ThesisPDF Available

White Replacement Theory in the United States of America



This paper examines ‘White Replacement Theory’ and its political implications in the United States of America. White Replacement Theory (WRT) is a conspiracy theory that reflects the belief that ethnically homogenous white populations of European descent are being ‘replaced’ by non-White individuals. This paper will examine the origin of WRT and the characteristics of those who support WRT contemporaneously, before reflecting on its implications for American politics by examining psychological and political factors that contribute to the pervasiveness of WRT. This paper will answer two research questions: which individual-level characteristics predict support for WRT, and how does WRT impact American politics? I will utilize decades of scholarly research on individual-level psychology to examine the phenomenon of WRT. I will examine the role that WRT has in molding the political landscape and discuss the consequences of this ideology for American politics. I conclude that the increase in mainstream acceptance of WRT poses a threat to democratic governance and norms, and may lead to increased polarization, extremism, and violence in American society.
A master’s thesis submitted to Stony Brook University Political Science department in partial
fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts, State University of New York
Major: Political Science
Under the supervision of Dr. Joseph “Joe” Vitriol
Stony Brook, New York, 2022
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Abstract…………………………………………………………………………………….Page 3
Chapter 1 - Introduction…………………………………………………………………….Page 4
1.1 The Phenomenon of White Replacement Theory....……………………………Page 5
1.2 Research Questions………………………….……………………………...…Page 6
1.3 Overview of the Thesis..…………..……………………………………...……Page 7
Chapter 2 - Overview of White Replacement Theory……………………………………..Page 9
2.1 History of Replacement Theory in the United States……………………..……Page 9
2.2 Contemporary forms of White Replacement Theory….……….…….…...……Page 14
2.3 White Replacement Theory in American Politics………..………..…...………Page 17
2.4 Chapter 2 Conclusion…………………………………………………………..Page 24
Chapter 3 - Antecedent to White Replacement Theory……………………………………Page 27
3.1 Psychological Factors………………………………….……………………….Page 27
3.2 Political Factors………………………………………….…………………..…Page 39
3.3 Elites and the Information Environment………………………………...……..Page 41
3.4 Chapter 3 Conclusion…………….…………………………...…..……………Page 47
Chapter 4 - Conclusion…………………………………………………………………….Page 50
4.1 Summary……….………………………………………………………………Page 50
4.2 Research Question One……………………………………………….………..Page 51
4.3 Research Question Two……………………………………………………..…Page 52
4.4 Future Research……………………………………………………………….. Page 53
4.5 Conclusionary Remarks…………………………………………………..……Page 54
References……………………………………..……………………………………...……Page 56
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This paper examines ‘White Replacement Theory’ and its political implications in the United
States of America. White Replacement Theory (WRT) is a conspiracy theory that reflects the
belief that ethnically homogenous white populations of European descent are being ‘replaced’ by
non-White individuals. This paper will examine the origin of WRT and the characteristics of
those who support WRT contemporaneously, before reflecting on its implications for American
politics by examining psychological and political factors that contribute to the pervasiveness of
WRT. This paper will answer two research questions: which individual-level characteristics
predict support for WRT, and how does WRT impact American politics? I will utilize decades of
scholarly research on individual-level psychology to examine the phenomenon of WRT. I will
examine the role that WRT has in molding the political landscape and discuss the consequences
of this ideology for American politics. I conclude that the increase in mainstream acceptance of
WRT poses a threat to democratic governance and norms, and may lead to increased
polarization, extremism, and violence in American society.
“Great Replacement”, White Replacement Theory, Conspiracy, Majority-Minority Society,
Radicalization, Threat Perceptions, In-group, Out-group
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On Saturday afternoon, May 14, 2022, Payton S. Gendron drove approximately 200 miles
(Levenson, 2022; Watson et al., 2022) and entered the Tops Friendly Markets supermarket,
located in a predominantly Black neighborhood on the East Side of Buffalo, New York. He
opened fire on the patrons of the establishment, killing 10 and injuring 3. Of the 13 shoppers
shot, 11 were Black and 2 were White (Michel et al. 2022; Thompson et al. 2022). Gendron
livestreamed nearly two minutes of the carnage to the website Twitch (Browning, 2022; Allyn,
2022), a streaming service that is primarily used for interactive livestreaming (Allyn, 2022),
before the stream was shut down. Two days before the attack, the shooter uploaded a 180-page
manifesto describing his inspiration, his identity, his motivations, the weapons that he would use,
and his plan for carrying out the attack and getting away (Abbas et al., 2022). In his manifesto, a
far-right conspiracy theory called the Great Replacement was cited as a major inspiration for the
The Great Replacement, or replacement theory, is a far-right conspiracy theory based on
political science (Davey & Ebner, 2019; Feola, 2020; Ekman, 2022) and psychology (Obaidi et
al., 2021). From a political science viewpoint, replacement theory frames threats as intergroup
prejudice (Blazak, 2001; Feola, 2020) and varied political tactics (Ferber, 2004; Feola, 2020).
From a psychological viewpoint, replacement theory frames groups of “others” as systematically
attempting to destroy White people through genocide (Miller-Idriss, 2019), the disruption of
existing status hierarchies (Pratto et al., 1994; Pratto and Shih, 200), and the changing of cultural
norms (Obaidi et al., 2021). Through both lenses, individuals who believe in replacement theory
perceive a demographic change from a White majority to a White minority (Davey & Ebner,
2019; Feola, 2020; Obaidi et al., 2021; Ekman, 2022). This theory has Nazi-era roots (Williams,
2017). The term ‘replacement’ (in the context of White majority populations being replaced by
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non-White minorities) originates from French author Jean Raspail, who penned The Camp of the
Saints in 1973. The theory specified nefarious political elites were weaponizing mass migration
movements for the purpose of replacing White European populations (Bergmann, 2021).
According to the theory, the mass migration would lead to precipitous drops in White birth rates
and an overall shift in demographics (Raspail, 1975). Although this theory was European-centric,
it has begun to take root in the United States of America (U.S.), where it is known primarily as
White Replacement Theory (WRT). This paper will examine the origin of WRT and the
characteristics of those who support WRT contemporaneously, before reflecting on its
implications for American politics, by examining the psychological and political factors that
contribute to the pervasiveness of WRT.
1.1 The Phenomena of White Replacement Theory
The radical right is rising in prominence in America (Neiwert, 2017), and there is a need
to understand if or how WRT influences American politics. Researchers can estimate this
influence among the American public using national surveys. For example, in a 2021 joint
survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and American Values Survey (PRRI,
2021), 31.2% of Americans indicated that they feel either “strongly” or “somewhat” threatened
by the diversification of America. The joint survey revealed a partisan divide, where American
political groups have deeply entrenched polarized political views on diversity. On the one hand,
the majority of Democrats “strongly disagree” with aspects of WRT, while on the other hand, the
Republicans were more divided on WRT. Aspects that appeared to evoke a stronger emotional
response are prompts that inquire about respondents’ views that the demographics of the U.S. are
changing to a “non-Christian” and “non-White” nation (PRRI, 2021). With a margin of error
between 3.5 - 8.5% (PRRI, 2021), approximately 6% of the U.S. adult population (10-20 million
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Americans) are likely to have such negative views of American diversification that they believe
violence is a justifiable method of reversing that trend (Williams, 2022). Conservative
constituents commonly feel such strong anxiety at the country’s changing demographics
(especially shifts in majority-minority status) that their willingness to accept WRT may increase
(Craig & Richeson, 2014b). To that effect, in 2008, the United States Census Bureau projected
that the current birth rate for White-Majority Americans was decreasing at a rate that would
cause Whites to become the minority by 2042 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008).
Conspiracy theory rhetoric is amplified during times of cultural change (Van Prooijen &
Douglas, 2017) by instigating fear of an apocalyptic future approaching ‘White America’ (Feola,
2020). Perpetrators of conspiracy theories warp scientifically oriented data, like official surveys,
studies, and statistics, and present an incomplete analysis of demographic changes in America
(Craig & Richeson, 2014b; Stefaniak & Wohl, 2022). Historically, conspiracies like WRT are
not new (Wood, 2012; Barkun, 2013; Van Prooijen & Douglas, 2017; Van Prooijen et al., 2020),
but this fringe idea is gaining momentum in American politics. Individuals who subscribe to
WRT now believe that there is an organized conspiratorial effort by the upper echelons of
political society to replace White citizens, White culture, the White majority, and White
civilization in the United States. There is reason to believe that the popularity of WRT will grow
in America (Reyna et al., 2022), particularly due to the normalization of illiberal attitudes in
American politics (Miller-Idriss, 2022).
1.2 Research Questions
This literary review will focus on scrutinizing WRT, using a lens of political psychology, by
filling the gap between prior research in political psychology and the current trend of
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replacement theory in political science. This thesis utilizes scholarly and historical research as its
primary sources to examine the implications of WRT for American politics.
RQ1: What individual-level characteristics predict support for WRT? What are the
implications of WRT for political belief and behavior?
RQ2: How does White Replacement Theory impact American Politics?
I expect that individuals with high (vs. low) levels of authoritarianism, social dominance
orientation, and aversion to social change will be particularly likely to support WRT. I further
expect that WRT will lead to increased support for, or more favorable views of, Conservative
(vs. Liberal) political actors, parties, and policies.
1.3 Overview of the Thesis
In Chapter 2, I begin with an overview of WRT in America. The purpose of this overview
is to describe the beliefs associated with WRT and to help bridge the gap between psychological
theories and practice. Understanding the psychology and beliefs of those who support WRT will
help society combat WRT in the future.
Section 2.1 describes the big picture of WRT by examining its origin. I use examples
from Western European literature in the 21st century, such as Mein Kampf (Hitler, 1925), and
American literature, such as The Turner Diaries (Pierce, 1978). Section 2.2 discusses the
ideological framework of WRT, and how it justifies the prejudice against minority groups by the
White ethnic majority. I will discuss the rise of WRT in American politics as well as the wide-
scale use of WRT online.
Chapter 3 will focus on the antecedents of WRT in the United States using psychological
theories. I will discuss the roles of social dominance theory, system justification, moral
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convictions, and ideological attitudes in the psychology of individuals who ascribe to WRT, and
how their political orientations foster authoritarianism. Chapter 3 will also examine how political
factors, political elites and information environments contribute to WRT. Political factors
include polarization, social movements, and perceived status threats. Political elites and
information environments include the promotion of views that frame immigration as a threat
against cultural and ethnic majorities, the use of fake news and misinformation to promote
conspiracy theories and adverse political participation, and the mainstreaming of far-right
conspiracy claims using social media.
Chapter 4 will conclude this thesis by providing a recap of previous chapters, answers to
both research questions, suggestions for future research in WRT, and final remarks on the current
study of WRT.
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In this chapter, I describe the ideological beliefs associated with WRT. I provide a
historical overview of WRT, then describe current findings from contemporary manifestations of
WRT, and finally, reflect on WRT in American politics.
2.1 History of Replacement Theory WRT
To understand the origin of WRT, I will focus on two works of literature: Mein Kampf
and The Turner Diaries. These two examples of literature primarily utilize dystopian elements.
The genre of dystopian fiction uses either a past or future setting to create a distance from current
politically salient issues, for the purpose of exploring the intersection of religion, literature, and
politics (Nemoianu, 2010; Berger 2018; Davey & Ebner, 2019). Dystopian narratives are
particularly important in discussing WRT, because these apocalyptic stories have historically
been used to promote extremist views (Berger, 2018). Such dystopian stories generally present a
narrative that the social order is corrupted at its “core”, and the only way to prevent demise is to
overturn society at its “roots” (Berger, 2018). The futuristic setting allows the authors to stoke
fear in an “other” (Bergmann, 2021), by portraying the downfall of society coupled to a current
politically salient issue like migration (Berger, 2018; Davey & Ebner, 2019). According to
Davey and Ebner (2019), the replacement theory of dystopian narratives depicts three distinct
themes. First, it characterizes migrant communities as the root cause of an increase in crime,
violence, and economic decline. Second, the government’s attempts at censoring opposing views
target individuals on the extreme right. Censorship is then a shared perceived grievance, used to
mobilize individuals into effective action. Third, the use of cognitive dissonance divides society
into those who are mentally ill for seeing the impending destruction of White society versus
those who are complacent. Cognitive dissonance is a psychological theory where individuals
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commit themselves to a specific attitude and subsequently search for corroborating information
that supports their individual views, while avoiding information that does not support their views
(Festinger, 1957, 1964; Hart et al., 2000; Davey & Ebner, 2019).
Historically, dystopian fiction has been valuable when promoting propagandist ideologies
(Bornstein, 1989), as adherents to WRT believe that society is already corrupted at its core
(Berger, 2018). In extremism studies (Berger, 2018), dystopian fiction is used to escalate an in-
group to extreme actions towards an out-group. Dystopian narratives imagine strategies that can
be used to prevent the corruption of society in the future, and extremists can use this fiction to
legitimize the actions of their in-group members against out-group members (Berger, 2018). This
type of literature can captivate its readers when it reflects their current anxieties in futuristic
Mein Kampf - Adolf Hitler, 1925
Two years after a failed coup d'état, Hitler published a manifesto called Mein Kampf,
which detailed his ideology as a leader of the extreme right. In German, Mein Kampf translates to
‘my struggle’. In the manifesto, there are 22 variations of the word “replacement”, each paired
with the idea of the majority group being replaced by the minority. A major feature of the so-
called struggle that Hitler faced was the decline of the Aryan race by the replacement of others.
The Aryan race is a discredited myth that likely originated during the 19th century (Dunlap,
1944) as an extension of the idea of the superiority of the German race, which has even older
roots (Dunlap, 1944).
The Aryan race myth postulated that a group of people who identified themselves as a
diaspora of “Aryan people” invaded India before the Christian Era, and laid roots in the Indus
Replacement Theory, Hege 11
Valley (Dunlap, 1944; Harvey, 2014). The myth of an Aryan group runs counter to historical
accounts and is not referenced in any Hindu tradition. Yet, perceptions of the superiority of
Aryans are reflected in 19th-century views on what it means to descend from a noble or
aristocratic lineage (Tzoref-Ashkenazi, 2006). In the 19th century, the German myth of Aryan
superiority was spread to other countries like England, France, and America, by a German
professor at Oxford University, F. Max Müller (Dunlap, 1944), who later retracted his
endorsement of the Aryan myth in 1888. However, the retraction was not enough to sway others
that the myth was baseless.
Hitler co-opted and subverted the idea of Aryan superiority to rationalize his claim to
exceptionalism. Those who possessed certain characteristics were the “superior type of
humanity” (Hitler & Murphy, 2010, page 226). In particular, Mein Kampf advanced the idea of
Aryan supremacy and the idea of a “true Germanic Democracy” (Hitler and Murphy, 2010,
p.82). The leader of this “true Germanic Democracy” is one who has absolute rule of law
following a democratic vote. The idea is built upon a mythic past when medieval German kings
were elected to serve lifetime positions (Mees, 2008; Stanley, 2020). The idea of democratically
elected rule for life is inherently antidemocratic and is a marker of fascism (Finchelstein, 2019).
Historically, fascism was a political ideology that espoused totalitarianism, racism, state
terrorism, imperialism, and nationalism (Finchelstein, 2019). The primary focus of fascism is to
disrupt democratic representation by creating a modernized version of a dictatorship. A central
aspect of fascist ideology is the myth of a messianic leader who would lead their people into
battle against an internal or external enemy (Finchelstein, 2019, p.42).
Focusing on fascism’s historical groundings gives a better grasp on its characteristics
post-World War II. WRT is becoming a new package for old fascism, as seen from the similar
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uses of propaganda and paranoia that revolve around the idea that there is an impending invasion
of an out-group whose goals are to engage in racial and political replacement of the in-group.
WRT is used to justify mass violence against the out-group. WRT continues to be an existential
threat to democracy by replacing a historical past with a mythical past (Finchelstein, 2022).
Mein Kampf is considered to be one of the first literary examples of White supremacist
dystopian literature, and is often cited by individuals who subscribe to the idea of ethnic
superiority by “historicizing” anti-Semitic conspiracy theories (Feldman, 2014, p. 92). Another
contemporary example of dystopian narratives that promote White supremacy is The Turner
Diaries. Both Mein Kampf and The Turner Diaries use dystopian fiction to present the concept
of a new world order, achieved through ethnic cleansing and the violent redesigning of the social
structure (Feldman, 2014). The Turner Diaries serves as a current guide to rhetorical racial
strategies in the 21st century (Feldman, 2014; Wilson, 2014). The Turner Diaries lays out how to
rally individuals to a cause and doubles as an instructional manual (Pruden et al., 2022). It
presents Nazi articles that rationalize genocide against Jewish individuals in the 1940s (the
“Final Solution”) using 19th-century antisemitic discourse (Berger, 2018).
The Turner Diaries - William Pierce/Andrew MacDonald (1978)
In the 1970s, the official newspaper for the National Socialist White People’s Party began
a propaganda campaign involving birth rates. William Pierce was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and
as an adult became a co-founder of a neo-Nazi organization, National Alliance. Over the course
of three and a half years, National Alliance published pro-Nazi newspaper articles in a segment
titled ‘Attack!’ (Berger, 2016). In 1978, these articles were revised and consolidated into a book,
The Turner Diaries (Berger, 2016).
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The Turner Diaries is dystopian literature that was published in 1978 and set in the
United States during the early 1990s. The literature, as the title suggests, was written in the style
of serialized chapters of future history. The book was written from the point of view of a future
historian recalling the events of the Great Revolution. Themes include the overthrow of the
United States of America’s government, nuclear war, and a race war to the “extermination”
(pages 274 and 276) of the White population. The book demonized politicians, Jews, non-whites,
and “liberal actors” who opposed the protagonist, Earl Turner. The book portrayed the struggle
to preserve Christian values and the White race (Fitting, 1991; Ferber, 2004; Feldman, 2014)
against the a foreign occupation, referred to as the “Zionist Occupation Government (ZOG),”
Jews who wanted to confiscate guns from White Americans (Berger, 2016). Turner belongs to a
group called The Organization, which promotes the use of violence against politicians and law
enforcement officials. Specifically, he endorsed a Day of the Rope (page 213), when those who
were considered “race traitors”, including politicians, were lynched (Berger, 2016). In the book,
there are only two implicit references to Hitler (page 66), also known as “the Great One” (page
The Turner Diaries was described by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as “the
bible of the racist right” (Fitting, 1991; Ball & Dagger, 1997; Pruden et al., 2022). For example,
the work was cited in the manifesto of the 1995 Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh
(Berger, 2016). Furthermore, The Turner Diaries inspired groups like the Texas Reserve Militia
to take up arms against the government in 1981 (FBI SAC Antonio, 1991). Due to the nature of
the expressed threats against FBI personnel, the Texas Reserve Militia was considered to be
“armed and dangerous” (FBI SAC Antonio, 1991). The Turner Diaries remains popular among
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far-right violent extremist groups in the U.S., and they continually cite the work as an inspiration
(Chermak et al., 2022).
Although these two examples are only a small portion of the literature commonly cited by
proponents of WRT, they share common characteristics that create myths upon myths that
contribute to the fear of replacement of White individuals. Common themes of the crisis include
conspiracy, dystopia, impurity, and existential threats (Berger, 2018; Davey & Erber, 2019).
Why do people and groups embrace dystopian literature with extremist underpinnings? How do
people take the dystopian narratives that reflect the anxieties of society and form the
contemporary context of WRT?
2.2. Contemporary forms of WRT
Dystopian narratives serve as a propaganda tool (Bornstein, 1989). They give context to
problems that affect individuals by scapegoating stigmatized out-group actions (Berger, 2018).
To legitimize WRT, contemporary extreme-right groups co-opt grievances from minority
communities (Davey & Ebner, 2019) by misrepresenting demographic data and using debunked
“science” to perpetuate myths of White superiority. When White dominance encounters an
existential threat, such people may act to suppress the advancement of minority groups (Rubin,
2018; Lundskow, 2022).
WRT and Intergroup Prejudice
Proponents of WRT see the disruption of traditional values as a threat to their way of life,
which can push them further towards anti-feminism, anti-multiculturalism, and racism (Blazak,
2001; Feola, 2020). In WRT, women are often seen as one of the main drivers for the decline in
White birth rates, as White women deviate from traditional gender roles (Davey & Ebner, 2019).
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Davey and Ebner (2019) posit that proponents of WRT use demographic projections to cast
minority groups as threats, and any action taken against these threats is justifiable (Pruden et al.,
Gender Demographics
When there are two groups, one typically becomes the dominant group and the other the
subordinate group (Blazak, 2001). When a subordinate group makes an advancement, it is
perceived to be a threat to the dominant group (Lundskow, 2022). This contributes to the view of
the White population being replaced by non-Whites through immigration, integration,
miscegenation, or abortion (Davey & Ebner, 2019; Ferber, 2000; Perry, 2004; Pruden et al.,
2022). The deviation from traditional roles and childbearing is viewed as an existential threat
(Perry, 2004) to White females (Schafer et al., 2014; Davey & Ebner, 2019; Pruden et al., 2022).
White supremacist movements' recruitment tactics promote traditional views that White men are
prevented from achieving masculine ideals to maintain positions of power (Ferber, 2000;
Winston, 2021). Those who deviate from the two roles are construed as a threat, particularly if
they are Black (Kendi, 2016) or Hispanic (Ramirez & Peterson, 2020).
WRT and Anti-Immigration
Defenders of WRT commonly reference demographic changes seen in longitudinal
studies. As in dystopian literature, minorities in the U.S. are becoming increasingly ‘visible’ in
towns, which stokes the fear of replacement. Despite a marginal increase over decades, the
percentage of individuals who engage in migration is relatively stable in regard to the overall
population of the world (Messina & Lahav, 2006; UN DESA, 2022). Birth rates across the
world, starting from the 1960s, appear to be declining despite an increase in population (United
Nations DESA, 2022). Proponents of WRT view the change within American culture as a threat
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to White-dominated America. For example, anti-immigrant and anti-minority sentiments appear
to vary based on the majority’s perception of the size of the minority groups (Alba et al., 2005).
WRT rhetoric includes fears of an impending race war, and it sometimes cites the violent
history of the Native Americans (Lundskow, 2022) as the inevitable fate of Whites in the United
States (Feola, 2020). The fate of indigenous people helps far-right groups create a myth of
Whites needing to fight for survival and for their homeland (Crusius, 2019; Feola, 2020). For
example, the El Paso shooter’s manifesto implied that Whites would share the same fate as
Native Americans if Hispanics were not expelled from the U.S. Those who support WRT feel
motivated to take action before the imminent dystopian calamity of a race war (Blazak, 2001).
Along with the perception of changes in demographics, increased immigration, and
impending race wars, the conspiratorial belief in the fear of replacement also focuses on Jewish
individuals (Blazak, 2001; Pruden et al., 2022). The perception of a strain on society is thus
explained by the belief that Jews orchestrate an increase in immigration in order to destabilize
the U.S. (Blazak, 2001).
During the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, individuals chanted
slogans like “Jews/you will not replace us” (Bracke & Hernández Aguilar, 2020; Feola, 2020;
Winston 2021). Unlike for racial and ethnic minorities, this slogan did not represent a
demographic replacement of Whites by Jews but was a reference to the perception of Jewish
domination (Bracke & Hernández Aguilar, 2020). This is an extension of an old anti-Semitic
conspiracy theory (Winston, 2021) that perpetuates the fear of an elite Jewish plan for world
domination. Jews would encourage non-white immigration en masse to upset European
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demographics and disrupt “natural advantages in intelligence and character” by promoting
“mongrelization” or offspring of multiethnicity (Winston, 2021).
Social changes inspire anxieties and reactionary responses from individuals who perceive
the change to be a threat to their existence as the dominating group. This anxiety is reflected in
American politics.
2.3. WRT in American Politics
WRT impacts American politics by perpetuating falsehoods about members of minority
groups and the reality of immigration in the U.S. When politicians and the media refer to
“replacement”, or use terms like “invasion”, the idea of an idealized White-centric geographic
area is evoked. Immigration can be used to stoke fear of an imminent threat. Social identity is the
psychological sense that individuals in the same group share the same fate (MacDonald, 1998).
Social identity mechanisms are extremely sensitive to the presence of perceived threats to a
group’s security. Demographic change from immigrants sets off the “social identity mechanism”
in societies that “host” immigrants (MacDonald, 1998), which can lead to extreme actions, in the
form of ethnic violence (Ferber, 2004).
Individual Acts of Terrorism
What compels an 18-year-old to drive to a grocery store hours away from his home to
shoot unarmed civilians? “My truth…” was an excerpt from the manifesto written by Gendron
before he killed ten people on May 14, 2022. Before the shooting, Gendron posted a 180-page
manifesto online (Collins, 2022). He then drove hundreds of miles to commit violence during a
livestream that was seen around the world. In this manifesto, the Great Replacement Theory
(known also as WRT) was cited. Gendron, a self-proclaimed Neo-Nazi (Gendron, 2022, pp. 4-7),
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states that he targeted the Tops store due to its location in a predominantly black neighborhood in
Buffalo, NY (Gendron, 2022, p.5). This manifesto shows a pattern of violent accelerationist
rhetoric. Taking inspiration from another White supremacist's attack in New Zealand (Gendron,
2022, p.8), Gendron asserts that he was initially exposed to accelerationism through online
interactions (Gendron, 2022, p. 4). He was involved in online radical milieus (Conway, 2012),
social environments that use culture, traditional narratives, and symbols to mold group
development (Conway, 2012). While traditional studies on radical milieus typically focus on
“real world” interactions (Waldmann, 2005; 2008), Conway (2012) demonstrates that the same
factors can be seen in online interaction groups. Similar to traditional “real world” radical
milieus, online versions perpetuate calls for violence in “radicalizing environments” (Conway,
2012). From an accelerationist viewpoint, violence is desired because a race war is inevitable, so
Gendron attempted to trigger the race war by using himself as the catalyst (Gartenstein-Ross et
al, 2020).
Often, those who act violently in the name of WRT are viewed to be ‘lone-wolves’
because of the decentralized nature of WRT hate groups. Simi (2010) states that there is a long
history of White Supremacist Movements, and predicted that there would be an increase in White
supremacist violence. White Supremacist Movements (WSMs) are violent physical expressions
of convoluted ideologies constructed by White supremacist groups. In 2010, there were 4 main
branches of WSMs: the Ku Klux Klan, Christian Identity, neo-Nazis, and racist skinheads (Simi,
2010). These groups share similar views, specifically with regard to the potential extermination
of the White race unless extreme acts are taken to prevent an impending ‘out-group’
demographic shift (Ferber, 1998; Simi, 2010).
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When emotionally dramatic events occur, society is driven towards “moral panics”
(Cohen, 1972; Simi, 2010); an intense feeling is directed towards a group of individuals who are
perceived as a threat. Accelerationism is a common strategy of WRT extremists that “calls for
the violent collapse of political, economic, and social systems” (Miller-Idriss, 2022; p. xciii).
Accelerationism supports the idea that advancements in technology could be sped up by
revolutionary change brought on by societal instability (Davey & Ebner, 2019). Accelerating acts
could be calls for civil war, threats of kidnapping government officials, or the promotion of
baseless conspiracy theories. Individuals who employ accelerationist tactics use a combination of
supremacist movements to promote anti-government and anti-democratic beliefs (Miller-Idriss,
2022; p.xix). Accelerationism serves as a strategic method to unify, mobilize, and quicken the
inevitable end of the current system and make way for an idealized future. The belief in
accelerationism allows White supremacist groups to form a united front with the same goal, to
sidestep the “ideological and operational conflicts endemic to the extreme far-right” (Hughes &
Miller-Idriss, 2021). Those who believe in acceleration tactics also believe that the changes in
the current society are occurring more quickly than can be controlled, and that rapid-paced
demographic shifts (Davey & Ebner, 2019), for example, will have a disastrous impact on
humanity’s ability to survive (Miller-Idriss, 2022; p. 14). Past accelerationist acts could motivate
individuals to commit further acts of extreme violence with the hope of expediting the demise of
the existing society and promoting the creation of a new one.
Hate Groups
Right-wing extremist ideology is grounded in a toxic mixture of White supremacy and
anti-government beliefs (Berger, 2016; Fortunato et al., 2022). Right-wing extremist group
websites have ‘must-read’ booklists that include dystopian narratives like The Camp of the
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Saints (Raspail, 1975), The Great Replacement (Camus, 2011), Bowling Alone (Putnam, 2000),
and You Will Not Replace Us! (Camus, 2018). These groups use such dystopian fiction to
solidify their perception of minority communities as sexually debaucherous, reproducing in order
to usurp the White majority status (Hitler, 1925; Pierce, 1978). The right-wing extremist hate
group Generation Identity, which has roots in multiple countries, protested in front of a Mosque
in France during a self-proclaimed “declaration of war” on multiculturalism in 2012 (Shakir,
2019). Generation Identity promotes Great Replacement and the narrative of global replacement
of White people. This type of European hate group participates in a closed loop with American
hate groups, like The Base and the Proud Boys, to perpetuate WRT ideals.
Two American-based hate groups, The Base and the Proud Boys (also known as the
“American Proud Boys” internationally) are designated as terrorist entities in two countries,
Canada (Canada Public Safety, 2022a) and New Zealand (New Zealand Police, 2022a), based on
the recommendation of the United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC) Resolution 1373. Both
groups believe that White people are entitled to be the dominant group in society and that the
nation’s citizens should be homogeneously White (New Zealand Police, 2022a). In New
Zealand, the groups will remain on the Terrorism Suppression Act (TSA) 2002 list until the
designation expires in 2025 or until the position is revoked (New Zealand Police, 2022c).
Both The Base and the Proud Boys designations in New Zealand and Canada follow
similar reasoning, citing the UNSC framework. For example, The Base is on New Zealand’s
TSA list due to its goal of establishing a “White Homeland” and its desire to augment the
‘Northwest Front’ into a “single, minority-free ‘homeland’ for white supremacists” (New
Zealand Police, 2022b). The Base promotes random guerrilla warfare tactics to destabilize
society (New Zealand Police, 2022b) and actively distributes manuals for lone-wolf terror
Replacement Theory, Hege 21
attacks (Canada Public Safety, 2022b). Both Canada and New Zealand cite The Base’s “intention
to bring about a ‘race war’, which will lead to the collapse of democratic government and the
establishment of fascist and/or white supremacist rule” as a criterion for TSA designation. The
Proud Boys share a similar rationale for their designation, viewing themselves as the only group
who can defend the ideal of “the West” and “Western” values, by combating ideological enemies
who promote liberal values and diversification (Canada Public Safety, 2022c; New Zealand
Police, 2022c). This group mobilizes behind idealized nostalgia for traditional roles grounded in
misogyny (Canada Public Safety, 2022b). The Proud Boys promote “direct action against
perceived threats to White nationalism” (New Zealand Police, 2022c).
Neither group is designated as a terrorist group in the U.S., which makes it difficult to
hold members of either group responsible for domestic terrorist acts. Rather, violent acts are
designated as “hate crimes”, which usually carry lesser sentences. There is a disconnect between
the actions of politicians and the actions of right-wing extremists (Piazza, 2017).
Political Leadership and Rhetoric
In current politics, the “Overton Window” refers to a shift in the political spectrum by
repeatedly introducing extreme ideas until they appear normalized (Szalek, 2013). When
properly employed, the shift of this ‘window’ can change the opinions held by politicians and the
general populace such that they are willing to accept previously uncomfortable extreme political
stances (Szalek, 2013). The use of the Overton Window is evident in the political re-labeling of
hot topics like deportation and immigration to more palpable terms like “re-migration”. This
makes unacceptable concepts, like deportation, more palpable to constituents.
Replacement Theory, Hege 22
Political dynamics are shifting in America (Fortunato et al., 2022), and WRT is
increasingly reflected in the right-wing rhetoric common to the Republican Party. When faced
with information about demographic changes and diversification, individuals who identify as
White are more likely to respond to conservative policies (Fox, 2004; Craig & Richeson, 2014a;
Wetts & Willer, 2018; Abascal, 2020), conservative parties (Craig & Richeson, 2014a; Abrajano
& Hajnal, 2015; Willer et al., 2016; Abascal, 2020), and conservative politicians (Major et al.,
2018; Abascal, 2020; Knowles & Tropp, 2022).
The weaponization of diversification is known as a “Southern Strategy”, a strategy that
involves using racially charged rhetoric to garner votes (Haney-López, 2014). This strategic
manipulation repurposes racism to explain conservative politicians’ defeat. Liberal politicians’
helping of minorities is framed as a disruptive antipathy towards the plights of Whites in
America, rather than racial equality (Haney-López, 2014). Similar to dystopian narratives, this
type of strategy contributes to mythmaking (Haney-López, 2014) in regard to minorities, such as
the myth of “welfare queens who exploit the system”. Such mythmaking results in reactionary
politics that give legitimacy to White nationalist ideology (Fisher et al., 2019; Fortunato, 2022)
in the eyes of the conservative base.
News Anchors and Other Personalities
WRT is commonly incorporated in rhetoric and news coverage by right-wing pundits
(Ferber, 2004). The framing used by news anchors and other media personalities presents WRT
as an accepted fact (Blazak, 2001), which makes an ideology like WRT more appealing (Blazak,
2001). Individuals who have promoted aspects of WRT are numerous, but the proliferation of
these views is seen most broadly by major news networks that have large followings. Fox News,
in particular, presents politically-biased ideologically conservative news, with slogans like “Fair
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and Balanced” and “We Report, You Decide” (Jones, 2015). Networks like this create a “reality”
(Jones, 2015) that promotes biased coverage (Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017). They promote
alternate reality with cheaply-produced fake news stories. The accuracy of these stories is
irrelevant when consumers enjoy the programming, so the fake news stories eventually become
mainstream ideas with enough exposure (Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017; Deena et al., 2021).
WRT and Attitudes Towards Government
According to Taylor (2019), there are two contemporary movements in right-wing
extremism: anti-government and White supremacist movements. Anti-government movements
adhere to a fringe ideology that rejects the concept of government. White supremacist
movements focus on the superiority and protection of the Aryan race. White supremacist groups
use racist ideologies in their rationale and promote xenophobic views (Taylor 2019; Fortunato,
2022). Although they are considered to be two separate subsets, they have similar primary
practices and agree on abstract ideas (Fortunato, 2022). For example, both forms use dystopian
novels like The Turner Diaries to rationalize their anxieties for the future, and both utilize
violence against minorities of different races, genders, ethnicities, and religions (Berger, 2016,
Fortunato, 2022). Perceived corruption in the current U.S. government causes WRT-supporting
groups to believe that they have legitimate grievances in their anti-government stances (Chermak
& Gruenewald, 2006; Piazza, 2017; Fortunato, 2022).
Gun Control
The Turner Diaries equates a person’s gun ownership with civil rights (Pruden et al.,
2022). In the book, once the U.S. federal government begins to confiscate citizens’ guns, a race
war begins (Pierce, 1978; Pruden et al., 2022). The book frames gun control legislation by the
government as an attempt to emasculate White men (Ferber, 2004). It also frames restrictions on
Replacement Theory, Hege 24
a person’s right to bear arms as the government’s attempt to control and establish a society that
disfavors White men (Ferber, 2004). While women do own guns, historically most gun owners
are male, and males generally own more guns than females (Blair & Hyatt, 1995; Wolfson et al.,
2020). Males also harbor heroic fantasies of using guns to engage in violent justice against
threats (Stroud, 2012; Cassino & Besen-Cassino, 2020). Attempts to roll back access to guns are
viewed as an attack on a historical right and the removal of a person’s ability to prepare for a
restorative “Second American Revolution” (Ferber, 2004).
American culture is deeply intertwined with the idea of guns and male Whiteness through
symbolism (Kendi, 2016; Lundskow, 2022). Guns were used symbolically as a means to
suppress Native Americans and other minorities (Lundowskow, 2022), making the use of guns a
signal of status and mythical superiority (Bonekemper, 2015). This symbolism makes the
possibility of gun seizure from the government an emotionally reactionary topic (Lundskow,
2022). Extremists use the fantasy in American history of “real men” using guns for justice to
justify gun ownership (Lundskow, 2022).
Conspiratorial thinking erupts from disruptions in existential anxieties and cultural
values, not from the deprivation of material goods that equates to a lower quality of life (Swami
et al., 2016; Green & Douglas, 2018; Lundskow, 2022). This view can be perpetuated by a
perceived grievance against a person’s group. The imminent danger of being replaced as the
dominant majority is enough to mobilize people to act as either an individual or a group.
2.4. Chapter 2 Conclusion
WRT can be understood as a political strategy that was composed of racially motivated
ideals. WRT is similar to the Great Replacement Theory (Shakir, 2019; Davey & Ebner, 2019;
Replacement Theory, Hege 25
Cosentino, 2020; Obaidi et al., 2021; Miller-Idriss, 2022; Ekman, 2022) in that both argue that
Whites of European descent are being deliberately replaced, with the evidence seen in
demographic projections. White replacement is an umbrella term within the Great Replacement
Theory (Feola, 2020). “Great replacement” is used globally (Davey & Ebner, 2019), “Eurabia” is
primarily used in Europe (Obaidi et al., 2021), and “white genocide” (Miller-Idriss, 2019) or
“White Replacement” (Reyna et al., 2022) are primarily used in America. Scholarly discussions
on WRT are limited, despite numerous references in the news. All three theories create a sense of
urgency to call Whites to action to prevent a change in demographics in White-majority
countries. WRT can motivate violence by those trying to perform “heroic” acts to save White
people from the imminent threat of minority status. WRT can mobilize extremist groups using
false mythological histories meant to evoke feelings of a nostalgic time (Blazak, 2001) and an
imminent need to restore the homeland to its previous state from a “tipping point” of no return
(Simi, 2010; Fortunato et al. 2022). The need to belong (Hornsey et al., 2004) and have a
purpose, coupled with mounting anxiety, is a recipe for recruitment and radicalization amongst
those who believe in WRT. Belief in WRT has moved from tales of dystopian fantasies into
reality, with numerous examples of WRT being referenced in manifestos in the aftermath of
attacks on minorities.
To many, WRT is no longer a fringe theory, but a deeply held belief, and is now
referenced as a cause for mobilization and committing high-cost violent actions. Attacks in the
U.S. that cited WRT in chronological order: The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania (2018), Walmart in El Paso, Texas (2022), and Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo,
New York (2022). These high-cost acts of violence are used to create moral panic (Cohen, 1972;
Turk, 2004; Simi, 2010), to attempt to spark revenge from minorities in the form of race war
Replacement Theory, Hege 26
(Gartenstein-Ross et al., 2020), and to inspire others (Hughes & Miller-Idriss, 2021). The
attackers and their supporters rationalize high-cost violent actions as being heroic (Stroud, 2012;
Cassino & Besen-Cassino, 2020), because they are preventative steps to restore the declining in-
group White population’s majority (Simi, 2010; Fortunato et al. 2022) by eliminating future
generations of out-group minorities. The goal of reinstating a White majority echoes language
patterns of restoration, with a desire to return to a fictitious bygone era and traditional past
(Blazak, 2001). In the United States, this language can take the form of discussions of an
impending race war or other anxiety-inducing narratives. What explains why some people
endorse WRT?
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In Chapter 2, I described the history of WRT, contemporary forms of WRT, and the role
of WRT in American politics. In Chapter 3, I will go deeper into the psychology behind WRT by
describing the antecedents associated with it. I will first provide an overview of the
psychological factors that contribute to the proliferation of WRT, then describe political factors
of WRT, and finally, reflect on the antecedents of WRT in America as a whole. These topics will
be used to shed light on the importance of psychology in determining individual-level
characteristics that drive a person to support WRT. I will also discuss the implications of WRT
on an individual’s political beliefs and behaviors. I will focus my lens on authoritarianism, social
dominance orientation, aversion to social change, and Conservative views in politics.
As outlined in Chapter 2, individuals are sometimes placed in groupings based on a
perception of threatening behavior. This is particularly evident with contemporary forms of
WRT in American Politics. In Section 3.1, I will discuss WRT through the lens of psychology
using Social Dominance Theory (SDT), System Justification (SJ), ideological attitudes and
foundations, moral beliefs, and authoritarianism. In Section 3.2, I will discuss WRT through the
lens of political factors using political polarization, Social Movement Theory (SMT), and
perceived status threats through demographic shifts. In Section 3.3, I will discuss WRT through
the lens of elites and information environments using immigration misinformation as a threat.
3.1 Psychological Factors
Without understanding the nuances of what motivates individuals to take action, one
cannot fully understand the configuration of psychological projections of the hostility of one
group of individuals towards another. This section will examine the psychological factors behind
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WRT by disentangling the themes of social dominance theory, system justification, ideological
attitudes and foundations, moral beliefs, and authoritarianism.
For some individuals, European descent is considered a source of pride both personally
and socially (Jaret & Reitzes, 1999; Warren & Twine, 1997; Reyna et al., 2022). In White
nationalist ideology, European descent is perceived to be ‘superior’ and merits preferential
treatment (Berlet & Vysotsky, 2006; Reyna et al., 2022). When confronted with information like
changing demographics, these individuals romanticize a past when Whites had higher
hierarchical social standing (Reyna et al., 2022). Changing demographics and a possible shift in
majority-minority status are viewed as threats to a traditionally held social structure that
benefited Whites (Reyna et al., 2022). The psychology of Whiteness and White identity becomes
increasingly relevant during times of demographic or cultural change (Jardina, 2019; Reyna et
al., 2022). For some individuals, White identity is a central aspect of their self-image (Reyna et
al., 2022), an issue of pride (Bertlet & Vysotsky, 2006), and a basis for a collective identity with
other Whites (Reyna et al., 2022).
Social Identity Theory
Social identity theory explains why individuals use emotional affiliation with their in-
group to seek to establish an identity amongst groups that they interact with (Tajfel & Turner,
1986). Individuals engage in social identity theory on an unconscious level by categorizing
themselves as “us” versus “them”. This shapes our perceptions of an ‘other’ as a means of
expressing prejudice, while employing a self-restorative function to increase one’s level of self-
esteem (Fein & Spencer, 1997). Within social identity theory, individuals engage in three stages:
categorization, identification, and comparison amongst groups.
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An individual begins the process of categorization when they become aware of the
existence of an opposing group(s) (Fein & Spencer, 1997). The individual creates categories for
other people after observation of what differentiates people from each other, through categories
like religion, nationality, or gender. The nature of categorization depends upon the upbringing of
the individual. After introspection, an individual can then begin the identification process, to
perceive where they fit within those categories (Fein & Spencer, 1997). When an individual
identifies with a group, they experience validation for their beliefs, which reinforces a sense of
belonging. The comparison stage is when “us versus them” mentalities manifest (Fein &
Spencer, 1997). “Us” are individuals who are perceived to be in an individual’s immediate
vicinity, and “them” are described as everyone else, or those who are further removed. Socially,
humans are not concerned about the well-being of the entire species and are generally more
concerned about the well-being of only those who reside within their groups (Fein & Spencer,
1997). In-group favoritism based on racial superiority reinforces a view of Whiteness as a racial
hierarchy where Whites are at the top (Berlet & Vysotsky, 2006; Reyna, 2022).
Social Dominance Theory
Social Dominance Theory (SDT) is a theory that societies are formed to minimize group
conflicts through agreed-upon ideologies, using of a tiered hierarchical structure to foster the
idea of superiority and inferiority of its groups (Pratto et al., 1994; Pratto & Shih, 2000). This
type of ideology sustains group inequalities and legitimizes discrimination using hierarchy-
legitimizing myths (Pratto et al., 1994). Hierarchy-legitimizing myths come in two variants,
‘hierarchy-enhancing legitimizing myths’, which legitimize oppression by determining what is
fair and morally acceptable, and ‘hierarchy-attenuating legitimizing myths’, which promote
social equality (Pratto et al., 1994). SDT measures an individual’s adherence to social hierarchy
Replacement Theory, Hege 30
and their desire to form in-group and out-group dynamics using an individual-difference variable
called Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) (Pratto et al., 1994). SDO is an individual’s
attitudinal orientation toward inequality amongst social groups, where an individual who scores
high on SDO is more likely to favor hierarchy-enhancing policies in comparison to individuals
who score low on SDO (Pratto et al., 1994). Traditional studies on high-SDO individuals showed
that they have a propensity for anti-Black racism (Bobo, 1983; Sears, 1988), however, they will
attempt to dominate any group that appears to be threatening (Pratto et al., 1994). High-SDO
individuals are more likely to project this trait when they perceive that their position in the
hierarchy is threatened (Pratto & Shih, 2000).
Why do people from a dominant social group oppress and discriminate against the
individuals in a subordinate group? In a meta-analysis of 101 studies of the SDO scale, with a
total of 28,353 respondents across 16 countries (Lee, Pratto, & Johnson, 2011), males had a
higher propensity for SDO in comparison to females (Pratto et al, 1994). Those who score higher
in SDO seek hierarchical roles and base decisions on hierarchy-enhancing ideology and
meritocracy, in which wealth and social values are distributed based on an individual’s merits
(Pratto et al., 1994). These individuals also tend to believe in the legitimacy of myths and
discriminatory policies that reinforce the view that groups are inferior using “gut reactions” to
changes (Pratto et al., 1994). In the same vein as SDO, aggression stems from the individual’s
frustration at the inability to achieve a desired goal. Aggression cannot always be directed
toward the source of ire, which leads individuals to project anger toward those who are less
powerful than themselves (Sidanius & Pratto, 2012).
Psychologists indicate that SDO is a fairly stable personality trait that signals an
individual’s animus toward outgroups (Mutz, 2018), although an individual’s level of SDO rises
Replacement Theory, Hege 31
when they feel threatened and decreases when they feel less threatened (Sibley et al., 2007). A
collective rise in SDO among members of a group indicates their perception of a status threat
(Mutz, 2018). This indicator has been studied in various panel surveys that monitor heightened
issue responses over time (Mutz, 2018). Between 2011 - 2016, levels of SDO rose specifically
for Republican voters, indicating that individuals in that political group are experiencing an
increase in their perception of a threat (Mutz, 2018).
The displacement of aggression within the SDO personality trait helps disentangle WRT.
Rapid and substantial societal changes, due to factors like migration and politics, are accepted by
the public if the changes are presented in a way that satisfies or maintains the public’s desired
levels of social dominance (Pratto et al., 1994, p.755; Mutz, 2018). SDO is relevant to WRT
because high-SDO individuals are likely to engage with and bolster views that legitimize their
dominance over other groups (Pratto & Shih, 2000). White Americans who score high in SDO
could view WRT as a means to maintain their elevated position in the societal hierarchy. WRT
adherents could use this new frame to garner support for policies that would maintain
inequalities. At the time this paper is composed, the author is unaware of any existing research
on the direct connection between WRT and SDO levels.
System Justification
What motivates people to blame themselves when they experience an injustice, and why
is it difficult for individuals to stand up for others? These types of questions can be answered
using System Justification (SJ) Theory (SJT). SJT is the study of the various ways that people
justify and rationalize their actions based on the systems they depend upon, for example,
economic or social systems. People take actions to maintain a positive image of themselves in
order to justify the actions of the groups to which they belong. Using SJ, individuals could view
Replacement Theory, Hege 32
their actions as superior to the actions of others. This mentality of “superior versus inferior”
inhibits group collaboration and learning by pitting groups against each other for arbitrary
reasons. With SJ, the more familiar a group is, the more likely an individual will feel safe,
secure, and attached. Individuals are unconsciously motivated to defend and justify their
perception of the status quo (Jost et al., 2004). SJ becomes activated when individuals perceive
the system is based on non-traditional values (Blanchar & Eidelman, 2013), a change in their
status quo is inevitable (Laurin et al., 2013), or if an individual feels that they are becoming
powerless in the system (Van der Toorn et al., 2015). The intensity of the SJ varies based on
which idea challenges, threatens or criticizes a system that is perceived to be the norm (Jost,
Gaucher, & Stern, 2015), for example, gender norms (Rudman et al., 2012) and group
stereotyping (Jost & Kay, 2005).
Personal SJs come with costs to individuals, in that they decrease a person’s acceptance
of social changes. This SJ ideology is used to reduce the emotional distress an individual
internalizes, as well as reduce an individual’s likelihood to feel moral outrage. Moral outrage can
be used to motivate people to engage in positive behaviors (like helping others and supporting
change) or negative behaviors. Through the lens of SJT, when people are exposed to narratives
like an ‘American Dream’, they are more likely to be unwilling to take actions that would help
those who are disadvantaged. Two leading researchers in SJ, Sears and Citrin, have found
evidence supporting the idea that individuals who identify as being members of an ethnic or
racial group are more likely to identify as an American first and as a member of their ethnic or
racial group second (Sears & Henry, 1999; Citrin et al., 2000). This results in the ambiguity of
American identity as a consequence of politics. When there is a stronger in-group identity
Replacement Theory, Hege 33
amongst subordinate groups in the U.S., there is a lowered level of patriotism, which goes
against a moral pillar of WRT (Sidanius et al, 1997).
In examinations of the 2016 elections, most research focused on economic hardship
rather than on status threats (Mutz, 2018). A perception of a status threat against the dominant
group explains the American public’s acceptance of views that were once considered
controversial for a politician. The 2016 election reflected people’s views on topics like racism,
sexism, minorities, and foreigners (Sears et al., 1980) by reframing the justification to protect the
dominant group from a status threat. When members of a dominant group perceive a threat, they
are motivated to maintain the status quo by engaging in social and political hierarchies (Jost et
al., 2003). Seeing oneself as a member of a dominant group calms an individual’s perception of
threat by increasing defensive reactions (Mutz, 2018). This type of reaction can be seen in how
supporters of politicians like former President Donald Trump are mobilized (Mutz, 2018).
Aside from Mutz (2018), who focused on status threats in American elections, as of this
writing, the author is unaware of any existing scholarly research that connects SJ to WRT. Future
researchers might benefit from building upon this phenomenon to help explain why individuals
who are high in SJ are more likely to adhere to WRT. Possible routes for future research could
address which groups adherents of WRT identify with, as well as whether the framing in levels
of ‘whiteness’ has changed over time (for instance, historically, Italians and Irish were not
considered to be White).
Ideological Attitudes and Foundations
A stronger need for security and certainty is an attractive factor that draws people to
politically conservative ideologies (Federico & Malka, 2018). There are two directions that shape
Replacement Theory, Hege 34
an individual’s relationship with security and certainty, issue domains and contextual factors
(Federico & Malka, 2018). Individuals seek political cues from external sources like their social
group (Bobo, 1999), family (Jost, et al. 2008), or political party (Federico & Malka, 2018).
There are three domains in the theory of attitudes: preferences, conventions, and moral
imperatives (Skitka, et al., 2005). Preferences are attitudes subject to an individual’s taste and
tolerance, and are not connected to morals. Conventions are normative standards of beliefs that
are often codified by laws. Conventions are more pliable and can shift depending on cues from
others in an individual’s in-group, such as politicians. Moral Imperatives are perceptions that
individuals find either right or wrong. Moral imperatives are authority-independent, which
allows an individual to rationalize their stance as being the right answer to a complex situation.
Moral imperatives are resistant to change, deeply tied to emotions, and used to motivate an
individual to strongly act on their convictions. Moral imperatives make individuals more likely
to be intolerant toward others who do not appear to have the same moral convictions.
While there are some articles that discuss WRT with a lens of ideological attitudes and
foundations (Davey & Ebner, 2019; Miller-Idriss, 2022; Williams et al., 2022), future research
would benefit from a deeper analysis of the psychological underpinnings of WRT in conjunction
with topical observations (Reyna et al., 2022).
Moral Belief
What is morality? Morality is a perception of attitudes attached to some issues and not
others. This is why certain issues might be presented as deeply held convictions, while others are
not. At times, moral beliefs can also be presented as a meta-perception, where a belief or attitude
is built on another. What does and does not count as morality can be dictated by either a top-
Replacement Theory, Hege 35
down process (a theory-driven approach) or a bottom-up process (a data-driven approach).
Individuals deviate from morals in order to rationalize their decisions as being right or wrong.
After a research study of 40 countries, the Pew Research Center has concluded that what is
morally acceptable depends on where you live (Poushter, 2014). One mystery of morality is how
a person’s strong moral convictions can lead to their willingness to accept violent means to
achieve their in-group’s preferred ends (Skitka, 2010). Issues viewed with a lens of morality as
being right or wrong (Turiel, 2002) are more likely to be closed off to compromise (Skitka,
Societies are subject to periods of moral panic every so often, due to uncertain conditions
or groups of persons emerging as threats to traditionally held societal values and national
interests (Cohen, 1972). At times, the panic is novel and does not gain traction, while at other
times, the panic receives increased attention and produces serious long-lasting repercussions.
Moral panics generally follow a classic ‘moral panic process framework’ that includes three
stages: awareness, moral conversion, and moral panic. During these stages, the perception of
morality is framed, manufactured, and spread to the public. During the ‘awareness stage’, the
message of morality is rationalized with citations of statistics, case examples, and experts, which
all serve to bolster moral panic rhetoric. During the ‘moral conversion stage’, moral panic
rhetoric is bolstered by cultural myths, as well as endorsements from celebrities or political
leaders (Adler & Adler, 2009, p. 149; Flores-Yeffal et al., 2020). During the ‘moral panic stage’,
there is an increase in widespread concerns promoted by the media, and legislative attention is
redirected to address those concerns. Moral panics occur in conjunction with societal hysteria
that projects fear as a means to make sense of change. Once the panic has passed its apex, it
often persists in the form of myth and collective memory (Cohen, 1972; Hall et al., 1978).
Replacement Theory, Hege 36
With a contemporary lens, moral panics have begun spreading rapidly with the use of
social media (Flores-Yeffal et al., 2020). Cohen’s 1972 book, Folk Devils and Moral Panics, and
Hall et al.’s 1978 book, Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order, frame the
use of media as labeling existing crime movements as “novelty” in attempts to evoke a sense of
newness to a long-stemming societal problem. This was done to catch the public’s attention that
“something new and different” (Hall et al., 1978 p. 25) was threatening morally accepted norms
through ideological displacement. Ideological displacement refers to discrepancies between the
perception of a threat and the reaction society has to it on a moral basis, which results in a moral
panic (Hall et al., 1978). As we have moved into the 21st century, the same tactics are employed
with social media on larger-scale audiences (Walsh, 2020), and future research would benefit
from examining moral panics within the social media sphere (Hier, 2018). Moral panics are
cultivated digitally (Hier, 2018), as opposed to traditional social worlds, to promote a single
social order that is primarily framed as dominant and conservative (Cohen, 1972). A hegemonic
linkage between state and civil society is established (Hall, 1978) through the lens of morality
(Hier, 2018). Using social media platforms, politicians, CEOs, media hosts, and individuals are
able to begin “grassroots moral panics” (Hier, 2018) that can propagate on a large scale.
Due to the use of social media, there is a paradigm shift in the rapid manufacturing of
moral panics (Hier, 2018). What is fundamentally different about the current moral panic in
comparison to racially motivated panics, is how this panic is framed in conjunction with and
alongside the growing sentiment of White aggrievement that White people are becoming
subjected to systematic racial oppression. With mythical scapegoats and increasing demand for
justice, this new variant of White supremacy provides a discursive platform designed to erode
political and coherent expression of anxious thoughts. Moral beliefs are not dependent on
Replacement Theory, Hege 37
externalized sources (Skitka, 2010), and are not dependent on anti-authority or anti-group views.
Rather, these types of views are shaped by an individual’s perspective.
The study of morality in conjunction with WRT has more research than other
psychological phenomena (Miller-Idriss, 2022; Obaidi, 2021; Feola, 2020; Williams, et al,
2022), however, this is also severely understudied. While Obaidi et al. (2021) tend to focus their
research on Islamophobia-related Replacement Theory, there are few examples of scholarly
articles on WRT in the U.S., with the exceptions of Miller-Idriss (2022), Feola (2020), and
Williams (2022). Miller-Idriss (2022) focuses primarily on White Supremacy in the U.S., Feola
(2020) focuses on white nationalism and anxiety spurred by demographic changes, while
Williams (2022) focuses on racially and ethnically motivated violent extremist acts in the U.S.
While all have aspects of morality, none go in-depth about morality through a psychological
lens. More importantly, all four touch on aspects of WRT without attempting to find the
underlying psychodynamics at the root of this phenomenon. Future researchers would benefit
from expanding upon the existing framework.
Authoritarian Personality Theory (APT) is an application of psychoanalytic theory to the
study of prejudicial and discriminatory behavior in individuals (Sidanius & Pratto, 2012).
Individuals who demonstrate characteristics of authoritarianism are those who adhere to social
hierarchical norms, such as authoritarian parent-child relationships (Roberts & DelVecchino,
2000) and traditional gender roles (Onraet et al., 2013). APT is criticized for the implementation
of attitude scales in measuring ideological biases (Christie & Jahoda, 1954; Duckitt, 1989), as
well as the possibility of falsely classifying individuals as authoritarians (Peabody, 1966). In the
context of right-wing groups, Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) explicitly theorizes the
Replacement Theory, Hege 38
connections between authoritarian submission, conventionalist traits, and punitive action against
those who are perceived to be members of an out-group (Duckitt, 1989; Sidanius & Pratto,
A child who experiences humiliating child-rearing practices, which reinforce immediate
and unquestioning obedience to the parents, is subject to their adult views being molded into a
dominance-submissive hierarchical structure (Roberts & DelVecchino, 2000; Sidanius & Pratto,
2012). The child establishes a parent-child hierarchical structure in their mind, which weakens
their ability to establish their own independence (Roberts & DelVecchino, 2000; Sidanius &
Pratto, 2012). This type of APT manifests in the threatening perceptions of those who are weaker
(out-group) and glorification of those who are stronger (in-group) (Sidanius & Pratto, 2012).
While authoritarianism has typically been regarded as a stable personality trait (Adorno et
al., 2019; Altemeyer, 1981), contemporary psychological research has pointed to the malleability
of authoritarianism (Sibley et al, 2007; Ludeke & Kruger, 2013). Those who are more likely to
believe in an apocalyptic future are more likely to adhere to authoritarian characteristics (Duckitt
& Fisher, 2003). Some characteristics tied to authoritarianism are the view that society is
dangerous (Sibley et al, 2007), low scores in openness to experience (Sibley & Duckitt., 2010a,
2010b), and a positive long-standing view on societal rankings (Ludeke & Kruger, 2013). As a
person ages, they are more likely to internalize personality traits that bolster the stability of rank
orders (Roberts & DelVecchino, 2000).
The majority of existing research on the perception of threat and authoritarianism tends to
suggest that societal threats activate authoritarian predispositions (Feldman & Stenner, 1997).
Widespread societal views are considered to be norms, and deviations are considered to be
Replacement Theory, Hege 39
threatening. Through this lens, the threat to social norms must be eliminated. Threats that are
framed to contest an individual’s self-esteem, identity, and interpretation of the political world
are often met with intolerance (Feldman & Stenner, 1997).
Despite numerous avenues of research including the stability of authoritarian
personalities, societal orientations toward authoritarianism, and the perception of threats, the
specific connection between authoritarianism and WRT remains under-researched. The author is
unable to find any legitimate examples of authoritarian psychological frames used in the
discussion of WRT, outside of perceptions of threat by Islamic migrants in Scandinavian
contexts (Obaidi, 2021). General uses of perceptions of threats are in the context of an out-
group’s size (Alba et al., 2005; Craig & Richeson, 2014a, 2014b; Danbold and Huo 2015;
Obaidi, 2021), and are generally not linked to authoritarianism. Future research about the
connection between authoritarianism and WRT could benefit the emerging discussion on WRT
as it becomes more salient in political discourse.
3.2 Political Factors
While psychological factors within WRT have been greatly overlooked, political factors
that contribute to WRT have received more attention in recent years, particularly in studies of the
political perception of threats (Bhatt, 2020; MacMillen & Rush, 2022; Varga & Buzogány, 2021;
Stefaniak & Wohl, 2022). While these authors have superficially addressed concepts of WRT in
regard to politics, the major focus has been on social movements. Social movements are built
upon grievances, ideologies, identities, media portrayals of issues, and political behaviors
(Mueller, 1992). These types of movements generally gain traction when there is psychological
pressure on society (Mueller, 1992).
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Collective angst drives dominant groups to engage in practices that protect their groups’
existence by withdrawing support for subordinate groups (Wohl et al., 2010; Stefaniak & Wohl,
2022). Collective angst activates when dominant groups view and frame shifting racial
demographics as an existential threat (Stefaniak & Wohl, 2022). However, collective angst can
be mitigated with reframing. For example, if the framing were to emphasize the idea that Whites
were not going to lose their position in society due to demographic changes, this could influence
those who express support for political leaders who espouse anti-immigration rhetoric (Wohl et
al., 2010; Craig & Richeson, 2014b; Stefaniak & Wohl, 2022) by alleviating the perception of
threat to identify affirmation (Derks et al., 2009).
Miller-Idriss (2022) shows how fringe social movements and subcultures can move into
the political mainstream through the use of the “Overton window” (Vysotsky, 2022). The
Overton window, as previously mentioned in Chapter 2, changes which political ideas are
acceptable to the public and results in some fringe extremist viewpoints becoming more normal
in society. Miller-Idriss proposes that to achieve this strategy, three areas have to be moved:
political speech, conspiracy theory, and the mainstreaming of fringe communication styles
(Miller-Idriss, 2022; Vysotsky, 2022).
A substantial amount of social psychological and sociological scholarly literature
discusses threats to the status quo and an individual’s motivation to gain identity and self-worth
through interaction with and comparison to others (Isom et al., 2021). Individuals are motivated
to establish and maintain their hierarchical positions through continued comparison to others
(Bobo, 1983). This contributes to the formation of intergroup biases that reinforce the perception
of necessary control of members of an outgroup. Through the lens of WRT, individuals who hold
dominant status positions are more likely to believe that a growing subordinate group threatens
Replacement Theory, Hege 41
existing social controls (Bobo, 1999), and subsequently engage in polarized political partisanship
(Craig & Richeson, 2014b). While there is significant research on the use of politics with
psychology, future research would benefit from the study of political factors in conjunction with
WRT, as seen in Chapter 2.
3.3 Elites and the Information Environment.
While there is a lack of specific research on both political factors and psychological
factors in relation to WRT, political elites rely on framing information environments to mobilize
their constituents to take action. This can take the form of framing immigration as a threat, using
conspiratorial beliefs to propagate WRT views, and utilizing heuristics to bolster alt-right
political views.
As immigrant populations have grown, so has scholarly research on a native population’s
attitudes towards immigration (Hainmueller & Hopkins, 2014). The majority of scholarly
research has focused on either political economics or political psychology, independent of each
other (Hainmueller & Hopkins, 2014; Mutz, 2018). Researchers have performed experimental
tests across the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe (Hainmueller & Hopkins, 2014) that show
conclusive evidence of the cultural impact that immigration attitudes have. An increase in racial
and ethnic diversity in the U.S. triggers a sense of threat and cultural loss among Whites who
adhere to WRT by redirecting anxiety toward racial and ethnic out-groups (Craig & Richeson,
2014a; Danbold & Huo, 2015; Jardina, 2019; Feola, 2020; Vysotsky, 2022).
Feola (2020) asserts that replacement theory rhetoric can frame grievances not only as
ahistorical desires for racial supremacy, but also as political reflexes to the perception of a
greater loss. Individual-level existential crises and insecurities are channeled towards the topic of
Replacement Theory, Hege 42
immigration because of the ability to compartmentalize a group of individuals as an out-group.
Fantasies such as surging waves of immigrants, that are designed to promote ethnic substitution,
are a type of ethnic nationalism that is rising on political platforms (Feola, 2020), specifically in
elite-level immigration politics (Lahav, 2012). Public attitudes toward immigration are
traditionally leveraged for political capital (Jardina, 2019), where immigration is put forth as a
cultural threat to ethnicity (Ben-Nun Bloom et al., 2015). Immigration attitudes are becoming
increasingly polarized within the American political system (Mutz, 2018), with Republican
candidates repeatedly presenting anti-immigration positions and Democrat candidates repeatedly
presenting pro-immigration positions (Mutz, 2018). Internationally, the same framing of
immigration as a threat can be seen in the ideological response during the European Union
refugee crisis (Van Prooijen et al., 2018); the ‘Eurabia doctrine’ (Bergmann, 2018, 2021) frames
replacement as not only a loss of power but also as the elimination of White individuals
(Vysotsky, 2022). Changes in immigration stances both domestically and worldwide indicate a
racial/global status threat, which may predict a greater likelihood of Republican nominees
gaining political seats if they frame immigration with SDO positions (Mutz, 2018). From 2011 to
2016, there was an increase in the U.S. population’s level of SDO, which deflected support to
Trump, the nominee who was viewed as positive protection for group dominance against the
increase of threat (Mutz, 2018).
The systematic elimination of White individuals by increasing immigration, as discussed
previously in Chapter 2, is a type of conspiracy theory. Conspiracy theories are a way for people
to cope with difficult emotions that they are unable to articulate by searching for patterns, called
heuristics, to make sense of phenomena. A heuristic is a type of mental shortcut an individual
uses to restore emotional equilibrium. A heuristic enables the individual to ascribe their distress
Replacement Theory, Hege 43
to certain objects or groups. With a barrage of information, individuals rely on cues from trusted
sources to determine what information is legitimate or not (Van Prooijen et al., 2020). Family
friends, and associates are generally where an individual places their trust. However, that
individual could also place trust in a type of enclosed information system that reinforces
previously held conceptions through repetition, giving the individual a distorted, and possibly
polarized, perception of information (Klein, 2020). On social media platforms, it is difficult to
discern fake news, conspiratorial thinking, and intentionally misleading information from valid
information (Van Prooijen et al., 2020), particularly because of the mere exposure effect. The
mere exposure effect (Miller, 1976) occurs when a conspiracy theory is spread repeatedly on
multiple different platforms. After repeated exposure to this misinformation, even otherwise
skeptical individuals may start to believe the validity of the conspiracy theory. The mere
exposure effect may be bolstered by an echo chamber environment (Miller, 1976). An echo
chamber is an environment where an individual is exposed primarily to attitudinally-consistent
information, and rarely to information that challenges preexisting beliefs (Nguyen, 2020). The
larger the number of trusted individuals who believe in the same conspiracy theory, the stronger
the belief in the conspiracy’s legitimacy (Ekman, 2022). While some individuals are able to view
information online with a healthy level of skepticism, others engage in highly selective
skepticism, particularly if that information is contrary to their viewpoint and distorts the
reliability of their trusted sources. This phenomenon ties back to authoritarianism, where the
personality traits most common to individuals who engage in conspiratorial beliefs tend to also
be found in individuals who adhere to authoritarianism (Neiwert, 2017).
As previously mentioned in 3.1, the authoritarian personality trait is regarded as stable.
Conspiracism is subsequently appealing to authoritarians who perceive that they can no longer
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recognize their own country either because of shifting politics, immigration, or other grievances.
Conspiracies offer an explanation for why a country has changed and give a narrative that
assigns blame for the current unrecognizable state, often by reinforcing long-held prejudices.
This can come across as projections. A projection is a psychological defense mechanism where
an individual interprets the actions of others as detrimental, while denying that they engage in the
same actions themselves (Holmes, 1968). For instance, those who are more likely to engage in
conspiracies are also more likely to spread, engage, and believe that others are conspiring against
them (Douglas et al., 2019). When people begin to believe a conspiracy theory, they become
more likely to believe in other conspiracies (Goertzel, 1994, Douglas et al., 2019), even if the
two theories are unrelated (Wood, Douglas, & Sutton, 2012). The tendency to use tactics like
projections can be seen in the rise of the alt-right (Neiwert, 2017).
Recent tensions within the alt-right revolve around fear and anger at the perception that a
communal way of life is being threatened by an “other” who exists outside of their traditional
“moral community” (Wuthnow, 2019). The promise to return America to a White, Christian-led
country (Mutz, 2018; Gorski, 2019) contributed to an exponential rise of the alt-right in America.
As political polarization rises in America, so does the breadth of extremist ideas (Klein, 2020)
like WRT.
Profiles of the most popular conspiracy theories that dominate social media are outlined
by Cosentino (2020). In the frame of social media, WRT has proliferated due to a mix of digital
culture and digital modes of communication (Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017; Ross & Rivers, 2017;
Wiggins, 2019; Cosentino, 2020). Conspiratorial messaging is promoted online first using
‘alternative news’ frames (Marwick & Lewis, 2017), then through attention-grabbing (Albertson
& Gadarian, 2015) ‘clickbait fabricators’ (Benkler et al., 2018). This type of inflammatory
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messaging style was shown in previous research to be a motivating factor (Davey and Ebner,
2019), particularly with less regulated social media platforms like 8chan (Collins, 2022).
Similar narratives from ‘professional conspiracy theorists’ like Alex Jones (Neiwert,
2017; Cosentino, 2020) contributed to the amplification of the initial rumors of a conspiracy. In
WRT, ‘professionals’ come in the form of politicians like former President Donald Trump, news
anchors like Tucker Carlson, and operators of ‘news’ platforms like Stephen Bannon of Breitbart
(Neiwert, 2017; Isom et al., 2021). Promotion by these ‘professional conspiracy theorists’
contributes to the astronomical virality (Singer & Brooking, 2018, p.404) of messaging. The
instant communicative nature of social media promotes a style of collaborative storytelling and
subsequent mythmaking (Cosentino, 2020) that can be utilized to instigate mobilization amongst
true believers (Neiwert, 2017). Amplification of conspiracies using bots or bot-accounts gave the
false impression that spreading conspiracy theory information was the same as participating in a
grass-roots effort (Marwick & Lewis, 2017, p.38; Cosentino, 2020). Grass-roots efforts,
particularly within a political frame, give a sense of legitimacy that inspires others to mobilize
against “plots” from malicious actors (Cosentino, 2020).
Conspiracy theories promoted on social media by ‘professionals’ and reinforced by
political actors build from a sense of aspirational goals, despite operations that originate from
top-down strategies designed to manipulate the public (Cosentino, 2020). Conspiratorial rhetoric
is increasingly circulating online (Davey & Ebner, 2019), due to the perceived legitimacy in
alternative explanations for emerging social and political issues (Cosentino, 2020). We see this
rhetoric, once restricted to far-right discussions on the fringe online subculture platforms, now
appearing in mainstream political conversations (Cosentino, 2020).
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There is significant research on how previous conspiratorial theories impact the
American political system, and future research would benefit from the specific study of the
impact of WRT. Conspiracies like WRT encapsulate groups’ perceived challenges to existing
power hierarchies by promoting views of an emerging power crisis. Those who adopt such
conspiracies do so to make sense of phenomena by framing major societal changes as
apocalyptic events (Barkun, 2013).
The 2016 election was a reflection of anxiety about the dominant groups’ potential loss of
status in the future (Mutz, 2022). In this sense, the psychological mindset of a group threat would
be a more difficult opponent to overcome compared to other issues, like economic issues (Mutz,
2022). Due to current demographic trends in the United States, minority groups will increasingly
gain influence, which will also increase the perceptions of status threat amongst the majority
group. With immigration and other globalization related issues projected to increase over time,
the politicization of these issues will undoubtedly also increase (Mutz, 2022). A study on the
2016 election indicated that an upcoming racial shift was correlated with increased support for
Donald Trump as a political candidate, both among Republicans and traditional Democrats
(Major et al., 2018). Exposure to information on impending majority-minority status shifts
increases levels of conservatism, inducing stronger feelings of political party identity amongst
Republican Party (Craig & Richeson, 2014b) and Tea Party (Willer & Wetts, 2016) members.
The Republican Party achieved this by framing identity as synonymous with opposition to
diversity (Craig & Richeson, 2014b) and preference towards policies that benefit the majority
group (Craig & Richeson, 2014a).
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Prior to the Trump campaign in 2016, the true believers of fringe ideas were considered
to be a small subset that had no ability to garner a definitive voice or political power (Neiwert,
2017). With the use of WRT rhetoric seen in Chapter 2, and with psychological factors discussed
in Chapter 3, the emerging alt-right is representing a danger to American democracy by using
threats, othering tactics, authoritarianism, and violence. The alt-right pushes a powerful message
of intolerance and weaponizes the idea of “others” to push divisive agendas. With abundant
research on using immigration as a threat to mobilize individuals to political action, it is
surprising that current research on WRT does not incorporate anti-immigration stances from a
psychological lens. Yet again, the disconnect between the two sides results in an incomplete
narrative of what is mobilizing individuals to take extreme actions. As far as the author is aware,
there are a few examples of WRT-based studies relating to immigration (Bergmann, 2021;
Vysotsky, 2022), but none discuss immigration through a lens of individual-level psychology
with the exception of Mutz (2018). Without this frame of reference, the discussion of
immigration, WRT, and politics remains an area of interest that warrants more attention.
3.4. Chapter 3 Conclusion
The gaps in existing research tend to focus on past trends of far-right extremist
movements, particularly those that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, with a minimal focus on
White power movements of the 21st century (Miller-Idriss, 2021; Williams et al., 2022).
Although there is a complexity to the objectives that motivate individuals to take part in
decentralized movements like WRT, there remains an internal transnational movement (Obaidi,
2021) that warrants further investigation. Previous research indicated a belief that diversity
would weaken the WRT movement (Williams et al., 2022), while psychological research has
shown the opposite to be true (Craig & Richeson, 2014a; Danbold & Huo, 2015; Jardina, 2019).
Replacement Theory, Hege 48
This indicates a disconnect between political analysis of WRT and psychological analysis of
WRT, as evidenced by the lack of congruent discussions amongst experts in both fields. The
disconnect between publications on WRT could prove to have devastating consequences
politically. Future research is urgently needed to contribute to the clarification between emerging
trends and the dynamics of individuals who adhere to WRT.
As demonstrated, individual characteristics that would predict support for WRT are
rooted in decades of research. Examples of characteristics that would predict an individual’s
support for WRT include high levels of social dominance orientation, system justification, and
authoritarianism, along with a certain set of ideological attitudes and moral beliefs. Yet,
individual-level characteristics that would predict support for WRT remain unacknowledged in
existing research, aside from Reyna et al. (2022). This could have continued implications on
political belief formation and political behaviors. For example, while it is easy to simply use
words like “morals” or “authoritarian” in WRT research papers, these terms must be connected
to psychological research for a comprehensive understanding of political behavior. Research on
WRT without a psychological lens becomes a moot point if it cannot offer anything beyond
summaries of news articles and other historical events. The real research on WRT will begin
when more researchers begin to utilize psychological frames to analyze events to gain a better
understanding of the potential implications of WRT and the individual-level characteristics that
would predict support for WRT. Aspects such as authoritarianism, social dominance orientation,
aversion to social change, and Conservative political views are connected to psychological
perceptions of threatening behavior in WRT and American politics, while information
environments use immigration as a threat in fake news and misinformation.
Replacement Theory, Hege 49
Without fully understanding the psychological aspects of WRT, researchers will continue
to espouse unfettered views on the conventionalism of WRT radicalization, where the causes of
WRT would be pinned to secondary factors like online recruitment, rather than discussing the
further complexities of the problem.
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The purpose of this literature review is to look at the motivations of individuals who
believe in WRT and examine how this conspiracy theory impacts American politics. This thesis
was broken into four chapters, including the Conclusion chapter. It began with an analysis of
phenomena that contribute to WRT, including a brief history of the origins of WRT, an analysis
of cultural change and anxiety, and a discussion on how WRT affects current and future
American politics. The first chapter examined the origins of WRT and discussed political
psychology theories. The second chapter reviewed current scholarly literature with a brief
introduction to the history of WRT, both globally and in the United States. The chapter
concluded with a review of WRT and its relevance in the current political discourse. The third
chapter examined existing literature that has either explicitly asked questions on WRT, or
discussed salient issues like immigration, extremism, or American values. The chapter concluded
with a critical lens on the lack of WRT research that incorporates psychological motivations.
4.1 Summary
The majority of individuals who follow WRT discourse follow the political cues of elites,
and political elites wield influential power to mold the political landscape. While there are
numerous discussions on WRT with a lens on political science and real-world events, there are
fewer discussions on the psychological implications of WRT on the political landscape, despite
decades of seminal research. Psychological theories that focus on group and political behaviors,
as well as social identity threats, are key factors that explain the rise of WRT ideologies in
America. After a critical analysis of existing scholarly research, individuals who adhere to WRT
are likely to have higher levels of individual personality traits like authoritarianism and social
dominance orientation. These personalities are justified by their perceptions of threats from
Replacement Theory, Hege 51
groups who are perceived to be “others”, especially in the context of demographic changes.
Demographic changes are perceived to be threats due to the anxiety that they may impact
existing social status hierarchies.
4.2 Research Question One:
What individual-level characteristics predict support for WRT? What are the implications of
WRT for political belief and behavior?
Individual-level characteristics that predict support for WRT are characteristics that
support a psychological need to dominate individuals who are perceived as being members of an
out-group. These characteristics are high levels of SDO or authoritarianism. An individual who
scores high on either characteristic has an increased probability of supporting WRT.
Psychological studies rooted in decades of research predict that these psychological
characteristics could have dangerous implications for political belief and behavior. SDT predicts
that individuals who score high on SDO are more likely to believe in hierarchy-enhancing
legitimizing myths like WRT. Research examples of WRT that were composed from a political
science viewpoint cite that WRT-oriented individuals perceive a shift in demographics as
threatening. As reflected in political science, individuals high in SDO engage in practices to
dominate groups that appear to threaten existing social hierarchies.
Surprisingly, this research also noted that individual-level characteristics like gender also
played a role in predicting support of WRT. Through a political lens, the majority of individuals
who engage in violence and own guns are males. Through a psychological lens, those who are
more likely to be high in SDO also tend to be males who are prone to aggression if they perceive
an inability to achieve their desired goals. Gender appears to have a supporting role in WRT, but
limited examination of this individual-characteristic warrants further research to ensure that
current trends are not the results of a swarming effect, where political science articles on WRT
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focus solely on males because they commit more violent acts, while ignoring females, whose
acts tend to be less violent.
4.3 Research Question Two:
How does White Replacement Theory impact American Politics?
While it was difficult to find numerous examples of psychological scholarly articles that
focused on WRT in American politics, there is enough evidence from decades of research to
indicate that there is an impact. When surveys of personality traits like SDO or SJ are combined
with studies on authoritarianism or anti-immigration, statistical significance does emerge. The
literary review showed that individuals who show increasing anxiety due to status change score
higher in SDO, and subsequently vote for politicians that appear to be protective.
When individuals perceive a threat to their social status, they continue to take harsher
stances against the perceived threat. In turn, politicians who initially presented views that were
outside the normally accepted political frames are becoming accepted into mainstream politics.
I expected to find ample scholarly research on the connection between WRT and political
psychology to answer my research questions. Instead, I found that the majority of articles were
relatively disconnected. Nevertheless, there is significant evidence that individuals who score
high on social dominance orientation, and are adverse to social change, would be likely to
support WRT, based on this extensive literary review. In addition, based on previous scholarly
research, individuals who are more likely to support Conservative political parties would also
support policies that are promoted by WRT. These findings indicate that as WRT rhetoric
increases, the American political system is likely to experience an increase in the number of
policies that reinforce in-group membership of the majority.
Replacement Theory, Hege 53
4.4 Future Research
Future research would benefit from an increased focus on merging political science-
focused articles with psychological theories. While both the political science and psychological
sides have extensive research, it is imperative that future studies examine both aspects
simultaneously, otherwise researchers may draw incorrect conclusions about what causes the
phenomenon of WRT. Articles have utilized terms like morals, perceptions, and authoritarianism
without going deeper into the individual psychological aspects of WRT. There are five
recommended routes for future research to supplement the discussion of WRT.
First, researchers could use psychological theories rooted in decades of research in their
publications on WRT. This could include using Social Dominance Theory, Social Dominance
Orientation, or System Justification Theory.
Second, researchers could also discuss moral belief with a lens of a top-down process
(theory-driven approach) or bottom-up process (data-driven approach) instead of using ‘morals’
as an ambiguous umbrella term. This could improve disconnected discussions of moral panic and
shed light on what factors lead to a WRT-induced moral panic. This could also shift discussions
from secondary causes, like moral panic spurred on through the proliferation of social media,
into psychological causes.
Third, researchers could further discussions on WRT with a focus on Authoritarian
Personality Theory. Most discussions on WRT have focused on group size as a threat and not on
personality and threat perception. Previous political science research uses the term
“authoritarianism” without any psychological backing. Authoritarianism with a psychological
lens on WRT either does not exist or is currently unavailable in psychological journal databases.
Fourth, although this was beyond the scope of this thesis, researchers could conduct
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surveys with questions to give insight into an individual’s subconscious adherence to WRT.
While there are examples of surveys on White people’s perception of demographic changes, the
majority of surveys do not focus primarily on the phenomenon of WRT in America. Contributing
to this type of research could allow future researchers to conduct a longitudinal analysis of this
emerging trend, which would bolster claims of the impact of WRT on politics.
Finally, although this was beyond the scope of this thesis, researchers could also explore
the increase of terrorism and extremism in America by incorporating psychological theories into
explanations for the increase in terrorist acts that have specifically targeted religious institutions,
the police, or the FBI. Discussions on ideological attitudes and foundations (Davey & Ebner,
2019; Miller-Idriss, 2022; Williams et al., 2022), and the psychological characteristics of
individuals (Reyna et al., 2022), could contribute to the discussion of security protocols, like the
Department of Homeland Security’s 10-million dollar grant to programs aimed at preventing
targeted violence motivated by ideological sources (Williams et al., 2022).
While there are multiple routes for future research, it is critical that research attempts to
address WRT not only from a political science theoretical lens but also from a psychological
lens. Without employing a psychological lens, an individual’s actions could appear to be
simplistic. Understanding the psychological characteristics of individuals who subscribe to WRT
is as important as understanding the background, history, and recent events.
4.5 Conclusionary Remarks
This research has achieved its goal to fill in the gap between prior research and current
trends through the utilization of scholarly research to bolster claims about the influence of WRT
on American politics. While the current amount of research on WRT remains limited, this
Replacement Theory, Hege 55
literary review contributes to the emerging discussion on WRT and gives a comprehensive
overview of the importance of continued discussion of WRT with political science and
psychological lenses.
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