In response to a recent Supreme Court ruling allowing Border Patrol agents to cut razor wire Texas laid along the border with Mexico, right-wing pundits are claiming the Biden administration has sparked a second American Civil War. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Amy Coney Barrett, two members of the court’s conservative block, sided with the three liberal justices in ruling for the federal government.
The issue stems from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to stretch razor wire over dozens of miles along the state’s southern border, a cruel policy that has failed in its stated objective of deterring unauthorized border crossings. The Biden administration opposes the measures, and has ordered the Border Patrol to remove the barriers. The stand-off between Border Patrol and the Texas National Guard escalated earlier this month, with federal officials blaming Abbott for the deaths of a mother and her two children who drowned in the Rio Grande. (Texas authorities dispute this version of events.)
For his part, Gov. Abbott pledged that Texas will “continue to deploy this razor wire to repel illegal immigration.” Although it may appear that Abbott is in direct defiance of the Supreme Court, the American Immigration Council’s Aaron Reichlin-Melnick explained that the ruling overturned an “order saying Border Patrol COULDN’T remove Texas razor wire to process migrants. It didn’t affirmatively rule that the Border Patrol COULD remove Texas razor wire.” Or, as the New Republic's Matt Ford put it, the Supreme Court “lifted an injunction” on the Department of Homeland Security, so there's “nothing in this case for Texas to obey or defy at the moment.”
This simmering confrontation is the new backdrop for an old story. During election years, conservative media outlets generally ramp up their attacks on immigrants. Separately, over the last year, conservatives have become increasingly comfortable calling for, threatening, or warning about a coming civil war in the country. Responses to the recent court ruling have married these two trends.
As the news broke on January 22, conservative YouTube streamer Tim Pool said it “looks like a Fort Sumter-esque type scenario,” referencing the first battle of the Civil War, adding that “it does feel like it could be escalating to this federal versus state conflict.”
That evening, former Fox News star Tucker Carlson posted on X (formerly Twitter), asking: “Where are the men of Texas? Why aren’t they protecting their state and the nation?”
The same night, Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA) wrote that “the feds are staging a civil war, and Texas should stand their ground.”
Then on January 23, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon appeared to favorably reference that post, saying “as Clay Higgins said” there is “kind of a civil war between the federal government and the state of Texas.”
Hours later, Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk fantasized about Gov. Abbott openly defying the court’s ruling at the barrel of a gun.
“So someone says right here, ‘Charlie, what would happen if Texas ignores the ruling? Will the government go to war with Texas?’” he asked.
“The federal government would come in, and some people would say, ‘Well, that's the seeds of a civil war.’ Is that what you want? Where does this end?” Kirk added moments later. “By the way, I'm all on board.”
“If we had an actual governor of Texas that was willing — 100% defy this,” Kirk continued, before advising Abbott on the logistics.
“If you're going to defy, here's how it works: press conference flanked by your most loyal Texas Rangers. ‘I am ignoring the Supreme Court's decision,’” Kirk said, adopting Abbott’s point of view. “‘I will enforce the border of Texas. If you're going to arrest me, you have to go through the Texas Rangers.’”
“If we had more governors on the border, it would be even more powerful,” he added, implicitly invoking the Confederacy. “Get every red state on board. Fly in every Republican governor.”
On Wednesday afternoon Abbott issued a statement invoking “Texas’s constitutional authority to defend and protect itself,” which he claimed is “the supreme law of the land.” Throughout the day, at least nine governors backed Abbott on X, even if they fell short of Kirk’s demand that they travel to the border. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp all posted their support for Texas, as did Speaker of the House Mike Johnson.
In the same episode, Kirk told his audience that they had “better buy weapons,” and “have a lot of guns at your disposal.”
That afternoon, The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh echoed Kirk. “Red state governors will need to ignore the Supreme Court and do what needs to be done to protect their citizens and the border,” Walsh said. He later added, “The last civil war was unimaginable until it wasn't.”
In the early evening, Bannon returned to the topic with guest Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). “That Supreme Court decision that was made has now put the federal government at war with the state of Texas,” Greene said.
“If they fund a war in Ukraine when Zelensky is raising the white flag, asking for peace talks in Switzerland, and they weaken our border policy while the federal government is at war with Texas, that is truly, possibly the start of a civil war in this country,” she added.
Blaze TV’s Steve Deace also invoked the memory of the Civil War. “Basically, the Supreme Court has told Texas your choices are: be invaded or secede,” Deace said.
On January 25, Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade adopted the same framing on Fox & Friends.
“It feels like almost like a soft civil war,” Kilmeade said. “You’ve got all the Republicans saying, ‘Can we secure our borders?’ the Democrats saying, ‘I want this to go away’ and blaming Republicans, the President against the governor of Texas — the most independent state in the union. I mean, this is getting a little crazy.”
Fox News sounded little different than the fringe. “This is a constitutional crisis,” said conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, in a video titled: “Supreme Court Decision Provokes Civil War in Texas.”
The story was the same in the right-wing blogosphere, too, with conservative news site PJ Media asking, “Is Joe Biden Mounting a Civil War at the Border?”
While right-wing media figures fantasize about a new civil war, their rhetoric has real implications for immigration policy. They are stoking xenophobia and nativism, and endorsing cruel policies that are already injuring and killing some of the most vulnerable people in the world.