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Sen. Graham Embraces Immigrant “Invasion” Rhetoric – the Kind of Rhetoric Used by as Racist Mass Murderers

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Over the weekend, Senator Lindsey Graham (SC), a one-time advocate for immigration reform, deployed a new Facebook ad campaign that fear-mongers about “an invasion of illegal immigrants.” The twisted fiction that America is being overrun by non-white others is language that Republicans know is dangerous. It led mass murderers to open fire on Jews in Pittsburgh and Mexican-Americans in El Paso, not to mention the slaughter in New Zealand

This “invasion” rhetoric has become normalized on the right. Once the province of neo-Nazis and white nationalist anti-immigrant network founded by John Tanton, it is now deployed by Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson.

Graham first started spewing “invasion” rhetoric over the summer on FOX News. Now, he’s incorporated that dangerous rhetoric into Facebook ads, hoping to jump on the GOP bandwagon of inciting fear to raise money.

Graham’s continued willingness to share rhetorical space with violent racists is deeply concerning. Surely he knows the risks. After the massacre in El Paso, the Washington Post reported on the similarities between the language of the anti-immigrant Tanton network and the alleged shooter:

Hours after the mass shooting in El Paso last weekend, Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, issued a tweet in the organization’s name denouncing the “tragic” carnage and urging Americans to “stand together against senseless rage and destructive impulses.”

FAIR, a leading proponent of restricting immigration, typically provides its 300,000 followers on Twitter and 2.1 million on Facebook with links to studies, news stories and podcasts warning of the economic, public safety and environmental costs of high immigration levels.

But Stein made no mention in his tweet of the online document police believe was written by the alleged killer, Patrick Wood Crusius, which cited many of the same arguments against immigration as a rationale and motivation for the attack that killed 22 people in a predominantly Hispanic city near the U.S.-Mexico border.

And, the Post noted that the El Paso shooter was not the first to invoke that rhetoric: 

Other mass shooters over the past two years have echoed some of Trump’s language about immigrants, including a gunman at a Pittsburgh synagogue last fall who decried immigrant “invaders” at a time when Trump was warning of an “invasion” of Central Americans at the border. 

Tanton network anti-immigrant leader Mark Krikorian went as far as to say that the El Paso killer’s manifesto was “remarkably well-written for a 21-year-old loner.” Despite serving as the inspiration for murderers, many Republicans have adopted the “invasion” rhetoric. Trump, of course, but also a litany of GOP leaders.

But Graham’s adoption of the viciously racist rhetoric marks the disturbing descent of this once stalwart champion of immigration reform. In 2013, Graham was one of the “Gang of Eight” Senators who produced the bipartisan immigration reform bill that ended up passing by a 68-32 margin. 

Many others have observed Graham’s sinking to new lows over the past few years. From the New York Times in August:

For four years, Mr. Graham, a man who had once called Mr. Trump “a race-baiting, xenophobic bigot,” exemplified the accommodations that so many Republicans made to the precedent-breaking president, only more vividly, volubly and candidly.

But Mr. Graham’s reaffirmed devotion has come to represent something more remarkable: his party’s headlong march into the far reaches of Trumpism.

Graham’s descent into radical nativism is a troubling story, but one that is indicative of the larger shift in the Republican party. There was a brief moment when the party could have taken another path, but Graham and many others chose the darker one. Choosing to concentrate on shrinking the electorate with the hopes of winning back power by mobilizing voters with the dangerous politics of racial division.