PARIS — Before embarking on a deadly shooting rampage Friday targeting Muslim worshipers in Christchurch, New Zealand, the suspected gunman — a 28-year-old, self-styled “regular white man from a regular family” — posted a 74-page manifesto on Twitter.
The sprawling, angry text sheds some light on the motivation behind an attack that killed 49 Muslims during Friday prayers and wounded dozens of others. Among other things, that suspect — who Christchurch police say posted the manifesto and whom they have since charged with murder — wrote that a trip to France in 2017 convinced him that the country was under “invasion” by “nonwhites.”
“The final push was witnessing the state of French cities and towns. For many years I had been hearing and reading of the invasion of France by nonwhites, many of these rumors and stories I believed to be exaggerations, created to push a political narrative,” the suspect wrote.
“But once I arrived in France, I found the stories not only to be true, but profoundly understated,” he continued. A significant detail is that the suspect titled his manifesto “The Great Replacement,” a clear reference to the title of a 2012 book by right-wing French polemicist Renaud Camus.
In that book, Camus expounds on the “theory” that Europe’s white majority is being replaced by nonwhite North African and sub-Saharan African immigrants, many of whom are Muslim.
The “great replacement” has been a battle cry of the French far right, even after immigration arrivals into Europe fell significantly after their peak in 2015. In the words of Marion Maréchal, granddaughter of convicted Holocaust denier Jean-Marie Le Pen and a darling of the American far right, the idea perfectly corresponds to reality.
“Today, there is in fact a substitution of certain parts of the territory of so-called native French by a newly immigrated population,” she said in 2015.
The notion of “massive immigration” that will inevitably provoke a violent cultural clash has spread from the fringes of French public discourse into the political mainstream. Laurent Wauquiez, leader of France’s mainstream conservative party, Les Républicains, likewise called Camus’s idea “a reality” in 2017.
It has also crossed oceans. In Charlottesville in August 2017, protesters chanted “Jews will not replace us!” (In 2018, Camus released another book, this time titled “You Will Not Replace US!”)
In Pittsburgh last October, the shooter who killed 11 Jews in the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history was apparently motivated by outrage over immigration, and specifically the activities of HIAS, originally the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which provides humanitarian assistance to refugees.
Reached by phone Friday morning at his home in southwestern France, Camus, now 72, told The Washington Post that he condemns the violence of the Christchurch attacks and that he has always condemned similar violence. But when asked whether he objects to how his “great replacement” idea has been interpreted by the general public, including far-right politicians and their supporters, he said he does not.
“To the fact that people take notice of the ethnic substitution that is in progress in my country?” he asked. “No. To the contrary.”
Camus added that he still hopes that the desire for a “counterrevolt” against “colonization in Europe today” will grow, a reference to increases in nonwhite populations.
“I hope it becomes stronger,” he said, claiming that this apparent “demographic colonization” was “20 times more important than the colonization Europe did to Africa, for example.”
French Muslims, meanwhile, lament the extent to which these views are somehow tolerated in polite society in France.
“On the one hand, Renaud Camus is portrayed as an extremist ideologue for the far right, but he’s also being invited on France Culture,” said Yasser Louati, a Paris-based Muslim community organizer. “He’s given a platform.”
France Culture is among the most highbrow radio programs in Europe, a French equivalent of NPR. Camus has also discussed the “great replacement” on “Répliques,” a program anchored by Alain Finkielkraut, a prominent French intellectual.
“I’m just upset that we keep pretending all of this is a surprise,” Louati said, “when in fact it’s become normalized.”
Anxieties over the “great replacement” have reached even the relatively remote location of Christchurch — nearly 12,000 miles from the country where the idea was born.
“As I sat there in the parking lot, in my rental car, I watched a stream of the invaders walk through the shopping centre’s front doors,” the accused gunman wrote in his manifesto, describing a stop in a midsize town in eastern France. “For every French man or woman there was double the number of invaders. I had seen enough, and in anger, drove out of the town, refusing to stay any longer in the cursed place and headed on to the next town.”
“WHY WON’T SOMEBODY DO SOMETHING?” the suspect wrote later in the manifesto. “WHY DON’T I DO SOMETHING?”