Selection of sources and methodological approaches
Renaud Camus’ 2011 book Le Grand Remplacement (‘The Great Replacement’) has doubtless influenced a complex range of radical-right conspiratorial imag-inaries. Whereas the original book has not yet been translated into English,
Camus listened to the chants of American white supremacists in Charlottesville in 2017 (‘You will not replace us!’) and, while allegedly not supporting their worldviews, he indirectly endorsed them by publishing a book in English in 2018 under the same title. Camus’ conspiracy theory posits that ‘we’ are exposed to a plan by ‘them’ to replace ‘us’ with others, repeating the well-known narrative pattern of an existential conflict between malevolent elites, in an evil pact with alien outsiders, and the presumably autochthonous people.
In this chapter, I will examine the German reception of Camus’ writings (originally from 2016) published in 2019 in a third edition, Revolte gegen den Grossen Austausch (‘Revolt against the Great Replacement’). As important as the text itself are the two introductions added to the volume in 2016 and 2019, respectively. Written by Martin Lichtmesz, a prolific voice of the German ‘Identitarian’ movement, the introductions allow us insights into how the idea of Umvolkung or Der Grosse Austausch is interpreted in the German socio-political context. Moreover, in a final chapter, the leader of the Austrian branch of the Identitarians, Martin Sellner, explains the potential of these concepts in the meta-political struggles of the German-speaking New Right.
If Camus (as well as Lichtmesz and Sellner) represent the intellectual veneer on a quasi-philosophical conspiracy culture, Akif Pirimjci talks to its most vulgar goon squads on the streets. Pirincci is a crime author who has become openly racist, featured as a speaker at PEGIDA rallies and constantly hailed for his ‘openness’. In his 2016 book Umvolkung: wie die Deutschen still und leise ausgetauscht werden (Replacement of the people: How the Germans are quietly being replaced; five editions up to 2017), he peddles conspiratorial and simplified explanations for the supposed suicidal downfall of Germany and the West. The Germans have intentionally and voluntarily been misled by a corrupt political elite who will spare no efforts to steal their last Euro and deceive them to believe in the most distorted world explanations. In this discourse, migrants (Muslims in particular) arriving in Germany are denigrated and collectively scapegoated for their alleged criminality, backward religious beliefs, and low intelligence. Pirin^ci’s book wades deeply into areas of indictable hate speech and puts objective academic treatment to the test, since it is challenging to recount its toxic rhetoric. However, considering the lethal violence displayed by the terrorist acts in Halle (2019) and Hanau (2020), it is necessary to take Pirincci’s deeply divisive and disturbing language into account in order to understand his barely cloaked question, ‘Who will fire the first round?’, and the responses to it (Pirincci, 2016: 41). In this chapter, a deeper discussion of Pirincci’s book had to be excluded; nevertheless, it remains an important reference point for the vulgar popularisation of Camus’ ideas in the German-speaking context (Onnerfors, 2020d).
In connection with his failed attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the perpetrator Stefan Balliet published three texts on the Internet and live-streamed about thirty-five minutes of his attack. An earlier analysis (Onnerfors, 2019a) of these texts showed that the anti-Semitic imagination paired with Islamophobic and white supremacist ideas fuels conspiracy beliefs in Germany, but that these also are fused with more fringe ideas inspired by the ‘Incel’ milieu and anime-inspired online gaming culture (Broderick, 2019). Also significant is the use of the Internet to disseminate messages: Balliet copied the Christchurch attacker in that he transmitted a live-stream. It mainly shows Balliet’s failed attempts to enter the grounds of the Halle synagogue and presents disturbing graphics of his lethal violence carried out with improvised weapons. Although ‘only’ two people were killed, the ruthless brutality with which Balliet murdered his second victim, weeping and begging to be spared in a Turkish restaurant, serves as a reminder never to trivialise the conspiratorial fantasies of male ‘lone-wolf’ attackers, however bizarre their worldviews might appear to us.
The same applies to Tobias Rathjen in Hanau and his more than peculiar ideas expressed in a manifesto and other outlets, which will be discussed here. It is a lazy analytical shortcut simply to pathologise these thoughts and to disregard them as the deeply disturbed ravings of a madman. This would not do his victims justice nor would it facilitate drawing any generalisable conclusions on how to counter such deadly violence. Moreover, as recent developments in Germany have demonstrated, even outlandish radical-right conspiracy theories have been fused with anti-government sentiments expressed in a growing protest movement against the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic (Connolly, 2020; Huesman, 2020). It seems only a matter of time until such aggravated conspiracy rhetoric will erupt in terrorist violence.
In both the Balliet and Kathjen cases, the ‘Great Replacement’ theory provided an explanatory frame in which the actions of the terrorists developed specific meaning. Without this conspiratorial frame narrative, significant parts of their motivation would not have made any sense. It is, therefore, useful to study how the concept of Der Grosse Austausch was introduced to a German-speaking readership and how the linguistic manifestations of terrorist violence resonated with these ideas. Applying approaches from critical discourse analysis (inspired by Wodak, 2015), the goal is to detect and describe rhetoric and narrative strategies (through metaphors and tropes) with which conspiracy theories express ideological positions both implicitly (i.e., coded) and explicitly (i.e., open).