GOP politicians fuel conspiracy theories, endanger the lives of refugees, immigrants
- Texas Governor Abbott has repeatedly called the situation on the southern border an “invasion.”
- This language is inspired by a white supremacist conspiracy theory that has led to numerous murders.
- As we welcome Afghan refugees, scaremongering instead of political debate only hurts.
- Jack Herrera is a freelance journalist who writes on immigration, race and human rights. He helps write reviews for Insider.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
Increasingly, it seems that one of the defining characteristics of reporting on refugees and asylum seekers is to combat disinformation – by confronting the untruths, misconceptions and lies that exist about refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants. When I’m on the Mexican border with families fleeing violence, I read tweets accusing them of being gang members; when I speak with mothers in ICE detention, I get emails MS-13.
I tend to keep an unhappy peace with this misinformation and alarms – “things that I can’t change” and all that – but last month I struggled to contain my anger and fear. The way powerful people speak loudly and openly about refugees is not only false or cynical; it puts lives at risk – from Afghan refugees to asylum seekers at the border – in a very real way.
At the southern border
In early August, I went to a church in the Mission District of San Francisco, a Latin capital, to spend time with my thoughts. It was the second anniversary of the massacre in El Paso, where a white gunman went to kill people like me in an act of terrorism motivated by, in his words, “Hispanic invasion of Texas. “When I left the church, my phone started ringing: a friend asked me about the news of the police and the National Guard of the Red States sent to the Texas border.
In June, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Doucey sent a letter to the 48 other States by asking them to send armed personnel to the border “to defend our sovereignty and our territorial integrity”. During press conference Announcing the request, Abbott claimed that “houses are being invaded”, and his Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick went even further by saying, “We are being invaded”.
Hearing Texas elected officials oppose immigration is nothing new, and it’s not something I blame them. Abbott and Patrick were elected by a largely anti-immigration electorate in their party, and they represent them well. A politician can argue against immigration without endangering anyone actively. But these two leaders should know the dangers of using language like “invasion” – especially Abbott.
After meeting with members of the El Paso community following the massacre of citizens of his state in 2019, Abbott made a rare admission of guilt. Just the day before the El Paso massacre, Abbott’s campaign sent a fundraising email calling on Texas citizens to “DEFEND” the border and claiming Democrats are trying to “transform” Texas “through illegal immigration”. Abbott’s call to action found a strange and disturbing echo in the El Paso shooter manifesto, which ranted over the “great replacement” – a white supremacist conspiracy theory that elites in Europe and in the United States are trying to “replace” whites with immigrants of color.
After speaking with community leaders in El Paso about the threats posed by the “dangerous rhetoric,” Abbott admitted that “mistakes were made” and said he and his campaign would correct the course.
But Abbott is set to be re-elected this year, and his commitment to do better appears to have been superseded by his desire to be re-elected. While there is a real problem at the Texas border – a large number of people have started to arrive in a very specific area, in the Rio Grande Valley, with an emphasis on local resources – Abbott must know that he has a serious and solemn responsibility when he speaks publicly about the matter. He cannot hyperbolize or exaggerate. He cannot use the language of invasion, nor any of its synonyms. Even when used as a metaphor, this language is a call to arms, a call to action. It’s the same twisted belief that Texas faces an “invasion” that sent a gunman to murder people at a Walmart. We must be clear: this is not a national security crisis, it is a humanitarian crisis.
The same language harms Afghans fleeing the Taliban
There is a common thread running from “invasion” rhetoric targeting Latin Americans to currency hysteria over Afghan refugees and potential terrorism. The El Paso gunman manifesto was not punctual; he exists within a loosely associated group of white supremacists united by online conspiracy theories and fear-mongering rhetoric.
The El Paso shooter was himself directly inspired by the Christchurch, New Zealand terrorist who shot dead 51 predominantly Muslim people in two mosques. Just as the El Paso shooter feared Latin American immigrants would ‘invade’ the United States, the Christchurch murderer found his motivation in virulent Islamophobia and deranged fear that Muslims would seek to replace the white majority in New Zealand. The title of his manifesto – “The Great Replacement” – is itself a reference to a theory developed by the French extremist thinker Renauld Camus, who coined the term in 2012.
Today, that same set of “great replacement” theories – explicitly in the spaces of white supremacy and implicitly in the offices of anti-immigrant politicians – arouses opposition to Afghan refugees resettling in the United States and in the United States. those always try to do it here after fleeing the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban.
Former Donald Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller offered a reliable approach against refugees in the effort to evacuate the Afghans who had aided the United States during the war effort. Miller posted a long Twitter thread affirming that the United States owed nothing to the Afghans, opposing an “immigration policy which brought the threat of jihadism to our shores”.
“Some newcomers don’t assimilate. Others have more extreme beliefs. Some blame the host country for what happened to their home. Sometimes the 2nd or 3rd generation gets radicalized,” Miller said. wrote. (To date, there has not been a single fatal terrorist attack by a refugee in the United States. Caton Institute researchers estimate that an American is at risk of dying in an attack by a refugee in any given year is 1 in 3.86 billion.)
GOP Senator Tom Cotton, after accusing Biden of not evacuating the Afghans, suddenly changed his tone once the Afghans started arriving in the United States, worry out loud that the refugees would not accept “our way of life here in terms of constitutional government”.
Politicians should certainly be discussing how best to help Afghans resettle. Last week I spoke with an Afghan father in California who is struggling to find housing for himself and his young children. More attention needs to be paid to how best to help these newcomers settle here. Cotton’s unnecessary procrastination over assimilation, however, is dangerous. Its language is tied to strong and consistent sentiments already in the air in the United States, which have prompted extremists to murder Muslims on several occasions in recent years.
In 2019 alone, there were over 500 attacks against Muslims in the United States – arsonists targeted several mosques, and a man in California crashed his car into a group of people he assumed to be Muslims, sending a college girl into a coma. Since 2010, there has been Three different bombardments or in bombings against Muslims. Anti-Muslim attacks have also claimed Indian, Sikh, and Orthodox Jew victims, when the attackers mistakenly assumed they were Muslims.
If leaders like Cotton are to discuss refugee integration, they must take responsibility for their words and speak sensitively about the extraordinary violence that refugees and Muslims of all backgrounds can experience in this country. If the Conservatives are serious about preventing terrorism on American soil, they should consider that white supremacist violence has claimed many more lives in recent years than any terrorism associated with Islam.
Likewise, when it comes to the border, politicians like Abbott have a right to advocate for less immigration and increased border enforcement. But they can do it without launching a call to arms on white supremacists.