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Editorial: Propaganda, Duncan Hunter and the Border

There are propagandists who use selective facts to make their dubious points. There are propagandists who lie to cover up what the real facts are.

There are propagandists who use selective facts to make their dubious points. There are propagandists who lie to cover up what the real facts are.

And then there are propagandists who just don’t care.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that U.S. Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, a Republican congressman who represents the area around San Diego, belongs in the latter category. Since appearing on Oct. 7 on Fox News’ “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren,” Hunter has not produced the remotest shred of evidence to support the claims he made there — and he even doubled down on them as news organization after news organization found them to be utterly false.

“ISIS is coming across the border,” Hunter told Van Susteren, referring to the Islamic State, the infamous Middle Eastern terror group known for its beheadings. “They don’t fly B-1 bombers bombing American cities, but they are going to be bombing American cities coming across from Mexico.”

Van Susteren asked if he could back his claim.

“Yes,” he replied. “Yes, I know that at least 10 ISIS fighters have been caught coming across the Mexican border in Texas. There’s nobody talking about it.”

“How do you know?” asked Van Susteren.

“Because I’ve asked the Border Patrol, Greta,” he said. He added: “If they catch five or 10 of them, then you know there’s going to be dozens more that did not get caught by the Border Patrol. ... All you have to do is ask the Border Patrol.”

The Department of Homeland Security immediately called Hunter’s fairy tale “categorically false.” The Texas Department of Public Safety wrote state legislators saying it had nothing to back up the claim, and a spokesman for the Border Patrol agents’ union said the same. Terrorism analysts said they knew nothing of any arrests. And PolitiFact, known for carefully examining such claims, concluded it was a “Pants on Fire” falsehood.

Hunter, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, is a longtime immigration opponent, even advocating the deportation of citizens who are children of undocumented immigrants. Clearly, to support his nativist claims he was willing to say just about anything — whether or not it had any relation to the truth.

His statements illustrate the nativist hysteria sweeping the country.

In this issue’s cover story, we examine the return to the border of nativist extremists in the wake of a surge of unaccompanied minor immigrants that began earlier this year. Although the Minuteman movement that swept the country between 2005 and 2011 has receded, the news of tens of thousands of undocumented children arriving on the border has spurred what may become a major revival of the armed civilian groups that President George W. Bush once labeled “vigilantes.” 

There’s no doubt that the humanitarian crisis on the border drew opportunistic extremists from the radical right. But as we report here, the demonizing propaganda and conspiracy theories that dominated the political reaction to the crisis originated mainly in the political mainstream — with people like Congressman Hunter.

Hunter’s rumor-mongering was only the latest to emanate from the political right, from Fox News and other right-wing outlets to an array of fact-challenged politicians, pundits and preachers. Earlier, there were claims that the children were really gangsters and drug runners; that they were carrying an array of dread diseases including leprosy; that the government intended to house them in a luxury resort; and that Obama was bringing them in to create new Democratic voters.

Hunter wasn’t the only fear merchant selling the ISIS story. In late August, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said that it was a “very real possibility” that ISIS had crossed the southern border — but added that he had no evidence to back that up. Other Texas politicians have made similar statements. Around the same time that Perry spoke, Judicial Watch, an extremist group run by conspiracy-monger Larry Klayman, also began claiming ISIS was headed north from Mexico.

But it was thanks to Hunter that the story metastasized.

Within days of Hunter’s comments on Fox, Jerome Corsi, who wrote a book claiming Obama is not eligible for the presidency, said the president was planning for the U.S. to be “invaded simultaneously by illegal immigrant Hispanics and ISIS radical Islamic terrorists walking across the border.” Others added Ebola into the equation, suggesting that the disease was just another “engineered event” created by an Obama bent on America’s destruction. It was, in many ways, a replay of the way that demonizing propaganda about the unaccompanied children exploded.

Propaganda, especially when it comes from those who are perceived as leaders, has consequences. Instead of dealing with the very real problems that face us — impoverished children and others surging across our borders, the arrival of the Ebola virus in the U.S., and the very real threat posed by ISIS, for a start — we become mired in an angry debate that is based not on facts but on fantasies.

Duncan Hunter, like so many others, should be ashamed.