The Democrats don’t matter. The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.
—Steve Bannon, February 2018.
Folks, it’s hard to watch the national media take the bait with Texas governor Greg Abbott’s grandstanding on the border in the town of Eagle Pass.
Since 2020, MAGA Republicans have been rolling out a concerted messaging campaign around an invasion at the border, backed by the MAGA media ecosystem, which is in overdrive this election season as the GOP implodes.
In December 2022, there was a similar showdown at the Arizona border with former Republican governor Doug Ducey, who dumped a three-mile junkyard wall of shipping containers in the middle of a federally protected forest. Political sabers were rattled, and a fantastical lawsuit filed by Ducey claiming an invasion at the border and that the federally owned “Roosevelt Reservation” in fact belonged to Arizona. For weeks, headlines were dominated by rhetorical gibes over whether federal officers with U.S. Fish and Wildlife would stop Ducey’s illegal junkyard wall.
But there were no dueling pistols at the hokey corral. Residents and activists occupied the construction site, slowing the junkyard wall’s advancement. The courts sent Ducey and his lawsuit packing. A lame-duck governor, with Democrat Katie Hobbs taking office in January, Ducey finally agreed to remove the shipping containers. Hobbs was left with the cleanup and costs, which were more than $200 million for Arizona taxpayers.
Honestly, Ducey’s great wall of junk just didn’t make good visuals for the MAGA-media sphere. Not like Abbott’s multibillion-dollar police and military apparatus at the border under Operation Lone Star, which comes with uniforms, miles of razor wire, and military equipment. Abbott’s Lone Star is the perfect meme-able backdrop for the MAGA invasion fever dream, perpetrated by Bannon and other former Trump cabinet members, and underwritten by the same millionaires and billionaires who are supporting Trump’s 2024 candidacy.
It’s time to flush the toilet on Bannon and his crew.
This all leads me to the question: How did right-wing media hijack the narrative around the U.S.-Mexico border? You’ve probably heard the terms “military age men,” “invasion,” and “Biden’s open borders” bandied about in the media and among congressional leaders. These deliberately dehumanizing terms have shaped the way Americans view the U.S.-Mexico border as the 2024 election season unfolds. In a 2022 poll, NPR found that more than half of Americans 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 hinged on party affiliation and on whether a person watched right-wing media outlets like Fox News.
In his research, AJ Bauer focuses on right-wing media and conservative movements in the United States. We talk about mutual aid movements in New York and Chicago and the trajectory of right-wing media from fringe to mainstream and its domination by the MAGA movement. Bauer, an assistant professor in the Department of Journalism and Creative Media at the University of Alabama, holds a PhD in American studies from New York University and is coeditor of News on the Right: Studying Conservative News Cultures (Oxford University Press, 2019). In addition to academic venues, Bauer has written for The Texas Observer, the Guardian, TV Guide, Politico Magazine, and Bloomberg. He’s currently writing a book about the history of conservative press criticism in the United States, called Making the Liberal Media.
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