On March 14, 2023, migrants seeking asylum in El Paso were stopped and turned back at the border, but Republicans moved misleading videos and messages around Fox News and the Internet, calling it an “invasion” anyway, echoing deadly domestic terrorists.
On Sunday, hundreds of mostly Venezuelan migrants who had been prevented from being able to make their legal asylum claim and frustrated by a new Biden administration policy forcing asylum claims to be filtered through a new app plagued with errors, headed to one of the El Paso official ports of entry after misinformation circulated online that gave the impression that they would be able to make their asylum claims. Debunking the online rumor, which was not true, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol prevented the desperate migrant families from entering the U.S. to make an asylum claim and, instead, turned them around to wait in Mexico to continue their attempts to make an appointment through the faulty app.
Vaneska, an asylum seeker who has been waiting at the border for months with her two children, was among the large crowds of migrants pressing for entry on Sunday. Vaneska told Corrie Boudreaux of El Paso Matters, about the online rumor that spurred her and others to cross the Juárez/El Paso bridge. “On Facebook, we saw an image that said they were going to open (the bridge) today because it was Migrants’ Day, something like that,” Vaneska said. “We just want an answer, so we came to see if it was true.”
The rumor was not true and the crowd dissipated without major incident and the El Paso port of entry reopened for normal business by early Sunday evening. Similar rumors are a constant but predictable problem as desperate families look for safety.
More than anything, the event on the bridge on Sunday demonstrates the hard security of the southern border and the ongoing confusion as the Biden administration tries to limit migrants’ ability to seek asylum.
Republicans, however, seized on a video shared by Fox News’ Bill Melugin, who can always be counted on to push anti-immigrant narratives and propaganda. He tweeted the video showing the migrants heading to the point of entry following the rumor. Without the critically important context that none of the migrants were able to enter the U.S. and were peacefully dispersed, Republicans slotted the video into their apocalyptic nativist narrative about a “wide open border.”
Disturbingly, several Republican members of congress reacted to the video by amplifying white nationalist conspiracies that Fox News further elevated.
On Monday, Fox ran the headline “Texas lawmakers react to the El Paso migrant rush: ‘Full-blown invasion at our southern border,’”pulling a quote from Rep. Troy Nehls (R-TX). Nehls told Fox: “How can anyone watch those videos without thinking there’s a full-blown invasion at our southern border?”
This language of invasion refers to the white nationalist great replacement conspiracy theory. A racist fiction that has been the inspiration for multiple acts of political violence and domestic terrorism over the last several years, including the murder of 23 people in El Paso in 2019.
Dr. Heidi Beirich, the co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, draws a direct connection between the rhetoric and the violence, saying, “When migrants are described as invaders, that leads to violence,” she said. “Because how else does one stop an invasion?”
The Texas Congressman was far from the only Republican member of Congress who employed deadly white nationalist rhetoric to describe the video.
- Rep. Lance Gooden (R-TX) wrote: “A thousand illegal immigrants stormed a port of entry in El Paso, Texas. The border isn’t secure. The border is being invaded.”
- Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) wrote: “This is an invasion. Finish Trump’s border wall. Militarize the border. Mass deportations. No amnesty.”
- Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) wrote: “We’ve seen the video of the Paso Del Norte bridge in El Paso being rushed yesterday. Liberals get bent out of shape when we say our country is being invaded. Even our ports of entries are not secure. Impeach Secretary Mayorkas!”
- Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-WI) wrote: “This is an invasion.”
- Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX) wrote: “ONE THOUSAND migrants just attempted to rush and overwhelm our port of entry at El Paso. This is beyond a crisis. It’s AN INVASION! Biden needs to act and ACT NOW!!
- Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) wrote: Meanwhile yesterday at the El Paso border…If this isn’t an invasion, I don’t know what is
- Former Rep. Mayra Flores wrote: “An estimated 1000 illegal migrants rushed the port of entry in El Paso, Texas. Our CBP agents should protect our borders and themselves against this invasion.”
Meanwhile, the FBI, Attorney General, and Secretary of Homeland Security have all testified that the threat from violent domestic extremists is a leading terrorist concern. In November 2022 and again in December 2022, DHS issued memos warning about threats to migrants and infrastructure at the southern border in response to anti-immigrant-related concerns.
This racist conspiracy that immigrants are “invading” the U.S. to replace white people is not new but was once confined to the dark corners of the internet. As Dr. Elizabeth Yates, Senior Researcher on Antisemitism at Human Rights First, notes, “10 years ago, you would have seen this rhetoric on neo-Nazi websites that you now hear from members of Congress.”
But the online user comments on the Fox article underscore the violent racist reaction to the story and the sort of ideas Republicans are ginning up. The commentators called for an “escalation,” “deadly force,” and a “civil war.”
On Twitter, there were more calls for racist violence from accounts retweeting Bill Melugin’s misleading video. One suggested dropping bombs on asylum-seeking families. Another called for “opening fire” on the unarmed migrants. And another referenced the obscure, violently racist great replacement novel The Camp of the Saints – a book promoted by Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon.
Granted, Internet commenters are one thing, but elected members of congress are another. However, it is becoming increasingly hard to see where the calls for racist violence from online bigots end and the Republican party begins. Disturbing and violent internet comments are not a novel concern, and more than likely, these commentators won’t meet out their violent fantasies in the real world. However, a handful of white nationalists already have. And Republican members of Congress are egging it on. The rhetoric of “invasion” from these Republican leaders begs every xenophobic, well-armed bigot filled with rage and a gun in his hand to pull the trigger.