In August 2017, the sight of white nationalists carrying torches as they marched through Charlottesville, Virginia caused consternation in many parts of the United States.
At the rally the group chanted: “You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us.”
They seemed to be articulating what is known as the “great replacement theory”, which alleges that the movement of people from around the world to North America and Europe is not because they are fleeing oppression or poverty, but is due to a conspiracy.
There are various versions but at its heart the theory postulates that “elites” want to replace or disempower white people; in some cases for economic reasons, in others for electoral advantage.
On Wednesday night this theory migrated from the fringes of right-wing politics on to the main debate stage for candidates seeking the Republican nomination to run for the White House next year.
Vivek Ramaswamy, the 38-year-old biotech entrepreneur, openly argued that “the great replacement theory is not some grand right-wing conspiracy theory, but a basic statement of the Democratic Party’s platform”.
A day earlier he had posted on X, formerly Twitter, a video from nearly a decade ago in which Joe Biden maintained that immigration into the United States was a source of strength and that Caucasian Americans of European heritage such as himself becoming a minority would not be a bad thing.
Ramaswamy did not stop at the great replacement on Wednesday. He went through a whole panoply of conspiracies.
He asked: “Why am I the only person on this stage, at least, who can say that January 6th now does look like it was an inside job?” This essentially backed a view on the right that the attack on the US Capitol to delay or prevent the authorisation of Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election was provoked or facilitated by police or federal agents.
He also raised the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda on New York and Washington. He maintained that the US Government “lied to us for 20 years about Saudi Arabia’s involvement”.
And in another part of the debate he maintained that the climate change agenda was “a hoax”.
He would have covered the whole gamut of conspiracy theories if he had got around to the man on the grassy knoll in the Kennedy assassination or alleged the moon landings were fake.
Ramaswamy, though, is highly unlikely to be the Republican candidate for president.
He has run an aggressive campaign filled with personal attacks on his opponents – although he has not gone after Trump. Last month the former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who is also running for president, described Ramaswamy as “just scum” after he made reference to her daughter using TikTok.
His tactics would appear to have backfired. He arrived at the first Republican debate – all of which have been boycotted by Trump – in third place on nearly 12 per cent, behind the former president and the Florida governor Ron DeSantis.
However it would seem that the more voters saw of Ramaswamy, the less they liked him. Over recent weeks his poll numbers have fallen away. In advance of the debate this week he was standing at just over 5 per cent.
If backing various right-wing conspiracy theories were aimed at generating attention, it may have worked.
The main US media outlets all covered Ramaswamy’s comments – some carrying out their own fact checking on their accuracy.
It remains to be seen whether he will receive a poll boost. With Trump 50 points ahead in the polls, it seems unlikely that Ramaswamy will be heading to the White House in the short term at least. But it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that he could end up in a future Trump cabinet. There has also been speculation that he could run for a Senate seat in Ohio.
The real importance of this week is that it facilitated the movement of viewpoints that once were very much on the fringes to, literally, centre stage.
Ramaswamy was not the first on the right to highlight one version or another of replacement theory. Broadcaster Tucker Carlson as well as some Republicans in Congress have backed the suggestion that Democrats want to bring about significant demographic changes for their own electoral advantage.
But Ramaswamy is running for president. And in a volatile climate such ideas can prove dangerous.
The man who killed 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018 blamed Jews for allowing outsiders into the United States. The perpetrator of a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas in 2019 was angry at Hispanics entering the country while a man who murdered 10 people in a supermarket in a predominantly black area of Buffalo, New York had posted online about his own people being replaced.