Combating the Nativist Narrative
Week of October 30, 2023
Nativist Narrative Machine Part 2:
As we noted last week, the political right is, without evidence, whipping up fears about an imminent Hamas or other Middle Eastern originated terrorist attack from someone entering through the southern border. There is a reasonable desire for law enforcement agencies tasked with such activity to be vigilant, as FBI Director Chirs Wray noted in his testimony before Congress this week, but he also clearly stressed that he has no evidence of any efforts of this nature. Instead of conveying the context for a measured response, elected Republicans are building on their own nativist fearmongering to advance their anti-immigrant agenda. Impeached Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton cited an ABC News report that aped a Daily Caller headline to claim Hamas operatives might try to enter the border in a court filing against the Biden administration’s effort to remove Texas’ razor wire meant to harm migrants – even as that same ABC report said there was no evidence of such Hamas activity. Citing that similar non-story, Republicans on the House Homeland Security Committee sent a letter to DHS to generate a Townhall headline that read: “Biden DHS Failed to Notify Lawmakers of Border Threat Alert Spurred by Hamas Attacks”. The simple answer being that they were not alerted because there was nothing to report. On the Senate side, Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) signed a letter with 10 more GOP senators that tried to provide legitimacy to the fearmongering citing the “day of rage” which only resulted in the apparent murder of six-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume by a man filled with hate and similar right-wing conspiratorial rhetoric. Meanwhile, local GOP officials in San Diego are using the fearmongering to call for the end of legal immigration at the southern border, San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond said, "It’s time to close the border to new immigration.”
COMBATING THE NARRATIVE: The product the nativist narrative machine produces was on full display this week. After the first part of the machine created a nativist narrative producing the headlines to provide an air of legitimacy and encouraging Republicans to jump into the spotlight, they did just that this week. Despite no evidence of a Hamas plot at the southern border, Republicans are now using it not to address real security concerns but to advance their extreme nativist political and policy agenda.
Immigrants as the Boogeyman to Attack Democracy:
On Monday, Fox News ran an opinion piece from Betsy McCaughey, the former lieutenant governor of New York in the 1990s, advancing the great replacement theory. Fox is no stranger to this deadly bigoted fiction, nor is McCaughey’s conspiratorial argument new, but it does outline the argument that the GOP will likely continue to advance throughout next year to justify their hostility to the democratic process. After rattling off some misleading stats about migrants, McCaughey jumps to the replacement theory rhetoric, claiming Democrats “see these newcomers as their guarantee of a permanent voting majority.” At the end of 2021, New York City approved a proposal to allow non-citizens to vote in municipal elections, a move that McCaughey called "suicidal." While McCaughey’s opposition to this local law alone doesn’t make her a purveyor of white nationalist conspiracies, the conspiratorial rhetoric that it is part of a plot to import new migrants to subvert democracy does. McCaughey even claims that calls for work permits for newly arrived migrants is part of this same plot, writing: “They said it's about making migrants self-sufficient. Maybe, but Dems have another powerful motive.” McCaughey is far from alone in subscribing to this bigoted conspiracy. As Greg Sargent noted in the Washington Post last week: “Rep. Mike Johnson, the newly elected House speaker, has repeatedly flirted with what’s known as the ‘great replacement theory,’ the idea that Democrats are scheming to supplant American voters with immigrants.” He quotes Johnson at a congressional hearing in May 2022: “This is the plan of our friends on this side — to turn all the illegals into voters,” in reference to “open borders” disinformation and mischaracterizing the same New York City ordinance.
“COMBATING THE NARRATIVE: McCaughey’s conspiracy is not original, but it is a dangerous threat to democracy. Staring down two decades of losing the popular vote, Republicans could either reform for a broader appeal or descend further into the extremes of their base with conspiracies to explain away losses and justify anti-democratic actions. McCaughey, Johnson, and the undeniable current of the last several years of the Republican Party have made clear they have chosen the latter. Versions of replacement theory, like McCaughey argues, will permeate the air of the right-wing bubble heading into the elections next year. It will be the weapon to popularize and justify an attack on democracy. It’s a racist fiction, but it does guide their strategy.
Elon Musk’s Amplification of the Great Replacement Theory:
Elon Musk’s devolution into a supermassive right-wing troll has played out in full public view as he has thrown X open to white supremacists, antisemites, and a full range of horrible bigots. Not just a gatekeeper without a gate, Musk has used his influence to turbocharge bigoted ideas and hard-right voices feeding his serious antisemitism problem. Adding to it this week, Musk repeatedly promoted a white nationalist great replacement conspiracy theory. Musk was largely unengaged in the xenophobic and disinformation narratives about immigrants and the border popular on the right until recently. Musk appears to have first weighed in this year in May, surrounding the nativist hype about the ending of Title 42. He did so by lightly pushing back on hard-right influencer Charlie Kirk’s white nationalist description of migrants as an “invasion.” Kirk has long pushed the GOP to adopt the deadly racist conspiratorial invasion rhetoric. But by September, Musk had begun to echo the nativist disinformation ahead of his nonsensical trip to the southern border, where he proclaimed support for a Trump-style wall. Like the former President, Musk does not have anything novel or any real solutions to contribute beyond nativism as a publicity stunt. On Wednesday, Musk quoted a post from a bigoted hard-right account that embraced the great replacement theory rhetoric, writing, “This is not a crisis. It’s an invasion.” No qualifiers from Musk in amplifying this use of conspiratorial rhetoric. That post came minutes after a post quoting a Tucker Carlson video that advances the replacement theory, claiming non-white migrants are part of “an effort to destroy certain types of countries.” Musk’s amplification of great replacement theory rhetoric is notably disturbing as it vastly increases the reach of this deadly fiction. Tellingly, Rep. Chuck Edwards (R-NC) added later, “@elonmusk is right, and it isn’t rocket science to see that the border is being invaded!”
COMBATING THE NARRATIVE: Musk is far from the sole problem here, but his embrace of this white nationalist and antisemitic conspiracy signals three corresponding threats that we must begin to challenge. (1) Musk’s resources and reach further normalize an idea deeply intertwined with a threat to public safety, exacerbating that problem. (2) Musk is also amplifying white nationalist ideas that were a decade ago confined to the ugly corners of the internet, but he picks these ideas up from popular figures on the right indicating how dangerously mainstream this racist fiction has become. (3) As noted above, replacement theory is a weapon to popularize an attack on democracy, and Musk has already shown he will monetize this content on X throughout the next election cycle combining potentially destabilizing threats to democracy. None of this has a quick fix but I believe it starts with naming the interlocking problems.
Note: there are elections next Tuesday, and we will provide an analysis of how immigration played in key races. Spoiler alert: not much, despite the national Republican obsession with the issue.
AL-01: Republican Rep. Barry Moore announced this week that he would take on fellow Republican Rep. Jerry Carl, who currently represents the seat. Moore is fleeing his seat after the Supreme Court threw out Alabama’s racially gerrymandered map. Both men are hard-right members with a history of campaigning on ugly anti-immigrant attacks. Competitive primaries like this one are where we typically see some of the worst xenophobic and dehumanizing ads as candidates compete for a radicalized base. A similar situation played out in the WV-02 primary last cycle with a torrent of nativist attack ads. We will be closely monitoring this race for that reason.
Battleground Republicans Own Johnson: Without the support of House Republicans facing tough elections next November, Mike Johnson would not be holding the speaker's gavel. These members handed the extremists in their party a huge win and voted to empower a radical hard-right politics that likely doesn’t have majority support back home. And as goes for all Members of Congress, they should be held accountable for their votes. The Congressional Integrity Project already launched ads that picked up Rep. Matt Gaetz’s (R-FL) moniker for the new Speaker, “MAGA Mike,” and outlined some of his extreme anti-democratic and anti-choice positions. Our colleague Gabe Ortíz wrote about how Juan Ciscomani (AZ-06), John Duarte (CA-13), Mike Garcia (CA-27), David Valadao (CA-22), and Monica De La Cruz (TX-15), who had previously voted for Jim Jordan, and Jen Kiggans (VA-02) and Lori Chavez-DeRemer (OR-05) all voted to give the gavel to a man who subscribes to the white nationalist great replacement theory.
CO-04: Rep. Ken Buck, a hard-right stalwart in the Republican Party, surprisingly emerged as a vocal critic of his own party's continued embrace of election denialism during the Speaker debacle. Buck’s trajectory here is telling. Despite his criticism, Buck still voted for Johnson as speaker, then this week announced he would not seek reelection, repeating a disturbing pattern of critics inside the party still advancing the party’s agenda to the moment they are drummed out. His departure was cheered by Donald Trump, as deviation from the Big Lie remains an intolerable sin. Buck’s departure may signal a new threshold of the radicalizing doom loop the Party has been trapped in for the last decade as critics arguing for moderation leave, replaced by more extreme members. Now with someone with Buck’s politics (or even that of Kevin McCarthy’s) pushed out, we are entering a new, still ever darker, phase of this new Republican Party.
WEEKLY STATS OF NATIVIST NARRATIVE
Of the 525 GOP Twitter accounts we track, this week, they sent:
533 original tweets peddling anti-immigrant attacks mentioning “border”
111 original tweets about “open borders,” with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene tweet having the most reach with 639.2K Views, 1.6K Retweets, and 9.2K Likes.
44 original tweets that used “Biden Border Crisis” with Sen. Ted Cruz tweet having the most reach with 432.9K Views, 4.4K Retweets, and 15K Likes.
26 original tweets that mentioned both “fentanyl” and “border” with Gov. Ron DeSantis tweet having the most reach with 490.3K views, 864 Retweets and 5.6K Likes.