The Great Replacement: The Past & Disturbing Present of American Nazis

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Last weekend, a man gunned down nearly a dozen people in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York. The next day, Richard Dawkins encouraged his 3 million Twitter followers to read Douglas Murray’s “utterly superb” new book, “The War on the West.” Let’s talk about what connects these two seemingly disparate events.

The killer in Buffalo was a white supremacist, which isn’t up for debate by serious people. He was white, he drove several hours to attack patrons at a grocery store in a predominantly black neighborhood, and he wrote “here’s your reparations,” “white lives matter,” the n-word, and the names of other white supremacist murderers on the gun he used. Fucking christ guns are way too big. No one needs a gun so big you can write the names of more than two other nazis on. Oh, he also left a 180-page manifesto describing his views and motivations, part of which reads “?If there’s one thing I want you to get from these writings, it’s that White birth rates must change. Every day the White population becomes fewer in number. To maintain a population the people must achieve a birth rate that reaches replacement fertility levels, in the western world that is about 2.06 births per woman.”

You probably know by now that this is the “Great Replacement Theory,” which is a very respectable name for a very old, very shitty, very racist idea with no basis in objective reality. It’s been an essential part of the US government’s plans for an entire century: in 1924, Calvin Coolidge signed the Johnson-Reed Act, which slammed the door shut on immigration from all countries except for northern and western Europe. The “Reed” of “Johnson-Reed” proudly proclaimed that his legislation guaranteed that “the racial composition of America at the present time thus is made permanent.” He was inspired by the work of prominent American eugenicists–particularly Harry Laughlin, who often helped the US government enact this kind of “scientifically backed” bigotry, even testifying in favor of Johnson-Reed by pointing out that Jews are “feeble-minded.” He also drafted forced sterilization laws that dozens of states instituted, sterilizing “the feeble-minded,” alcoholics, the deaf and blind, and at least one woman who was accused of being the “probable potential parent of socially inadequate offspring.”

The Nazis took notice of his success, and copied the US legislation in Germany. When they began the Holocaust, Harry Laughlin went back to Congress to lobby for the US’s anti-immigration policies to remain in place to stop Jews fleeing Europe for their lives. He stated that the US and the Third Reich shared “a common understanding of … the practical application” of eugenic principles to “racial endowments and … racial health.” The Nazis rewarded Laughlin with an honorary doctorate from Heidelburg University.

In 1937, Laughlin helped found a nonprofit called the Pioneer Fund, which had two explicit goals: increasing the population of white Americans descended from early settlers, and funding research focused on the ‘problem of heredity and eugenics'” and “the problems of race betterment”. They helped distribute early Nazi film propaganda to American schools and churches, and started forming a tight circle of Nazi writers and scientists to produce “research” proving that whites were the superior race.

In the ‘50s, the Pioneer Fund helped fight against school integration and argued for black people to be shipped to Africa due to their inferior genes. They started pushing hard to fund more research proving that white people are genetically predisposed to be smarter than other races. For instance, they gave $4,000 to Donald Swan, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to test white schoolchildren to prove his hypothesis that the Nazis were right. Swan was arrested for mail fraud in 1966, at which point the police “found Nazi paraphernalia, swastika flags, weapons, pictures of Swan with members of George Lincoln Rockwell’s American Nazi Party and hundreds of anti-semitic, anti-black and anti-Catholic pamphlets in his home.’

Swan died in 1981, at which point the Pioneer Fund spent $59,000 to purchase his papers. Can’t let those important documents go into the bin, can we?

Real scientists began to notice what was going on, and people like Steven J. Gould, Richard Lewontin, and Steven Rose were publishing books and articles calling out the bad science of “biological determinism.” In 1989, social researcher Barry Mehler warned fellow scientists that the Pioneer Fund had successfully allowed Nazi eugenecists to integrate themselves into the Reagan administration and were using this legitamacy to push their IQ pseudoscience. Mehler wrote:

 “A recent survey of 661 scholars working on this issue showed that the campaign to legitimate the work of the racist scholars connected to the Pioneer Fund is having a profound effect. The survey revealed that the single most compelling reason convincing scholars of the genetic component to IQ was the recent ‘barrage of studies on identical twins reared apart’.

The source of this ‘barrage’ is Thomas Bouchard’s Minnesota Twins Study Project. Although only a few articles on personality and character traits have been published in refereed journals, the Minnesota group has announced ‘conclusions’ and generated massive publicity about the heritable nature of personality traits. In order for the scientific community to have an opportunity to evaluate the twin study a book-length monograph is needed. Such a monograph was promised by 1987. The twin project is now entering its second decade and a full-length study has still not appeared.

It is possible that Bouchard’s survey is methodologically rigorous, but few bodies save the Pioneer Fund would back a study which has not been published in a reputable academic journal. Until such time, ‘a decade of media coverage will have made its impression’,(50) and ideas generated by right wing eugenicists heralding all end to white civilization might have become acceptable and commonplace.”

Five years later, that barrage of Pioneer-funded studies “proving” that Nazis were right was collected into a book. That book was called The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray.

When scientists pointed out that the cited work was produced by a Nazi organization, Murray defended the Pioneer Fund and said it has as much to do with the Nazis as the Ford Motor Company has to do with Henry Ford today. Linda Gottfredson, a psychologist who has received more than a quarter of a million dollars from the Pioneer Fund, published a letter in the Wall Street Journal defending the Bell Curve. Thomas Bouchard also signed. Psychologist J. Philippe Rushton signed it: he ran the Pioneer Fund from 2002 until his death in 2012, and throughout his career he published several “studies” on race and IQ that ended up being retracted, and in 2020 his own department published a statement repudiating his work, saying it was “characterized by a complete misunderstanding of population genetic measures, including fundamental misconceptions about the nature of heritability.”

The pro-Bell Curve letter was also signed by Richard Lynn, who ran the Pioneer Fund after Rushton’s death and who is editor-in-chief of the Pioneer-funded white supremacist journal Mankind Quarterly, which was started in the 1960s as a mouthpiece for white segregationists and which first published many of the studies used in The Bell Curve. Lynn explicitly argues that we must institute eugenics and anti-immigration policies to prevent “low IQ” people from outbreeding “high IQ” people.

I could go on, but I will pause there to jump to the present day: Thomas Bouchard, J. Phillippe Rushton, and Richard Lynn are all cited by the Buffalo murderer in his manifesto. A lot of the manifesto is plagiarized from previous mass murderers, like the Christchurch shooter who also cited the Great Replacement as his inspiration. But this bit is all his: pages and pages of scientific evidence that the Nazis were right: Jews, black people, and other racial minorities are inferior to white people and are overbreeding to the point that they’re destroying the world, and extreme measures must be taken to stop them.

It didn’t matter to this murderer that the research was retracted for being complete pseudoscience: by that point it was too late. By that point, the retraction felt like unfair censorship, not good science.

The sordid history of “race science” and eugenics is simply one unbroken line that travels from 1920 United States, to 1941 Germany, to 2022 United States. Mankind Quarterly is still published four times a year. The Pioneer Fund still operates as a nonprofit, issuing hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants for racist pseudoscience. And mainstream, respected scientists and pundits continue to legitimize and expand upon their work. In 2019, historian Alexandra Fair highlighted links between the Pioneer Fund and UK journalists like Toby Young, who was forced to resign from the Fulbright Commission after it came to light that he attended a secret eugenics conference that hosted prominent white supremacists. A previous guest of that conference was Richard Lynn. Young said the secrecy of the conference was necessary “considering the reaction that any references to between-group differences in IQ generally provoke.”

In 2020, Byline Times unearthed a speech Young gave in which he delivered a vigorous defense of the Pioneer Fund. They write “This included defending the belief in a biological basis for “racial differences in IQ”, justifying the under-representation of women in science, technology and maths (STEM) subjects.”

Also in 2020, Young established the “Free Speech Union” (FSU), an organization supposedly dedicated to resisting “cancel culture” but which quickly segued into spreading COVID-19 misinformation. FSU’s list of advisors reads, as Byline Times put it, “like a veritable Who’s Who of white identity politics.” Young’s fellow director at FSU is Douglas Murray (no relation to Charlies Murray as far as I know). Murray is considered a member of the still hilariously cringey “Intellectual Dark Web,” and he’s famous for writing books like “The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam,” in which he argues that hoards of Muslims are descending upon Europe like locusts and will eventually replace white Christians. That’s right, here in the US “replacement theory” focuses mostly on whites being replaced by black and Latino people (and the Jews of course), while in Europe it’s more focused on whites being replaced by Muslims (and, uh, yeah still the Jews). 

Murray’s book became so popular amongst far right anti-immigration zealots that it became the favorite book of Viktor Orban, Hungary’s ethnonationalistic anti-semitic prime minister, who even invited Murray to come out and meet him along with Steve Bannon. Yes, that Steve Bannon. “If we do not clearly state what is happening to Hungary and why it is happening,” Orban wrote on Facebook under a photo of him holding Murray’s book, “then no one will understand. And if we do not understand it, then we cannot make a sound decision three weeks from now.”

While Orban was a fan of “The Strange Death of Europe,” many others were not. In a review of it for the Guardian, Gaby Hinsliff writes that the book is “gentrified xenophobia,” and that “Chapter after chapter circles around the same repetitive themes: migrants raping and murdering and terrorising; paeans to Christianity; long polemics about how Europe is too “exhausted by history” and colonial guilt to face another battle, and is thus letting itself be rolled over by invaders fiercely confident in their own beliefs.”

Another Guardian piece from last year calls “The Strange Death of Europe” “an attenuated version of the great replacement theory for the Telegraph-reading classes.” (The Telegraph is a conservative rag in the UK.)

Similarly, Murtaza Hussain wrote over on The Intercept that Murray ignores crime statistics that don’t back up his central thesis, like how Germany took in more refugees than any other European country and enjoyed their lowest crime rate in almost 30 years.

“Even if no immigrant in Europe ever committed a crime,” Hussain writes, “it seems like Murray would keep moving the goal posts against them anyway. In some of the most eye-opening portions of “The Strange Death of Europe,” he waxes nostalgic about medieval European warriors like Charles Martel who battled Muslim armies in the eighth century, drawing insidious connections between this ancient episode, among others, and the people he sees on the streets of Europe today. In other words, it’s not ultimately even about what immigrants and minorities do, it’s about who they are. On a trip to Paris, Murray laments that some of the subway lines are like “taking an underground train in an African city,” asserting contemptuously that most of the people are “going to low-paid service jobs or appear to be heading nowhere.””


So now, Douglas Murray has just published a new book: The War on the West, which the publisher insists to be a rollicking defense of “the greatest, most humane civilization in the world.” Hmm. My friend Adam Rutherford, the geneticist who wrote the excellent book “A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived” and “How to Argue with a Racist” (among many others), read the book because Murray cites him in it. Rutherford reports that the War on the West is “devoid of reason or evidence,” and that Murray “ticks all the boxes of being anti-scholarship, anti-university, cherry-picking extreme examples to enrage rather than enlighten,” and further that the book is “cynical pseudo-intellectual red meat apparently so he can go on the voracious circle-jerk podcast circuit. Sounds ruddy but it’s really fetid entrails, ahistorical, evidence-free polemic, every vacuous trap sprung with over-enunciated glee. Andouillette.”

I had to look up “Andouillette.” Apparently it’s a pork-intestine sausage that smells like poop. Fascinating! I learn so much from Adam.

So, he didn’t love it, I guess. But you know who did? Richard Dawkins, who calls it “utterly superb.” Yeah, see? I got back there. One day after a white supremacist gunned down black people because eugenecists warned that they must be stopped from replacing the white race, eminent biologist Richard Dawkins encouraged 3 million followers to read the latest book from a man who wrote “an attenuated version of the great replacement theory for the Telegraph-reading classes.”
When you hear people rightfully criticizing rightwing media pundits like Tucker Carlson for mainstreaming the idea of a “Great Replacement,” keep in mind that for the past century this bigotry has been shared and spread by “scientists.” Even, maybe, ones who “always vote left.”

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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