White nationalists and other far-right extremists have embraced and celebrated Fox News’ Bill Melugin, the network’s primary correspondent at the US southern border. His reporting is regularly mentioned and praised on racist, anti-immigrant websites including VDARE, Infowars, and other extremist outlets, highlighting the ideological overlap between so-called mainstream conservatism and its more openly racist fringes.
Melugin is a fixture on Fox News, regularly appearing both in supposed straight news programming and during primetime opinion shows. He has been on Fox at least 427 times in 2022, including at least 30 segments on the network’s flagship program, Tucker Carlson Tonight. (Data on Melugin's appearances is current through December 19, 2022, at 12:40pm.)
Drawing clear distinctions between mainstream conservatism and white nationalist extremism is not easy. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, for example, has fully embraced the racist “great replacement” conspiracy theory, once a fringe position only pushed by overt racists. Melugin has played a key role in much of Carlson’s mainstreaming of that xenophobic idea, so it is not a surprise that his coverage would also appear in far-right media venues.
One of the racist sites that has embraced Melugin is VDare, a white nationalist outlet founded by Peter Brimelow, a reclusive conservative publisher who straddles the line between the conservative establishment and overt white supremacy. Brimelow endorsed “racial nationalism” at CPAC in 2018, and one year later argued that when it came to immigration policy, “Western elites” were only interested in “repressing the white host nations,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. In a column for VDare in 2012, white nationalist John Derbyshire argued that, “White supremacy, in the sense of a society in which key decisions are made by white Europeans, is one of the better arrangements History has come up with,” also as reported by the SPLC.
Brimelow recently attended the New York Young Republican Club’s annual gala in Manhattan. He was photographed next to former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, host of the War Room podcast, further illustrating the porous boundaries between supposedly respectable conservatism and its explicitly racist fellow travelers.
Over the last year and a half, VDare has used Melugin’s reporting as the basis for at least 31 blogs or videos on their site. While it’s true that an individual reporter can’t control what happens to their journalism once it’s out in the world, the pattern that emerges from VDare’s commentary on, and aggregation of, Melugin’s work is clear. The stories Melugin tells, and the way he frames them, fully align with VDare’s white nationalist agenda.
VDare celebrates Melugin’s reporting
On December 12, conservative edgelord and Twitter owner Elon Musk approvingly responded to a typically sensationalistic tweet from Melugin. “Wow,” Musk replied to a video purporting to show over 1,000 migrants crossing the Rio Grande river without authorization. Musk’s interaction with Melugin’s post amplified its reach significantly. Later that morning, VDare’s official twitter account retweeted Melugin’s original tweet, again signaling the close proximity between conservative provocateurs like Musk and more overtly racist outlets.
VDare’s account promoted Melugin two other times that morning as well, in both cases by retweeting comments added by white nationalist and Infowars contributor Dan Lyman. The account also retweeted Melugin or amplified his work at least nine other times in December, including one instance in which white nationalist and former Trump advisor Stephen Miller used his footage to argue against a spending bill Congress was debating. And in August, VDare celebrated after Musk had responded positively to another Melguin tweet.
VDare amplifies Melugin’s work even more frequently on their website. In October, VDare published a story based on a tweet of Melugin’s that incorrectly reported a Border Patrol agent had shot and killed a detained migrant after he had gone for the agent’s gun. In fact, as an FBI investigation found just days later, the man, Manuel Gonzalez-Moran, had apparently grabbed an unspecified “edged weapon” off an office desk, after which point a Border Patrol agent shot and killed him.
In July, VDare published a story under the same byline praising Melugin as an “intrepid” reporter “who documents The Great Replacement almost daily on his Twitter feed.” The same credited writer used similar language in February, again referencing “Fox News’s intrepid Bill Melugin, who keeps an eagle eye of Biden’s planned invasion of replacement citizens.” Also in February, a post under a pseudonymous byline said Melugin “has been doing excellent coverage along the border.”
Both Melugin and VDare have repeatedly covered the controversy over a photo that initially appeared to show Border Patrol agents whipping a Haitian migrant named Mirard Joseph in September 2021. Melugin has consistently claimed that Border Patrol didn’t do anything wrong. In October, he revisited the allegations, tweeting out an email obtained by conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation sent to Department of Homeland Security head Alejandro Mayorkas that quoted the photojournalist who took the shot. The email appeared to undercut the whipping allegations, and cast Mayorkas in an unfavorable light. VDare embedded Melugin's tweet in a blog that also included criticism of Mayorkas from the Border Patrol Union and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
The reality of the story is far more nuanced than either Melugin or VDare want to admit. Melugin’s supposed smoking gun email included a write-up of an interview of Paul Ratje, the photographer, in which said he hadn't witnessed agents whipping any migrants, but later said his comments had been misconstrued as giving Border Patrol “a pass.” Joseph and other migrants mistreated by Border Patrol agents that day filed a lawsuit against the government, claiming agents had “lashed” him. Joseph described his treatment while in U.S. custody as “the worst humiliation I have endured in my life.” An official investigation by Customs and Border Protection didn’t find evidence that whipping took place, but did uncover “unprofessional and dangerous behavior by several individual Agents.” But both Melugin and VDare saw an opportunity to demonize migrants and took it.
Conspiracy theorists at Infowars rely on Melugin's work
Melugin’s support from Infowars extends beyond the recent tweets from Lyman, the white nationalist who VDare retweeted. In September, Alex Jones’ co-host Owen Shroyer repeatedly praised Melugin after Politico reported that the Biden White House had “become increasingly irritated” with the Fox News correspondent. Shroyer claimed, without evidence, that the story was an attempt to “get Melugin shut down and banned and censored from the Internet” to punish him for his journalism.
“Now, who’s down there reporting at the border, probably more-so and better than anyone else, that’s Bill Melugin,” Shroyer said to introduce the topic. (Shroyer, never one to sweat the details, pronounced Melugin’s name wrong until a producer appeared to correct him midway through the segment.)
“And so why are they mad at Bill Melugin?” Shroyer asked. “Because he’s down at the border every day with a Fox News crew, with cameras, and they’re showing the tens of thousands of illegal immigrants that come across the border every day. And talking to Border Patrol about the terrorists, and the child rapists that they arrest.”
Like VDare, the Infowars website regularly writes articles based on Melugin’s work. A review of Infowars’ archives show at least 37 posts that include his reporting, typically as the piece’s primary or exclusive source. These stories adopt his anti-migrant framing, treating irregular border crossings as a rolling catastrophe – the frontline in a war zone – that must be addressed with militarized responses.
In many cases, Melugin is mentioned without additional comment, but there are several instances in which Infowars bloggers express their admiration for him. Writer Steve Watson recently celebrated Melugin as a reporter “who has been at the front lines on the border crisis for years now.” Last month, on the day of the 2022 midterms, Lyman characterized Melugin as “documenting the invasion of Maverick County,” in Texas. One month earlier, writer Kelen McBreen praised a tweet of Melugin’s that supposedly “accurately pointed out” the hypocrisy of New York city’s immigration policy compared with Texas’. Watson, weeks earlier, again cheered on Melugin for being “ever present at the border.”
Racists, other far-right extremists praise Melugin’s Del Rio bridge story
Arguably Melugin’s breakthrough story came in August and September, 2021, when he covered an influx of mostly Haitian migrants who had sought refuge under the Del Rio bridge in Texas. Infowars covered the issue by cross-posting a blog from far-right conspiracy site ZeroHedge, written by pseudonymous blogger Tyler Durden. “Melugin has been reporting from the bridge for more than a month,” Durden wrote approvingly that September, also referring to the “stunning drone footage” Melugin had captured.
When the FAA issued a two-week flight restriction over the bridge, Durden accused the Biden administration of trying to kill the story, and praised Melugin for persevering. “The Biden administration’s attempt to cover up the border disaster by blocking drones didn’t stop Melugin and his team who hitched a ride on a Texas Department of Public Safety’s helicopter to capture an aerial view of the migrant crisis,” Durden gushed. In fact, shortly after issuing the restriction, the FAA provided clearance for Melugin about a day later.
The Del Rio bridge story became a national sensation, with Melugin’s implicitly xenophobic coverage leading the way. The story spread to some of the worst parts of the Internet, where the implicit bigotry was abandoned for explicit racism. Neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer referred to the migrants as “invaders,” claiming the United States’ refugee policy was “about making America nonwhite. There’s no other goal.”
The racist site Occidental Dissent also covered the story. It was “another scene of imperial decline,” according to the site’s founder, Brad Griffin, who uses the pen name Hunter Wallace. “This has been going on ever since Joe Biden was inaugurated in January,” he added. “The only difference now is seeing so many black faces joining the flood.”
What’s most notable about this explicitly racist commentary is how closely it matched Fox News’ own coverage at the time. As Media Matters and others noted, Tucker Carlson – using Melugin’s reporting – fully embraced the racist great replacement conspiracy theory while discussing the Del Rio bridge story. Biden’s immigration policy was designed "to change the racial mix of the country,” Carlson said. “In political terms, this policy is called ‘the great replacement,’ the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from far-away countries.”
Melugin frames himself as a straightforward reporter, just covering the facts as he sees them. But his body of work has been wholeheartedly embraced by far-right extremists and conspiracy theorists, Carlson very much among them. That’s not intrepid reporting – it’s laying the foundation for racist propaganda.