Violence Mass Incarceration Media

Making the Connection: Replacement Theory, Mass Incarceration, & The Media

By Camryn Wimberly on June, 10 2022

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The tragic killings that happened in Buffalo, NY in May, have given the media a clear window into how conservative news outlets have fueled a racist theory called “ replacement theory,” which posits that nonwhites will soon “replace” whites through migration and demographic growth. Over the last month, there have been numerous news articles that highlight how the theory is part of the reason right-wing pundits like Tucker Carlson are using anti-immigrant rhetoric and are pushing for harsher immigration laws and policies. However, the media is not making the connection between replacement theory and conservative media outlets' push for mass incarceration. 

It is now widely known that the Buffalo mass shooter’s motivations were entirely racist, evidenced by his lengthy manifesto riddled with blatant hatred against the Black community and anti-semitism. In that manifesto, he repeatedly cited replacement theory. Replacement theory conspiracists believe that the U.S.will soon become a country where whites continuously lose opportunities and their overall sense of security and safety. The theory was formerly confined to more obscure white supremacist communities online but has now become a more widespread ideology among whites.  Throughout the 2010s, replacement theory slowly began to catch hold of those in the conservative media.  

After the incident in Buffalo, mainstream media and social justice advocates quickly drew the connection between replacement theory and conservative media’s call for harsher immigration laws and policies, particularly against people from Latin American countries. For instance, media outlets such as The Washington Post and Fortune highlighted the connection between replacement theory and  Tucker Carlson’s anti-immigrant rants on Fox News.  Outlets including Newsweek have long pointed out Carlson’s racist tirades about immigrants. For instance, last year Newsweek reported that Carlson went on a rant about immigrants and said he wanted to live in a “clean country.” He proceeded to say “ Advanced, civilized countries are orderly and they’re clean - people don’t throw McDonalds out the window, they don’t leave dirty diapers by the side of the river. I’m sorry, they don’t,” Carlson said.  

While the media has effectively connected Carlson’s racist rhetoric against immigrants with replacement theory, they have unfortunately remained silent about the connection between conservative media’s stance on mass incarceration and replacement theory, including in their rhetoric about violent crime. For instance, in one Fox News episode entitled, The Media needs to stop lying about violent crime, Carlson showed a clip of a law enforcement official calling a Black man who committed violence an “animal that probably should not be out on our streets.” After he played the clip, Carlson quipped that what the official said was the “absolute truth,” and then questioned why that particular locality did not enact more punitive laws and policies that would keep people who commit violent acts permanently off the streets.  In another episode, while discussing violence in majority-Black Baltimore, Carlson stated that Baltimore was “one of the worst places in the western hemisphere.”  He then said that the city’s District Attorney Marilyn Mosby was too “soft” on crime because she recently announced that she would stop prosecuting individuals for low-level offenses such as drug possession and prostitution.  

 Conservative media’s tough-on-crime stance is oftentimes driven by a desire to rid American society of Black and Brown folks, a desire that, for an increasing number of whites, is being fueled by replacement theory.

   Conservative media’s tough-on-crime stance is oftentimes driven by a desire to rid American society of Black and Brown folks, a desire that, for an increasing number of whites, is being fueled by replacement theory. In her essay entitled “Race and Criminalization,” Dr. Angela Davis highlights how conservative journalists in the late 1990s pushed for more punitive laws that would rid cities of Black and Brown people by incarcerating them, she wrote, “All that matters is the elimination of crime – and you get rid of people who, according to the prevailing racial common sense, are the most likely people to whom criminal acts will be attributed.” Years later, in her book Are Prisons Obsolete?,  Davis wrote that “The massive prison-building project that began in the 1980s created the means of concentrating and managing what the capitalist system had implicitly declared to be human surplus. In the meantime, elected officials and the dominant media justified the new draconian sentencing practices, sending more and more people to prisons… arguing that this was the only way to make our communities safe from murderers, rapists, and robbers.” 

The system of mass incarceration, which is rooted in racist laws and practices such as the Black Codes and slave patrols, has always rested on the theory that the white race must protect itself from losing power and dominance over Black and Brown folks in the U.S.  The mainstream media's failure to make the connection between mass incarceration and replacement theory shows how normalized America’s punitive mass incarceration system is, as well as how deeply entrenched it is in our society. Dr. Davis puts it best in Race and Criminalization, “The dangerous and indeed fascistic trend towards a progressively greater number of hidden incarcerated human populations is itself rendered invisible.” 


Featured image is used with permission under a Creative Commons License.



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