The leading forces of the Republican Party have embraced a set of racist conspiracy theories based on white nationalism as a central organizing principle for the midterm elections. The America’s Voice ad tracking project has identified hundreds of pieces of political messaging that employ these lies around ‘white replacement’ and a ‘migrant invasion.’ This political messaging acts as the most pernicious element of a larger nativist political narrative to rally a radicalized base, solicit fundraising contributions and subvert American democracy.
Moving from the margins of the white nationalist fringe to the centers of power among the GOP, the lie goes: ‘Jews want to replace the political power of whites with non-whites from the global south by coordinating an invasion of the country and undermine the democratic process with millions of illegitimate votes.’ This racist fiction is absurd, but it has inspired multiple domestic terrorists to take the lives of dozens over the last few years. Chanted in the streets of Charlottesville in 2017, posted online before a man murdered 11 in Pittsburgh in 2018, shared in a racist screed before the murder of 23 in El Paso in 2019, believed by those who attacked the Capitol in 2021, and copied by the gunman who killed ten people in Buffalo in May of this year. All in between, Republicans increasingly normalized the ideas espoused by these mass murders.
While divorced from factual reality, these conspiracies can trigger potent anxieties about racial and national identity and, when left unchallenged, can be effective political messaging tools with some voters. The research finds that about 1 in 3 Americans and more than 60 percent believe a version of this baseless conspiracy. Regardless of causation, Republicans’ midterm strategy is reinforcing this dangerous lie.
The danger from the GOP’s embrace of “replacement” and “invasion” conspiracies manifests in several forms. The immediate threat of amplifying the lies that inspire white nationalist terrorists encourages those attacks to continue, putting all Americans at greater risk. The dehumanization inherent in the conspiracy promotes treating migrants seeking their legal right to seek asylum in the U.S. and the communities that support them as enemy combatants. In the longer term, these lies lay the groundwork for destabilizing American democracy through the myth of an organized force of illegitimate votes. It fits within a broader campaign to create the pretext to deny the results of unfavorable election outcomes employing a range of voter suppression tactics under the perverse guise of protecting the democratic process the lies seek to undermine.
The stakes are too high and the dangers too great to ignore the Republicans’ embrace of “replacement” and “invasion conspiracies,” nor the fact that the GOP’s embrace of these dangerous lies are increasingly widespread throughout the party.
America’s Voice ad tracking project has identified 546 pieces of political messaging that employ lies around ‘white replacement’ and a ‘migrant invasion’ in the 2022 cycle, including 334 tweets for the first six months of this year, 121 different paid political ads in this cycle, and 91 campaign emails. We know that Republican candidates are also regularly peddling these dangerous lies on cable appearances, Congressional hearings, on other social media platforms, and in podcasts and radio interviews, but we have not quantified those here. The scale of what we have gathered, however, should dismiss any notion that this language is coincidental or only a problem limited to few outliers in the Republican Party:
- Of the 334 tweets, we have identified 81 different Republican candidates, electeds, or party officials across 24 states who have used this language.
- The 121 unique ads were from 44 different campaigns across 16 states.
- The 91 campaign emails are from 21 different campaigns across 12 states.
Many of the political messages falsely warn of an “invasion” overrunning the U.S./Mexico border. This “invasion” rhetoric is inexorably tied to that of ‘white replacement.’ The subtext is not subtle — the dangerous “other” is invading us so they can replace us and must be stopped.
Some Republicans have been explicit when promoting the ‘replacement’ conspiracy. Like Rep. Brian Babin (TX-36), who claimed Democrats “want to change America, they want to replace the American electorate with third-world immigrants that are coming in illegally” on FOX and Friends in September 2021.
However, many Republicans are a bit more strategic in their replacement theory messaging. They use euphemisms and coded messages that roughly sound like: ‘Democrats are intentionally encouraging millions of migrants to come across the border in order to make them voters and completely change the country.’ Regardless, the core fears and lies of the conspiracy are still the active ingredients.
Sometimes the further implications of this message are left to be inferred by the voter. On October 1, Rep. Jim Banks chimed in to connect the GOP “Biden Border Crisis” talking point claiming President Biden is intentionally luring people to ask for asylum at the Southern Border in support of his ‘replacement’ objectives, simply tweeting, “The Biden Border Crisis is intentional!”
You can see all the Tweets we have identified here and the ads and emails here.
The Hot Spots
Almost all the Republicans running statewide in Arizona have made ‘replacement’ and ‘invasion’ conspiracies a central part of their campaigns.
In the Senate primary, Blake Masters released one of the most vile and dangerous nativist ads that were nearly indistinguishable from sections of the white supremacist gunman’s screed in the racist Buffalo mass murders. The TV ad, which features clips of Fox News host Tucker Carlson calling Masters a “smart guy” and noting, “we are rooting for him,” mostly features Masters speaking to the camera, spouting dangerous nativist lies:
“It’s not just about border violence … or fentanyl pouring in by the ton … or importing 20 million illegals and giving them amnesty [as the text on-screen features Haitian asylum seekers] … No, it’s about a small group of elites who want to destroy this country. That’s why the Democrats push open borders. It’s time to militarize this border. We are going to end this invasion.”
The ad follows Masters’ earlier claims that Democrats were trying to “flood the nation with millions of immigrants ‘to change the demographics of our country,’” and assertions that, “what the left really wants to do is change the demographics of this country … They want to do that so they can consolidate power so they can never lose another election.”
Meanwhile, many of Arizona Senate candidate Jim Lamon’s political advertising and fundraising emails have peddled the racist “invasion” rhetoric. Lamon also ran an ad making suggestions of political violence, shooting at actors portraying President Biden, Speaker Pelosi, and Sen. Mark Kelly, whose wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, suffered severe gunshot wounds when she was a Member of Congress in 2011. That ad and several others included Border Patrol union president Brandon Judd. Judd has been a key validator for Lamon’s campaign and is also a proponent of the ‘replacement’ and ‘invasion’ conspiracies.
For his part, current Arizona Attorney General and Senate primary candidate Mark Brnovich issued an official opinion from his office claiming the “invasion” to be real and finding that the Governor has the legal authority to enact war powers to forcefully expel migrants. The baseless and sloppy legal opinion was a clear political stunt but one that he has used as a central part of this Senate campaign.
In the gubernatorial primary, Kari Lake has been emphatic about her commitment to the “invasion” conspiracy theory. She has made a campaign promise to “declare an invasion” on day one of her administration. She has run TV ads that lead with that promise. While her main primary opponent, Karrin Taylor Robson, has also made “invasion” rhetoric a part of her platform and it has been a central theme in her political advertising throughout her campaign.
Many other candidates have followed the lead of the top of the ticket and employed the conspiracies in their campaigns, meaning voters have an opportunity to send a powerful message to Republicans by rejecting this dangerous radicalization in November.
After dipping in polls and receiving consistent pressure from his right, Governor Greg Abbott moved the racist ‘invasion’ myth to official policy, signing an executive order claiming the authority to detain unauthorized immigrants because conditions raise to the level of an “invasion.” More a political stunt than concrete policy, the move is nevertheless an extremely dangerous normalization of the racist conspiracy theory that already has a significant body count. A threat of which Abbott is fully aware. Because after the terror attack in El Paso in 2019, Abbott acknowledged that “mistakes were made” in a fundraising letter he had sent the day prior to the killings. The letter stated, “If we’re going to DEFEND Texas, we’ll need to take matters into our own hands.” In acknowledging his contribution to creating a hostile climate for Mexican-Americans in Texas after the El Paso killings, Gov. Abbott pledged to do better and be more responsible, noting: “I emphasize the importance of making sure that rhetoric will not be used in any dangerous way.” However, he has instead re-embraced racist conspiracy theories as part of a relentless and cynical political strategy.
Meanwhile, Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has repeatedly promoted the racist conspiracies in press conferences with the Governor and on cable news appearances. In June of 2021, Abbott remained silent as Patrick falsely claimed, “we are being invaded. That term has been used in the past, but it has never been more true.” Nor has Abbott publicly criticized Patrick’s dangerous rhetoric on Fox’s Ingraham Angle in September 2021, when he claimed that “the revolution has begun, a silent revolution by the Democrat Party and Joe Biden to take over this country . . . we are being invaded … you are talking about millions and millions of new voters . . . this is trying to take over our country without firing a shot.”
The handful of the most vocal Members of Congress pushing the racist conspiracies are from the Texas Congressional delegation, including but not limited to, Lance Gooden (TX-05), Troy Nehls (TX-22), Brain Babin (TX- 36), Jodey Arrington (TX-19), and Chip Roy (TX-21). Just days after the terror attack in Buffalo, Nehls organized a letter with 30 of his Republican colleagues echoing the same “invasion” language as the gunman’s racist screed. Rep. Arrington was the first to push for the “invasion” to move from myth to government policy (more below). Reps. Gooden and Roy are both relentless propagators of the fiction that asylum seekers constitute an invasion. Rep. Roy has also said that one reason citizens need AR-15 assault rifles is to help defend the U.S. border.
While the contingent of Congressmen in Texas pushing the racist myths the hardest are not facing competitive elections this cycle, there are several competitive congressional races along the border. The Republicans in those races, many of whom are Hispanic, have been silent as their fellow Republicans push white nationalist conspiracies tied to a terrorist attack in the state that killed 23 people because the gunman thought they were Mexican ‘invaders.’ The silence from these candidates is deafening, and there is a real need for accountability.
Baseless racist conspiracy theories have always been a core element of Donald Trump’s political message, so it is not entirely surprising that his administration acted as a gravitational force pulling ‘replacement’ and ‘invasion’ conspiracies into the mainstream. As he elevated Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller – who had previously championed the ‘replacement’ theory novel “The Camp of the Saints” as an important text – it was almost predictable that favorable conditions would arise for ‘replacement’ and ‘invasion’ conspiracies to fester in the Republican party.
Emboldened by Trump’s election, an eclectic group of bigots converged on Charlottesville, Virginia, to assert the ‘replacement’ theory chanting “Jews will not replace us, you will not replace us” in the light of tiki-torch fires. They waged street battles in defense of that racist lie, culminating in the murder of Heather Heyer. Confronted with the deadly aftermath, Trump chose to normalize the ‘replacement’ lies while other Republican leadership refused to push back with any substantial force.
In the subsequent months, Trump and right-wing media increasingly amplified ‘replacement,’ ‘invasion,’ and other dehumanizing nativist lies. Echoing this rhetoric, a man entered the Tree of Life Synagogue and murdered Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger.
Republicans and right-wing media continued with ‘replacement’ and ‘invasion’ lies.
In August, 2019 inspired by these fictions, another man drove hundreds of miles and opened fire at a Wal-Mart in El-Paso, Texas and murdered: Jordan Anchondo, Andre Anchondo, Arturo Benavidez, Javier Rodriguez, Sara Esther Regalado Moriel, Adolfo Cerros Hernández, Gloria Irma Marquez, María Eugenia Legarreta Rothe, Ivan Manzano, Juan de Dios Velázquez Chairez, David Johnson, Leonardo Campos Jr., Maribel Campos (Loya), Angelina Silva Englisbee, Maria Flores, Raul Flores, Jorge Calvillo Garcia Alexander Gerhard Hoffman, Luis Alfonzo Juarez, Elsa Mendoza de la Mora, Margie Reckard, and Teresa Sanchez. A New York Times report found that Trump had run over 2,000 “invasion” Facebook ads in the lead up to the attack.
The right’s xenophobic fervor briefly switched targets in 2020 alongside the pandemic. New nativist conspiracies occupied vast amounts of Republican messaging space and contributed to other devastating and violent downstream consequences.
For the 2022 midterm elections, Republicans made it clear in early 2021 that they were going to try to make a cynical nativist message key to their strategy. While the main tagline was the “Biden Border Crisis,” numerous Republicans quickly escalated to “invasion” rhetoric despite the spate of racist violence tied to the language.
In early June of 2021, Rep. Jodey Arrington (TX-19) repeatedly went on FOX News to make the claim that the mythical invasion was, in fact, real and that war powers should be used to repel said invasion. Arrington was promoting his statement bill co-sponsored by 10 other House Republicans that claimed the “invasion” in Article 1 Section 10 of the Constitution was figurative, not literal and that States could invoke military power to repel an invasion from the “overwhelming and imminent danger posed by paramilitary, narco-terrorist cartels who have seized control of our southern border.”
Several other Republicans followed suit and began employing the “invasion” conspiracy. Notably, Sen. Lindsey Graham, once a leading voice for immigration reform, began to embrace this white nationalist lie in Facebook ads and cable news segments.
In September, just after ousting Rep. Liz Cheney for the third-ranking House Republican leadership position, Rep. Elise Stefanik ran dozens of Facebook ads that promoted a version of the ‘replacement’ conspiracy. When called out for this dangerous racist politicking, Stefanik refused to back down. With leadership committed to the rhetoric, it should be of a little surprise it continued to proliferate amongst the ranks.
In October, the short-tenured Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, Ken Cuccinelli, laid out the far-fetched constitutional argument for using the racist conspiracy to undermine federal immigration law and declare war on migrants. Cuccinelli built on Arrington’s argument claiming the “Constitution provides states an appropriate ‘self-help’ remedy” if they are facing an “invasion.” He asserts misleading migrant apprehension numbers, and blames the fentanyl trafficked through ports of entry, and “widespread human trafficking efforts” as indisputable evidence that this “constitutes an invasion” as understood in the Constitution. None of which is remotely the same as a military incursion.
By February of 2022, leading Republicans were pushing for the Republican Governors in Texas and Arizona to officially declare the myth real. Former Trump ICE Acting Director , Tom Homan met with Greg Abbott and pushed for such a designation to allow war powers to expel migrants. Meanwhile, Arizona’s Attorney General Mark Brnovich issued a baseless legal opinion claiming the Governor had such authority to declare war against migrants.
The same month CPAC looked to set the agenda for the Republicans for the midterms. There Trump, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chairman Sen. Rick Scott (FL), and leading party activist Charlie Kirk made a point to claim asylum seekers to be an “invasion.” Kirk used his speech to try to make adherence to the conspiracy a key litmus test for candidates.
In May, as leading Republicans continued to push the racist conspiracies as part of their political campaigns, a man went to a grocery store to kill Black people whom he believed to be the “replacers.” He murdered Roberta A. Drury, Margus D. Morrison, Andre Mackneil, Aaron Salter, Geraldine Talley, Celestine Chaney, Heyward Patterson, Katherine Massey Pearl Young, and Ruth Whitfield inspired by those bigoted lies.
In the wake of such a horror, Republicans were not chastened for even a moment. Led by Elise Stefanik and Sen. Ted Cruz (TX), Republicans doubled down on the ‘replacement’ and ‘invasion’ conspiracies. Stefanik even sent out a fundraising email the day after the terror attack claiming that she was a victim and vigorously defended her belief in racist lies echoed by the gunman. While other leadership, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, refused to condemn the white nationalist lies.
On July 5, local Texas electeds and former Trump officials Ken Cuccinelli and Mark Morgan held a press conference to declare that the state is being “invaded” by migrants seeking asylum. The local officials’ claim to the power to “declare an invasion” by migrants was even weaker than the already spurious claim that the Governor had such authority. However, the move was about putting public pressure on Governor Abbott, not sound policy. To that end, the same day, Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick went on Fox News to praise the invasion declaration and compared the so-called “invasion” to the attack on Pearl Harbor. And two days later, Abbott joined in.
On July 7, Abbott embraced the white nationalist lie and cited Article 4 Section 4 of the Constitution in an executive order claiming that an “invasion” of the state gave him the authority to use state forces to apprehend unauthorized immigrants, a dubious claim that sets up a legal and constitutional battle and establishes a dangerous model for other GOP states to follow. And a chilling development for every family in Texas, be they immigrant, mixed-status, Black, Latino, Asian, or anyone else law enforcement or individuals might target because of the color of their skin or the accent they speak with.
Until the active embrace of ‘replacement’ and ‘invasion’ conspiracies are significantly checked with reprimands from Republican severe political consequences, these dangerous trends will continue developing alongside the risk of more mass racist violence.
A Short History
While the French novelist Renaud Camus developed the language of “The Great Replacement” in his 2011 book of the same name, the racist delusions of ‘white replacement’ are not new nor an import to the United States. Its century-old roots in the United States speak both to its potency and its dangers. The lies of ‘replacement’ and ‘invasion’ have returned again and again with devastating consequences.
In a gross rhyme of history, as new non-white immigrants have sought out the American dream, a nativist backlash has been organized around the fictions of “invasion” and “replacement.” As David Neiwert writes:
“Invasion rhetoric has a long and violent history in American politics, dating back to the origins of nativism in the 1830s, when anti-Irish agitators like Samuel Morse (inventor of the telegraph) called the arrival of immigrants a “Papist invasion” and an attack on “the American way of life.” Likewise, a panic about a “Chinese invasion” arriving on the West Coast “900,000 strong” in the 1860s led to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1872.”
The birth of the eugenics movement in the United States at the turn of the century also brought the fears of ‘replacement.’ A central influence on the movement was the wealthy, well-connected Madison Grant, who wrote: “The Passing of the Great Race” in 1916 — a pseudoscientific defense of white supremacy that feared a biologically and socially superior “Nordic” race would be replaced by lower birth rates and rising immigration levels of non-whites (or non-“Nordics” in his terminology). Grant’s scientific-racism was deeply influential on American politics and Adolf Hitler called Grant’s book his “bible.” The racist eugenics ideas and fears of replacement informed the widely xenophobic Immigration Act of 1924, which slammed the door shut on most non-white immigrants for decades. As a sign of this influence, President Calvin Coolidge, who signed the law into effect, wrote in 1921: “The Nordics propagate themselves successfully. With other races, the outcome shows deterioration on both sides. Quality of mind and body suggests that observance of ethnic law is as great a necessity to a nation as immigration law.”
This particular racist delusion was slowly discredited in the public square following the horrors of WWII. And further banished to the disreputable fringes by the success of the Civil Rights Movement.
However, by the 1990s, white nationalists like Glenn Spencer and John Tanton were peddling updated conspiracies around ‘replacement’ and ‘invasion.’ While Spencer warned of the “Reconquista” (a violent taking back by Mexico of land lost in war with the United States) and Tanton warned of “The Immigration Invasion,” both sought to generate fictional threats about the Hispanic population already living in the U.S. and demagogue new migration from Latin America. The same year, Tanton published “The Immigration Invasion”; he published an English translation of the French ‘replacement’ novel, “The Camp of the Saints.” By this time, Tanton also had helped found the modern nativist movement, building several organizations that would help lead the push of nativism and the racist conspiracies into the mainstream.
Following a shift in politics after 9/11, more mainstream and popular figures like several-time Presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan and Harvard professor Samuel Huntington began to advance the racist conspiracies. Neither were new to anti-Democratic ideas or racist worldviews, but Patrick Buchanan’s 2002 book “The Death of the West” and his 2006 book “State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America” pushed the versions of ‘replacement’ and ‘invasion’ conspiracies. And Samuel Huntington’s 2004 book “Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity” and a similar article in Foreign Policy in 2009 advanced the “Reconquista” lie. These are not singular figures, but key signifiers of the trend of the ‘replacement’ and ‘invasion’ lies moving closer and closer towards the mainstream.
And, as outlined above, over the last few years, the Republican party has brought the ‘replacement’ and ‘invasion’ conspiracies back fully into the mainstream.
Before, when versions of this myth captured the imaginations of the public square, it resulted in devastating national and global consequences. But while the bigoted lie at the core of the ‘replacement’ and ‘invasion’ may not be new, it has been banished to the fridges from the mainstream before. There is now an urgency to do so once again.
Even after the horrific mass murder in Buffalo, where the gunman explicitly cited “replacement” and “invasion” conspiracies as the motivation for his attack, Republicans have refused to back off employing these racist lies. Instead, leading figures in the party have doubled down on refusing to condemn it and, in the case of Governor Greg Abbott, have embraced these dangerous lies as official policy. This all is an indication that there is little chance of any restraint likely to come from the GOP even as they head towards the general election.
As the Republican Party continues down this dangerous path, they are explicitly encouraging violence by inciting replacement theory. Taking them at their word, they are sending the signal that anyone perceived to be immigrant, a visa holder, mixed-status, Black, Latino, Asian, or speaking with an accent is a possible enemy combatant. Unfortunately, we are afraid that, once again, some twisted well-armed young man will heed the militaristic call to action and take matters into his own hands and inflict racist violence. We know that threat is real. It has already happened and will happen again because of the GOP’s normalization of these lies.
Beyond the immediate threat of violence are the legal challenges posed by the policy adaptation of the conspiracies. Governor Abbott’s executive order seeks to end the process of asylum in the United States. He looks to do this by engaging local law enforcement and the national guard to apprehend migrants who have entered the U.S. “without authorization” in his view and take them to ports of entry, where the asylum process is closed to them. Currently, the only way to make an asylum claim at the southern border is to enter outside the official ports of entry, which is why migrants head to these areas instead. Abbott’s move is likely headed to a lengthy court battle, this is also part of the point.
In his executive order, Abbott all but makes a direct challenge to the 2012 United States Supreme Court case Arizona v. the United States, which reaffirmed federal jurisdiction over immigration laws. The 2012 case blocked Arizona’s SB1070, colloquially known as the “show-me-your-papers-law.” With a distinctly different dynamic now at the Supreme Court, Abbott’s “invasion” executive order may lay the groundwork for states to pass draconian anti-immigrant laws that could end up targeting communities by the color of their skin or the accent in their speech.
There is also a clear path between embracing ‘replacement’ lies and the lie of fraudulent elections. The more that Republican candidates build their campaigns around the lie that ‘Democrats have a secret plan to import millions of votes,’ the more incentive there is to blame that fiction for the reason for Republican losses. While neither is true, these lies become self-reinforcing and dependent on one another. This lie, if left unaddressed, erodes the very foundation of American democracy.
The stakes are too high and the dangers too great to ignore the Republicans’ embrace of ‘replacement’ and ‘invasion’ conspiracies.
America’s Voice ad tracking project will continue to monitor and report on new incidences of candidates engaging in this dangerous rhetoric.