Right-wing media and guests used the 21st anniversary of 9/11 to fearmonger about potential terrorism and large-scale attacks by immigrants and refugees — especially those entering the U.S. from the southern border.
For years, right-wing media figures have dogpiled on immigrants entering the country via the southern border, frequently connecting such immigration to violent crime and terrorism to bolster their anti-immigration agenda. Although the events of 9/11 had no connection to Latin American migrants or Afghan refugees, right-wing figures used its anniversary to fearmonger about the effectiveness of refugee vetting and allege that the Biden administration has created an “open border” in the south.
In reality, there’s an intense vetting process for the refugees, and the narrative that President Joe Biden has an “open border” has been debunked. There are also clear racist overtones in discussions where right-wing media personalities spread fear about Afghan refugees as they support higher caps for Ukrainian refugees entering the U.S. And in their critique of the Biden administration’s border policy, conservative figures often fail to mention that it has allotted more than $100 billion to the Department of Homeland Security since 2021, with Customs and Border Patrol receiving a 13% bump in funding.
Despite right-wing media’s insistence on covering migrants and refugees as potential terrorists, there is a bounty of evidence that they are much less likely than others to commit acts of terrorism. University of Wisconsin sociology professor Michael Light and Julia Thomas found that “despite voluminous political pronouncements to the contrary, unauthorized immigration has not been a central driver of terrorist activity in recent decades.” Even the conservative Cato Institute estimates that the chance for an American citizen to be killed by a refugee in an act of terrorism is 1 in 3.64 billion a year.
In recent years, high-level law enforcement officials have indicated that far-right extremism, often in the form of white supremacy, is the top threat to U.S. domestic security. Many in right-wing media frequently ignore issues relating to far-right extremism while promoting racist anti-immigration rhetoric of their own, which has been linked to acts of domestic terrorism. Through the right-wing mainstreaming of anti-immigrant rhetoric and bigotry, however, life is made “substantially more difficult for all immigrants and the communities that welcome them.”
Right-wing media used the 21st anniversary of 9/11 to push debunked myths and fearmonger about migrants, refugees, and terrorism:
- In a segment critizing Biden’s border policy, Fox News host Sean Hannity said that “terror cells can walk into this country any time they want and they can mix in with the immigrant population, get processed, and we have cell after cell,” and it is only a matter of time until “something like 9/11, maybe worse, happens here.” [Fox News, Hannity, 9/12/22]
- In a segment dedicated to the events of 9/11, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed on Fox News that the Trump administration fought terrorism and “reduced that risk here at home to the American people with a safe and stronger southern border.” (In reality, Trump’s border only became less secure throughout his time in office, with more and more immigrants entering without authorization throughout his term.) [Fox News, Sunday Morning Futures, 9/11/22]
- On Sunday Morning Futures, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) fearmongered about “people on the terrorist watch list” immigrating to the U.S.: “Here we are 21 years away after 9/11, they’re coming across this border from Yemen and others. Why are they coming to America and what do they have planned?” [Fox News, Sunday Morning Futures, 9/11/22]
- In a tweet promoting her appearance on Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo’s show, Rep. Mayra Flores (R-TX), who is connected to the QAnon conspiracy theory, wrote: “On 9/11, let us remember, there are still many wishing us harm – unsecured borders are dangerous to our nat’l security.” [Twitter, 9/11/22]
- In a guest piece for The Daily Caller, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY) drew an unfounded connection between undocumented immigrants and increased threats to domestic security, claiming, “The threat to our nation is real, it’s here, and it’s growing.” [The Daily Caller, 9/11/22]
- Breitbart published an article titled “9/11 Hijackers Overstayed Visas, Remained in U.S. Thanks to Loophole Now Used by 685K Illegal Aliens.” [Breitbart, 9/11/22]
- Criticizing the Biden administration’s border policy, the Heritage Foundation’s Jim Carafano said, “The 9/11 attackers, if they came to America today, would've walked across the southern border and the U.S. government would've flown them to Boston to organize 9/11.” [Newsmax,The Gorka Reality Check, 9/11/22]
- The Federalist published an article claiming that “the current administration’s open border policies … are actively undermining our national security” and “taking us back to pre-9/11 homeland security.” [The Federalist, 9/12/22]
- On September 9, One America News’ Addison Smith lamented that “we’re approaching … the 21st anniversary of 9/11 and we brought in a ton of refugees” from Afghanistan “just like we do at the southern border,” adding that it’s “not great to be bringing people over from the Middle East that we haven’t vetted.” [One America News Network, In Focus, 9/9/22]