For months, Elon Musk has been dropping decidedly unsubtle hints that he believes in the great replacement, a conspiracy theory that liberal elites are “importing” immigrants into the United States, Europe, and Australia to wage political and biological warfare against white people. In a contentious interview that aired last week with Don Lemon, Musk said he doesn’t “subscribe to that” before detailing what he does believe — which is effectively still great replacement theory.

“I’m simply saying there’s an incentive here,” Musk said. “If illegal immigrants — which I think have a very strong bias to vote Democrat — the more they come into the country, the more they’re likely to vote in that direction.” But as Lemon points out, undocumented immigrants can’t vote, nor can legal immigrants who are here on visas, or people with green cards. Musk said it’s not just about votes but also about the census. “The House seat apportionment is proportionate to the number of people, not just the number of citizens,” Musk said, adding that immigrants “overwhelmingly go to places like California and New York.”

It’s true that congressional apportionment is based on census population data. But as its name suggests, the decennial census is conducted every ten years. More importantly, Musk’s argument betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how the immigration system functions.

Most of the people arriving at the border today won’t be in the country by the time the next census is conducted in 2030. When someone crosses the border without authorization or asks for asylum at a port of entry, they aren’t just released into the country indefinitely. They’re given a hearing date in immigration court, often months or years in the future because of the significant and ever-growing backlog of immigration cases. Because of the backlog, the average adjudication time for asylum cases is now a little over four years — a long time, yes, but still not long enough for people to be counted in the census. And most of those cases will end in denials: just 9 percent of cases decided in the 2023 fiscal year ended in asylum or another grant of relief, according to the Congressional Research Service. The rest end in deportation.

The people who do get asylum still can’t vote — at least not immediately. Asylees have to wait a year after being granted asylum to apply for green cards, and at least five more years after that before applying for citizenship.

Though it’s worth explaining how all of this works to understand how nonsensical Musk’s beliefs are, the facts don’t really matter to people who are convinced that the great replacement is actually happening. The real die-hards don’t think it’s a scheme to create a permanent Democratic majority; they think it’s a plot to ethnically replace white Americans. At its core, the great replacement is about demographics, not democracy.

The great replacement is a fundamentally racist, antisemitic conspiracy theory. Its adherents are preoccupied with birth rates. They believe there’s a global plot to eradicate the white race; the “replacement” they fear is literal, not political. Musk has hinted at this before. In November, he favorably replied to an antisemitic post on X that accused “Jewish populations” of sending “hordes of minorities” to Western countries. That’s why tiki torch-wielding neo-Nazis chanted “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2016 and why a mass shooter killed 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh a year later.

In his interview with Lemon, Musk explained that what he really meant was that “a prominent number of Jewish philanthropists fund groups that they should really take a closer look at.” As for the tweets Musk shared about the “Hispanic invasion” of America at the hands of Democrats and their elite masters, well, he wants us to believe it’s not that serious. “If I quote something, it doesn’t mean I agree with everything in it,” Musk said. “It’s just something that — I think this is something people should consider.”

Musk is trying to have it both ways: he wants to send obvious great replacement dogwhistles, but, lest it scare advertisers away, he doesn’t want anyone to accuse him of wholeheartedly believing in what he’s saying. When it suits him, X is the most important social platform for information, with far-reaching implications for free speech and democracy. But when anyone criticizes or asks him to explain his own posts, he claims they were just tweets.


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