Borderland communities and advocates were on high alert over the weekend as the hard-right Take Our Border Back events, which garnered national attention following Governor Greg Abbott’s increasing escalation against the federal government, concluded near Eagle Pass, Texas. “Other convoys this week reached the border in Yuma, Ariz., and San Ysidro, Calif.,” the New York Times reported, with the Texas gathering seeing the largest turnout, which saw a Member of Congress share the stage with Jan 6. insurrectionists.
While reporting has noted organizers’ behind-the-scenes chaos – notably paranoia-fueled infighting and smaller than expected rally numbers – what should not be lost is that Proud Boys, white nationalists, members of the white supremacist prison gang, armed hard-right conspiracy theorists, and hard-right bigots rallied around Texas’ position as validation of their ideas. Several speakers at these events put their bigoted and deadly beliefs on full display.
During one Take Our Borders Back rally in Dripping Springs, Texas, last week, a speaker accused a respected Jewish American organization that advocates for refugees of “funding” a so-called “invasion.” This is chilling – and dangerous. “This version of the ‘replacement’ lie is disturbingly similar to the claims of the white nationalist antisemite who attacked the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh,” America’s Voice noted last week.
During a rally in San Ysidro, another speaker promoted the kinds of baseless human trafficking claims that have previously inspired anti-immigrant activists to vigilantism.
“We have a human trafficking problem on the border in proportions that we’ve never imagined,” a speaker claimed to a crowd of roughly 200 people on Saturday. But last year, credible threats forced the National Butterfly Center in South Texas to temporarily shut down, following “ongoing threats from far-right conspiracists and QAnon followers who falsely claim it is a haven for human trafficking and illegal migration,” the Guardian reported in 2022. Marianna Trevino Wright, the center’s executive director, was accosted by an anti-immigrant activist and failed Congressional candidate who accused her of being “OK with children being sex-trafficked, raped and murdered.”
Cal Matters investigative journalist Sergio Olmos reported that anti-LGBTQ extremists who protested at school board meetings were also part of the San Ysidro rally, leading to “brawls in Glendale and a trans ‘outing’ policy in Chino,” Olmos wrote. He said another speaker at the event spewed racist rhetoric targeting Mexican and Chinese people, “weaving streaks of nativism and Christian fundamentalism throughout, citing devil worship in Mexico (Santa Muerte, a grim reaper of sorts) and calling to ‘cut the dragon’s head’ this Chinese new year.”
Media Matters has previously noted Fox News’ fearmongering about Chinese asylum seekers “with xenophobia and baseless theories of drug smuggling, spying.”
This speaker rallies the crowd against Mexican and Chinese immigrants, weaving streaks of nativism and Christian fundamentalism throughout, citing devil worship in Mexico( Santa Muerte, a grim reaper of sorts) and calling to “cut the dragon’s head” this Chinese new year. pic.twitter.com/fsxCoHIb7g
— Sergio Olmos (@MrOlmos) February 3, 2024
For instance, Patriot Front and anti-trans group Leave Our Kids Alone showed up in San Ysidro. The white supremacist prison gang, the White Knights, and Groyper Ryan Sanchez drove out to the Yuma protest. White Lives Manner cheered the convoy from an Austin overpass.
— Devin Burghart (@dburghart) February 5, 2024
The number of candidates onstage at all three rallies of the convoy was staggering. In Yuma, for instance, nearly half of the speakers were candidates for public office. Candidates were sandwiched between militia activists and calls for paramilitary presence on the border.
— Devin Burghart (@dburghart) February 5, 2024
During a recent press call featuring elected officials and extremism experts, leading voices noted that convoy members had stressed that efforts were to be peaceful. “But comments made by members of the group on livestreams, online videos, and in Telegram channels indicate that not everyone feels that way,” Wired noted. “We will engage decisively, and if it gets worse, in the infantry we call it ‘fix bayonets,’”one organizer was noted as saying in a video. “That’s war, we don’t want to go there, but that’s where we’re at right now.”
In one photo from the Yuma event, a sign behind a speaker read, “peaceful assembly.” If rally goers need to be reminded to be nonviolent, that’s a worrying indication of their beliefs and track record.
And while rally goers managed to pass the low bar of not opening fire on border communities (and each other), concerns should remain that white nationalists, anti-democratic activists supporting of the January 6 insurrection, and conspiracy theorists will continue using migrants at the border as a rallying cry for their organizing. The threat has not gone away – especially when being actively supported by prominent Republicans, including from Congress.
Texas Rep. Keith Self (R-TX) “promoted the rallies on a Fox Business segment and Fox published an online piece promoting the Take Our Border Back rally over the weekend,” America’s Voice noted. The Dripping Springs speaker that echoed the very same antisemitic conspiracy as the white nationalist terrorist who attacked Pittsburgh shared the stage with Sarah Palin, former 2008 GOP Vice Presidential nominee, and Republican Party of Texas board member Chris Burr, Wired said.
Rep. Keith Self now slamming "the federal government" which is exactly who a man in Pennsylvania blamed in his rant while holding up his father's severed head
— David Gilbert (@daithaigilbert) February 3, 2024
Rather than dialing down the temperature and rhetoric, Republican leaders are joining in to fan the flames of extremism. “The Republican politicians who are encouraging a standoff at the Southern Border are undermining public safety and risking an escalation that could easily become deadly for asylum-seekers, Border Patrol agents, and innocent citizens who could get caught in the crossfire,” Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) said last week.
“I joined today’s call — not as a Democrat or as a politician, but as someone who cares about the safety and security of people in Texas and border communities — to ask those who are stoking fear, resentment, and hate to stop,” he continued.
“Elected leaders shouldn’t repeat the mistakes that led us to January 6, 2021,” said Vanessa Cárdenas, Executive Director of America’s Voice. “In late 2020, many observers downplayed the potential for violence in DC, but now we must pay very close attention to what is happening with the types of groups that are gathering in Texas. There are too many parallels for any of us to ignore.” Indeed, Women Fighting for America, a vigilante group that urged supporters to flock to D.C. ahead of the Jan. 6 insurrection, was lured out of a two year hiatus by the convoy, Wired reported.
Federal officials may have also prevented possible violence, following the arrest of a Tennessee man who sought to join the convoy and act as a sniper at the border. Paul Faye also sought to bring explosives to the convoy, and “first came on law enforcement radar after the arrest of Brian Perry, another Tennessee man who was indicted last Spring in a plot to murder immigrants at the border,” Court Watch reported.
We should not risk falling into complacency just because this convoy didn’t fall into the throes of shooting and other physical violence. As the FBI arrest shows, violent actors were possibly ready to kill and maim. When hundreds of people, vociferously encouraged by GOP officials, come together for nativist gatherings to spout conspiracy theories and xenophobic lies, it sets the stage for continued radicalization, threats to vulnerable communities, and further anti-democratic attacks along the lines of the horrific events of January 6.