Amid the influx of migrants at the U.S. southern border, right-wing media are spreading anti-immigration narratives that have also appeared on fringe online platforms, giving an ever-larger platform to xenophobia.
In mid-September, coverage surrounding the southern border has focused on groups of predominantly Haitian migrants trying to enter the United States via Mexico, with many waiting to be processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and gathering at makeshift encampments under the International Bridge between Del Rio, Texas, and Ciudad Acuña, Mexico. While some are being let into the U.S., hundreds of migrants were returned to Haiti. Despite criticisms from right-wing circles that President Joe Biden has been too soft on immigration, the Biden administration is now carrying out what’s been called “the largest mass expulsion of asylum-seekers in recent history." On September 24, there were reports that all of those residing in the makeshift camps had been removed — thousands are currently detained in Department of Homeland Security facilities as they await deportation proceedings, while others have returned to Mexico or entered the United States.
Right-wing media have an extensive history of promoting anti-immigrant rhetoric. Between March 22 and June 11 of this year, Fox News pushed xenophobic narratives in at least 693 segments, according to a Media Matters study. In 2021, Fox News personality Tucker Carlson has peddled racist, anti-immigrant myths about “white replacement,” suggested that Biden’s immigration policy is “eugenics” and a plot by Democrats to stack the electorate, and said immigration is an attack on democracy. Other Fox News segments in 2021 have claimed that immigrants are a danger to U.S. citizens, suggested migrants drain U.S. resources, and pushed racist conspiracy theories about immigrant cultures replacing American culture. Other right-wing media outlets such as Newsmax, the Washington Examiner, and Breitbart also frequently spread misinformation and nativist rhetoric on their platforms.
The right-wing media’s anti-immigrant stance drives national conversations about immigration, according to a Media Matters study. Fox News and right-leaning Facebook pages accounted for the majority of immigration coverage on cable TV and social media, respectively, in late 2020 and early 2021.
As the number of migrants attempting to seek asylum at the southern border increases, major right-wing media outlets like Fox News have once again seized the opportunity to promote anti-immigrant narratives also prominent on fringe right-wing platforms. Here are some of the overlapping narratives:
Right-wing figures blame Biden for the situation at the border and advocate for greater border enforcement
Right-wing media coverage featured hosts and guests blaming the Biden administration, defending Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, and calling for more resources at the border:
- Fox News host Emily Compagno criticized the Biden administration for making the jobs of Border Patrol agents more difficult, saying that in Texas, “all of a sudden now we are bumping up resources to an area that this president was very committed to depleting resources from.” Compagno also pointed to a letter from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, in which she said Abbott “plead[ed] to President Biden to declare the state of Texas in a full state of emergency because of the burden on the local and state resources as well as federal.”
- Newsmax’s Eric Bolling described the scene at the southern border as especially overwhelming for CBP, saying, “Border agents were being swamped, deluged with a tsunami of Haitian people pushing the wide-open door to get into America.”
- The Daily Wire published an article discussing how Texas law enforcement had to go out of its way to secure the southern border, creating a barricade of police vehicles “after the Biden administration repeatedly failed to stop tens of thousands of migrants from illegally entering the United States.”
- On her Fox News program The Story, Martha MacCallum framed an upcoming news story by saying: “The Border Patrol officials are outmanned 200-1 against the migrants who are pushing forward as they're trying to protect the border.”
- Fox News correspondent Sara Carter tweeted that “the Biden admin has created a massive national security and humanitarian crisis” at the Texas border. Carter also shared an image to show the additional steps the Texas Department of Public Safety had to take to prevent “massive waves” of migrants from crossing the river.
- During an appearance on The Story with Martha MacCallum, Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich spoke out against people likening the CBP’s actions to “police brutality” and instead uplifted Border Patrol agents as “simply doing their job” and as “patriotic, dutiful men who are protecting Del Rio, Texas, from an onslaught of illegal immigration.”
- Bill Melugin, Fox News correspondent, tweeted images from the southern border and accused the Biden administration of the “catch and release” of migrants, thereby “releasing these migrants into the US on a large scale.”
On fringe platforms, narratives are spreading that Biden surrendered the border, practically opening the door for immigrants to come into the United States unchallenged, as did claims that Texas law enforcement had to step in to make up for Biden’s inaction:
- These claims appeared on fringe platforms like Patriots.win and We The Pepe, and on the Telegram channel of a QAnon influencer. One Gab post from a QAnon promoter received thousands of likes.
Right-wing media accuse liberals of spreading false stories about border agents whipping migrants in order to stir up racial tension
On September 20, images and video surfaced of Border Patrol agents on horseback apparently attacking and physically striking migrants crossing a river. The Biden administration, which has launched an investigation, has since faced scrutiny and criticism over the handling of this incident. Some media organizations and liberal commentators initially reported (incorrectly) that the agents appeared to be attacking migrants with whips, when in fact the agents were apparently using their horses’ reins.
Right-wing media personalities made much of this minor distinction, arguing that liberals and mainstream outlets were using a “race angle” to smear Border Patrol agents.
- Fox host Pete Hegseth called the story about agents whipping migrants “fake news” and said mainstream media were trying to distract from the Biden administration’s failures by blaming law enforcement: “They found the one piece of evidence that can try to make law enforcement look bad. … When, a) it wasn't true and b) the overarching reality at the border is that it’s open.”
- Eric Bolling of Newsmax claimed “racist” liberal politicians and “lazy liberal journalists” were using the video footage to stir up racial tension and cover up for Biden’s border crisis: “Finally, the liberal media had something to dig their pointy little teeth into. They had a race angle. Or so they thought. ‘Look at those whips those racist border agents were using to lash the poor Haitians running for their lives.’ That was the narrative the left needed to run with, and boy, did they run with it.”
- The Federalist published an article titled “Democrats Spread Border Patrol ‘Whip’ Lie While Failing To Address Growing Border Crisis.”
- Far-right outlet Infowars wrote that Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) were “spreading fake claims that Border Patrol agents are whipping Haitian migrants.”
- Right-wing pundits including conservative columnist and podcaster Stephen Miller mocked the White House on Twitter for referring to the reins as a “whip-like cord.” Miller shared a screenshot of a Reuters article, writing, “This can’t be parodied.”
- Breitbart’s Brandon Darby also tweeted about the terminology the White House used to describe the reins.
- Right-wing radio host Dana Loesch argued in a tweet that reporters “falsely reporting CBP agents as whipping everyone at the border” was “disinformation.”
- Conservative columnist and Fox News contributor Guy Benson tweeted that the White House “rushed to amplify misinformation & smeared beleaguered/ overwhelmed CBP officers.”
- Conservative commentator Katie Pavlich claimed on Twitter, “The border is completely overrun and most of the media isn’t focused on the threat to Americans, but proliferating lies about Border Patrol agents doing their jobs to protect the country.”
- Daily Wire host Matt Walsh tweeted that “leftists … find sinister intentions in normal everyday objects and yet label the other side conspiracy theorists.”
Fringe right-wing social media users also propelled this narrative, claiming mainstream media and liberal politicians had created a “hoax” to make Border Patrol look bad and distract from Biden’s failings.
- Another Patriots.win user reposted and praised a tweet by the National Fraternal Order of Police — a powerful police union “committed to putting white men in charge" and defending cops accused of killing or injuring civilians — that emphasized that the reins were not whips.
- A user on the social media site Gab, which is often used by right-wing extremists, echoed the race-baiting accusations of Fox and other major right-wing outlets, posting that “Leftist morons … are actually attempting to label the reins used to ride a horse are whips being used to beat Haitians (read here: black people + racism) at the border. These people are sick.” The Gab post was later reposted on the messaging site Telegram, getting over 35,000 views.
Right-wing media claim the Biden administration banned drone flights over the border to hide what’s happening
Fox News made false claims that the Biden administration purposefully targeted the network to hide the “border crisis” from the public when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) banned drone flights over the U.S.-Mexico border. According to an FAA spokesperson, the ban was implemented for security reasons at the request of the CBP:
- Fox News host Tucker Carlson claimed, “The Biden administration’s FAA has tried to shut down our news gathering at the border, and we’re not putting up with it.”
- During the September 17 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Pete Hegseth alleged that the FAA is targeting Fox News to impede the network’s coverage of the border. Hegseth claimed, “This has nothing to do with media, everything to do with Fox. There are no other drones flying there.”
- Fox News’ Sean Hannity speculated that the FAA’s flight restriction over a bridge on the U.S.-Mexico border was to “prevent Fox’s drone from showing you -- the American people -- the truth.” Hannity further claimed, “The FAA is being used to cover up for Biden’s failures.”
Similar narratives also circulated on fringe right-wing platforms, accusing Biden of hiding images of migrants at the border. Right-wing site Gateway Pundit amplified a tweet from Fox correspondent Bill Melugin about the temporary flight restrictions. The claim that Biden was deliberately hiding events at the border was also posted on a far-right, QAnon-supporting Telegram channel as well as fringe forum Patriots.win.