How the GOP’s “Invasion” Fever Stokes Violence and Undermines Democracy
It’s no accident that the same politicians who amplify the deadly invasion narrative also promote another lie: that the 2020 election was stolen.
Here at The Border Chronicle, we are participating in Democracy Day, a nationwide effort by journalists to highlight growing threats to our democracy. Border communities, perhaps more than any other, have suffered from authoritarian, anti-democratic attacks, as our readers know.
Today’s article is part of this national collaboration, which will culminate on September 15. We’ll follow up with another article on Tuesday, September 13, that examines the funders behind the great replacement and invasion rhetoric embraced by the GOP.
How the GOP’s “Invasion” Fever Stokes Violence and Undermines Democracy
In the last several months, GOP leaders have embraced “the great replacement,” a fringe white nationalist belief, according to which white Americans are threatened by an “invasion” of black and brown immigrants. This has served as a key messaging strategy to win back the House and Senate in November.
Under the slogan “Biden’s Border Crisis,” on heavy rotation on Fox News and other right-wing media outlets, Republican hopefuls and elected officials continually portray asylum seekers as “invaders” bringing in crime and disease. Furthermore, the messaging goes, Democrats are allowing them in through “open borders.”
To date, more than 546 ads and political messages repeating “white replacement” and “migrant invasion” lies have been aired during the 2022 election cycle, according to America’s Voice, a nonprofit that focuses on immigration reform. The group has been tracking anti-immigrant and nativist campaign ads since 2018, collecting them in its searchable GOP ad-tracker database.
Arizona and Texas, in particular, are hotbeds of “invasion fever.” Governor Greg Abbott, who had a highly contested primary and has national ambitions, continues to promote the deadly lie and has deployed thousands of soldiers and police to the border.
The fearmongering has deadly consequences for border communities. After mass shootings in El Paso and Buffalo, the gunmen left behind manifestos full of invasion and great replacement rhetoric meant to justify the killing of Latino and Black border residents.
It’s no accident that the same politicians who amplify this deadly invasion narrative also promote another lie: that the 2020 election was stolen, and that the electoral process is riddled with fraud.
In February, I wrote about Mark Brnovich, Arizona’s attorney general, who issued a legal opinion that the U.S. Constitution allows the state’s governor to invoke “war powers” and send the National Guard to the border to fight an “invasion.”
The opinion was requested by state representative Jake Hoffman, who, along with other Arizona Republican officials, signed fake electoral documents that Trump won the 2020 election in Arizona. Hoffman has been a lead proponent in pushing Arizona’s governor, Doug Ducey, to declare an invasion at the border. Hoffman is also running for an Arizona senate seat in November.
In perhaps one of the most noxious TV ads leading up to Arizona’s July primary, Blake Masters, a GOP candidate for U.S. Senate, stands in front of the border wall, looks straight into the camera, and talks about “a small group of elites who want to destroy this country by importing 20 million illegals and giving them amnesty.” As he speaks, an image of Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden flashes on the screen. “That’s why the Democrats push open borders,” he says. “It’s time to militarize this border. We’re going to end this invasion.”
Blake won the primary and will face the incumbent Democrat Mark Kelly in November. Since the primary, Blake has removed the ad from YouTube, but America’s Voice, which has collected thousands of TV and digital ads and campaign mailers, has preserved Blake’s ad in its database.
Blake and his ilk are undermining their supporters’ trust in the electoral process, says Zachary Mueller, political director for America’s Voice, who oversees the GOP ad-tracker database. “If you get your supporters to believe there’s an invasion of migrants coming to replace white voters,” Mueller says, “and Democrats are importing 20 million illegal aliens, as Masters said in his ad, then, well, if Masters loses, he can say it was because of this invasion and these undocumented immigrants voting in our elections.”
As absurd as this sounds, Mueller says, millions of dollars have been invested in promoting this lie. And the rhetoric is working. In an August poll by NPR, more than half of the Americans polled said they believe there’s an invasion at the southern border. The poll found that 76 percent of those who identified as Republican believed the narrative. NPR found that these beliefs largely hinged on party affiliation and on whether a person watched right-wing media outlets like Fox News.
For anyone who has watched Fox News, where “invasion” and “Biden’s Border Crisis” stories are a daily fixture, this will not come as a shock. More surprising is the 41 percent of those polled who identified as Democrats and believe there is an invasion, which seems to point to how the millions spent by Republicans have skewed Americans’ perceptions of the border throughout the political spectrum.
Mueller’s organization is tracking both Democratic and Republican campaign ads. To date, he says, Democratic candidates have not used messaging focused on invasion and great replacement theory. “We’re not seeing the same dehumanizing language, or anything even remotely close to that, coming from the Democratic Party at this moment,” he says. “Would I like to hear them speak out more against this dangerous rhetoric? Yes, I would. But at least they’re not demonizing immigrants.”
Democrats are often hamstrung over their messaging about the border. In Arizona, U.S. Senator Mark Kelly has advocated for Title 42 to continue, which increases the number of repeat border crossers and migrant deaths. Recently, Arizona’s Democratic candidate for governor, Katie Hobbs, debuted a “tough on border security” TV ad in which she strides along the perimeter of the razor-wire-topped border wall flanked by two sheriffs. “I think she’s trying to do the kind of both/and strategy for this election,” says Mueller. Hobbs is trying to look tough on security, but “she’s also saying, ‘Look, there needs to be some ability to have a safe and humane process at the border where folks can claim asylum.’”
Hobbs’s opponent in November, Kari Lake, a former Fox newscaster, doesn’t dwell on such subtleties. Lake is one of the GOP’s most fervent proselytizers for declaring an invasion, and her most recent TV ad has computer-generated “drug cartel surveillance drones” blowing up at the border wall. In ad after ad, Lake portrays the southern border as a hellscape overcome by hordes of illegal aliens, crime, and drugs. Both Lake and the Republican Governor’s Association, with millions in reserve, have relentlessly hammered Hobbs with one fearmongering ad after another, accusing the Democrat of promoting sex trafficking, crime, and “open borders.”
In a crucial swing state like Arizona, which is ground zero for Trump’s bogus election fraud claims, Lake is an ardent MAGA election denier. If Lake wins in Arizona, she’ll have the power to enact sweeping changes in the electoral process before the 2024 election.
Texas: Hotbed of Invasion Rhetoric
In tracking the ads, Mueller says they’ve seen invasion rhetoric spread across the country from New Hampshire to Wisconsin. But it’s Republicans in Texas, more than any other state, who have pushed to make the racist lie about an invasion into official policy. Examples include Governor Abbott’s Operation Lone Star, under which thousands of police and soldiers have been dispatched to the border, and a resolution filed in Congress by U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington declaring that the Constitution gives “states the sovereign power to repel an invasion and defend their citizenry from the overwhelming and imminent danger posed by paramilitary, narco-terrorist cartels who have seized control of our southern border.”
In April, U.S. Rep. Mike McCaul, who serves on the powerful Foreign Affairs Committee in Congress, compared his state to Ukraine in an interview on Fox News Sunday. “Putin invaded Ukraine,” he told the host. “We have an invasion in my home state right on the border, every day.”
Some of the most dangerous rhetoric comes from the state’s lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, a former conservative radio talk show host. In September 2021 he claimed on Fox’s Ingraham Angle that “the revolution has begun, a silent revolution by the Democrat Party and Joe Biden to take over this country. … We are being invaded. … You are talking about millions and millions of new voters. … This is trying to take over our country without firing a shot.”
And in a July interview on Fox, Patrick equated asylum seekers at the border with the attack on Pearl Harbor. “These people are a danger to America,” he said. “We’re being attacked just as we were at Pearl Harbor.”
Afterward, in a tweet Texas representative Joaquin Castro, a Democrat, warned that “Dan Patrick is an out-of-control bigot who’s going to get people killed with his rhetoric.”
Since 2018, when Mueller first began tracking anti-immigrant messaging during the Trump era, it has only grown more vitriolic, he says. “Whether it’s the invasion rhetoric or talking about troops on the border, they are courting real political violence,” he says.
The repeated dehumanization of people at the border paves the way to violence. “This talk of sending troops to the border, the warlike terminology, it increases the idea that somehow violence is OK to use,” he says.
Patrick is a close ally of Donald Trump, who more than any other politician has mainstreamed white nationalist rhetoric in the GOP. Patrick chaired both of Trump’s Texas campaigns. He’s also aggressively pushed for election audits at the county level of the 2020 presidential election, even though election officials have said the election ran smoothly. Patrick helped pressure Governor Abbott to call for forensic audits in four of Texas’s largest counties, which also found no significant voting discrepancies. Nonetheless, Patrick continues to portray the electoral system as riddled with fraud and points to an “invasion” at the border.
“Anyone concerned about our democracy really should think about how these two ideas are deeply entwined,” says Mueller of election denialism and invasion rhetoric. “These political leaders are encouraging political violence. They need to be held accountable.”
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