When white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville this summer, they shouted, "You will not replace us!"--eventually shifting the phrase, alarmingly, to "Jews will not replace us!" For most watching across the country, the protesters' blatant expressions of prejudice were deeply unnerving. But where do their slogans come from, and what are they trying to convey?
Today's white supremacists--in their chants, fliers and signs--use a shared language of sorts, an odd patchwork of borrowed and invented symbolism. "You will not replace us" did not initially refer to Jews specifically, but to all minorities. It was first used in February 2017, at an anti-Trump event organized by actor Shia LaBeouf, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Nathan Damigo, founder of the white supremacist group Identity Evropa, attended the event and spoke into a camera: "Shia LaBeouf, you will not replace us with your globalism." By May the slogan was appearing on white supremacist fliers and on Twitter. It reflects a fear that "white people will become a powerless minority as the demographics keep changing," says Oren Segal, director of the ADLs Center on Extremism. The phrase, he adds, is similar to another white supremacist motto--known as the "14 Words"--which the ADL calls "the most popular white supremacist slogan in the world": "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children."
While "You will not replace us" is of recent vintage, the ideas behind it are far from new. It is, Segal says, simply a "repackaging" of age-old white supremacist ideals. Nor is the fear of replacement uniquely American. In Europe, a variation of the idea has gained traction, partly thanks to contemporary French writer Renaud Camus (no relation to philosopher Albert Camus). Camus is afraid that immigration, particularly Muslim immigration, will destroy white European society and culture, through what he calls the "Great Replacement." Camus says he sympathizes with the slogan "You will not replace us" and admits that the underlying sentiment could be connected to his ideas. But he condemns "Jews will not replace us," claiming that anti-Semitism doesn't jibe with his ideology. "The menace of replacement certainly does not come from the Jews," he says. "On the contrary, they are the ones who are most under menace of being replaced."
George Hawley, a University of Alabama political scientist and author of Making Sense of the Alt-Right, says the phrase "Jews...