The white supremacist who killed at least 22 people in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday appears to have been driven by a racist conspiracy theory — that the United States is under “invasion” by migrants and asylum-seekers from Central America — which has been repeated again and again on Fox News broadcasts and amplified by that network’s most powerful viewer, President Donald Trump.
As the former Obama administration official Brandon Friedman pointed out, it is hard to read even the first page of the suspected gunman’s manifesto, about the supposed “Hispanic invasion” he aimed to repel, without hearing echoes of the toxic rhetoric Trump absorbs from Fox News hosts like Tucker Carlson and then passes on at rallies and in tweets.
“There are literally straight lines between what the terrorist believes and what is repeated daily by conservative media outlets and the U.S. president,” Friedman observed.
Indeed, the steady drumbeat of invasion rhetoric from the network and the president over the past two years — this post includes 20 examples, and there are many more — suggests that they are locked in a feedback loop, working together to generate an ever-intensifying level of panic and xenophobia in their shared fan base.
The Wall is under construction and moving along quickly, despite all of the Radical Liberal Democrat lawsuits. What are they thinking as our Country is invaded by so many people (illegals) and things (Drugs) that we do not want. Make America Great Again!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 2, 2019
Humanitarian Crisis at our Southern Border. I just got back and it is a far worse situation than almost anyone would understand, an invasion! I have been there numerous times - The Democrats, Cryin’ Chuck and Nancy don’t know how bad and dangerous it is for our ENTIRE COUNTRY....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2019
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat who is running for the presidency, said after the suspected attacker in El Paso drove 10 hours to the border to massacre supposed “invaders” that the poisonous influence of Fox had to be acknowledged.
On Monday, Trump read prepared remarks, haltingly, in which he blamed video games and social media for inspiring violence, and entirely avoided the subject of how often his own words, and those broadcast on Fox, are echoed by white nationalists in internet forums.
As the backlash against the president and the network intensified, “Fox and Friends” host Brian Kilmeade upped the ante on Tuesday morning, arguing, incredibly, that the arrival of impoverished migrants and asylum seekers at the southern border was no less an invasion than an actual attack on Alaska by the Russian military would be.
“When you have over 110,000 people coming a month—over a million last year and well over a million last year — if you use the term ‘invasion,’ that’s not anti-Hispanic, that’s a fact,” Kilmeade said. “If the Russians were coming through Alaska through Canada, the president would be using the same language.”
Warren and several other contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination forcefully rejected Trump’s unpersuasive claim that “mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.”
“White supremacy is not a mental illness,” Warren wrote on Twitter. “We need to call it what it is: Domestic terrorism. And we need to call out Donald Trump for amplifying these deadly ideologies.”
Another Democrat, South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg, said on Sunday that “the ultimate amplifier on this kind of hate is the bully pulpit of the White House.”
Will the President of the United States leave his golf resort, go back to Washington, address the nation, condemn—in no uncertain terms—white nationalism, and call for the Senate to convene tomorrow to enact at least the most basic gun safety reforms that most Americans want? pic.twitter.com/GEVLkLuWei— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) August 4, 2019
Speaking in the immediate aftermath of the attack in El Paso on Saturday, Buttigieg told reporters in Las Vegas that “America is under attack by lethal, violent, white nationalist terrorism.”
Asked by a Fox News reporter if the government needed to take action to counter the radicalization of Americans drawn to white nationalist ideology, Buttigieg said that it did.
I was present at that news conference in Las Vegas and asked Buttigieg the logical follow-up question: “Is the president a factor in radicalizing” white nationalists like the El Paso attacker and the gunman who killed 11 American Jews at a Pittsburgh synagogue last October.
“Well, he’s certainly not helping,” Buttigieg told me. “The President of the United States is condoning white nationalism; white nationalism is one of the evils motivating and inspiring at least some people to go kill Americans,” he added.
Another presidential candidate, the former El Paso congressman Beto O’Rourke, told MSNBC on Monday that “this president’s open racism is also an invitation to violence.”
This president’s open racism is an invitation to violence. The writing has been on the wall since his maiden speech coming down that escalator calling immigrants "rapists and criminals." The actions that follow cannot surprise us. pic.twitter.com/jSBbAQROF0— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) August 5, 2019
“The writing has been on the wall since his maiden speech coming down that escalator describing Mexican immigrants as ‘rapists and criminals,’” O’Rourke added. “The actions that follow cannot surprise us. And anyone who is surprised is part of this problem right now — including members of the media who ask, ‘Hey Beto, do you think the president is racist?’ Well, Jesus Christ, of course he’s racist. He’s been racist from day one — before day one, when he was questioning whether Barack Obama was born in the United States.”
Even before Trump entered politics, Fox gave copious air time to fringe extremists who characterized immigrants as a secret invasion force. One frequent guest was Michelle Malkin, the author of “Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists, Criminals and Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores.” Another was the Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert, who compared the arrival of migrants to the D-Day invasion in a speech to Congress in 2014, in which he said, “In just two months, we’ve had nearly 300,000 people invade the United States through Texas.”
In recent months, however, the network, and the president, have clearly been using this rhetoric of invasion to instill fear in voters ahead of elections.
According to Natalie Martinez, a researcher on extremism for Media Matters for America, Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign has run more than 2,000 Facebook ads warning of a coming invasion.
There was also a noticeable uptick in the rhetoric before the midterm elections last year, as Trump barnstormed the country issuing dire warnings about a caravan of asylum-seekers whose every move was reported on Fox as akin to an approaching army. (In fact, the manufactured panic was so obvious, one Fox News anchor, Shepard Smith, even debunked it on air.)
Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border. Please go back, you will not be admitted into the United States unless you go through the legal process. This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 29, 2018
That pre-election scare campaign was presaged earlier in 2018 by hysteria over a previous caravan of asylum-seekers described as an invading horde by Fox News hosts and guests like Rep. Steve King, the Iowa Republican who has defended white supremacy.
We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came. Our system is a mockery to good immigration policy and Law and Order. Most children come without parents...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 24, 2018
“If you’re wondering why America is not anything like the country you grew up in, this is why,” Tucker Carlson told Fox News viewers last April, describing the arrival of undocumented immigrants. “Will anyone in power do anything to protect America this time, or will our leaders sit passively back as the invasion continues?” he asked.
Closing the feedback loop, Carlson then quoted a tweet from Trump, in which the president called on Congress to change the asylum laws. “Act now Congress, our country is being stolen!” Trump wrote.
In 2017, one of Trump’s favorite Fox hosts, Pete Hegseth, referred to the immigration of Muslims to Britain — from that country’s former colonies — as “a silent invasion.”
As Cristina López G., the deputy director of extremism at Media Matters, explained in HuffPost last year, in 2015, Fox News used the term invasion “to spread anti-Muslim rhetoric in the context of the European refugee crisis.” That September, Bill O’Reilly called the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing wars in the Middle East “the Muslim invasion.”
Trump embraced this rhetoric during his 2016 campaign for the presidency. Trump’s closing argument in that campaign, overseen by Steve Bannon, seemed to embrace a version of the so-called great replacement theory developed by white supremacists in Europe: the idea that there is a secret conspiracy to “import” Muslims from the Middle East and Africa to dilute the Christian character of the continent by making it a multicultural society.
As The Intercept reported at the time, Trump’s final campaign commercial even used footage of Syrian migrants walking from Hungary to Germany, taken from the internet without permission, and passed it off as video of immigrants streaming across the border from Mexico into the United States.
Updated: Tuesday, August 6, 4:00 p.m. EDT
This article was updated to report that “Fox and Friends” host Brian Kilmeade on Tuesday compared the arrival of migrants from Central America to a Russian military invasion of the United States.