On Saturday night, I turned on my phone after the Jewish Sabbath and discovered that a white supremacist had massacred 10 innocents in my state. Most of the victims were Black, and the gunman reportedly targeted Buffalo, New York, because of the city’s racial makeup. According to law enforcement, the killer left a 180-page manifesto laying out his deranged grievances. The document makes clear that its author was animated by the “Great Replacement” theory, which posits that a sinister Jewish conspiracy is scheming to import Black and brown people into Western countries to displace the white race.
“White nationalism has no clear center,” wrote the Black civil-rights activist Eric Ward. “Yet it does have a deadly commitment to revolutionary violence against racial others… It rests upon a tortuous racial cosmology in which Jews form a monstrous, all-powerful cabal that uses subhuman others, including Blacks and immigrants, as pawns to destroy White nationhood.” Though these words sound like they were written in response to recent events, Ward published them in 2017.
The Great Replacement theory is doubly depraved: It infantilizes Black people as incapable of being the authors of their own stories, while demonizing Jews as mendacious manipulators. But it’s also just absurd.
Scrolling through the shooter’s fulminations about people like me, I felt a certain ironic detachment. It was impossible to square his dark delusions with my actual existence. By day, I’d been trying to amuse my 16-month-old, because her mother has COVID and is staying isolated in our bedroom. By night, I am sleeping on the couch. Like most Jews, I have not exactly had time to plot and perpetrate white genocide.
This is an experience that many members of minority communities have: We are constantly cast in a cosmic role that bears no resemblance to our lived reality. Imaginary Jews have been living rent-free in the heads of anti-Semites for centuries, which perhaps partly explains the stereotype that Jews are cheap.
It’s easy, as I just did, to mock these pretensions. In fact, I’ve made something of a sport of this on social media:
But while mockery can help turn the tables on anti-Semitic trolls online, it doesn’t solve the real-world problems posed by their dark fantasies.