As thousands of migrants fleeing poverty and violence attempt to make their way to the United States, anti-immigrant hate groups and the radical right react with warrantless fear-mongering.
And the president has seized the opportunity to vilify immigrants, calling the caravan of Central American migrants an “onslaught of illegal aliens.”
Hate groups and conservative publications alike have rushed to add their voices to the mass hysteria around the caravan, creating and feeding into the damaging narrative. The far right employs dehumanizing language that frames these asylum seekers as dangerous “invaders.” New York magazine’s Ed Kilgore in an article published this week noted the rhetoric coming from the president and his supporters echoes Camp of the Saints, a 1973 racist dystopian novel that depicts France being overrun by non-white immigrants.
The caravan, with migrants from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, is fleeing violence and extreme poverty. As the Center for American Progress (CAP) reports, the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala “remain among the most dangerous countries in the world…” The homicide rate in this region is much higher than in the United States. The U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reports the total number of asylum applications from citizens North of Central America in 2017 is “sixteen times more than at the end of 2011.” Citizens aren’t just requesting asylum from the United States. They are petitioning other countries including Belize, Costa Rica and Panama.
As the CAP report concludes, “Turning these individuals and families back or actively deporting them to their home countries—sometimes after first criminally prosecuting them and sentencing them to time in U.S. federal prison—may mean returning them to places where they may face persecution, displacement, and, in some cases, even death.”
Anti-caravan rhetoric from Stormfront to the White House
Hate groups including the white supremacist website Stormfront and the anti-immigrant organization Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) first took hold of this story in mid-October. On Oct. 13, ominous messages started popping up on Stormfront, such as “No More Mr. Nice Guy” accompanied by a picture of migrants.
On Oct. 16, Trump promised to cut funding to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala if they “allow their citizens, or others, to journey” to the U.S. Other nativist groups including NumbersUSA and Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) urged Trump to take action that same day. A message on Stormfront called the caravan a “horde” of migrants that signals the beginning of “WW3.”
Unfounded allegations about terrorists in the caravan
On Oct. 18, the conservative organization Judicial Watch publicized the unfounded claim by President Jimmy Morales of Guatemala that the country had captured 100 ISIS terrorists over an unspecified amount of time. Morales made this assertion Oct. 11, before the formation of the caravan, at the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America. Then, on the morning of Oct. 22, Peter Hegseth, co-host of Fox & Friends, repeated this claim. “You got the president of Guatemala saying to a local newspaper down there just last week they caught over 100 ISIS fighters in Guatemala trying to [use this caravan].” Just two hours later, President Trump tweeted: “Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy (sic). Must change laws!”
Later that afternoon, Trump told Jon Karl of ABC News:
“You know what you should do, Jon? Go into the middle of the caravan, take your cameras, and search. Okay? Search. No, no. Take your — Jon, take your camera, go into the middle, and search. You’re going to find MS-13, you’re going to find Middle Eastern, you’re going to find everything. And guess what? We’re not allowing them in our country. We want safety.”
Antigovernment groups including United Constitutional Patriots and Patriots of the Constitution released a “call to arms” on Oct. 22 asking for supporters to show up armed. The two groups claim to be working with the U.S. Border Patrol.
On Oct. 23, Trump admitted there is “ no proof ” of his unknown Middle Easterners claim.
Mainstream outlets, perhaps unwittingly, have played into the paranoia. On Monday, the Associated Press issued an apology for calling the migrant caravan “a ragtag army of the poor.” ABC News called it a “ caravan crisis.”
Hate groups and extremists including the Remembrance Project, ACT for America, Occidental Dissent, Patrick Casey and Robert Crooks, continue to stoke fear about the people in the caravan while others threaten direct action.
Timeline of attacks on the migrant caravan
October 12: A group of 160 Honduran migrants left San Pedro Sula, which, as reported by Vox, was called the “murder capital of the world” for the first half of the decade. Just two days later, the group amassed more than 1,000 migrants. Thousands of migrants from other countries in Central America including Guatemala and El Salvador have since joined.
October 13: Pages of messages including, “You weak ass bastards. The time is coming. We are not responsible for your inequities,” and “Build that damn wall!!!” appear on the white nationalist messaging board Stormfront.
October 15 : Jessica Vaughan from anti-immigrant hate group, Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) in an interview with Breitbart Radio says Trump should "put pressure on Mexico" to block migrant caravans: “[Migrants] are being told by the smugglers — who I’m sure are among them, or the organizers, I mean they’re really almost the same thing — to [travel to the U.S.]. Certainly, they’re being egged on by the humanitarian groups and even by groups within the United States.”
October 16: Chris Chmielenski with the nativist group NumbersUSA wrote, “Reuters reports that the migrants are heading to the U.S. to escape violence in their home country and to seek better work opportunities. They also hope to take advantage of current loopholes in U.S. immigration law that would allow them to gain entry into the U.S. and eventually get work permits.”
Mark Krikorian, executive director of CIS, on Fox News with Laura Ingraham, said, "There are plenty of ways we can put pressure on these countries. I mean really, what's the point to being a superpower if you can't try to get a tiny little country in your backyard to do what you want."
Former ICE Director, Tom Homan, on Fox News with Laura Ingraham said, "Yeah I think he needs to throw down the gauntlet...the other issue the president needs to be aware about is the remittances...that amounts to billions...when it comes to the caravan the president needs to work with Mexico, Mexico needs to stop them on their southern border..."
President Donald Trump tweeted, “We have today informed the countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador that if they allow their citizens, or others, to journey through their borders and up to the United States, with the intention of entering our country illegally, all payments made to them will STOP (END)!”
A post on Stormfront read, “This nonwhite horde invasion is happening in the US during a time of “peace”....unlike the nonwhite hordes who have poured into Europe propelled by the never-ending wars in the Middle East. THIS is WW3… the enemy is using demographic weapons of mass destruction to successfully destroy ALL Aryan homelands from within.”
October 17: President Donald Trump tweeted, “Hard to believe that with thousands of people from South of the Border, walking unimpeded toward our country in the form of large Caravans, that the Democrats won’t approve legislation that will allow laws for the protection of our country. Great Midterm issue for Republicans!”
October 18: An article on the Judicial Watch website said, “In a startling revelation, Guatemala’s president announced in the country’s largest newspaper that nearly 100 ISIS terrorists have been apprehended in the impoverished Central American nation.”
President Donald Trump tweeted, “I am watching the Democrat Party led (because they want Open Borders and existing weak laws) assault on our country by Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, whose leaders are doing little to stop this large flow of people, INCLUDING MANY CRIMINALS, from entering Mexico to U.S....In addition to stopping all payments to these countries, which seem to have almost no control over their population, I must, in the strongest of terms, ask Mexico to stop this onslaught - and if unable to do so I will call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!..”
Anti-immigrant hate group, the Remembrance Project, and nativist extremist group, We the People Rising, visited the Guatemalan Consulate to “hand-deliver a letter to Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, asking him to halt the caravan.”
October 21: A post from white nationalist publication Occidental Dissent said, "The Mexicans see this convoy as an opportunity to stick a dagger into the hated White Man from the north – they’re only going to use force if they refused to keep on the road towards America."
President Donald Trump tweeted, “Full efforts are being made to stop the onslaught of illegal aliens from crossing our Southern Border. People have to apply for asylum in Mexico first, and if they fail to do that, the U.S. will turn them away. The courts are asking the U.S. to do things that are not doable!”
Patrick Casey, executive director of the white nationalist organization, Identity Evropa, tweeted in response to a Los Angeles Times reporter calling this a “humanitarian crisis,” “These people voluntarily embarked on a quest to illegally enter our country – you’re just deviously invoking “humanity” to further your political aims.”
October 22: Anti-Muslim extremist David Horowitz wrote in an email blast, “There's a caravan of illegal aliens headed for our southern border as we speak. This isn't immigration, this is invasion.”
Peter Hegseth, co-host of Fox & Friends, said at 6:48 a.m., “You got the president of Guatemala saying to a local newspaper down there just last week they caught over 100 ISIS fighters in Guatemala trying to [use this caravan].” “He talked to their local newspaper, we don't know it, it hasn't been verified. But even one poison pill is too many in a caravan,” he added.
President Donald Trump tweeted shortly after, at 8:37 a.m., “Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States. Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy (sic). Must change laws!”
Casey tweeted in response to Trump, “Middle Easterners, eh?” and continued, “Our country is being rendered unrecognizable due to mass immigration, yet NRO pundits worry themselves to death over 'racist' Trump supporters.”
President Donald Trump tweeted, “Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were not able to do the job of stopping people from leaving their country and coming illegally to the U.S. We will now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given to them.”
Trump told Jon Karl of ABC News, “You know what you should do, Jon? Go into the middle of the caravan, take your cameras, and search. Okay? Search. No, no. Take your — Jon, take your camera, go into the middle, and search. You’re going to find MS-13, you’re going to find Middle Eastern, you’re going to find everything. And guess what? We’re not allowing them in our country. We want safety.”
Jennifer Harrison, a core member of Patriot Movement AZ (PMAZ), tweeted about a rally at the Arizona/Mexico border with “angel families, Sheriff Joe and PMAZ,” in reference to Sheriff Joe Arpaio. “Need a lot of bodies. Standing against the caravan for media and president Trump,” she added.
United Constitutional Patriots and Patriots of the Constitution released a press release with a “report from the border” from Robert Crooks, leader of nativist extremist group Mountain Minutemen. Crooks boasts Facebook friends including Karl Koenig, a hardcore sovereign citizen and Proud Boy Smitty Smith of Escondido, California.
“The invaders are now being trucked to the border. We do understand that Trump is deploying troops but in the meantime it is imperative that we have boots on the ground. We are working with the border patrol…” Monica Marin from Patriots of the Constitution wrote. “There are many coming. Bikers for Trump 200 strong on their way. Many state militia also,” she added. Another Facebook user claimed, “This is an absolute coordinated effort with the Border Patrol.”
Mountain Minutemen also posted “WAR! SECURE THE BORDER - NOW! #LOCKITDOWN” with an article about the migrant caravan to its Facebook page.
October 23: Trump admitted there is “no proof” of his unknown Middle Easterners claim.
Dan Stein, executive director of anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), said, “Politically speaking it’s probably going to be an election game changer because nothing is more powerful, more potent than the idea of uncontrolled masses of people surging into your country.”
Chuck Davis, who is associated with the United Constitutional Patriots, wrote “MEN ARE NEEDED AT THE BORDER IMMEDIATELY,” in a Facebook post. One user commented, “I have the feeling this will end up with gunfire….”
Davis replied, “It could.”
Photo credit Sandy Huffaker/Corbis via Getty Images: Robert Crooks, leader of the nativist extremist group Mountain Minutemen, in 2008.