Maryland case was widely promoted by Carlson, Fox, and other right-wing pundits, but they fall silent as charges are dismissed as groundless.
The pundits, especially Tucker Carlson, seemed mighty certain that the young immigrants were guilty of rape.
After all, the Montgomery County police chief had assured them in mid-March that “we have a strong case” when his investigators had accused two young men – Henry Sanchez Milian, 18, and Jose Montano, 17 – of raping a 14-year-old classmate in a bathroom stall at Rockville High School. Since Sanchez Milian was an undocumented immigrant who faced a deportation hearing, it was all the right-wing media needed to know to proclaim the case the latest incident connecting immigrants to crime.
“We only knew they were violent criminals after they had raped a ninth-grader,” Carlson told a Baltimore city councilman.
City officials “don’t want to think about the connection illegal immigration might have to this crime or others like it,” Carlson claimed.
Inviting on the defense attorney hired to represent one of the boys, Carlson badgered him about the claim that the event was consensual. “You’d better be right about this because if you’re going to be impugning the character of a 14-year-old girl who says she was raped — other people said they heard her screams,” he lectured.
Carlson’s conclusion about what the case meant: “This is insanity, of course, a sign of a sick civilization at war with itself. A strong country enforces its laws and protects its citizens. That’s Job One. In the U.S., too often we ignore our own laws and allow ruin to be visited on our own people.”
He was hardly alone. Other right-wing media piled on as well: Breitbart News trumpeted the case, as did Fox News generally. David Horowitz’s FrontPage website played the story prominently, and extremist Sheriff David Clarke got to call the men "subhuman scum" on Sean Hannity's program. Even White House press secretary Sean Spicer spoke about it at length during a regular briefing.
There was one problem: The case against the two men evaporated. Late last week, prosecutors announced they were dismissing all charges in the case.
“The facts of this case do not support the original charges filed,” said Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy.
Carlson’s skepticism notwithstanding, the claims by defense attorneys that text messages and surveillance videos contradicted the girl’s charges apparently proved correct. The victim claimed that on March 16, she had been pushed from a hallway into a bathroom at Rockville High and that the two suspects assaulted her in turns.
Of course, the charges weren’t the only thing that evaporated with the story. So did all the hyperbolic claims about illegal immigration bringing horrific crime that the story supposedly represented.
Breitbart News not only covered the story voluminously, it also attacked other mainstream news outlets such as CNN and the New York Times for exhibiting normal news judgment by declining to cover the case extensively or hysterically.
At Horowitz’s Front Page, it became fodder for an attack on liberals: “Maryland is moving forward with ‘sanctuary state’ legislation shielding illegal aliens even after the rape of a 14-year-old girl by two illegals in a Maryland high school bathroom during school hours last week outraged state residents from Hagerstown to Ocean City,” the site reported.
Carlson – who, unsurprisingly, has become a fan favorite of the white-nationalist crowd, considering his evident eagerness to provide them fodder for their hate narratives – led the charge on the story at Fox News, but he was hardly alone at the right-wing cable network.
One Fox broadcast featured a local Rockville High parent, Kimberly Allman, praising Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan for using the word “illegal immigrant” when speaking to them, and suggesting that if “illegal” students were removed, the district would have more money to spend. Host Martha MacCallum concluded the interview: “You know, you talk about safe spaces in education, ah, it seems the very most basic element of a safe space would be for a 14-year-old to be able to go to school and not get raped in the bathroom.”
Sean Hannity hosted extremist Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who didn’t hesitate to condemn the immigrants. “I heard about that rape case, these subhuman creeps – the thing that really angered me is that one of those guys was out awaiting a deportation hearing. That’s these anti-detainer policies,” Clarke said.
“These things are killing communities, they’re killing cities, they’re obviously becoming a haven for criminal activity, these sanctuary cities,” he continued. “This is going to come to an end. I thank God every day since the November election that Donald Trump is the president of the United States. We are going to get our arms around this thing.”
Rush Limbaugh declared the young men’s guilt on his radio show, and then used the case to attack “sanctuary cities”:
In Maryland… This is unbelievable. In Maryland, we have the rape of a Rockville High School student by two undocumented immigrants, and now the State of Maryland is taking a vote on whether they should become a sanctuary state! It defies… We’re gonna take a vote on how we are openly going to break and flout the law, and again this is because of Trump, because Trump is making everybody scared. Everybody’s afraid they’re gonna be deported. We need to provide a safe haven for anybody who’s afraid of Donald Trump.
The story was picked up and promoted at the White House. Press secretary Sean Spicer was asked at a daily briefing about the case. “The idea that this occurred is shocking, disturbing, horrific,” he responded. “Part of the reason that the president has made illegal immigration and crackdown such a big deal is because of tragedies like this. . . . Immigration pays its toll on our people if it’s not done legally, and this is another example,” Spicer said.
The Trump administration has been promoting, in line with Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric connecting immigration to crime, a weekly bulletin from Immigration and Customs Enforcement intended to shame “sanctuary cities” by calling out immigrant-related crime within their precincts. The initial report listed 206 declined “detainers”: immigrants marked by ICE for possible deportation but who instead were released by law enforcement. More than half the cases listed by ICE, however, involved people who have only been charged with violations but have not been convicted. Out of those 206 on the list, 116 cases involve pending charges. The detainers, moreover, are only about 15 percent of the total 3,083 detainers issued throughout the country during that same period.
Even after the charges in Maryland were dismissed, right-wing pundits defended taking up the story as a cause celebre. Ann Coulter penned a syndicated column (which appeared in the white-nationalist American Renaissance) built around a wholesale swallowing of the victim’s story.
“There’s also the fact that she’s 14 years old! Her alleged rapists are 17 and 18. Under about 700 years of Anglo-Saxon law, that’s statutory rape. (Statute of Westminster of 1275.) Apparently, diversity — in addition to being a “strength” — requires us to jettison our statutory rape laws,” she wrote.
CNN’s Brian Stelter offered a scathing assessment of the right-wing media’s behavior in the case: “Too much of the coverage omitted the conservative media’s role in making it a national story,” he said, mentioning the White House press briefing where “Sean Spicer talked at length about how disgusting the crime was, never bothering to use the word ‘alleged’.”
Stelter had earlier observed that an obvious double standard was at work:
But there was another story with Maryland ties that got little to no coverage anywhere on Fox or other channels. This is a story that crossed state lines from Maryland to New York. You may not have heard about it. This was about an army veteran, an alleged white supremacist, who drove to New York and attacked a 66-year-old black man with a 26-inch knife, killing that man. Now, there is much still to be learned about this story. You can you see surveillance footage from the incident here. But, this story received almost no coverage on Fox or CNN or anywhere else for that matter. Another example of a crime, but not a crime that fit the political agenda of those pro-Trump hosts on Fox.
“The coverage of this case deserves introspection,” Stelter concluded. “Let’s recognize this happens with other stories too. Shouting first, whispering later – let’s try to get our levels right.”