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The father of ‘great replacement’: An ex-socialist French writer

Renaud Camus, who coined the term the “great replacement,” at a news conference in Paris on April 8, 2019, when he was a candidate for Europe’s legislature. (Thibault Camus/AP)
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Renaud Camus is deciding with which of the men he met that night he would like to go home. The bar is closing, and he chats with a past lover about a terrible Grace Jones concert he saw at Studio 54. He spots a stranger with thick black hair, who, when Camus approaches, says he has just come back from a work trip to Nigeria. They walk down Parisian streets to the man’s apartment in a nice neighborhood, where they listen to music, smoke, have sex and fall asleep.

The next morning, they talk a little before he leaves. The man is 29 and a corporate lawyer for an engineering firm. Camus, then 31, tells him he studied law but now he’s a writer making “a pittance,” and he’s “a little tired of this bohemian life.”

“But couldn’t you write things that would make you some money?” the man asks.

That’s how Camus opened his 1979 book “Tricks,” a chronicle of 25 one-night stands he had as he traveled around the world’s thriving gay communities in the late 1970s. It was explicit and edgy and hailed by the avant-garde, and, yes, it made him a little money.

But that was all before he moved into a literal fortress.

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Camus is better known these days as the author of the 2011 French book “The Great Replacement,” in which he pushed a theory embraced by white supremacists and cited by racist terrorists from New Zealand to Texas, and by the suspect in Saturday’s grocery store attack in a Black neighborhood of Buffalo that left 10 people dead. The theory has also been echoed by mainstream conservatives such as Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), the No. 3 House Republican.

In “The Great Replacement,” which unlike “Tricks” was never published in English, Camus argued that Europe’s White majority was being replaced with Muslim people of color in collusion with a left-wing, globalist elite — an elite of which he was once a part.

Camus was raised in an upper-middle-class family in central France. His parents, he later said, disowned him when he told them he was gay.

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In Paris in his early 20s, he was a member of the Socialist Party and a gay liberation activist. During the riots, strikes and protests in Paris in May 1968, which nearly overthrew the government, he was marching with the “homosexual component,” he told Le Point in 2013.

He spent many years picking up degrees in universities, earning three advanced degrees in philosophy, political science and the history of law, without establishing a career. But he wrote novels and a column in a gay magazine and hung out with Andy Warhol and performance artists Gilbert & George. Then Camus was widely praised for “Tricks.” Renowned French critic Roland Barthes wrote the book’s preface. Camus also received the Amic Prize from the French Academy, one of literary France’s highest honors, for his entire body of work.

In the early 1990s, Camus sold his Paris flat and purchased a 14th-century fortress in the Gascony region of southern France, where he still lives and which he rarely leaves.

It was here, in his medieval castle decorated with tall bookshelves and African masks, away from the bustle and community of the city, that he transformed from a shaggy-haired left-wing artiste into a far-right ideologue in a three-piece suit.

In the mid-1990s, he saw something that terrified him so much that he has credited it with spurring his theory of replacement: a few women wearing veils as they walked around a fountain in a historic French village nearby. (In another version of the story, he said he passed by multiple houses in the village and saw veiled women through the windows.)

Then, in 2000, he published a 1994 diary entry in which he mused that there were too many Jews on French radio. The ensuing uproar over his antisemitism, which he denies, was his first experience with reputation damage.

He responded by throwing himself more fully into his right-wing theories. He ultimately founded his own political party and ran for president on a platform of sending immigrants and their families back to their original countries — although he hasn’t gained much traction and has generally endorsed far-right candidates Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour. And in 2011, Camus published “The Great Replacement,” in which he theorized that a left-wing elite is conspiring to replace White Europeans with immigrants, a “genocide by substitution.”

In 2014, the French government fined him 4,000 euros for inciting racial hatred against Muslims and North African immigrants, whom he called “thugs” and “colonizers.”

Although “The Great Replacement” has never been published in English, it has been translated on far-right websites and endorsed by white supremacist Richard Spencer and disgraced former Iowa congressman Steve King. In 2018, in response to white supremacists in Charlottesville chanting “You will not replace us!” the previous year, Camus self-published a book in English with their chant as its title.

After the 2019 mosque attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, he told The Washington Post that although he was against neo-Nazis and violence, he was glad his message was getting out because of them, and that the “demographic colonization” happening in France was “20 times more important than the colonization Europe did to Africa, for example.”

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As the New York Times pointed out in a 2019 profile of Camus, immigrants of all ethnicities and nationalities make up 10 percent of France’s population, up from 5 percent when Camus was born in 1946.

He calls native-born, White French people the “indigenous” people of France, while living in a castle built by Gascons, a people who had their own language and an independent state before it was taken over by the Franks.

Camus has lost many friends and admirers, as well as his publisher. Longtime friend Emmanuel Carrère, considered by many to be one of the greatest living French writers and filmmakers, publicly condemned Camus’s views in an open letter in 2012. Immigrants should not have to act like “well-behaved guests” who are “grateful for our leniency,” Carrère wrote. In perhaps a typically French penchant for the existential, Carrère granted that while the world’s population grows, it “makes, I agree with you a thousand times, life necessarily less sweet, the neighbors more numerous, noisier, more harmful.”

But, he concluded, “what can we do if not push ourselves to make room?”

Camus presumably read the open letter from the isolation of his 700-year-old fortress. Although since he used government funding to renovate it, he is required to open it to the public for part of the year.