Courting confusion, hate, and violence, leaders on the political right look to exploit the horrific attacks to cynically advance their nativist narratives
As the horrific situation in Israel and Gaza continues to unfold, Donald Trump has led the Republican Party and the political right to exploit the events for their own cynical politics. Looking to fan the flames of division and hate, Trump took to his social media platform this past weekend to peddle baseless conspiratorial rhetoric encoded with thinly veiled racism. His Republican allies quickly added their voices to the fearmongering and confusion.
As Miles Klee wrote in a piece for Rolling Stone: “Donald Trump and far-right allies are using the crisis to push a familiar anti-immigration narrative back home. According to MAGA world, Hamas won’t stop at launching a surprise attack on Israel from Gaza — they’ve also infiltrated the U.S. via the Mexican border.”
At this critically sensitive moment, where antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate are already starting to rear their ugly heads here in the U.S., it is critical that political leaders denounce these vile ideas and their dangerous downstream consequences. Unfortunately, many Republicans are doing the exact opposite, using their platforms to spread bigoted conspiracies and exploiting the situation to demand the adoption of their extremist anti-immigrant agenda.
Unsurprising but nonetheless shocking, the former President and titular head of the Republican Party used his social media platform to start a baseless conspiracy theory fear-mongering about the border and possible attack on U.S. soil. Trump wrote: “The same people that raided Israel are pouring into our once beautiful USA, through our TOTALLY OPEN SOUTHERN BORDER, at Record Numbers. Are they planning an attack within our Country? Crooked Joe Biden and his BOSS, Barack Hussein Obama, did this to us!”
There is, of course, no evidence that members of Hamas have entered the U.S. through the southern border. Nor is the border open. (Disinformation that, in reality, helps fuel the challenges at the border). But this multilayered conspiracy isn’t concerned with facts, instead, the thinly veiled, partisan and bigoted fearmongering is the point.
Where the leader goes, others follow. Several members of Congress have picked up on the baseless conspiracies that court hate and division. For example, Rep. Keith Self (R-TX) spread disinformation about an “open border” to fearmonger about “sleeper cells,” writing: “Biden’s open border is a DREAM for Hamas and Hezbollah brutal barbarians. How many sleeper cells are plotting now inside America thanks to Joe Biden?” The wild speculation about “sleeper cells” was also echoed by Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ).
“Donald Trump is just the tip of the spear of the vile anti-immigrant fearmongering that has infected the GOP and right-wing media,” said Vanessa Cárdenas, Executive Director of America’s Voice. “Seemingly any topic is turning into a Republican excuse to spread dark and incendiary rhetoric about migrants, asylum seekers, and the border. It is loathsome and dangerous. There are downstream consequences when political leaders are implicitly or explicitly calling for violence to resist an existential threat.”
As Media Matters notes in a piece titled: “Right-wing media use Hamas’ attacks on Israel to fearmonger about immigrants in the United States” this same baseless and bigoted conspiracy is being moved widely by the influencers on the political right.
Others, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, peddled the deadly white nationalist “invasion” conspiracy in response to the attack, writing: “What happened to Israel could happen to America. We have been invaded by aliens from over 160 different countries.” The “invasion” conspiracy already has a body count associated with it and has been the inspiration for multiple domestic terror attacks, including in El Paso, Buffalo and Pittsburgh. And still, Rep. Greene is looking to infuse the conspiracy with even more hate and fear.
In an even more concerning turn, Rep. Mary Miller’s (R-IL) suggestion of the potential downstream violence with this latest bigoted conspiracy was a bit more explicit. Rep. Miller wrote on X: “Please join me in praying for Israel. Biden has put our nation at risk by opening our southern border to unvetted, military-aged men from hostile countries. It has never been more important to defend our 2A rights to protect ourselves and our families.” This dangerous suggestion to take up arms alongside racialized disinformation shouldn’t be ignored.
A report from Breitbart noted that Donald Trump, Jr. also pushed anticipatory violence about the border around the unrelated attacks in Israel. He wrote on X, “If you don’t yet own an AR-15 you really need to think that through right about now.” The violent rhetoric of the son aping that of the father.
Trump’s latest conspiratorial fearmongering comes just days after he said that migrants are “poisoning the blood of our country.” The New York Times pointed out, “When asked about immigration in a recent interview, the former president used language with echoes of white supremacy and Hitler.”
None of this is isolated, but part of a larger dangerous pattern that Trump is leading his party on. An NBC News report published last week headlined, “Trump ramps up violent rhetoric,” and a headline from Axios that reads, “Trump’s words turn violent as pressure on him builds” are two examples of some coverage of this disturbing trend. But the Washington Post headline by Paul Farhi importantly notes, “Trump’s violent rhetoric is getting muted coverage by the news media.”
Beyond stirring up threats to public safety and courting political violence, the extreme rhetoric also has disastrous downstream consequences for policy. Take Rep. Jim Jordan’s (R-OH) demands as he seeks the Speaker’s gavel (even though he did not win the contest, his position will still hold serious sway in the party) that “No money can be used to process or release into the country any new migrants.” A radical, likely unconstitutional, and unattainable position that would have deadly consequences and explosive budget implications, that Rep. Jordan positioned as conditional for keeping the government working for the American people. As Greg Sargent, noted in a column for the Washington Post: “On rhetoric and policy, far-right Republicans are slowly, inexorably shifting the outer boundaries of GOP discourse on immigration into darkly fanciful and even sadistic territory.”
How the leadership in the Republican Party is handling the response to the attacks in Israel should be a warning sign for how thoroughly adopted extremist positions. When thinly veiled bigoted conspiracies are so quickly reached for to exploit a horrific event overseas to advance a radical xenophobic domestic agenda, there is a serious problem.
Condemning hate and calls for unity after horrific attacks should not be a hard ask of our political leaders, nor should it be controversial.
“This is a moment for the United States to come together, to grieve with those who are mourning.” President Biden said, modeling what all elected leaders should be reiterating at this moment. “Let’s be real clear. There is no place for hate in America. Not against Jews, not against Muslims, not against anybody. We reject terrorism.”
Amy Spitalnick, CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), noted in a powerful and strong statement that read in part: “Let’s be abundantly clear: antisemitism, Islamophobia, and all forms of bigotry and extremism have no place here—period. Yet there are those already exploiting the situation in Israel and Gaza to spread hate.” Spitalnick continued, “This hate and extremism strike at the core of our values, our democracy, and our fundamental rights—and we all have an obligation to speak out and stand up against it, no matter how one feels about the situation in the Middle East.”
In the coming weeks, as the right will continues to gin up fear about alleged terrorists crossing the southern border (see examples, here, here, here, here, and here) it’s important to keep some basic facts in mind:
- Far more individuals are flagged on the terrorist watch list along the northern border than at the southern border.
- While there are individuals apprehended between ports of entry on the watchlist, this is evidence of border patrol doing their job. And the number of these individuals is extremely small, representing 0.0084% of the total encounters. Almost all of these individuals are likely from Colombia.
- As American Immigration Council’s Aaron Reichlin-Melnick notes: “Once again, the people on the watchlist arriving at the border are overwhelmingly ex-FARC guerillas from Colombia, who, while undoubtedly bad guys, are not “terrorists” in the sense the average American thinks of when they hear the word, *especially* post-peace process!” Reichlin-Melnick further points out that “When data leaked on the nationality of people flagged on the watchlist, 93% were Colombian. While FARC itself was taken off the list of foreign terror orgs after the peace process concluded, many of its members may remain on the list due to bureaucratic issues.”
- Meanwhile, the extreme rhetoric about the border is fueling domestic terror threats, according to repeated assessments by DHS.