U.S. Representative Lauren Boebert, R-CO3, speaks Saturday evening September 10, 2022, during Club 20 Western Colorado Candidate Debates held at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction CO. Boebert debated her opponent Adam Frisch a Western Slope Democrat. (William Woody)
Xenophobia is the original offense of the Trump era.
The former president launched his campaign in 2015 by saying of Mexican migrants, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” It was a gross mischaracterization of facts, but the nativist message resonated with a Republican base primed by far-right media figures to despise non-white immigrants.
When President Joe Biden came to office and Democrats took majorities in Congress, the excesses of xenophobia in high office ebbed, even as they flowed apace on Tucker Carlson’s show and other conservative hubs of hate.
But with Republicans back in the majority in the U.S. House, the anti-immigrant movement has found new outlets of expression in the federal government. And this week it got ugly.
The U.S. House Oversight and Accountability Committee hearing Tuesday at times sounded more like a bile-brimming Unite the Right rally than a congressional proceeding. Republican committee members were at pains to dispel the notion that the hearing was anything but an honest examination of the “border crisis,” given that it was preceded by justified protests — not least from the ranking Democrat — that the event was really a white nationalist promotional appearance.
But the Republicans couldn’t conceal their true intent. In practiced Trumpist fashion, Rep. Lauren Boebert’s question time with a pair of U.S. Customs and Border Protection chiefs, who were hauled in as witnesses, was filthy with xenophobic rhetoric. She cast migrants as “convicted criminals, terrorists, drug traffickers, or even gang members.” And she asserted that Democrats intended it this way as a policy choice.
This is the language of “replacement theory.” The racist conspiracy theory holds that accommodating immigration policies are part of a plot to replace white people in positions of power and culture. “The theory often uses martial and violent rhetoric of a migrant ‘invasion,’” the National Immigration Forum says.
Observe how that tracks with Boebert’s remarks.
“The truth is there is an invasion happening at our southern border … and it’s happening because Joe Biden invoked amnesty and changed the secure border policies that were working for our country,” she said, adding, referring to Democrats, “This is intentional. In fact their policy is a success, it’s not a failure because this is their intent.”
Quintessential replacement theory. And Boebert was hardly alone.
Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene of Georgia suggested that unaccompanied minors, the most vulnerable and desperate of migrants, were in fact budding violent gang members destined to murder Americans, and she referred to “the illegal invasion into our country that’s occurring every single day.”
“Joe Biden does have a plan. His plan is to deliberately open our borders and cede power to the cartels,” said Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona. “Now why would Biden do this? Create chaos? Sow discord? … More Big Brother? More control? Even changing our culture?” He also made sure to refer to immigration at the southern border as an “invasion.”
Replacement theory can be traced back decades and even has antecedents in Hitler’s Germany and other hotbeds of false “white extinction” fears. But popularization of the modern American strain is often credited to Carlson and his daily white nationalist propaganda hour on Fox News known as “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
This once-fringe form of racist extremism is now taken for granted on the MAGA right. Sometimes its proponents dispense with dog whistles and are explicit in calling immigration a “replacement.”
“Yes, there is definitely a ‘replacement theory’ that’s going on right now,” Boebert said in one of several of her social media posts that discuss replacement or the “invasion.”
The nonprofit immigrant advocacy group America’s Voice has documented how numerous Republicans on the Oversight Committee have voiced white nationalist rhetoric. These include Chairman James Comer of Kentucky. The Biden administration has turned “the border patrol into the welcoming committee. They want more people to roll into the United States,” Comer said in December on Fox, according to the Daily Beast. “They believe this is part of their social equality campaign to fundamentally change America.”
Such replacement theory rhetoric kills people.
The mass shooting in 2019 in El Paso, Texas, was committed by a suspect who cited “great replacement” and a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” The mass shooting in May in Buffalo, N.Y., was carried out by a suspect who wrote a 180-word document that rehearsed “great replacement” talking points. The racist conspiracy theory has inspired other mass shootings and other forms of violence.
Many observers, including migrant advocates, agree America’s immigration system is in crisis.
“What we are seeing on the southern border is a crisis, but it is not a crisis as our friends across the aisle would have us believe,” said Democratic Oversight Committee member Rep. Melanie Stansbury of border-state New Mexico. “It is truly a humanitarian crisis. And it is a crisis that has been manufactured, reproduced, over and over again, decade after decade, by inaction by this body.”
Immigration reform could include improved border security. But it should also increase resources for U.S. handling of vulnerable people who flee dangerous homelands to seek refuge in America, better serve the U.S. labor market, and do right by the undocumented children known as Dreamers. The one quality U.S. immigration policy should forswear is xenophobia.
When members of Congress amplify white nationalist goals, they put lives at risk, further polarize American society, and dishonor the country’s proud legacy as a beacon of freedom.
This commentary was published earlier by the Colorado Newsline, an affiliate of the nonprofit States Newsroom network, which includes the Florida Phoenix.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.