The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Fox News Uses Hate Group’s Graphic to Illustrate Unfounded Accusation

By Leah Nelson on June 23, 2011 - 12:00 pm, Posted in Anti-Immigrant

Rumors that migrants attempting to cross the border illegally are the source of Arizona’s wildfires are spreading like, well, wildfire.

Never shy about fanning the flames of extremism, Fox News yesterday ran a surveillance photo, created on June 12 by Glenn Spencer, racist head of the anti-immigrant hate group American Border Patrol (described by Fox as an “independent organization that monitors the border”). The photo ran alongside a story quoting an Arizona sheriff who claimed without evidence that the “highest probability” is that a massive wildfire near the Coronado National Forest was started by foreign drug traffickers or smugglers bringing immigrants across the border.

“There’s really only one likely source of this fire and that’s someone who was moving through the area illegally,” Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever – who characterized Spencer’s graphic as an “accurate picture” of the inferno’s origin – told Fox. “It’s evidence of illegal trafficking. It’s the result of illegal activity any way you look at it. It wasn’t naturally caused,” he continued. “This has been going on for years. I’d ask anyone to present me another logical explanation.”

(As a matter of fact, someone already has. Speaking at a Coronado-area community meeting late last month, Bill Edwards, lead ranger at the Coronado National Forest, said that American citizens started four other wildfires in the same region, the New York Times reported. A rancher started one when sparks flew off his welding equipment; target shooters caused another; and two were set by military aircraft conducting training exercises.)

Moreover, the U.S. Forest Service remains staunchly uncertain about the origins of this year’s conflagrations.

“The causes of the fires have not been determined. They are currently under investigation,” Coronado National Forest Public Information Officer Heidi Schewel told Hatewatch, not hiding her exasperation at confirming a fact that lawmakers have repeatedly ignored. “Until investigations are complete, we will not speculate on the causes.”

Spencer, who has repeatedly proved himself capable of ignoring inconvenient truths, is thrilled to see his hard word on display. “Fox Runs ABP Fire Photo!” crows the headline of a blog posted on his website today.

Spencer had a good week.  Last Wednesday, Arizona’s Wilcox Range News quoted his speculation that the fire was arson started by criminals in Mexico, with the same respect most papers give real experts. And on Saturday, Sen. John McCain clumsily gave his anti-immigrant cause a major boost when, speaking at a press conference after he toured one of Arizona’s largest fires, he seemed to suggest it was set by undocumented immigrants.

McCain has since clarified his remarks, saying he was not speaking of that fire specifically. But as Donald Collins (a director of the nativist Federation for American Immigration Reform) wrote yesterday on the anti-immigrant hate site VDARE in a blog that compared McCain to the Tunisian vegetable seller whose self-immolation triggered that country’s recent revolution, “Sometimes it takes just one match to light the fire that brings massive citizen indignation.”

  • ruben

    how about all those drunk neo nazi and minute men that are supposedly patrolling the border, did the geniuses at fox ever for one second think that maybe it was there campfires that started those fires…..its hard to believe that those fools would be out in the desert at night (where it does get very cold at night) with out a fire to stay warm.

  • The Prisoner

    Remember the Alamo, except that it wasn’t ours to remember.

  • Sam Molloy

    Moderate Mike, Your concerns are realistic. I don’t believe in Evolution, and the people that do don’t think we have changed in 80 years.

  • Chris

    Maybe I’m alone in this, but I don’t think the Reichstag fire was necessarily started by the Nazis. They certainly USED it to stamp out opposition; they turned an isolated event into the justification for a major crackdown. This is also what I think happened with 9/11. No, the gov’t wasn’t responsible, but they leaped on the chance to pass things like the PATRIOT Act.

  • ModerateMike

    Fox News and their supporters need not have evidence for their message to be effective.

    http://worldatwar.net/event/reichstagsbrand/

    In less than a month after the Reichstag fire, Hitler had absolute power in Germany. I try to tell myself that the same thing could not happen here, but the parallels between this event and what is happening here in the U.S. chill me to the bone.

  • DDB9000

    What I think is interesting about these fires and other natural disasters happening lately, is that most are happening in states where they have passed (or have tried to pass) anti-immigrant laws.
    Remember after Katrina how some televangelists said the destruction of New Orleans was God’s revenge on all the unholy things the citizens did there?
    Well maybe people should fight fire with brimstone (so to speak) and claim these disasters are God’s way of taking revenge on the anti-immigrant forces and telling them that they are wrong. After all, would God discriminate because of national origin? I don’t think so…

  • CM

    Hmmm, right-wing zealots blaming their enemies for starting fires so they could push for a crackdown … seems to me I’ve heard this one somewhere before.

  • Sam Molloy

    If the FCC was worth two cents Fox would have to run a disclaimer that their shows are not news but editorial commentary, and that even the occasional factual items are chosen to push their radical right wing agenda.

  • http://www.splcenter.org/blog Hatewatch

    Thank you Aron, we’ve fixed that typo.

  • Aron Levy

    (Just a quick point: it was not one of THE Arizona’s largest wildfires. I think there’s only one state of Arizona, he he he).

    Hope this helps!

    Aron