The migrant squatter freakout shows how the right-wing media ecosystem operates

You may have missed last week’s right-wing media panic over a purported nationwide squatting epidemic: Dire warnings about U.S. homeowners under siege from migrants deploying squatters’ rights to steal their homes bubbled up from social media, reached the heights of Fox News on Wednesday, saturated the network’s Thursday coverage, and had all but vanished from the discourse by Monday. 

But this feverish treatment provides a useful case study in how the right-wing information ecosystem runs on fear.

A vast swath of right-wing media programming is devoted to telling the audience that Democrats and progressives are endangering their lives and livelihoods. Such claims are often wholly disconnected from data, and at times they delve into the realm of pure fantasy. But they are a potent tool for right-wing media outlets as they compete for eyeballs and try to drum up support for the GOP’s policy agenda of tax cuts and abortion bans.

This brand of fearmongering frequently returns to three primary threats facing the right-wing audience: Right-wing propagandists warn that America’s streets are overrun by violent criminals, that columns of Third World migrants are invading the country across its purportedly open southern border, and that terrorists are preparing to strike within the U.S. (In each case, the threats to the predominantly white audience typically come from nonwhite people.) 

The narratives are sometimes combinations of those threats, fixating on the prospect of terrorists crossing the border or migrants committing violent crimes.

Such warnings of a migrant crime crisis exploded across Fox and its ilk in February and early March. Right-wingers highlighted a handful of horrific murders allegedly committed by migrants, claimed that the anecdotes pointed to a surge in such incidents, and attributed those crimes to President Joe Biden’s border security policies. 

The narrative eventually culminated with a public confrontation between Rep. Marjorie Taylore Greene (R-GA) and Biden at the State of the Union, with Biden pointing out that native-born Americans commit the vast majority of U.S. murders.

Indeed, the migrant crime anecdotes that the right focuses on are aberrations: Immigrants commit violent crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans, violent crime rates have plummeted over the last two years, and the data does not support the existence of a “migrant crime wave.” 

Moreover, Republicans are the ones stalling increased border security funding to help Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and calling for cuts to police funding at the federal level to pay for more tax cuts. But Trumpist pundits at Fox and elsewhere nonetheless depicted those migrant crime anecdotes as straightforward cases of Biden endangering their viewers.

Panicked coverage based on rare anecdotes has a limiting factor, however, as eventually its promoters run out of new cases and the old ones become stale. That is apparently what happened last week, as the right moved on to a new frenzy about migrants stealing people’s homes. 

Right-wing media outlets turned a single TikTok video — in which the creator explains in Spanish how to expropriate an uninhabited residence — into a nationwide freakout. Squatting is exceedingly rare, and there is no evidence that it is on the rise or driven by migrants, Popular Information reported.

But on Fox, hosts and anchors spent last week discussing how viewers “might have to worry about losing your home” to the migrants that Biden had allowed to “break into the country and then break into your bedroom,” even advising them how to repel squatters if they became victims of the purported “epidemic.” 

That panic now also seems to have subsided — so it’s time for the right to find something new for its viewers to fear.