Tucker Carlson has become a relentless promoter of his twisted-bowtie version of the white nationalist “replacement theory” of immigration—namely, that Democrats are deliberately opening the national gates to a floodtide of brown immigrants whose primary purpose is to displace and dispossess Republican white voters. With the nodding approval of Fox News executives, Carlson has been repeating the theory, doubling down and characterizing immigration itself as “the most radical possible attack on the core premise of democracy.”
If you pay close attention to these rants, a pattern emerges: Carlson bloviates a lot of important-sounding words, but he almost never actually illustrates his claims with any evidence supporting them. When he actually does so, a little careful examination reveals the evidence actually to be not just ephemera, but classic right-wing up-is-down inversion of reality on its head, revealing his argument for the bad-faith charade in which he specializes. Case in point: Carlson’s tale of immigration in the Mountain West states.
This was Carlson unleashing (or rather, reviving) his running claim that immigration itself is an attack on democracy:
So this matters on a bunch of levels, but on the most basic level, it’s a voting-rights question. In a democracy, one person equals one vote. If you change the population, you dilute the political power of the people who live there. So every time they import a new voter, I become disenfranchised as a current voter.
Everyone wants to make a racial issue out of it. Oh, White replacement! No. This is a voting rights question. I have less political power because they’re importing a brand new electorate. Why should I sit back and take that?
What Carlson is spouting is “replacement theory,” a strain of right-wing thought predicated on the “Great Replacement,” a conspiracy theory claiming that white people are being selectively “replaced” by immigrant of color, a gradual “invasion” intended to wipe out white civilization orchestrated by a cabal of nefarious “globalists” and Jews. It’s a subset of a larger white nationalist belief in “white genocide,” a supposed conspiracy by people of color, leftists, and Jews to destroy “white Western civilization.”
In mid-April, Carlson finally trotted out an illustration of this argument in action:
Montana, Idaho, Nevada—all face similar problems. The affluent liberals who wrecked California aren’t sticking around to see how that ends. They’re running to the pallid hideaways of Boise and Bozeman, distorting local culture and real-estate markets as they do it. Pretty soon, people who were born in the Mountain West won’t be able to live there. They’ll be, yes, replaced by private equity barons, yoga instructors, and senior vice-presidents from Google. Beautiful places are always in danger of being overrun by the worst people. Ask anyone who grew up in Aspen.
As a fourth-generation Idaho native with family in Montana, I can tell you that this is a complete inversion of the historic demographic reality in those places. It could only be accurate if viewed from a very short-term perspective—and even then, it’s wrong.
Idaho and Montana have only become deep-red Republican states in the past decade or two. Prior to that, they were classic “purple” states, electing a mix of Democrats and Republicans. What changed that was an inmigration of right-wing voters, such as those who took over Kootenai County, Idaho, in the 1990s:
Like many other mass movements, this one spread by word of mouth. In 1990, the Coeur d’Alene Press reported that one Orange County family had convinced “half its neighborhood” to relocate to Coeur d’Alene. A pastor told me that “whole (evangelical) ministries” came north together. By the end of the 1990s, more than 500 California police officers had retired to North Idaho, among them Mark Fuhrman, who committed perjury in the prosecution of O.J. Simpson. One officer told the Los Angeles Times that he left Anaheim because “the narrow roads got wider, orange groves became tract homes and street gangs became too numerous to count.” He went looking for “another Shangri-La,” and found it in Kootenai County.
Indeed, as the county’s population soared above 100,000, it began to look less like Idaho and more like suburban California. The prairie was paved with curling cul-de-sacs and gridded with Starbucks, Del Tacos and Holiday Inns. The old Potlatch Mill on Lake Coeur d’Alene became a golf course, and another mill site, just past the outflow into the Spokane River, became an office complex and parking lot. Once, when county commissioners voted to approve a subdivision, a local politician opined, “They are trying to turn Idaho into Orange County.” Another resident wrote to the Spokesman-Review, “When I moved there in 1976, Coeur d’Alene was a nice, sleepy town, just getting ready to construct its first McDonald’s. Today, thanks to the horde of Californians who settled there, the place has espresso bars and strip malls and ferns and houses with diagonal wood.”
Montana was well-known for electing noteworthy Democrats such as Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield. Idaho elected powerful and influential Democrats like Cecil Andrus and Frank Church. The latter mentored me as a young man, working as a fresh-faced newspaperman in northern Idaho.
When I was a kid growing up in Idaho, anti-California sentiment was a key part of the cultural landscape, largely because urbanites were perceived as clueless idiots. Bumper stickers and T-shirts reading “Don’t Californicate Idaho” and similar sentiments were common. My own car bore the sticker: “Welcome to Idaho: The Tick Fever State.” The general fear (though not mine; my prejudice was that they lacked common sense) was that Californians would bring their woolly-headed hippie-style liberalism with them. But the reality turned out to be precisely the opposite.
The first notable example of this was when the Church of Jesus Christ-Christian in southern California, a Christian Identity operation, moved its entire operations to the Idaho Panhandle in the late ‘70s and called itself the Aryan Nations (AN).
One of the side effects of the AN’s presence was that there were numerous news stories emanating from the Panhandle during their tenure there—most of them dealing with the criminality and hateful violence they brought to the region, including the yearlong bloody rampage of the neo-Nazi criminal gang The Order. An important subtext of these stories was that Idaho was a very white state. The image became a national one.
Idaho’s shift began in earnest in the 1990s when “white flight” from California and elsewhere brought hordes of authoritarian conservatives fleeing the brown people. It transformed the region, including eastern Washington State and Utah. A Washington Post piece explained the political ramifications:
Much the same process can be seen in the Intermountain West, where a once thriving two-party system has given way to almost total domination by conservative Republicans. States like Idaho used to occasionally elect liberal Democrats. But liberals from the state have far worse prospects today. Newcomers to Spokane, Wash. — both from the Puget Sound region and California — played a critical role in defeating House Speaker Tom Foley in his re-election bid last year, though liberal Democrat Ron Wyden did manage later to squeak into Bob Packwood’s old seat.
In the past, even right-leaning Utah would back moderate Democrat Scott Matheson. But today’s flood of in-migrants, notes the Wayne Brown Institute’s Bertoch, have tipped the scales distinctly toward the right. Utah’s politics, like that in North Carolina, Idaho and other Valhallan states, reflect more a conservative monoculture than at any time in recent history.
Montana, which was still electing Democrats even recently, was hit with this change in the 2000s. These were primarily people who were leveraging the high values of their properties elsewhere to buy much bigger homes for less in the rural West—which in turn drove property values so high that ordinary Montanans no longer could afford them:
Thus, Montana’s rising housing costs, in part, reflect Montana’s desirability to people whose income is not derived from the state’s economy. While demand from these footloose individuals provides clear evidence that Montana offers a great quality of life, it also makes housing in Montana more expensive, which can create problems. It means that housing cost increases may not be tethered to wage increases. This can make Montana untenable to certain workers and firms.
So what the natives like myself were seeing was the converse of Carlson’s scenario: affluent conservatives fleeing California because of their own white nationalist attitudes and destroying the political landscape as we knew it. They also helped destroy the local economies, driving up property values so that natives could no longer afford to live there. After Idaho’s unions and its schools and colleges were gutted by Republican politicians, that became even more acute.
Many natives like myself had to leave just to find work—as well as to flee the increasingly ugly cultural scene created by this influx of gun-humping reactionaries with tons of money and big pricey pickups. We no longer even recognize our home states. And it meant a “brain drain” on the state as educated citizens increasingly fled in droves.
So yes, we were replaced by these new Idahoans, a large number of whom now strut about asserting with bellicose authority that they represent the real Idaho. The same thing can be found with all those newly minted Montana cowboys.
I wonder: Do some Texans think they’re more real than others? I suppose they might. But then, I’ve heard a lot lately about great swaths of rural Texans, incensed at how Texas isn’t the real Texas anymore, have upped and come to Montana. I also wonder if a “real” Texan gets to be counted as a “real” Montanan, or just a particularly odious transplant.
It’s true that in recent years the demographic inmigration has become less red and more purple, enabling Boise to return to electing Democrats, for instance. But the right-wing white flight is still continuing to this day as well. Idaho is growing at a faster rate than any state except Utah and Nevada, according to the U.S. Census. From 2003 to 2014, nearly 97,000 Californians surrendered their California driver’s licenses and applied for Idaho licenses, according to the Idaho Transportation Department.
It was those people, not liberals, who were drawn to Idaho, said Wallace, because Idaho was familiar to them: “They were white-flight people wanting to get the heck out of where there was diversity. They didn’t like the brown people. I know because I come from there.”
A typical new arrival was this lady who moved to Coeur d’Alene in 2016:
Koch instantly felt at home in small town Idaho. She says there are a lot of like-minded Christians. And as she’s gotten older, to her surprise, she’s become more conservative.
“I’ve always been fearful of guns,” Koch says. “However, I am open now to learning, and the gun stores and gun clubs here in Coeur d’ Alene are very warm and welcoming.”
Koch was also struck by just how many ex-pat Californians are here. They are everywhere: the gun shop owners, the retirees at the golf resorts. They hold seats on school boards and in local government.
“I immediately tell people, especially if they’re not from California, I am not one of those people who want to change Idaho,” Koch says. “I love it the way it is, that’s why we’re here.”
As a veteran Democrat from Coeur d’Alene, Mary Lou Reed has a very pointed view of all this:
“We’re very, very white up here,” she says. Kootenai County is 95 percent white according to the most recent census, compared with much of California today, where whites are in the minority.
She insists race plays a factor in some people’s decisions to move up here.
“No question the white flight is to flee from a multi-racial situation into one into in which everybody looks the same,” she says. “It’s very dull.”
This is definitely an uncomfortable subject. Some of the transplants didn’t want to talk about race as a reason for moving. Others said it didn’t have anything to do with it.
So what Carlson is describing for places like Idaho and Montana and Utah is in fact the converse of what has happened to those states. It’s a lie.
The reality is that demographic shifts have happened throughout American history, and being able to ride those shifts politically has always been a challenge for parties, which have to figure out how to please changing constituencies. That’s what Democrats are doing.
Republicans, on the other hand, have clearly become so wedded to their white nationalist politics—the ones that drove demographic change in California, Idaho, Montana, and many other places—that they will not adjust their politics to welcome in new brown faces.
Carlson’s “replacement theory” is about gaslighting the public into believing that liberals are manipulating demographic change rather than simply adapting to its realities—giving Republicans an excuse to cling to a political ethos in its death spiral.