On Friday, Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance pushed an anti-immigration conspiracy theory that alleged President Joe Biden was deliberately allowing drug smugglers to import fentanyl to the United States to kill Donald Trump voters. The theory has also been put forward by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, whom the New York Times recently characterized as running “what may be the most racist show in the history of cable news.”
Vance made the allegations in a recent interview with Jim Hoft, founder of the far-right site Gateway Pundit. “If you wanted to kill a bunch of MAGA voters in the middle of the heartland, how better than to target them and their kids with this deadly fentanyl,” Vance told Hoft, later adding: “It does look intentional. It’s like Joe Biden wants to punish the people who didn’t vote for him. And opening up the floodgates to the border is one way to do it.”
This allegation sounds remarkably similar to a line of argument Carlson used on his February 8 show. After stoking fear about a Biden administration harm reduction policy for people who use crack, Carlson pivoted to the opioid overdose crisis. “I seem to remember reading somewhere that more than 100,000 Americans died last year from opioid ODs. What are we doing about that? Well, good question, and the answer is nothing,” Carlson said.
He then offered an explanation that hinged on a lie that Biden is pursuing an “equity agenda” that deliberately seeks to benefit people of color at the expense of white people, toward the ultimate goal of their political subjugation. “Those 100,000 Americans weren't from officially marginalized groups. Their deaths have nothing to do with the equity agenda. In fact, their deaths may have helped the equity agenda by changing the demographics of the country in a way that benefits the Democratic Party,” Carlson said. “So as far as the Biden administration is concerned, it's not a bad trend.”
Carlson concluded that although the United States had suffered high levels of overdose deaths, “these are exactly the kind of people the administration hates anyway, so with equity in mind, the White House plans to continue allowing as much fentanyl as possible to come into this country through Mexico.” In reality, border seizures of fentanyl in the final year of Trump’s term largely mirror the current rates under Biden. More broadly, the overdose epidemic in the United States is a complicated phenomenon, driven by drug manufacturers, a for-profit health care system, and economic precarity that’s resulted from deindustrialization and an overall decline in the power of organized labor. It is not caused by immigrants.
It’s not surprising that Vance might adopt this talking point from Carlson. His political life is dependent on the Trump-Carlson wing of the Republican Party, and his turnaround from flagging candidate to front-runner came in the wake of Trump’s endorsement. Vance’s main opponent in the Republican primary, Josh Mandel, has also modeled himself after Trump, but the increasingly acrimonious rivalry shows that simply adopting the former president’s bigoted rhetoric isn’t always enough to avoid the dreaded “establishment candidate” label, as Don Trump Jr. referred to Mandel on Twitter.
Beyond Trump and Carlson, Vance is a creation of GOP megadonor Peter Thiel, the far-right billionaire with ties to the faux-populist “New Right,” as well as to overt white nationalists. Last year, Thiel co-launched a new project called the Rockbridge Network that seeks to reshape the Republican Party in Thiel’s image. Vance, and his fellow Senate candidate Blake Masters, were recipients of Thiel donations totaling at least $10 million apiece.
This group often pays lip service to a narrow conception of the working class — basically white men in hard hats and their wives — but their pro-worker rhetoric is predicated on blaming immigrants for falling wages, and increased crime and drug use. Given the long history of associating immigrant communities with drug crime, stretching back to anti-Chinese racism around opium and anti-Mexican racism around marijuana, it’s not shocking that Carlson and Vance would recycle these tropes. But, as Vance might say, it does look intentional.