tags: , , , Blog

GOP Embraces Tired Dog-Whistle Politics with Bogus and Racist ‘Migrant Crime’ Hysteria

Share This:

One thing we know about 2024 is that Republicans, with no record of accomplishment to campaign on, intend to make scapegoating immigrants their top issue. America’s Voice Senior Research Director Zachary Mueller recently told Kerry Eleveld at Daily Kos that he expects Republicans to make another “massive investment” in stoking the issue. “Despite nativist attacks failing to deliver at the ballot box in cycle after cycle, Republicans, with Trump still leading their party, are not going to switch tactics.” 

Republican officials and candidates and right-wing media are trying a variation of this attack with a false crime hysteria. Meanwhile, indicted former President Donald Trump does what he has always done, slapping his name on the side of something and calling it his own. This time, the product is dog-whistle racism he is branding as “Biden migrant crime.”   

It won’t surprise anyone to know that facts are missing from this latest GOP narrative. They have latched onto several so-called “migrant crime” stories in recent weeks, with one House Republican, Rep. Mike Collins, going so far as to horrifically suggest that one alleged suspect from New York City should be thrown from a helicopter employing a slogan popular with white supremacists. One pro-Donald Trump ad, meanwhile, centered on the alleged suspect as part of an effort to link immigrants and crime. But this case, along with the case of another New York City man accused of “migrant crimes,” is bogus.

Last week, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg announced that 22-year-old Jhoan Boada, the man villainized by national Republicans and some Democratic officials following the Times Square attack on New York City police officers in January, had been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing after prosecutors found he had nothing to do with the incident, the Associated Press reported.

“In a Manhattan courtroom Friday, prosecutors told a judge that further investigation proved Boada did not participate in the attack,” the report said. “The man seen in the video kicking an officer with pink shoes – initially identified by police as Boada – is now believed to be a separate person. That man has been charged and is awaiting criminal arraignment.” Boada, who does not have a criminal record and had “struggled to defend himself in English,” was insistent on releasing surveillance footage, the report said. 

“It was a political football, and people were attacked with a broad brush,” his attorney, Javier Damien, told the AP. “It’s very sad.”

But while the video would prove he was innocent of these charges, he was nevertheless villainized in a pro-Trump ad that depicted him as the face of the so-called “migrant crime wave.” The attack harkened to Trump’s infamous demonization of the Central Park Five, the five Black and Latino men who, as teenagers, were wrongfully convicted of raping a jogger in 1989. Despite their eventual exoneration years later, Trump refused to apologize for taking out a notorious, full-page ad that had called on New York state to reinstate the death penalty.

The normalization of such rhetoric has downstream consequences. In a despicable call for extrajudicial violence, Rep. Mike Collins (R-GA) had tweeted that Boada should get a “ticket on Pinochet Air for a free helicopter ride back.” Collins was referencing the “death flights” where critics of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s rule were thrown from helicopters. This violent act has been a meme “popular among white supremacists & neofascists like the Proud Boys for the last 7 or so years,” extremism reporter Christopher Mathias noted.

Now from a sitting member of Congress, too. “I think sitting members of congress calling for murdering people using the Pinochet regime’s preferred method of dropping them out of helicopters is really not great,” MSNBC host Chris Hayes tweeted.

In a similar rush to politicize, a New York nationalist street gang led by Republican candidate Curtis Sliwa last month shockingly assaulted – on live television – a man they believed to be a migrant and shoplifter. “His mother back in Venezuela felt the vibrations,” Sliwa boasted to Fox News host Sean Hannity following the racist violence. “He is sucking concrete. The cops scraped him off the asphalt. He’s on his way to jail.” 

But police would later find that the man assaulted by the street gang is from New York City and not an immigrant at all. Officials also said there was no evidence that he’d been stealing. Sliwa didn’t let the facts stop him from urging continued anti-immigrant vigilantism. “We’ve got to take 42nd Street back, Sean,” he continued. “These illegals think they own this street. They think they rule the night. This is our country. If they can’t abide by the rules, then we’re going to kick them back from where they came.” Which, as it turned out, was New York.

Following the tragic killing of Georgia student Laken Riley, Republicans led by Trump and right-wing media have similarly exploited this horrific murder in a textbook definition of strategic racism reminiscent of the notorious Willie Horton political attacks from the 1988 presidential race, wrote Zachary Mueller, Senior Research Director at America’s Voice.

“The cynical partisan politicization from the right of the recent murder in Georgia is both predictable and dangerous,” Mueller wrote. “They are taking an isolated crime to paint a larger community of immigrants using a racialized politics of fear and division to advance their extreme anti-immigrant agenda. Worse, they are citing the murder in their promotions of the white nationalist replacement and invasion conspiracy contributing to a climate that courts political violence.”    

“Whenever gun massacres occur in the U.S., which happen so frequently it is hard to count, we are often told not to politicize those events and that there can be no discussion of public policy considerations, and those calls of ‘now is not the time’ come from the same politicians who are exploiting this murder,” he continued. “If a crime happens involving an undocumented immigrant, the right-wing springs into action and all policy options are front and center.” 

At least three Republicans, Rep. Bob Good (R-VA), Rep. Matt Rosendale, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, have linked this tragic incident to the white nationalist invasion conspiracy to justify their calls to shut down the government. And despite the allegations against being exposed as bogus, Speaker Mike Johnson is inviting New York City police as his guests to President Biden’s upcoming State of the Union address, with the support of the GOP New York delegation. Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY) again linked it to “Biden’s intentional invasion,” making it clear he intends to keep pushing this narrative despite the facts.

While nativist officials will exploit tragic incidents to push their own agenda, the facts have always been clear in study after study after study after study after study that immigrants commit crime at lower rates than U.S.-born Americans. Mueller also notes that what is getting lost are the very real concerns about violence, especially violence against women. Regardless of the alleged perpetrator’s immigration status, the priority should be addressing the root causes of violence against women and ensuring justice for the victim. 

But with no actual solutions to address the issues and concerns on the minds of Americans, running on a supposed “migrant crime wave” is a strategic decision that Republicans hope will result in electoral gains in 2024 (despite evidence from 2018, 2020, and 2022 that this is a loser for them). “The GOP’s migrant crime rhetoric has no basis in fact,” Noah Berlatsky reported at Public Notice. “But it has a basis in the history of hatred. Demagogues and racists often try to link marginalized groups to crime to build power and justify violence.” The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart highlighted their gross tactic in a recent segment:

“The Nazis regularly claimed that Jewish people committed crimes at high rates; in the notorious propaganda film The Eternal Jew, Hitler’s propagandists made the preposterous assertion that Jewish people controlled 98 percent of prostitution worldwide,” Berlatsky continued. “White racists in the US justified the lynching of Black people in the post-Reconstruction south with racist myths linking Black men to sexual violence against white women.”

This should also serve as a reminder that despite the horrific nativism and attacks, Americans still overwhelmingly support legalization. Polling finds that, yes, a majority of the public has concern over the border, but still supports a broader array of policies that include legalization and border security while recognizing immigration overall as a good thing. While the xenophobes and their ugly messages are loud thanks to their national platform, it’s also important to remind the public and observers that these voices are also in the minority.