In the days surrounding the repeal of Title 42 immigration restrictions on May 11, right-wing media used eco-fascist rhetoric to dehumanize migrants and stoke bigoted opposition to immigration while feigning concern for the environment.
Title 42 was a pandemic-era immigration restriction that gave Border Patrol agents the authority to quickly expel migrants on the basis of preventing the “spread of communicable diseases.” Title 42 was used nearly 3 million times to expel migrants without due process, denying them the opportunity to apply for asylum. Now, with the end of Title 42, some migrants can seek asylum and stay in the United States until their court date under an expanded version of Title 8, a section of U.S. law that pertains to immigration and guided Border Patrol’s strategy prior to COVID-19. The law also prescribes that undocumented immigrants can be criminally prosecuted for attempting to enter the country illegally and would have to wait five years before attempting re-entry.
Both mainstream and right-wing media braced for a massive surge in migration following May 11. This surge turned out to be overhyped — while border crossings did increase prior to Title 42’s expiration, they plummeted by over 50% in the days following its end.
However, conservative coverage around the end of Title 42 warned viewers of an “invasion” by migrants who would “destroy our way of life” — notably, often singling out the costs of environmental degradation and echoing eco-fascist talking points.
What is eco-fascism?
Some of the comments made by right-wing media regarding the end of Title 42 had fingerprints of eco-fascist ideology, which calls for a totalitarian state that mandates its citizens to prioritize the natural environment over human rights.
Proponents of this ideology use conservation as a way to justify hatred and even violence toward minority groups, blaming them for environmental degradation and climate change. For eco-fascists, non-white immigrants are the perfect target, even though they disproportionately suffer from climate impacts almost entirely driven by the West.
For several years, multiple mass shooters have cited eco-fascist ideology to explain why they targeted minority groups, including racist gunmen in Buffalo, New York; El Paso, Texas; and Christchurch, New Zealand.
“The devaluing of human life—particularly of populations seen as inferior—in order to protect the environment viewed as essential to White identity is at the core of Far Right environmentalism and ecofascist thought,” according to a July 2020 report by Political Research Associates. “The ecofascist dream is not just a White ethnostate but a ‘green’ one too.”
Today, the single most important concept to far-right organizing is the projection of majority-minority populations in the U.S. and Europe—something often framed by the movement as “the great replacement.” The U.S. Census estimates that the country will reach that status by 2045, the same decade the atmosphere is projected to reach the 1.5 degree Celsius warming mark that will exacerbate food shortages, flooding, droughts, and poverty. As these two trends continue to converge, more acts of violence—state-sanctioned and individual—are likely to be committed in the name of environmentalism by far-right actors.
The coming climate crisis, which promises to scramble all politics, provides ecofascists an opening. So too does the generational drift of younger people of all political persuasions ditching the climate change denialism of older generations. Debates about who is responsible for, and who should bear the burden of the coming crisis, combined with an ascendant populist Right anchored in White identity, may well open the door to ever more authoritarian solutions.
Fox News’ recent Title 42 coverage built on the Tanton network’s legacy of eco-fascism and white supremacy
In a May 11 article for FoxNews.com, writer Thomas Catenacci claimed that migration “could lead to a marked uptick in environmental degradation along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to immigration experts.” These so-called experts work for anti-immigrant groups in the Tanton network, a group of organizations spearheaded by white nationalist and eugenicist John Tanton.
Catenacci quoted Jeremy Beck, the vice president of NumbersUSA, which serves as the political arm for the Tanton network and seeks to limit legal immigration. "Long term, people don't come to America to not live like Americans,” Beck told Fox. “But that economic opportunity creates additional consumption. The impact is really enormous.”
He also complained about people leaving water jugs for migrants crossing the desert, calling them “misguided,” because “sensitive ecosystems get trampled over.”
He added, “The way these smuggling operations work, they're not there to be ecologically conscious.”
The article also quoted Mark Krikorian, who blamed migrants for “trash everywhere and damage to the physical environment of the border” and “argued that increased migration will broadly lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions.” Krikorian is the executive director of the Tanton-linked Center for Immigration Studies, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as a hate group that spreads misinformation about immigration.
One day after Title 42 expired, Krikorian said on a May 12 segment of America Reports that “the Biden administration’s tolerance and frankly almost invitation to illegal immigration is luring people to cross in places where we shouldn't have this volume of people, and it creates this kind of environmental disaster.”
In the same segment, anchor Sandra Smith cited Beck to suggest that immigrants are having a “really enormous” impact on the environment through their “additional consumption,” and claimed, “There’s also the point of the increased population.”
Krikorian replied that “people come to America to increase their carbon footprint, that’s the whole reason you immigrate to the United States. And if that’s a concern for you, then how can you not regulate that and try to, you know, reduce — make less of it than there would be otherwise?”
Younger citizen journalists see an opportunity to use environmental concerns to further far-right, anti-immigrant messaging
While John Tanton died in 2019, younger far-right reporters are helping keep his ideas relevant by using concern for the environment to frame immigrants as polluters, or even treating their presence in the country like a toxic chemical spill despoiling pristine nature.
Self-described “Twitter guy” and “accidental journalist” Nick Sortor was one of right-wing media’s top sources for commentary on the train derailment that devastated East Palestine, Ohio, in February. He used the incident to lambast the Biden administration and to encourage people to vote for Donald Trump in 2024.
Through this coverage, Sortor purported to be advocating for East Palestine residents and raising awareness about their situation. Covering the repeal of Title 42, however, Sortor paid little attention to the condition of the human beings at the border or what they were forced to endure to get the opportunity to live and work in the United States.
Instead, during a May 11 segment of OAN, he said that migrants are causing an “environmental catastrophe” that the left doesn’t care about, and insinuated that migrants would soon turn the United States into a “Third World country.”
“We're talking about tons of trash and belongings and things like that that these migrants had brought with them that are just being abandoned on the American side of the Rio Grande river,” Sortor said. “What are we going to do about it? Are we going to hear from the left about this? Is there going to be some sort of outcry? I don't think so.”
This talking point — the left isn’t really concerned about the environment — was also popular on Fox News during coverage of the East Palestine disaster.
Sortor also appeared on OAN’s Tipping Point with Kara McKinney as well as on Fox & Friends First (alongside Todd Bensman of the Tanton-founded Center for Immigration Studies) on May 12, on OAN’s Real America with Dan Ball on both May 11 and May 12, and on OAN’s In Focus with Addison Smith on May 10 to discuss the events at the border, where he emphasized the chaos and the number of migrants seeking asylum, attacked Biden's immigration policy, and praised Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
Turning Point USA contributor Savanah Hernandez has appeared on Fox News to denigrate unhoused people in supposedly liberal cities and to suggest that they would degrade formerly clean communities. She has also done extensive reporting at the border, attacking the Biden administration for “lying” about having the area secured and using her identity as a Latina woman to push back against voting rights and immigration.
In her coverage of the period before Title 42 expired, Hernandez fixated on the condition of the area where migrants were waiting to be processed, saying on the May 10 episode of Frontlines with Drew Hernandez that “El Paso is starting to mirror San Francisco” and comparing it to “the homeless crisis that is also ravaging the United States.”
“You can clearly smell that people have been using the restroom in the streets,” Hernandez continued. “It’s not very sanitary, it does very much mirror a lot of those progressive cities we see nationwide. You know, I always sense the same pattern of decline every single time.”
Frontlines host Drew Hernandez has also attacked climate action in reporting from the border. On the May 12 episode, Hernandez went on an unhinged rant about migrants causing pollution and environmental degradation, also evoking the racist “great replacement” and “great reset” conspiracy theories to blame migration on the United Nations and the World Economic Forum. (In 2022, he created an entire “Davos Watch” series covering each day of the event to “keep an eye on the global cabal as we expose them and their globalist plans.”)
Hernandez said, “The United Nations, the World Economic Forum, they all say they want to clean up the world and have better ESG scores and lower your carbon footprint, but they encourage illegal immigration. They encourage mass replacement migration. And these individuals just — they’re not lowering their carbon footprint everywhere they go to illegally get into the United States of America, because at the look of it, I don’t think that this is actually going to really improve the environment.”
Over a chyron claiming “migrants trash border crossing,” he later warned that “this is what America is going to continue to look like,” explaining “these people are bringing this into American cities … because these people have no standard of living. They have no standard of what is tidy, they have no standard of what is order because if you communicate to a population of people that you can get into a country breaching law and order, then you yourself are going to have literally no concept of law and order or any type of order whatsoever.”
Media coverage of immigration that feigns outrage over litter and refers to human beings as though they are garbage must be exposed for what it is: greenwashed hate. Not only do right-wing media continue to use this rhetoric to disparage migrants in ways that can lead to dangerous radicalization, but they are increasingly finding ways to disguise eco-fascist talking points as conservation.