyond its evident racist and nationalist throughlines, gender and sexuality are central to the operation of this conspiracy. White men are constructed as defenders of the Western nation-state, its associated laws, culture and customs, with immigrant men seen as both an existential threat to this political order and a subordinate, inferior form of masculinity. Women are conversely coded as either passive victims and custodians of the nuclear family or active participants in the corrupt feminist order seeking to erode the natural hegemonic power of white men. Although often overlooked, the assumed passive obligation of women’s labour and reproductive capabilities toward reproducing the nation is a central feature of this conspiracy, often subordinating women’s agency in efforts to ensure the racial purity of the state. The gendered dimensions of this conspiracy are central to its operation, extending the existential battle for the survival of the West into strict, essentialised gender roles governed by patriarchal sexual relations.

Conspiracism and the Manosphere 

Granting adherents access to a seemingly hidden truth suppressed by media and society more broadly, conspiracy beliefs harden against evidence to the contrary. In adopting such opposition to mainstream validation, conspiracy theorists and other political radicals become focused on a communicative realm of ‘stigmatised knowledge’. Within this milieu, beliefs become true by virtue of their rejection in wider society; the rejection itself is evidence to support the conspiracy. 

The manosphere is no exception. A loose network of online groups, forums and websites, its participants share a belief in a naturalised form of masculine identity, its superior position in a gendered political order, and the need to defend its sociopolitical hegemony. Distinctions emerge within the subsets of this network, corresponding to how they see themselves as upholding this ideal type. The commitment of pick-up artists (PUAs) to strive for an alpha identity through ritualising sexual conquest has been contrasted to the sexual disenfranchisement and subsequent beta status of involuntary celibates (incels). A common feature among participants in the manosphere is rhetoric about the political and sexual subordination of women to this form of masculinity. Increasing calls for misogynist violence and acts of violence motivated by these ideas have contributed to a shift of this network toward the discursive space occupied by the alt-right and white nationalists. 

Unsurprisingly, conspiracy theories flourish in this space. The odd bedfellows of RWEs and manosphere groups can both view the rejection of their conspiratorial ideological project as evidence of its validity. Attempts to reframe the loss of status tied to masculine dominance have resulted in conspiracies that claim the #MeToo movement is a deliberate ploy by feminists to ‘destroy’ white men. Elsewhere, incels have started engaging with the recurrent ‘Cultural Marxism’ conspiracy, suggesting that a Jewish plot to undermine traditional monogamous heterosexual relationships is to blame for their sexual frustrations.

The Great Replacement

The great replacement conspiracy theory offers adherents in the manosphere a pathway into a facilitative network, racialising existing grievances about gender relations. In contrast to the nihilism that often characterises manosphere subgroups, RWE organisations present a countervailing and often positive image of naturalised masculine dominance and concrete mechanisms for reestablishing and defending this hegemony. A blend of misogyny and reactionary white nationalism thus provides a complementary and more resolute worldview that incentivises acts of terrorist violence. Prominent white nationalists such as Andrew Anglin and F Rodger Devlin have taken advantage of this conflation, making successful inroads within anti-feminist communities and former Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) seeking a new ideological home. 

The introduction of these gendered, racialised conspiracies can highlight latent grievances, and present a new call to action to those in the manosphere to protect the natural sociopolitical power of hegemonic masculinity from a hostile replacement by foreigners, Jews and Muslims. New adherents can attribute blame to those responsible for contesting the natural hegemony of masculine identity, and escalate the stakes of this conflict into a struggle to defend white masculinity globally. However, despite the fertile connections fostered by this conspiratorial environment legitimising violence against women, few within the manosphere effectively transition toward acts of terror. So, why should we treat the increased purchase of conspiracies such as the great replacement with additional concern?

The Quest for Significance

Kruglanski’s model of terrorist radicalisation can help explain why narratives— conspiratorial and otherwise—are important drivers for extremism and violence. In this understanding, moving toward violent radicalisation is structured by a quest for significance. The perception of a significant loss activates this quest, often triggered by perceived social humiliation, instability, or being maligned by the current social and political order. Subsequently, feelings of confusion and status anxiety motivate a need to restore this status, complemented by simple social constructs – such as the natural dominance of masculinity – that support a sense of self-certainty. Would-be radicals draw on the ‘3Ns’, connecting the fundamental psychosocial need for safety and significance with a narrative that provides salient explanations for these grievances and a network that can sustain and support violent ideation. 

Conspiracy theories alone can satisfy the first two dimensions—speaking to the needs of the vulnerable and tying these needs and grievances together into a cohesive narrative that assigns explicit blame for this loss of significance. However, per the predictions of the 3N model, narratives alone are not sufficient to foment political violence on their own; they instead require a facilitative social network to justify and support the use of violence. For example, not all incels within their communities appear to endorse the use of violence, and this unclear strategic environment might thus hamper a clearer connection toward legitimising and deploying violence. It is in this gap between narrative and network where other actors might step in to provide the social support needed to facilitate violent ideation and action. 

In the case of the manosphere and its responses to the symbolic loss of hegemonic masculinity, the great replacement conspiracy proffered by RWEs can contextualise gendered grievances, tying needs and narrative together. These extremist actors can position themselves as the intellectual and ideological vanguards acting to thwart this replacement. Supporting a veneer of legitimacy, conspiracists in this space attempt to provide statistical evidence and analyses of an impending genocide, and frame suppression of these facts as evidence of the conspiracy. The language of evolutionary psychology further galvanises the narrative of masculinity losing its symbolic status. The purported refusal of white women to engage in sexual relations with white men is translated into proof of a plot to suppress birthrates. Taking advantage of the sense of status loss by members of the manosphere, RWEs fuse existing grievances to a self-referential and racialised narrative that both incentivises and legitimises violence. However, given the relatively low propensity for manosphere-related acts of violence, what consequences might this ideological fusion have for actualising real-world violence? 

Need and Narrative to Network

Conspiratorial beliefs themselves are not enough to drive violent radicalisation toward terrorism; returning to Kruglanski, a facilitative social network is required to grant and restore significance to a would-be radical, and provide legitimacy for violent actions. So while those in the manosphere may ultimately connect their frustrations with the narrative proposed by RWEs in the great replacement theory, would-be radicals can be constrained by limited repertoires for actualising violence offered by the various subgroups in the network. 

Given its relative complexity and differences among subgroups in the manosphere, some have argued that it lacks a political framework coherent enough to advance specific changes beyond advocating for violence itself. While there may be agreement on fundamental grievances, they can diverge in how to address them. Furthermore, it is difficult to determine whether these groups facilitate further extremist violence within a broader social landscape already permissive of misogynistic violence; participation in the manosphere network does not necessarily imply a transition to violent behaviour. Regarding the 3N model, the manosphere can be understood as a hub for nurturing grievances and narratives, legitimising and validating the use of violence better fulfilled by other receptive, radical communities.

Some within the manosphere offer deliberate visions for what ‘restoring the status quo’ might look like, such as the use of sexual violence and rape by MRAs and the celebration of opportunistic mass killings by incels. Due to a lack of organisational structure and hindered by efforts within subgroups to portray themselves as legitimate political entities, the initiative for manosphere-related acts of violence is only spearheaded by a minority of highly motivated individuals. At best, manosphere communities have a complex relationship with perpetrating acts of violence and terrorism, and would-be perpetrators blend a mix of competing motivations in their justifications for violence. 

In finding a potentially receptive social network with its own intellectual tradition, repertoires of violence and established political aims, those in the manosphere are galvanised by apocalyptic visions of replacement and genocide. The shortcomings of incel, ‘Men Going Their Own Way’ (MGTOW) or MRA groups in achieving their goals may instead translate into the conspiratorial program of right-wing terror and violence, and engagement with these white supremacist communities may function as a necessary spur toward taking (violent) political action. 

This assemblage of former manosphere elements and white nationalism raises concerns about the landscape of terror and gender-based violence, with cases such as that of Joseph Miner and Oliver Bel illustrating the relative fluidity of combining incel grievances with fantasies of a race war. The former was caught by federal agents whilst purchasing arms and assembling an ‘incel hit squad’ to initiate a race war. The latter was a regular participant in white nationalist forums and posted about his desire to ‘go ER’ in reference to replicating Elliot Rodgers’ 2014 Isla Vista attack.

Elsewhere, RWE groups have shown some success in recruiting and radicalising disaffected misogynists into committing acts of terror. The racialisation of gendered grievances can also translate into disproportionate abuse and violence against women of colour online, and at its most extreme can motivate acts of terror targeting women of colour, such as in Georgia and Toronto. Whilst exposure to the great replacement alone may not be enough to induce terror, it may ultimately lead radicalised and disaffected men within the manosphere to seek extreme solutions to restore their perceived rightful social position. Extremist organisations that effectively communicate a global conspiracy against them, offering promises of sexual fulfilment and masculine domination, are well suited to take advantage. 


In the future, social media firms must recognise the potential for gendered grievances held by those in the manosphere to be co-opted into racist narratives and conspiracy theories that frame immigrants and foreigners as responsible for their frustrations. Tackling these rising and fluid connections may be helped by granting greater transparency and access to researchers to analyse the effectiveness of moderation strategies in place. Forums and other communication platforms must implement content moderation systems that more actively monitor conspiracy beliefs, supported by stronger legal incentives to cease hosting such material. Leaning into a growing body of research may help administrators identify the posting behaviours of more radical users and the other networks they help to connect others to. 

Further, social media firms are positioned to proactively engage with potential conspiracies by instituting preventative measures, such as providing countering materials to help innoculate users against potentially harmful and toxic narratives. Lastly, these platforms must ultimately recognise that secluded and misogynistic environments can foster connections to other reactionary groups and individuals. Given the potentially escalating consequences of this overlap, it is imperative that firms actively counter and block platforms that provide a space for violent misogyny to develop.