Local Politics: J.D. Vance and the mainstreaming of the great replacement conspiracy

The favorite to be the next senator from Ohio has embraced a toxic, once extremist position that should be disqualifying

Craig Calcaterra
Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance speaks at a rally at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, Saturday, April 23, 2022.

On Saturday, a teenage gunman opened fire at a supermarket in Buffalo, killing 10 people and injuring three more, almost all of them Black. Just before he went on his murderous rampage, the shooter posted a manifesto rife with racism and xenophobia in which he claimed that white Americans are under siege and are being replaced by non-whites, non-Christians and immigrants. 

The substance of that manifesto is not original. Rather, it has ties to the "great replacement" conspiracy, which states that non-whites are being brought into the United States and other western countries to "replace" white voters in an effort to advance a liberal progressive political agenda that is, allegedly, destructive to western society and which will lead to the extinction of the white race. While appeals to so-called "white genocide" are often made by adherents to great replacement, the conspiracy is also frequently invoked in the form of claims that immigrants are an invading force. When given voice in the United States, that part of the conspiracy assumes that immigrants and non-whites will vote for Democrats, overwhelming the voting power of white Americans.

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The Buffalo gunman is not the first mass shooter to cite great replacement conspiracy talking points as a justification for his violence. The same theories motivated mass shootings that led to the deaths of nine Black people in a church in South Carolina in 2015; 11 members of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pennsylvania in 2018; 51 people at two New Zealand mosques in 2019; and 23 primarily Latino persons at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, the same year.

But it's not just a conspiracy advanced by mass murderers. It is, increasingly, one endorsed by putatively mainstream political figures. People like the man favored to be Ohio's next senator, J.D. Vance. 

Vance has spent a great deal of time of late giving voice to some of the central talking points of the great replacement conspiracy, particularly as it relates to immigrants "invading" the United States and voting for Democrats. In an early April debate, Vance, on the defensive for dismissive comments he made regarding the war in Ukraine, said that Ukraine was "not our fight,” but rather, that it was a "massive distraction" from the "border invasion" occurring in the United States. The day before that debate, Vance dropped an ad in which he lamented "Joe Biden's open border," which will lead to "more Democrat voters pouring into this country." 

That invocation of a "border invasion" was positively subtle compared to what Vance had to say a month earlier while appearing on Fox News with Tucker Carlson. There, he explicitly invoked the great replacement conspiracy, referring to "Democrat politicians who have decided that they can’t win re-election in 2022 unless they bring in a large number of new voters to replace the voters that are already here." In a campaign stop in Portsmouth last month, Vance said, “You’re talking about a shift in the democratic makeup of this country that would mean we never win, meaning Republicans would never win a national election in this country ever again."

Vance no doubt felt emboldened by his surroundings that evening, as Carlson has repeatedly championed great replacement conspiracy talking points on his and other shows on Fox News. Indeed, as a recent in-depth report by the New York Times about Carlson's rise to the top of the ratings revealed, appeals to the great replacement conspiracy are a central feature of his broadcasts. Vance, who at the time was in a pitched battle to obtain Donald Trump's endorsement, was no doubt eager to say things that Carlson, Trump's favorite commentator, would like to hear. Given that Vance appeared on Carlson’s show 15 times in the run-up to the primary, it's fair to say that no part of his engagement with Carlson was accidental or ill-considered.

Not that Vance's great replacement conspiracy comments were opportunistic one-offs, given those TV ads and his arguments in favor of this idea in debates. Or given that Vance spent last summer making it a point to talk about how Democratic political figures who do not have children "have no physical commitment to the future of this country." As I wrote for Alive at the time, that particular argument is an offshoot of venerable fascist rhetoric that is preoccupied with birth rates and the dilution of native-born citizens' voting power, which falls in line with the ideas motivating the great replacement conspiracy. 

Finally, it's worth noting that Vance's largest political benefactor, former boss and current mentor, Peter Thiel, the tech billionaire who has cast himself as an "anti-globalist” (itself an anti-Semitic and xenophobic dog whistle), is supporting other candidates who have been just as brazen in advancing great replacement conspiracy rhetoric. There are a great number of positions, many of them profoundly ugly, to be found among Thiel's stable of politicians, but an appeal to the great replacement conspiracy is a pretty common one, and one Vance has wholeheartedly embraced.

The extent to which extreme-right concepts such as the great replacement conspiracy have entered mainstream political discourse is shocking. That they are embraced by the Republican nominee for Ohio's open senate seat is appalling. That this nominee, J.D. Vance, has yet to talk about any of this, at least as of this writing, is telling. If, as I expect, he refuses to repudiate these toxic views, it is disqualifying.