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.”