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Fox News fearmongered about Middle Eastern terrorists at the border over 400 times in the four weeks after the Israel-Hamas war began

Republican presidential candidates seized on the Middle Eastern conflict during the third debate and echoed Fox’s fearmongering campaign

  • Since the October 7 attacks on Israel by Hamas and the subsequent bombing campaign in Gaza, Fox News has seized on the chaos in the Middle East to revive its relentless fearmongering campaign suggesting that migrants crossing into the U.S. at the southern border are terrorists, this time from the Middle East. Fox’s toxic rhetoric follows “a spike in hate incidents” against Muslims in the U.S. 

    In all, Fox News guests and personalities fearmongered about Middle Eastern terrorists coming through the U.S. southern border at least 415 times over the four week period. Fox’s so-called “news”-side shows accounted for 53% of the claims.

    Fox News personalities Griff Jenkins, Sean Hannity, Brian Kilmeade, and Bill Melugin had the most claims connecting migrants at the southern border to Middle Eastern terrorism over this period, with 26, 22, 19, and 17 claims, respectively.

    Fox “news”-side show America’s Newsroom (41) led in these claims. Hannity (39), Fox and Friends (35), America Reports (33), and Fox Report with Jon Scott (26) followed suit.

    Hannity host Sean Hannity illustrated Fox’s narrative line on immigration since the start of the war during an October 10 episode, when he claimed that the Biden administration allowed “8 million illegal immigrants into this country with zero vetting,” and added that “terror cells are in this country as part of that 8 million figure, and that means they are plotting and planning and scheming another 9/11, or worse."

  • Video file

    Citation From the October 10, 2023, edition of Fox News' Hannity

  • Following Hamas’ attack on Israel and the subsequent bombing campaign in Gaza, Fox correspondents began reporting on “special interest aliens” and individuals from the FBI’s terror watchlist at the southern border, suggesting a supposedly historic number of apprehensions. Fox personalities and guests also seized on a statement from FBI Director Christopher Wray about a “heightened environment” for domestic terrorism to tie migration at the southern border to terrorism, even though Wray did not make that connection in the statement.

    In reality, this year’s southern border terror watchlist apprehension numbers are comparable to years past – 280 in 2019 compared to 249 so far this year. Moreover, civil rights advocacy groups have long been sounding the alarm about the FBI’s terror watchlist being unconstitutional, discriminatory, and often baseless or excessive. Similarly, “SIA [Special Interest Aliens] is not a meaningful metric to understand the threat of terrorism along the border or anywhere else,” according to Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute.

    And despite no evidence that a “special interest alien” apprehended by border authorities has ever committed an attack in the U.S., and very limited evidence connecting undocumented immigrants (Fox’s so-called “got-aways”) to terrorism, the network continued to use these statistics to fearmonger about migrants. 

    This rhetoric carried over to the third GOP debate on November 8, when multiple candidates brought up the supposed threat of terror at the border. Within 20 seconds of his opening statement, Gov. Ron DeSantis described American families as “less secure because of the open border that’s allowed drugs and even terrorists to come into this country.” At one point or another, each of the candidates Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Sen. Tim Scott repeated this narrative.

    Fox News has a history of baselessly fearmongering about migrants and leveraging current events to smear people crossing the border. The network has frequently ginned up narratives about migrants that either never pan out — like the many migrant caravans over the years which conveniently pop up around elections — or recklessly scapegoat migrants as the source of domestic problems, like the spread of COVID-19. For the 2024 election, the network appears to be reigniting its same fearmongering campaign from the past.

  • Methodology

  • Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on Fox News Channel for any of the terms “alien,” “illegals,” “American border,” “southern border,” “U.S. border,” “Mexican border,” or “U.S.-Mexico border” or any variations of any of the terms “migrant,” “immigrant,” or “emigrant” from October 7, 2023, when the 2023 Israel-Hamas war began, through November 3, 2023.

    We included segments, which we defined as instances when immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border was the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of immigration at the southern border. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed immigration at the southern border with one another.

    We also included teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border scheduled to air later in the broadcast. We did not include mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker in a segment on another topic mentioned immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border without another speaker in the segment engaging with the comment.

    We then reviewed the identified segments for claims, which we defined as instances of uninterrupted blocks of speech from a single speaker that connected immigrants in the U.S. or migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico southern border to Middle Eastern terrorism. For host monologues, headlines, and correspondent reports, we considered claims as blocks of uninterrupted speech between read quotes or played clips. We did not include the speech within a read quote or played clip unless a speaker in the segment positively affirmed said speech either directly before or after the quote was read or the clip was played.

    We deemed claims to be connecting migrants crossing into the U.S. through the southern border with Mexico to terrorism if they: fear-mongered about the number of “special interest aliens” apprehended at the southern border, suggested that a future terror attack would be tied to migrants coming through the southern border, suggested that “terror cells” have been allowed into the country through the southern border, suggested that there is an abundance of terrorists among migrants who evade apprehension crossing the southern border, highlighted people on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Terror Watch List that were apprehended by Customs and Border Protection at the southern border, or baselessly tied the FBI’s warnings about an “increased risk” of terrorist activity to migrants crossing the southern border