Yes, you read that headline right. The DeSantis team is running an ad with video from 2016 showing men going from the U.S. into Mexico.
In the quest to be the most violently anti-immigrant, the superPAC supporting Ron DeSantis has released the new campaign ad boosting the Florida governor’s pledge to carry out deadly violence at the southern border. “Stone Cold Dead” features footage of two young men who are rapidly scaling border fencing and appear to be carrying backpacks full of drugs, a strategic attempt by the SuperPAC Never Back Down to leave viewers in fear of non-white migrants.
But there’s some big holes in the group’s narrative – and not just its use of blatant nativism to stir up viewers’ worst instincts despite the fact that the border has never been more resourced. Not only is the footage of the two young men more than seven years old, the men were in reality scaling the border fencing from the U.S. side into Mexico, America’s Voice Political Director Zachary Mueller detailed in 2022. He previously noted the facts when the footage was utilized by failed Georgia Republican candidate Alan Sims.
“The irony here is also worth acknowledging; the men scale this border fence in less than 15 seconds, which illustrates that physical barriers are not much of a deterrent despite the enthusiasm for this policy from the ‘build the wall’ crowd,” Mueller wrote at the time. “All of this dramatically undercuts the fear-based narrative this ad attempts to construct.”
The ad is trying to stir up fears about fentanyl, but ignores the fact that fentanyl is not an immigration issue or migrants scaling a wall in either direction. In reality, fentanyl is smuggled into the U.S. alongside commercial traffic, with U.S. citizens mostly responsible for the smuggling. Yet this false narrative that asylum seekers and other migrants seeking safety in the U.S. are somehow tied to this illicit drug trade remains a favorite piece of disinformation from Republicans, most recently platformed to a national audience during the second GOP presidential debate this week.
Not that the facts matter much to DeSantis’ campaign either, which promoted the footage on at least two separate occasions this month. The candidate himself described the scene as evidence of an alleged “invasion” during a local interview in New Hampshire last month, where he called for summary executions at the border. “If you’re a cartel drug runner and you’ve got a satchel full of fentanyl strapped to your back, that is a hostile act,” DeSantis said, invoking the same “invasion” rhetoric used by racist mass shooters in communities like El Paso, Buffalo and Pittsburgh.
Never Back Down’s ad also features Bill Melugin, a Fox News propagandist that’s built his “brand” by exploiting migrants at the border. He’s a good fit for an ad that tries to terrorize viewers on immigration, because he’s admitted the incendiary content he shares from the border is designed to outrage viewers. Border agents can also depend on him to share their self-serving talking points, too. It’s all why he’s a favorite of anti-immigrant lawmakers, candidates and their allies.
However, Never Back Down SuperPAC wasn’t finished with its assembly line of fact-free propaganda just yet. A third ad this month, “Warzone,” echoes the kind of false “open borders” lies that have been lucrative for criminal cartels and helped spur migrant arrivals at the border. Key research from America’s Voice has previously found that it’s actually been Republicans and the right-wing media that have helped fuel “open borders” disinformation. This false right wing talking point is being heard – and believed – by some potential migrants, new polling commissioned by America’s Voice has found.
“Disinformation about the U.S.-Mexico border is widespread with over 1 in 4 Central American respondents hearing and 1 in 5 believing rhetoric that the ‘border is open,’” the polling said. “Central Americans are much more likely to say they would consider making the trip to the U.S. southern border or advise someone to make the trip after hearing statements from U.S. officials that specifically reference an ‘open border.’”
But much like the fentanyl disinformation, “open borders” lies were also a lowlight of the GOP debate this week, with South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott joining the Florida governor in peddling “open borders” lies during the debate co-sponsored by Spanish-language TV network Univision. What the audience didn’t hear was a solution to address our long-broken immigration system. When former Vice President Mike Pence was questioned on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program – a popular and successful policy the Trump – Pence administration rescinded – he repeatedly dodged the question.
It’s a long, long road to the election and what we can be assured of is that the out-of-context, old footage and rampant disinformation will be legion, but solutions will be scarce. But the least we can all do is make sure everyone knows the lies, and that the emperor has no clothes and no plan to improve the lives of working people.