Todd Bensman, a senior fellow at xenophobic think tank the Center for Immigration Studies, is a prominent pundit in right-wing media who frequently appears on Fox News, the podcast of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, and other high-profile conservative platforms. He also has appeared on a white nationalist program, a show hosted by a far-right figure with militia ties, and at least three QAnon-promoting platforms. Bensman also has ties to QAnon-linked figures and other far-right activists beyond those appearances.
Last week, Bensman appeared at an event alongside John Eidsmoe, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who spoke at the national convention of the Council of Conservative Citizens — a white supremacist organization — in 2005. In 2010, Eidsmoe praised Confederate leader Jefferson Davis and pro-slavery advocate John C. Calhoun at a Secession Day celebration. The recent event, hosted by the Phyllis Schlafly Eagles, also featured Tiffany Justice, co-founder of anti-government extremist group Moms for Liberty, and QAnon-promoter Alex Newman.
Bensman’s forays into the extremist right-wing fringe is not surprising given his employment at the Center for Immigration Studies. CIS is one of the three main branches of a network of organizations founded by John Tanton, a racist immigration restrictionist who helped catalyze the modern nativist movement in the United States. One of the primary organs of that movement, the white nationalist website VDARE, has cited him at least 46 times as of this writing, according to its archives.
Prior to joining CIS, Bensman led the counterterrorism intelligence division at the Texas Department of Public Safety, giving him a veneer of authority to right-wing audiences — but his supposed expertise evaporates under the mildest scrutiny. Experts like the American Immigration Council's Aaron Reichlin-Melnick regularly find errors or distortions in Bensman’s work, such as when he spread the rumor that migrants are receiving “cost of living checks” en masse, a persistent myth that has been repeatedly debunked.
Bensman is consistently wrong about other basic aspects of U.S. border policy as well. But for the far-right audiences who consume the shows he appears on, his history in law enforcement and current employment at CIS appear to situate him as a dispassionate expert. Even if Bensman doesn’t always openly espouse the most extreme views of those who host him, his presence on their programs legitimizes their worldview, in effect lending his credentials to racists and conspiracy theorists.
Bensman’s appearances on extremist platforms
On June 23, Bensman appeared on The Stew Peters Show to promote his new book and discuss conditions at the border. Stew Peters is a white nationalist who has promoted numerous conspiracy theories, including the xenophobic “Great Replacement Theory,” which maintains that liberal elites are replacing white people in the United States with non-white immigrants in exchange for their votes and political loyalty.
On the day Bensman came on, the show was guest hosted by Paul Harrell, who introduced the segment by claiming that immigration levels were “a greater crisis even than the American Civil War, ” because in that conflict, “regardless of which side won, there would still an American nation left.” Harrell described migrants as “barbarians sack[ing] Rome,” who have been brought to the United States “for the explicit purpose of replacing the historic population of America.”
Harrell then introduced Bensman, who didn’t refute any of Harrell’s comments. For the entirety of the interview, Bensman spoke over a chyron that read: “Hispanic Texans overtake whites as largest demographic in state” and “Great replacement in Texas,” an entirely predictable way that the show would frame the topic, given its editorial positions.
In the interview, Harrell again explicitly promoted the great replacement theory, asking Bensman for his take on it. Bensman refuted it in part, offering his own baseless counter-conspiracy theory instead, arguing that U.S.-based NGOs were driving mass migration as a way of securing lucrative government contracts.
“The Great Replacement Theory — they’ve said that this is some sort of white nationalist conspiracy theory,” Harrell said. “What are your thoughts?”
“My feeling about why this is happening is maybe a little bit more rudimentary than that,” Bensman replied. “The people that are behind these policies, in the Biden administration, come from this, what I call Migrant Advocacy Industrial Complex.”
“What they’ve orchestrated is a mass migration crisis that has produced hundred million dollar federal contracts for their employers, their old employers,” Bensman added. “The entire industry is becoming fat and wealthy on the largesse of, ‘Oh my god we’ve got to help the government manage this crisis.’”
On the same day, Bensman appeared on QAnon-influencer Mel K’s show. Beyond her associations with QAnon, Mel K has pushed conspiracy theories about the 2020 election being fraudulent and the murder of Seth Rich.
During the interview, Bensman articulated an ethno-chauvinist belief that is implicit in his work, and often explicit across the wider Tanton network.
“Our countries, our prosperous countries, are never going to just let people starve to death, it’s a terrible political look,” Bensman said as a way of explaining migration towards the United States and western Europe. “Everybody knows it — you’re just gonna get free stuff.”
“Our countries are better than their countries,” Bensman continued.
Bensman also argued that migrants should be held in “detention facilities” while awaiting a ruling on their asylum claims for extended periods of time. “If it takes three years, sorry, man, you’re in detention for three years,” Bensman said.
Like Harrell, Mel K also asked Bensman about the great replacement theory. He hedged, saying “I don’t really go that far,” but “I can’t really discount it,” then repeating his baseless claim that NGOs are fueling migration to benefit themselves financially.
“The other big beneficiary is this constellation that I mentioned earlier of NGOs, non-governmental organizations” who are “getting federal contracts worth hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars, and well into the billions of dollars in contracts,” Bensman said, adding, “Ultimately, I think that’s probably a major catalyst for what we’re seeing down there.”
“When the human flow stops, so does the money,” Bensman concluded.
Bensman has appeared at least three times on Pete Santilli’s show, most recently on August 22. Santilli is a far-right extremist who told his listeners to “fight to the death” in support of militia-linked Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy in 2014, and has repeatedly called for violence since then. During the August interview, Bensman defended Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s use of a floating barrier covered in razor wire to deter migrants from crossing the Rio Grande.
“They’re very, very effective,” Bensman said of the barrier.
“Once Abbott is able to continue to expand it up and down the river, across all these popular crossing points — game over,” Bensman added. “They’re not getting through.”
“There’s a lot of propaganda — pretty much, if you hear something bad about this water barrier, it’s a lie,” he said later. “It’s just not true.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, the water barrier is in fact not effective in deterring migrants, who have found ways of getting around it. And although the razor wire isn’t stopping people from crossing the river, the Journal reports that a local hospital has had to treat migrants for more injuries since Abbott implemented the barrier. A federal judge recently ruled Texas must remove the barrier, though an appeals court allowed the buoys to remain as the case makes its way through the courts.
Also in the interview with Santilli, Bensman acknowledged that he’d recently accompanied Micheal Yon and Ann Vandersteel on a trip to a migrant community in Texas. Vandersteel is a QAnon adherent who celebrated Trump’s refusal to disavow the conspiracy, claiming it was evidence of the movement’s veracity. Yon has appeared on QAnon channel Patriots’ Soapbox at least four times. Just days after Bensman’s interview, Yon announced on the podcast of QAnon-linked politician and right-wing media figure Tina Peters that he and Vandersteel had “teamed up” purportedly to combat child trafficking at the border, a regular QAnon talking point.
Bensman's ties to QAnon figures and platforms don’t stop there. He has appeared at least twice on Making Sense of the Madness, hosted by QAnon supporter Sean Morgan. He has appeared at least five times on fringe pundit Debbie Aldrich’s show, a product of the far-right group Creative Destruction Media, which posts anti-Black and anti-LGBTQ content, pushes election denialism, and has endorsed QAnon.
Over the summer, Bensman defended Sound of Freedom — an embellished account of the life of Tim Ballard, a self-identified anti-trafficking activist — from accusations the film promoted QAnon-style themes. Bensman claimed “The American left” had “undertaken a campaign to discredit” the film in large part “because its lead actor is weird,” referring to the film’s star, Jim Caviezel. In fact, Caviezel spent months explicitly praising QAnon and pushing bizarre conspiracy theories associated with the movement, including that a secret cabal of elites was torturing children to extract adrenochrome from them.
Bensman’s appearances in more prominent right-wing media
Since 2017, Bensman has appeared on Fox News and Fox Business at least 25 times, according to a search of a Media Matters internal database of all weekday Fox programming, as well as Bensmans’ official website, virtually always to discuss what he frames as a crisis of high immigration levels. His influence isn’t just limited to his on-screen interviews, as the network also features footage from his social media accounts of the U.S. southern border. Bensman also regularly appears on Steve Bannon’s War Room, and right-wing cable networks One America News and Newsmax.
Maria Bartiromo, one of the most egregious conspiracy theorists at Fox News’ sister network, Fox Business, is a particular fan of Bensman, and has had him on her show several times in the past year. An exchange from last December captures their dynamic, with Bensman falsely castigating immigrants for being a drain on society, and Baritromo concluding with a barely veiled allusion to the great replacement conspiracy theory.
“The numbers coming across are already being felt across the nation in your schools, health care system, crime, every sector of the American economy and our social fabric,” Bensman said. “Whether the President wants to admit it or not, Americans are going to feel this in the pocketbook for a long, long time, probably permanently.”
“Well, they want to change the structure of the country,” Bartiromo said. “Maybe that's the point.”
More broadly, his willingness to find common cause among overt racists and conspiracy theorists highlights the porous borders between prominent conservative media outlets and their more disreputable tributaries. Fox News’ primary immigration reporter, Bill Melugin, reposted Bensman on X, formerly known as Twitter, at least five times — including one image that purportedly depicts a gruesome gunshot wound — from mid-August to mid-September. In March, establishment conservative magazine National Review published an adaptation of Bensman’s book.
Bensman’s role in right-wing media is to produce content and analysis about migrants that sounds authoritative, but in fact he distorts the reality of irregular border crossing and the broader immigration legal and policy regimes as a whole. He is a fellow traveler of the white nationalists and QAnon-figures who promote and platform him, and a willing steward of the racist legacy of John Tanton.
Some language was updated for clarity after publication.