Conspiracy Theories: They’re Not Just for Nutjobs Anymore

Not everyone is up to date on everything. Even experts can be staggeringly ignorant outside their chosen field. We all know someone who can rattle of sports stats going back eighty years but can’t balance their chequebook or have a friend who can rebuild a car from the ground up and yet doesn’t know how to turn on a computer. There’s only so many hours in a day after all and, even if you spent every one studying, you can’t keep up. So, it’s no wonder many people are falling for conspiracy theories. 

Providing easy answers these once harmless eccentricities, formerly the favourite dinner topics of racist uncles, have changed. Going mainstream means more people than ever are swallowing lazy lies and spreading their unhinged beliefs far and wide. Modern conspiracy theories no longer question the moon landing or speculate that Elvis Pressley faked his own death and is currently working the local car wash’s till. Now there’s an anger and cynicism to them. Today’s theories appeal to our basest instincts. They feed hate. They embolden the ignorant. And, worst of all, they are pushing the weak-minded to violence. 

The latest fact-free screed making the rounds is called The Great Replacement Theory (GRT) and, though just another in a long line of lame racist conspiracy theories, it is gaining traction amongst right-wing circles. Reinforcing existing prejudices, the GRT has found a welcoming home on Fox News and other so-called ‘conservative’ media. Tucker Carlson and his ilk promote it almost nightly—between bashing transgender teens and raging against the imagined teaching of Critical Race Theory to kindergarteners. 

There is nothing new about this particular belief. The Great Replacement Theory—the belief that foreigners, thanks to lax laws and big families, will soon outnumber “real” Americans—makes the rounds whenever immigration surges. Many Europeans faced this same prejudice in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. People of colour are, sadly, met with this still. 

This is just a taste of the view on immigrants from a century ago.

It’s xenophobia, pure and simple. Fear of anything different from us, especially people who “don’t look/act/worship like us” is not new.

Being of Italian descent I’ve heard horror stories and even witnessed some glaring examples of anti-Italian sentiment. Insults like “wop” and “bricklayer” were directed, on occasion, my way. Nothing like what took place decades ago, however, when prejudice was the norm. 

A major American newspaper advocating for the beating and murder of Italians, circa late 1800s.

Small towns like Capreol weren’t immune. The dirtiest jobs on the railroad were reserved for “ethnics”. I read a book where, due to war shortages, the CN needed extra men on the work gangs and the newly hired employees kept quitting due to the living conditions. Immigrants would sleep thirty men to a boxcar—no heat or ventilation, just a blanket on the wood floor—but Canadians expected better.

Here’s a few political cartoons from the past that show the shocking hatred toward “foreigners”. Be warned, they are hateful and hurtful to modern eyes.

Prejudice against immigrants isn’t unique to our part of the world. However, there are few places so impacted by foreigners as North America. Canada and the U.S.A. were both founded and built by the arrival of people from abroad. Settled first by the Spanish, French, and English our two nations have grown and prospered thanks to the hard work of generations of immigrants. The ironic part of the above sentiment is how thoroughly those people and their cultures were ultimately incorporated into every day American society. Italians, like the Irish and Germans before them (and countless nationalities after), are now mainstream. The great Melting Pot blended the best of myriad immigrants into the fabric of the U.S. 

Not that every citizen approves of such. A surprising percentage of Americans are all for closing the border. It takes a remarkable mindset to look at the richest nation in the history of the world—built by immigrants—and chant “Build a wall!” But that’s the U.S.A. in the 21st century: ignorant of its past but supremely confident in its extremist future. Hating foreigners unmet simply because they’re different when there are some just like them in your own hometown right now, probably living beside you, contributing to society in every way imaginable is nonsensical.

The Great Replacement Theory is nothing but yesterday’s ignorant prejudice repackaged for easy consumption. Groundless fears exploited and monetized. GRT markets ignorance with skill and peddles hate to those desperate to believe something. Fox News is drawing huge audiences by telling viewers they’re “special” and blaming some nebulous “other” for all life’s misfortunes. This is turning Americans against their neighbours and setting the republic, already a powder-keg of political extremism, alight. Meanwhile the once venerated GOP is peddling suspicion and discredited lies, thereby alienating a large sector of the voting public. 

No matter when or how your ancestors arrived on U.S. soil—via land-bridge 10,000+ years ago, aboard the Mayflower with the funny-hatted Puritans, or just setting foot on the tarmac in 2022—every family in this hemisphere immigrated. We are the Great Replacement Theory. Too bad many conspiracy theorists would rather pretend otherwise.

Posted on: August 6, 2022, by :