In Irish groups on the messaging platform Telegram, users seemed to pay little attention to the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, that claimed the lives of 10 people last weekend. If it was mentioned at all, there was little sign of sympathy for the victims.
elegram is one of the preferred platforms for the Irish far right after mainstream sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube attempted to eject white supremacists and conspiracy theorists.
To enter one of Telegram’s many Irish groups is to descend into an unedifying rabbit hole, mostly inhabited by anti-vaxxers, Putin supporters and those who believe in the baseless idea that there is a plan by ‘globalists’ to replace the Irish with immigrants.
In the “Irish chat” section of Telegram, the banter is hardly uplifting. We are warned that these shady globalists — most likely Jewish, in this imagining — have a plan to exterminate all life on Earth. Or they are trying to get rid of the native Irish “through mass plantation”. Foreigners, so the theory goes, will push the Irish off the land, just as the British did.
In one of the more popular right-wing groups, visitors are warned of the arrival of refugees from Ukraine and elsewhere.
“There will be loads of room because of the amount of Irish being murdered by the government through lethal injection,” says one poster. “We are being ethnically cleansed.”
These sentiments, or variations of them, are not just circulating among anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists and white supremacists in Ireland. They are spreading across Europe and are commonplace in America, even on popular news talkshows.
The Great Replacement ‘theory’ falsely contends that there is a plot to replace white people by increasing non-white immigration.
It is a view that is believed to have inspired Buffalo shooting suspect Payton Gendron. The 18-year-old drove more than 200 miles to a supermarket in a black neighbourhood while armed and covered in thick body armour. He is accused of opening fire with a semi-automatic rifle at the Tops Friendly Market in an act of “racially motivated violent extremism”.
In an echo of similar killing sprees, Gendron had issued an online manifesto beforehand. He indicated that he was a neo-Nazi with a hatred of Jews and that he was a white supremacist.
Expressing sentiments that would be depressingly familiar to anyone who has visited the darker recesses of Irish social media, he warned that white Americans of European descent are being “replaced” by immigrants. He came to this conclusion while trawling the internet during the pandemic.
The man said to be behind the influential conspiracy theory is the French writer Renaud Camus, the septuagenarian author of The Great Replacement, a book published a decade ago. The former member of the French Socialist Party lives in a 14th-century castle in Gascony.
Before he turned sharply to the right and became a white supremacist guru, he was best known beyond France for his 1979 book Tricks, described by the Washington Post as a “chronicle of 25 one-night stands he had as he travelled around the world’s thriving gay communities”.
“The great replacement is very simple,” Camus has said in an interview. “You have one people, and in the space of a generation you have a different people.”
Far-right groups have seized on these ideas, pushing the notion that native populations across America and Europe are being deliberately wiped out by shadowy political and corporate forces, stripping countries of their heritage.
It has become mixed up with another narrative that has been around for well over a century, the “white genocide” conspiracy theory in the United States.
This came about after the abolition of slavery and constituted a belief that the US was on the brink of a “race war”, in which freed slaves would rise up and kill their former masters. This belief has recurred over the past century.
When neo-Nazis marched at Charlottesville in 2017 in a torchlit procession, they chanted: “Jews will not replace us!” — an apparent reference to the Camus ideology that has now hit the mainstream in the US.
An updated version of the theory has been promoted most assiduously by the Fox News host Tucker Carlson. A report by the New York Times said that in more than 400 episodes of his show, he amplified the notion that Democratic politicians are using immigration to replace the native-born majority with a new, foreign-born electorate who will vote for them.
Aoife Gallagher, who analyses conspiracy networks in Ireland for the Institute of Strategic Dialogue, says: “The far right are still a fringe movement in Ireland, unlike in the United States, but they are very loud and they know how to use online platforms to get their message across.”
The Great Replacement theory has received wide attention on social media in Ireland. In their enthusiasm to proclaim a distinct Irish identity, fringe figures have frequently copied and pasted tropes, memes and ‘theories’ from America.
According to Gallagher, many of the proponents of the theory are preoccupied with birth rates and the idea that white people are not having as many babies as immigrants.
Hermann Kelly, a prominent pro-life campaigner and anti-immigration activist, has warned on the anti-abortion website Life Site News: “If demographics are the destiny of a nation, then we don’t want the brutal demise or ‘great replacement’ of our children.”
The prominent far-right activist Gemma O’Doherty has also mentioned the Great Replacement on social media.
Before her account was banned by Twitter, she attacked Lidl in 2019 for featuring an interracial family in ads for the supermarket chain.
O’Doherty tweeted: “German dump Lidl gaslighting the Irish people with their multicultural version of ‘The Ryans’. Kidding no one! Resist the Great Replacement wherever you can by giving this kip a wide berth. #ShopIrish #BuyIrish.”
The couple left the country after receiving abusive and racist comments online, including a death threat against their 22-month-old child.
The Great Replacement theory has also been promoted by O’Doherty’s political sidekick, former columnist John Waters.
Professor Bryan Fanning, a UCD academic and expert on Irish migration, recently wrote an essay for the Dublin Review of Books focused on Waters’ anti-immigrant views.
When he stood unsuccessfully in the February 2020 general election, Waters warned in his pre-election writings and speeches of the dangers of the “great replacement” of Irish people by immigrants. He cited the inspiration of Renaud Camus.
Over the past two years, as a growing number of far-right accounts were banned from mainstream platforms, they regrouped on social media and messaging apps where they are given a free rein.
“There is always a place for them to go and usually the place they go is more extreme than the place they left,” Gallagher says. “Censorship is a double-edged sword. You can get rid of that stuff from mainstream platforms, but there are so many options for them. Telegram has become the platform for many of the groups.”
Despite the online noise, the extreme right in Ireland has not had any electoral breakthroughs.
Piaras Mac Éinrí, a lecturer in migration studies at University College Cork, has been monitoring the activities of the far right in recent years. “While these people have a very busy life online when it comes to political traction, they have had very little success,” he says. “They tend to get somewhere between 1pc and 2pc of the vote wherever they stand.”
It remains to be seen if far-right ideas have gained more political support since the pandemic, because the last significant test was the election in the month before Covid-19 took hold.
Since the pandemic, extremists have tried to win over support by mixing up older racist conspiracy theories with anti-vaxxer disinformation, anti-mask campaigning and opposition to lockdowns.
All these ideas are blended in internet groups, even in messaging groups with apparently innocuous titles such as Telegram’s “Irish Parent/Teacher group”. “Since the pandemic, a lot of people would be part of an online world that they would not have been part of before,” Gallagher says.
Before the pandemic, anti-vaccine campaigners, white supremacists and those who believe in the QAnon — the bizarre conspiracy theory that there is a cabal of US elite figures that preys on children — might have stuck to their own communities online. But these groups have fused since the pandemic in online group chats.
“People who would not consider themselves racist or far right may have followed Covid conspiracy theories, and so they are more likely to be ingesting ideas such as the Great Replacement,” Gallagher says. “I have seen examples where the pandemic was mixed in with the conspiracy theory that injection of vaccines was part of a plot to kill off native populations.”
According to the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, on messaging apps such as Telegram, far-right groups were active in promoting anti-mask rallies.
In a study by the international counter-extremism group Moonshot, an unusually high proportion of young men in Ireland were looking up far-right topics online during the pandemic.
Moonshot, which was co-founded by Corkman Ross Frenett, monitored searches for a list of terms associated with right-wing extremism and white nationalism in Ireland between September 2020 and February 2021.
According to their study, “great replacement” was one of the terms that commonly came up in Irish searches. There were fewer searches for far-right topics per head of population than in the US and UK, but where gender could be determined, just over 80pc of these searches came from males. This was a significantly higher proportion than in other countries.
Like many other observers of the Irish far-right scene, Frenett is caught in something of a dilemma. On the one hand, there is a feeling that such trends should be monitored carefully and taken seriously, but on the other hand there is no desire to elevate their status or exaggerate their popularity.
Frenett, who has also monitored extreme Islamist groups, says: “We should never be complacent, but we should never play into their hands by claiming that it’s a growing or successful movement. The Irish far right and white supremacist scene are a clown car of losers and incompetents.”
In the past, we might have considered mass shootings by individuals a feature of American life, but the sense that these scenes could be repeated anywhere have been heightened by attacks such as the mass shootings by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway and Brenton Tarrant in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Breivik killed 77 people on a single day in 2011. Tarrant killed 51 at a pair of mosques in 2019.
As the Washington Post put it this week, both men promoted their ideology in hate-filled writings that railed against immigration and argued that violence was necessary to preserve Western civilisation. Gendron, the accused man in the Buffalo shootings, appears to have copied them.
“Christchurch was something that took everyone aback, because New Zealand is somewhat comparable to Ireland as a liberal and fairly accepting country,” Gallagher says.
She says we have not suffered the extreme violence of white supremacists in America.
“It’s still very fringe and these groups have been rejected at the polls, but it only takes one person to do something like this,” she adds. “We should not think we are immune to this, because these white supremacist groups are international in their scope.”
The spread of toxic ideas that can inspire violence has long been diagnosed, but Gallagher says there is no simple solution. These issues prompt questions about the nature of free speech and where the boundaries should be drawn.
“Censorship should be a last resort and free speech is a human right, but people also have the right not to be discriminated against, harassed and abused.”
Gallagher says the best approach to tackling these conspiracy theories is through education. “Prevention is the best cure,” she says. “We need to give people the information and education they need to resist this kind of stuff.
“That means explaining to people how conspiratorial mindsets work — how they play on peoples’ fears, their uncertainties and their distrust in institutions.”
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/great-replacement-the-conspiracy-theory-that-inspires-mass-killers-and-the-irish-far-right-41668338.html Great Replacement: the conspiracy theory that inspires mass killers and the Irish far right