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Anti-Immigrant Lawmakers and Right-Wing Media Rushed To Claim Terrifying Crash At U.S. – Canada Crossing Was Terrorism. Except It Wasn’t

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Following a terrifying car accident at a United States-Canada border crossing that resulted in a massive explosion and two tragic deaths, far-right voices wasted no time engaging in nativist fearmongering in order to advance their political and hateful agendas.

Federal officials said they were still probing the cause of the car crash at the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls on Nov. 22 when Fox News speculated that not only was the incident likely terror-related, but also possibly “part of a coordinated series of attacks related to either the war in Gaza or illegal immigration,” the Daily Beast said. The network cited bold allegations from correspondent Alexis McAdams. “High level police sources tell me this is an attempted terrorist attack,” she tweeted. “Sources say the car was full of explosives. Both men inside dead.” The network further claimed the vehicle had been heading from Canada into the U.S.

But this was not a terror attack carried out by two men, but rather a tragic crash involving a husband and wife “who were leaving a casino they went to after their plans to attend a KISS concert were scuttled,” Vice said. The couple had been traveling at high speeds when they apparently lost control of the vehicle, which then exploded and caught on fire. Furthermore, the vehicle was heading into Canada, not from it.

So, this appears to be a horrific crash that tragically left both dead. But even before these facts were made clear, the far-right lawmakers and candidates ran with terrorism claims. “This confirms our worst fear: the explosion at Rainbow Bridge was a terrorist attack,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz wrote in a now-deleted tweet. “Both attackers are dead, and one law enforcement officer was injured.” 

But when it comes to actual extremist terrorism, its been crickets from Cruz. He’s been silent on a shooting at an Ohio Walmart this month that according to the FBI “may have been at least partially inspired by racially motivated violent extremist ideology,” CNN reported. Rather than rebuking the kind extremist language that’s inspired past terror attacks, including in Texas, Cruz has instead echoed the rhetoric of the mass murderers who carried these horrific events.

Meanwhile, ex-Texas Rep. Mayra Flores, who is running for her former seat, called the Rainbow Bridge incident “a failed attempt by terrorists,” while Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs claimed “our borders are under attack.” Failed Arizona Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake, now running for U.S. Senate, called it an “attempted terror attack,” and launched in a false “open border” diatribe that claimed President Joe Biden is inviting “this kind of chaos into the country.”

Florida Rep. Anna Paulina Luna offered perhaps the most shocking message of all, appearing to use the tragic accident to call for a total expulsion of immigrants from the U.S. “Full deportation efforts need to begin,” she tweeted. But this is not a total surprise coming from someone who fabricated major details of their life, George Santos-style.

Further promoting McAdams’ claims on social media was Bill Melugin, Fox’s leading anti-immigrant propagandist, who amplified her lies to his more than 350,000 followers on the increasingly unreliable Twitter platform. 

Melugin “is a far-right propagandist masquerading as a neutral, disinterested voice,” watchdog Media Matters said in a 2022 report. “Reactionaries have promoted the idea that the southern U.S. border is a ripe avenue for terrorists to enter the country since the 9/11 attacks. That myth has been repeatedly debunked, but Melugin has been happy to resurrect it to further stigmatize migrants.” When an opportunity opened to further employ this tactic – now just at the northern border – Melugin didn’t hesitate. Keep in mind that Melugin is the same propagandist who once breathlessly claimed that a Starbucks barista dropped a tampon into a police officer’s drink. 

If he had any shame, he would have kept his head low for a while and issued a mea culpa. But he instead found a grift far more lucrative than any tampon fearmongering, when Fox began to more heavily promote his anti-immigrant propaganda in fall 2020, Media Matters said. 

Once again, the facts as they appear at the moment amid the ongoing investigation: this was not a terror attack involving two foreigners heading to the United States to maim and kill, but instead an apparent crash involving an American couple driving to Canada. Not that the facts really made any difference to Fox. Even after walking back numerous false claims, including in which direction the car had been driving, the network continued using the incident to hound immigrants and immigration. “Fox News Uses Border Car Crash to Slam White House – Even After Network Retracted Report Saying It Was an ‘Attempted Terror Attack,’” Mediaite reported.

“Today’s explosion at the border – regardless of the motive behind it – is a chilling reminder that we’re all on high alert and living in a post-9/11 mindset, which means that our borders need to be secure,” Fox News host and former Congressman Jason Chaffetz claimed on-air. “We shouldn’t be living in fear. But that’s what the cluelessness in D.C. is forcing us to do. It’s having dire consequences on the safety of our nation and the psyche of the average American.”

Despite no evidence of plots at either border, the right has employed – and continues to employ – conspiratorial rhetoric alongside real fear and confusion in a dangerous world to cynically advance their extreme nativist political and policy agenda. Fox has in fact used the Israel – Gaza crisis to baselessly fearmonger about Middle Eastern terrorists at our southern border more than 400 times, Media Matters said. Voices like Chaffetz may claim they’re only concerned about public safety, but even after the facts have been made clear, they choose to continue stoking bigotry, hate and fear.

Unfortunately, we have grown to expect falsehoods, innuendo and disinformation from Fox. And, no doubt, we can expect a lot more of this deliberate effort to mislead viewers, because, first and foremost as the Dominion lawsuit showed us, as observers noted, Fox is a political arm of the GOP — and they’ll do what it takes to win in 2024.