Amongst the scrawling on the weapon and magazines of the Christchurch shooter, was the slogan “14 Words”. His manifesto stated those fourteen words: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”. These words, also abbreviated 14 or 14/88, were coined by alt-right terrorist David Lane. They are used frequently by alt-right supporters as a symbol of their perceived struggle. The Charleston church’s shooter in South Carolina was pictured alongside the numbers, and the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter had them in his social media account biography.
“14 Words” represents the alt-right’s obsession with the “Great Replacement Theory”. They believe that white people are becoming extinct because of falling birth rates, coupled with a legalised invasion of non-white immigrants. The alt-right have taken it upon themselves to protect white people from the harms of globalisation. The Pittsburgh shooter blamed “the Jews” for allowing migrants into the country. The Christchurch shooter’s manifesto claimed that he undertook the attack to “show the invaders that our lands will never be their lands, our homelands are our own and that, as long as a white man still lives, they will NEVER conquer our lands and they will never replace our people.”
But who are the white people that the alt-right claim to be protecting? It is about more than just the colour of one’s skin – Balkan Muslims do not count as ‘white people’ that deserve protection despite being ethnically Caucasian – the Christchurch shooter labelled them “occupiers”.
Nor do the people deserving protection extend very far past Europe’s borders – Christian deaths at the hands of Muslims are weaponised by the alt-right as proof of Muslims’ evil intentions. Donald Trump, the alt-right’s most powerful friend vehemently spoke out against the murder of Coptic Christians in Egypt after ISIS attacked a church. However he is incapable of condemning his extremist fans. The safety of all Christians is not on the alt-right’s agenda. Rather, their target audience is at the intersection of European heritage and Christianity be it in the US, Denmark, or New Zealand, regions they deem to be under attack.
This was not the first time I have heard this theory. I was recently told that Italians were becoming extinct because our fertility rates were so low, and that we were being invaded by Africans. Later, I was told that I should think about my biological clock and prioritise children over my career. It was not only my place in society as a 23 year old woman to be a mother, but as a white woman, it’s my duty.
The Great Replacement Theory is a fallacy and a delusion. Societies are not static, nor are they primordial, natural organisms. We are not the same as we were 100, 500, or 2000 years ago. Societies adapt and evolve thanks to the exchange of ideas, goods and people between them.
Were it not for the incentive of many Islamic scholars to translate volumes of Greek and Roman texts into Arabic, Europeans may well not have had the Renaissance – during the Dark Ages, Europeans destroyed significant amounts of scholarship and wisdom in the name of religious purity. Without the Chinese, Italians wouldn’t have pasta, and without South America the Irish wouldn’t have potatoes.
In the Middle East and Central Asia, some have blonde hair and blue eyes. Some people in Eastern Europe look almost Asian. This is because of the DNA trail left behind by passing armies, from Alexander the Great, Crusaders, the Mongols and Napoleon. This isn’t even to start on the colonial stamp European countries left on the rest of the world, and the influence colonies had on European culture. We become stronger because of this interaction despite it being often violent – we learn from war as from trade, and our populations change face as we intermix.
When I was told my Italian ‘race’ was dying out, my first instinct was to think: ‘which Italians?’ Yes, we have a common love for pasta, take pride in the Roman Empire and winning the World Cup five times, but we are equally a deeply divided people. In the south, they tend to be short and dark, while northerners are taller and fairer, and often closer to Germans. We didn’t even exist as a nation-state until the late 19th century, and even then in our contemporary form until the end of the First World War. In the north, some speak German, while the southerners speak a range of dialects, like Sardinian, Sicilian and Neapolitan. Historically, southerners have been closer to other Mediterranean cultures and have a strong Islamic influence. Over the years we have been increasingly bound together by a centralised government which has erased many local particularities. The Italian ‘nation’ or ‘race’ is not natural, it was created.
Our societies have always been in flux. Changes in populations are not new. They are part of the natural process of the evolution of societies. Because of globalisation, this evolution is sped up as distance becomes less of an obstacle and the ever interconnected world allows one to view what is happening on the other side of the world in real time. And this has scared many that feel their traditions unable to dance in time to the ever frenzied tempo of globalisation.
It is easy to discredit alt-right theories, but what is harder is to allay the wider-spread fears among “white people”. It is when people feel like they have lost control that they lash out. What have they lost control of? Control of borders, control of rapidly changing values and control of who gets let into the exclusive club called citizenship.
Much of the Brexit vote was based on migration, as was Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and Katie Hopkins’ and Tommy Robinson’s activism. This is not to say that all of them are ethnonationalists (though the latter two could fall into that category), but rather that the Great Replacement Theory is symptomatic of a much larger unease.
Economically speaking, the world on a whole would benefit from open migration and borders. But we are talking about humans, and anyone who has taken an economics class will know that humans are not rational actors. As we have seen in the past few years, migration has become the source of infighting in Western countries.
It is human nature to draw a distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’, to want to protect one’s own, but the alt-right’s proposed ‘solution’ is inhumane and detrimental to the very ‘white people’ they claim to protect. We must not shy away from challenging, refuting and deconstruction these views every level possible, while finding ways with which to build resilience to these ideas.