During an Oval Office meeting in March, President Donald Trump suggested that soldiers at the U.S. southern border should shoot migrants “in the legs to slow them down,” according to a report from The New York Times. This is not the first time Trump has suggested shooting unarmed immigrants at the border. Last November, Trump had said U.S. troops on the border should shoot immigrants who throw rocks. At a Florida rally this past May, Trump laughed when a crowd member said the U.S. can stop migrants from approaching the border by shooting them, saying, “That’s only in the panhandle could you get away with that statement.”
Shooting unarmed migrants at the border is an idea that has been circulating in the right-wing media landscape for a while; it’s part of the dehumanizing anti-immigrant narratives that have thrived among right-wing outlets and on social media for years. Some right-wing media personalities have proposed shooting migrants at the border to deter immigration, while others have suggested that guns are necessary to defend against immigrants. And some have even shown sympathy for perpetrators of gun violence against immigrants in the U.S.
In 2015, Fox’s Laura Ingraham suggested the U.S. threaten to shoot deported immigrants who approached the border. During her radio program The Laura Ingraham Show, Ingraham said that after formerly incarcerated immigrants are deported, the U.S. government should tell them, “You come back, you’ll be shot.”
Fox Business host Stuart Varney said he could understand why an armed militia “detained hundreds of migrants at gunpoint.” In April, an armed militia rounded up and detained groups of migrant families at gunpoint before handing them over to Border Patrol agents. Varney reacted to the news by saying it’s “rather dangerous and troubling, … but I can understand it.”
Racist right-wing columnist Ann Coulter called for migrants to be shot and has defended violence against immigrants. In April 2018, Coulter suggested on Twitter that the National Guard “shoot the illegals” at the border because “just standing there doesn’t do a thing.”
A few months later, Coulter appeared on Fox News’ Justice with Judge Jeanine and referred to migrants as “invaders” to justify anti-immigrant violence, saying, “You can’t shoot Americans; you can shoot invaders.”
And after the August 3 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, in which a white supremacist targeted Latinx immigrants, Coulter described the shooter’s motives in sympathetic terms, stating that immigrants filled the shooter’s head “with murderous thoughts” by making “territorial claims on America on behalf of their ethnic group.”
Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren suggested that U.S. citizens may need to shoot immigrants to “defend” themselves. While arguing against gun control measures on Fox Business’ Varney & Co., Lahren stated that guns are necessary to protect “the people in Texas, the people in South Dakota, the people in the middle of this country” from immigrants.
On right-wing Facebook pages, memes asking if the U.S. military should shoot migrants at the southern border have frequently gone viral. These memes, published by vehemently anti-immigrant pages, pose loaded questions, such as asking if users are OK with people shooting immigrants “to kill.” The top comments on such posts (those that earn the most views, reactions, or replies) consistently offer agreement that shooting migrants at the border is defensible. Some users also justify violence at the border by echoing right-wing talking point about immigrants using government resources and white supremacist dog whistles about a migrant "invasion" the United States.