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Extremist Rhetoric and Violence on the Border

June 18, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger



One thing that stuck with me about the movie Hotel Rwanda were the scenes in which armed Hutus scoured the countryside looking for Tutsis to slaughter, while their truck radios were tuned to a station whose DJ was urging them to "kill the cockroaches." 


Over the past several years, as each Congress has passed the problem of our dysfunctional immigration system off to the next Congress, the rhetoric of the immigration debate has gotten more inflammatory, and I am often reminded of those talk show DJs who played their part in the Rwanda slaughter.


The dehumanizing rhetoric is most abundant in the comment section after any on-line media article involving immigrants.  Melissa Del Bosque, of the Texas Observer, writes about that phenomenon here.  Among others, she cites a not untypical comment that appeared below a story about the Border Patrol shooting and killing a Mexican teenager, where the commenter praised the Border Patrol for their "good work," saying that the Border Patrol was "doing America a great service by keeping these … roaches out of this Once-great nation."


Del Bosque went on to cite other examples. 


Unfortunately, the phenomenon is not limited to anonymous cowards sitting in front of a computer with a lot of time on their hands and a lot of hate to spew.


There are plenty of talk show hosts who use their radio programs to de-humanize immigrants and Latinos.  This was discussed at length in a report that we talk about here.  An example is the Boston radio host who was removed from the air after calling Mexicans "leeches" and an assortment of other names.


Politicians have certainly gotten in to the act.


Back in 2008, Representative Steve King (R-IA) suggested in this performance on the House Floor that we build a border wall that would have electrified wire on top that would be "a discouragement for [someone] to be fooling around with it."  After all, he said, "we do that with livestock all the time.")


More recently, Tom Mullins, the Republican candidate who will run against Representative Ben Lujan in New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District, suggested in a radio interview that "[w]e could put land mines along the border."


The rhetoric has more than once crossed over into violence.  Some people who are bombarded with messages that certain people are nothing but "leeches" or "livestock" (or an assortment of names pulled from the comment sections of on-line articles that I won't print here) get the idea that it is OK to kill. 


On June 6, two Latino men were found murdered in the Arizona desert south of Phoenix.  While the official story is that that the men were probably victims of drug smugglers, bloggers following this story have expressed their skepticism (for example, here and here) of the official explanation of Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, who is an immigration hardliner and who recently appeared in a campaign ad with John McCain, posing as a border sheriff (Pinal County is not on the border).


The killings took place one day after a rally in Phoenix by supporters of Arizona's SB 1070.  At the rally, anti-immigrant activist Barbara Coe told the crowd,


“This is our turning point. The traitors have underestimated the power of Americans. No mas. … God forbid it should come to this but if it should come to this, lock and load.”


The suspicion is that the two men were killed by vigilantes.


A few days later, on June 11 in Santa Cruz County, according to the Sheriff's Office, five undocumented men came under fire by unidentified males with high-power rifles and wearing camouflage.  No demands were made by the shooters, and the group was not robbed.  The undocumented men escaped, with one suffering a gunshot wound to the forearm.


In their investigation of this incident, police found the skeletal remains of two other persons.


It is too early to say whether these particular shootings were the result of anti-immigrant extremists with guns, but it's pretty safe to say that as Washington continues to let the immigration problem fester, and extremist rhetoric flirts with calls to violence, we are going to be seeing more reports of shooting and murders.


Politicians in border states have been raising alarms with the voters about violence on the border.  Perhaps the real problem is the violence encouraged by the purveyors of hate on the internet, on the airwaves, and on the stump.

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