By Quentin Young
Xenophobia is the original offense of the Trump era.
The former president launched his campaign in 2015 by saying of Mexican migrants, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” It was a gross mischaracterization of facts, but the nativist message resonated with a Republican base primed by far-right media figures to despise non-white immigrants.
When President Joe Biden came to office and Democrats took majorities in Congress, the excesses of xenophobia in high office ebbed, even as they flowed apace on Tucker Carlson’s show and other conservative hubs of hate.
But with Republicans back in the majority in the U.S. House, the anti-immigrant movement has found new outlets of expression in the federal government. And this week it got ugly.
The U.S. House Oversight and Accountability Committee hearing Tuesday at times sounded more like a bile-brimming Unite the Right rally than a congressional proceeding. Republican committee members were at pains to dispel the notion that the hearing was anything but an honest examination of the “border crisis,” given that it was preceded by justified protests — not least from the ranking Democrat — that the event was really a white nationalist promotional appearance.
But the Republicans couldn’t conceal their true intent. In practiced Trumpist fashion, Rep. Lauren Boebert’s question time with a pair of U.S. Customs and Border Protection chiefs, who were hauled in as witnesses, was filthy with xenophobic rhetoric. She cast migrants as “convicted criminals, terrorists, drug traffickers, or even gang members.” And she asserted that Democrats intended it this way as a policy choice.
This is the language of “replacement theory.” The racist conspiracy theory holds that accommodating immigration policies are part of a plot to replace white people in positions of power and culture. “The theory often uses martial and violent rhetoric of a migrant ‘invasion,’” the National Immigration Forum says.
Observe how that tracks with Boebert’s remarks.
“The truth is there is an invasion happening at our southern border … and it’s happening because Joe Biden invoked amnesty and changed the secure border policies that were working for our country,” she said, adding, referring to Democrats, “This is intentional. In fact their policy is a success, it’s not a failure because this is their intent.”
Quintessential replacement theory. And Boebert was hardly alone.
Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene of Georgia suggested that unaccompanied minors, the most vulnerable and desperate of migrants, were in fact budding violent gang members destined to murder Americans, and she referred to “the illegal invasion into our country that’s occurring every single day.”
“Joe Biden does have a plan. His plan is to deliberately open our borders and cede power to the cartels,” said Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona. “Now why would Biden do this? Create chaos? Sow discord? … More Big Brother? More control? Even changing our culture?” He also made sure to refer to immigration at the southern border as an “invasion.”
Replacement theory can be traced back decades and even has antecedents in Hitler’s Germany and other hotbeds of false “white extinction” fears. But popularization of the modern American strain is often credited to Carlson and his daily white nationalist propaganda hour on Fox News known as “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
This once-fringe form of racist extremism is now taken for granted on the MAGA right. Sometimes its proponents dispense with dog whistles and are explicit in calling immigration a “replacement.”
“Yes, there is definitely a ‘replacement theory’ that’s going on right now,” Boebert said in one of several of her social media posts that discuss replacement or the “invasion.”
The nonprofit immigrant advocacy group America’s Voice has documented how numerous Republicans on the Oversight Committee have voiced white nationalist rhetoric. These include Chairman James Comer of Kentucky. The Biden administration has turned “the border patrol into the welcoming committee. They want more people to roll into the United States,” Comer said in December on Fox, according to the Daily Beast. “They believe this is part of their social equality campaign to fundamentally change America.”
Such replacement theory rhetoric kills people.
The mass shooting in 2019 in El Paso, Texas, was committed by a suspect who cited “great replacement” and a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” The mass shooting in May in Buffalo, N.Y., was carried out by a suspect who wrote a 180-word document that rehearsed “great replacement” talking points. The racist conspiracy theory has inspired other mass shootings and other forms of violence.
Many observers, including migrant advocates, agree America’s immigration system is in crisis.
“What we are seeing on the southern border is a crisis, but it is not a crisis as our friends across the aisle would have us believe,” said Democratic Oversight Committee member Rep. Melanie Stansbury of border-state New Mexico. “It is truly a humanitarian crisis. And it is a crisis that has been manufactured, reproduced, over and over again, decade after decade, by inaction by this body.”
Immigration reform could include improved border security. But it should also increase resources for U.S. handling of vulnerable people who flee dangerous homelands to seek refuge in America, better serve the U.S. labor market, and do right by the undocumented children known as Dreamers. The one quality U.S. immigration policy should forswear is xenophobia.
When members of Congress amplify white nationalist goals, they put lives at risk, further polarize American society, and dishonor the country’s proud legacy as a beacon of freedom.
Quentin Young is the editor of Colorado Newsline, an affiliate, like the Florida Phoenix, in the nonprofit States Newsroom network.
The plan is to replace MAGA with sanity and do it by getting people to vote. The “replacement” is that simple.
When we look around the world for populations that are receding vs populations that are growing, we find that education, good jobs, and access to birth control are the main factors that reduce population growth. If white supremacists want to quit getting replaced, they need to provide education, good jobs, and access to birth control to everyone as soon as possible.
Ray W. says
Xenophobia, that overwhelming fear of the “other” that compelled a local political partisan to take to the radio airwaves to express his desire to behead democrats.
Of all the authors who have touched upon this issue, perhaps Ryszard Kapuscinski offers the best explanation I have read of the scourge, the pestilence, the plague, the virulent fanatical disease that partisan hatred visits on the “other”. I have posted his explanation before.
“Starovoytova had opponents in Baku, because Azerbaijanis, like Armenians, divide mankind into two camps.
For Armenians, an ally is one who believes that Nagorno-Karabakh is a problem. The rest are enemies.
For Azerbaijanis, an ally is one who believes that Nagorno-Karabakh is not a problem. The rest are enemies.
The extremism and finality of these positions is remarkable. It isn’t merely that among Armenians one cannot say, ‘I believe that the Azerbaijanis are right,’ or that among Azerbaijanis one cannot maintain, ‘I believe that the Armenians are right.’ No such stance even enters the realm of possibility — either group would instantly hate you and then kill you! In the wrong place or among the wrong people even to say, ‘There is a problem’ (or, ‘There is no problem’) is enough to put oneself at risk of being strangled, hanged, stoned, burned.
It is also unimaginable to make the following speech in either Baku or Yerevan: Listen, decades ago (who living among us can even remember those times?), some Turkish pasha and the savage Stalin threw into our Caucasian nest this terrible cuckoo’s egg, and from that time on, for the entire century, we have been tormenting and killing one another, while they, in their musty graves, are cackling so loudly one can hear them. And we are living in such poverty, after all, there is so much backwardness and dirt all around, that we should really reconcile our differences and finally set about doing some work!
This person would never make it to the end of his speech, for the moment either side realized what he was driving at, the unfortunate moralist and negotiator would be deprived of his life.
Three plagues, three contagions, threaten the world.
The first is the plague of nationalism.
The second is the plague of racism.
The third is the plague of religious fundamentalism.
All three share one trait, a common denominator — an aggressive, all-powerful irrationality. Anyone stricken with one of these plagues is beyond reason. In his head burns a sacred pyre that awaits only its sacrificial victims. Every attempt at calm conversation will fail. He doesn’t want conversation, but a declaration that you agree with him, admit that he is right, join the cause. Otherwise, you have no significance in his eyes, you do not exist, for you count only if you are a tool, an instrument, a weapon. There are no people — there is only the cause.
A mind touched by such a contagion is a closed mind, one-dimensional, monothematic, spinning around one subject only — its enemy. Thinking about our enemy sustains us, allows us to exist. That is why the enemy is always present, is always with us. When near Yerevan a local guide shows me one of the old Armenian basilicas, he finishes his commentary with a contemptuous rhetorical question: ‘Could those Azerbaijanis build such a basilica?’ When later, in Baku, a local guide draws my attention to a row of ornamental art nouveau houses, he concludes his explanation with this scornful remark: ‘Could Armenians construct such government buildings?’
On the other hand, there is something one can envy both the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis. They are not beset by worries about the complexity of the world or about the fact that human destiny is uncertain and fragile. The anxiety that usually accompanies such questions as: What is truth? What is the good? What is justice? is alien to them. They do not know the burden that weighs on those who ask themselves, But am I right?
Their world is small — several valleys and mountains. Their world is simple — on one side we, the good people, on the other side they, our enemies. Their world is governed by an unambiguous law of exclusivity — us or them.
And if another world exists nevertheless, what might they want of it? Only that it leave them in peace. They need to be left in peace so as to thrash each other all the more thoroughly.”
Ray W.: Good explanation. I think we would refer to it now as “comfort zones.” Personally I prefer chocolate, although the current R’s are annoying me.