Republicans’ Upcoming Border Hearings Will Platform White Supremacist Ideology: A Q&A with Zachary Mueller
If Republicans aren't held to account for extremist rhetoric, we’re going to see more acts of political violence, warns Mueller
In the first week of February, Republicans, who hold a narrow majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, will begin the first of several hearings related to the U.S.-Mexico border. The hearings could lead to impeachment hearings for Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. There is much to criticize at DHS, from its dysfunctional Office of Inspector General to its inability to rein in the myriad abuses of Border Patrol against immigrants, border residents, and its own female agents.
But none of these issues are on the hearings’ agenda. That’s because the real impetus for holding them is the upcoming elections in 2024, and certain political aspirations—especially those of the three horsemen of the border apocalypse: Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Arizona), Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), and Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas). These three extreme right-wing legislators have made a career out of fearmongering over the border and characterizing asylum seekers as foot soldiers in an “invasion”. Now they’re intent on pushing fellow Republicans into their far-right camp by producing a series of show trials to energize the MAGA base, fundraise, and score easy points against Democrats, many of whom would prefer not to acknowledge the border at all.
With Democrats controlling the Senate and a divided GOP in the House, it’s unlikely that Mayorkas will be impeached. If he were, the DHS secretary would be the first presidential cabinet member to be impeached since 1876.
Not only will these hearings be polarizing, they’ll also be dangerous for border communities and immigrants, because they allow right-wing politicians to amplify a white supremacist message, which has already led to extremist attacks in border communities such as El Paso, Texas.
Zachary Mueller, political director for the nonprofit America’s Voice, has been tracking the rise of the GOP’s embrace of white supremacist messaging since 2017 with the Unite the Right Rally. Last week, Mueller released a report on the dangers of these upcoming impeachment “show trials.” In this Q&A with The Border Chronicle, Mueller explains why the upcoming House hearings will spur dangerous rhetoric that can result in political violence and what the media and others can do to counter it.
Why are some Republicans so focused on impeaching DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas?
The reasons they give publicly are the quote, unquote, Biden border crisis, which is part of this larger, disingenuous nativist narrative that they’ve built up over the last several years, which includes this fearmongering, whether it be, “open borders,” or blaming the fentanyl crisis on migrants at the border, as well as this rhetoric about an invasion.
But in an honest assessment without the GOP spin, it’s because they believe that the nativism, they can put forward in committee hearings and keep in the news is good politics for them. An endless series of hearings to create political theater around issues where they can fearmonger and demonize immigrants as the cause of America’s problems. This allows them to divide the American people and distract from the real business of governing, which they’re not doing.
What is Mayorkas’s background and his role at DHS? Why are some Republicans seizing on him as the problem?
Mayorkas was appointed when Biden first took office. It’s notable how quick that transition is, because during the Trump administration, DHS acting secretary, Chad Wolf, was found to be illegally appointed and had to unceremoniously resign in the final days of the Trump administration after the January 6 insurrection.
When Mayorkas comes in, several immigrant rights advocacy organizations across the country supported his appointment, because he had helped craft the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program. And he had a legacy within DHS of pushing for reforms.
What should not be lost on us also is that Mayorkas is the first immigrant, the first Latino to head DHS. He’s the son of a Holocaust survivor. His mother fled during the Nazi occupation to Cuba. So, it’s important as we think through the Republicans’ attacks on Mayorkas that this invasion rhetoric, which is steeped in anti-Semitism and white nationalist nativism, is an attack on somebody who has that kind of historic ethnic legacy.
The primary instigators of the impeachment are from the border states of Texas and Arizona. Can you talk about the leaders of this impeachment movement?
There’s a cast of characters who have signed on to the bandwagon. There are already 32 [now 34] co-sponsors, to the most recent impeachment filings sitting in the House. But there are three main instigators: Rep. Chip Roy and Rep. Brian Babin from Texas, and Rep. Andy Biggs from Arizona.
These three have been beating the drum in calling for Mayorkas’s impeachment since August 2021. That’s when Biggs filed articles of impeachment. In December 2022, Biggs and Babin led a press conference reinvigorating their calls for impeachment. This was part of Biggs’s push on Kevin McCarthy for when he was running for House Speaker. Biggs had this kind of quixotic campaign, saying that he was going to challenge McCarthy. Part of that effort was again calling for more impeachment hearings against Mayorkas. And these men have been lining up some of their Republican colleagues around the idea over this time. Alongside the calls for impeachment, they’ve also advanced this white nationalist rhetoric around the conspiracy theory that migrants seeking safety and asylum at the border are a military-style invasion. That’s obviously not true. But that’s the rhetoric they’re using, which has also been inexorably tied to the great replacement theory and the spate of white nationalist domestic terrorist attacks that have killed dozens of our fellow Americans over the last several years.
So it’s important as we’re thinking about an impeachment trial of the DHS Secretary, using the same kind of rhetoric that has already inspired domestic terrorists, and when the DHS’s actual threat assessment has been warning of a rise of nativism on the border, and anti-Semitic threats to Americans. Meanwhile, Republicans continue to use this rhetoric from their positions of power to legitimize it.
House Republicans will start holding hearings on the border in early February, as Biggs, Roy, and others push for impeachment hearings. All this will be televised, I imagine, with the invasion rhetoric on repeat for months.
There’s a question whether major media outlets and television will air these “show trials” but the right-wing media will. There should be a real question for journalists, about how they cover these hearings. Ignoring them is not the answer. But when they are covered, they should be honest about the language that is being used, and how it is directly tied to violence. Also, about how the Republicans claims here are baseless, with even the slightest form of fact-checking whether it be about the supposed open borders, or that migrants are responsible for the spike in fentanyl overdose deaths. Both of those things are just untrue. And if the hearings are going to be covered, every responsible journalist and news outlet needs to cover it with that lens up front, if they’re going to do the job of actually educating their viewers about what’s really happening here.
Leading up to the midterm elections, you were tracking the spending and number of political ads Republican candidates were putting out using invasion and great replacement rhetoric. How did that go for them in the midterms? Did it help them win or lose seats?
For the last two years, Republicans leading up to the midterms invested hundreds of millions of dollars, in a nativist narrative that was a top messaging priority for Republicans across the country.
The massive investment failed. The conventional wisdom was that it wasn’t about whether there would be a red wave, but how big the red wave would be. But when all the votes were counted, Republicans barely won the House. They wildly underperformed. Is their nativism solely to blame for their poor showing? No. But it was a significant factor.
The nativism was very much a part of this larger MAGA extremism that voters clearly rejected at the ballot box. But it does rally their base, and it allows them to fundraise off it and make easy hits against Democrats. But as a political question, there’s a real conversation that needs to be had among Republicans. Maybe it works in the primary. But it might be more of a liability than an asset. Because they’ve now lost several elections with that nativist messaging.
What role has the media played in spreading the invasion rhetoric and the great replacement theory? And what are the biggest media outlets promoting it?
We haven’t seen a ton of mainstream legacy media, outside of the right-wing mediasphere like Fox, OAN, and Newsmax. They’re happy to put that stuff out. Somebody like Tucker Carlson on Fox News, who reaches 3 million people a night, he has been a main instigator in mainstreaming these ideas. But so far, the rest of the media hasn’t engaged in the legitimizing of that rhetoric. Now they have legitimized and co-opted and been persuaded by cheap Republican talking points about a so-called Biden border crisis or open borders. But they haven’t really gone on to embrace the invasion stuff, but that isn’t to give them an out because there hasn’t been enough criticism and holding Republicans to account. There’s a real need to educate the American people about this kind of dangerous dehumanization and rhetoric and where it leads. If Republicans are not being held to account for this rhetoric, we’re going to see more acts of political violence. There’s a role for the media to really hold Republican leaders accountable for this language, or when they’re not speaking out against colleagues using that sort of language. Both of those things are extremely important.
What percentage of the American population believes in the invasion messaging already?
Research has shown that about 30 percent of the population believes some sort of the replacement invasion theory. That’s a huge part of the population that believes a complete and utter white nationalist fiction. And that should be really concerning for us. Disproportionately, it is people who identify as Republicans—at least 60 percent of Republicans. That is deeply concerning.
What makes these hearings dangerous is that if they’re not held to account, their fiction about the border may be believed. And so that’s why we’re trying to talk about this ahead of time and set the warning flags.
Have any Republicans said what they hope to get out of this impeachment and who they would like to replace Mayorkas with?
No, they haven’t. This is political theater through and through. It’s not about providing any real substantive arguments or a subsequent replacement or putting forward real compromise. It’s not about debating immigration policies, nor is it even about trying to hold oversight on immigration policies from the Biden administration that they think are concerning
Republicans have this myopic view that the only thing that the DHS secretary is responsible for is adjudicating asylum claims and blocking unauthorized entries at the border. That’s just one of the areas Mayorkas is responsible for at the agency. There have also been calls from some Republicans to impeach President Biden. There’s already been reporting in recent weeks that there are some battleground district Republicans who are wary of moving forward on this spurious impeachment political theater around Mayorkas. But as a way to not move forward on something like impeaching the president of the United States, it’s a bit of a release valve for the furthest hard-right, nativist wing of the Republican Party to go after Secretary Mayorkas instead.
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