On September 8, 2015, Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade warned that letting Syrian refugees into the United States would increase the risk of terrorism. The next month, Fox host Bill O’Reilly and contributor Monica Crowley both referred to Syrians migrating to Europe as an “invasion” of the continent. That November, Fox’s Andrea Tantaros argued against accepting Syrian refugees on the grounds that “not all immigrants are created equal.”
In December 2015, then-candidate Donald Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on.” Trump exploited two recent tragedies (the terrorist attack in Paris and a shooting in San Bernardino) to justify his anti-Muslim proposal, but right-wing media had been pushing their audience — including Trump himself — in that direction for months.
Slightly more than a year later, in his first week in office, Trump attempted to follow through on his promise and issued the first version of his Muslim ban. The order caused chaos, spurred mass protests, and was an early indicator of the fascistic border policies his administration would enact, including its notorious family separation regime. The feedback loop between right-wing media and Trump was a radicalization engine, and Muslims abroad and other migrants and refugees suffered for it.
A similar dynamic is now at play, as Trump appears once more to be the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and is again issuing hard-right proclamations on immigration — including a pledge to renew and expand the Muslim ban. He has also promised to end birthright citizenship and carry out “the largest deportation operation in the history of our country.”
The anti-immigrant rhetoric in right-wing media has, if anything, become even more extreme since his first campaign.
On September 27, former Trump adviser and white nationalist Stephen Miller went on The Charlie Kirk Show to advocate for the military to deport millions of immigrants, echoing his old boss.
“Well, your first priority for deportation needs to be to send a message to the world, and for many other reasons, needs to be all of the illegal aliens who entered the country under Joe Biden,” Miller said.
“In order to carry out a deportation operation of that scale, you would need to involve the U.S. military, which is why President Trump often talks about the Eisenhower model, when the last time the U.S. military was involved in a large-scale deportation operation,” Miller added, referring to the infamous 1950s deportation program known as “Operation Wetback,” which Trump also promoted during his earlier campaign.
In the same interview, Miller called on the United States to construct “very large staging facilities to carry out the removals,” amounting to “an undertaking that would be greater than any national infrastructure project we've done to date.”
According to The New York Times, Republican presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis adopted virtually the exact same position laid out by Miller two days later.
Also on September 29, right-wing judicial activist and founder of the Article III Project Mike Davis appeared on conservative plagiarist Benny Johnson’s show, gleefully calling for mass atrocities against immigrant families — including illegally deporting U.S. citizens born to undocumented parents.
“We're gonna deport a lot of people, 10 million people and growing — anchor babies, their parents, their grandparents,” Davis said.
“We're gonna put kids in cages,” he continued. “It's gonna be glorious. We're gonna detain a lot of people in the D.C. gulag and Gitmo.”
Although Davis’ name may not be familiar to the general public, he is fully integrated into the conservative establishment. He twice served as a law clerk for Justice Neil Gorsuch, both on the 10th Circuit and on the Supreme Court. He was also chief counsel for nominations for the Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).
Anti-immigrant bigotry is a constant in right-wing media, but the viciousness displayed in Davis’ remarks illustrates a movement-wide escalation in nativist messaging. Just on Fox News in September alone, two hosts demanded the military invade Mexico to attack drug cartels; Laura Ingraham said “there is nothing more damaging to the future of this country” than immigrants; and Crowley reprised her xenophobia from 2015, claiming that “you have millions of illegal immigrants coming into the country bringing tsunamis of crime, drugs, disease, the massive strain on all of our resources,” which amounts to “the deliberate destruction of the country.”
Also in September, Daily Wire host Matt Walsh called for the next Republican administration to deport U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants.
“We are against splitting families up, aren’t we?” Walsh said. “That was the big outrage during the Trump years.”
Right-wing media are clearly nursing a palpable bloodlust directed at both migrants outside the United States and immigrants living in the country. Some of their extreme proposals may be pure fantasy. Most, if not all, are likely illegal, unconstitutional, or logistically impossible. But the history of Trump’s Muslim ban and family separation policy is a visceral reminder of what a far-right executive branch can accomplish, especially when it has virulently racist media outlets and their audiences incentivizing and demanding ever more radical actions.