There was a time not too long ago when I believed that much of the anti-Mexican sentiment that had fueled Donal Trump’s path to the American presidency was being mistakenly directed at Mexican Americans.
To support my observation, I referenced a series of ugly incidents that had occurred in Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, Texas, Colorado, Oregon, and Michigan, in which Trump supporters (or at least those presumably inspired by his toxic anti-Mexican rhetoric) invoked the themes and symbols of Trumpism to taunt, harass, and intimidate Mexican Americans and other minorities.
Even Trump himself seemed to be targeting Mexican Americans. In one incident, Trump kicked a prominent Mexican American journalist out of a press conference and, then, in another incident, disparaged a Mexican American federal judge for being Mexican.
I had initially characterized these attacks on Mexican Americans as essentially collateral damage. I figured that to Trump, or, to a Trump supporter intent upon expressing hostility towards Mexican immigrants, any version of Mexican would do, including Mexican Americans.
To be completely honest though, I had never quite believed that all of the anti-Mexican sentiment being generated by Trump, who has been described as “the most anti-Mexican candidate in modern Presidential politics,” was related exclusively to unauthorized Mexican immigration. My instincts told me that, at some latent and unspoken level, this anti-Mexican sentiment was also about Mexican Americans. I had genuinely believed, however, at least initially, that these acts of aggression towards Mexican Americans were premised on hostility to unauthorized Mexican immigration.
But then I came across a video of a curious little incident that occurred on March 4, 2017 at a pro-Trump rally being held in Austin, Texas, as part of larger series of demonstrations known as the Spirit of America Rallies. At one point during the rally, a Mexican-American woman named María de Jesús attempted to address the demonstrators. According to Taylor Goldenstein, who was covering the event for the Austin American-Statesman, Ms. De Jesús, a representative of a group called Latino Trump Coalition USA, had clearly identified herself to those in attendance as a recently naturalized U.S. citizen. One would have assumed that these Trump supporters, with their ostensible devotion to the rule of law, would have lauded this woman. After all, she had done it the so-called “right way.” As video footage of the incident shows, however, this pro-Trump Mexican American was not met with approval and applause but was instead shouted down by a chorus of Trump’s “Build The Wall!” chant.
“Build a wall!” chorus begins as a speaker, Mexican-American newly a U.S. citizen starts to speak. pic.twitter.com/7z9cjAZTAq
— Taylor Goldenstein (@taygoldenstein) March 4, 2017
— Taylor Goldenstein (@taygoldenstein) March 4, 2017
So why didn’t these Trumpers embrace this recently naturalized Trump supporter as a model immigrant and one of their own? The answer to this question may perhaps be found in the apocalyptic lore of white nationalism.
As Jane Coaston of Vox explains in an article entitled “The Scary Ideology of Trump’s Immigration Instincts,” the Trump administration has embraced a “fringe theory” of the far right that advances the notion that “white people are being systematically ‘erased’ by their inferiors.” According to this theory, “white Americans, and white culture, are threatened by a slow-running ‘genocide’ via demographic replacement.”
Key members of the Trump administration, both past and present, have openly espoused this “genocide” theory. Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, for example, was fond of referencing The Camp of The Saints, an obscure French novel by Jean Raspail that portrays the world in terms of an epic struggle to save the white race from destruction at the hands of nonwhite immigrants. While Bannon may be out of the White House, Coaston warns that “his attitudes regarding immigration and immigrants remain in place, voiced by fellow immigration restrictionists like [Jeff] Sessions and [Stephen] Miller who believe that immigration poses a danger to American culture and American life—unless that immigration is from a predominantly white country.”
It’s important to be clear, at this point, about both Sessions and Miller. They are, in fact, white nationalists. “Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, named for the president of the Confederacy and a Confederate general” has extensive ties to white nationalist groups and publications like Breitbart, which, as Bannon once boasted, serves as the primary “platform for the Alt-Right,” a nebulous set of ideologies and organizations “centered on ‘white identity’ and the preservation of ‘Western civilization.’”
And, as prominent immigration attorney David Leopold recently argued, Miller is a de facto white nationalist even if Miller and apparently CNN’s Kate Bolduan refuse to acknowledge it.
For those who are reluctant to attach the label of white nationalist to figures like Bannon, Sessions, Miller, and even Trump himself, Clio Chang of Splinter offers some insightful perspective on the matter explaining that “calling someone a white nationalist —whether or not they like being called that— when they are pushing for and implementing white nationalist policy is a factual statement.”
Of course, the genocide theory isn’t new. The modern version has been incubating, in one form or another, for decades. Pat Buchanan, for example, ran on a version of this theory for the Republican presidential nomination in both 1992 and 1996 and as the Reform Party presidential candidate in 2000. He has also consistently pedaled the theory in books with titles like Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?, State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America, and Death Of The West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization. In each of these diatribes, Buchanan, citing Neo-Nazi sources and echoing positions advanced by anti-Mexican hate groups like American Patrol, warns of the existential threat posed to America by the burgeoning numbers of Mexican Americans in the Southwest. In State of Emergency, for example, in a chapter entitled “La Reconquista,” Buchanan not only questions the ability of Mexican Americans to successfully assimilate into American society, he also impugns their collective loyalty to the United States, and, at his most hysterical, discerns a vast and nefarious plot on the part of Mexican Americans to reconquer the Southwestern United States.
Ann Coulter apparently subscribes to a similar Mexico-centric version of the genocide theory. In her book ¡Adios, America! -The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country Into a Third World Hellhole, in a chapter entitled “Thirty Million Mexicans,” Coulter characterizes the demographic changes that have occurred in the United States “as a national homicide made to look like suicide.” Not surprisingly, she appears particularly distressed about the growing population of Mexican Americans in the Southwest indignantly noting, at one point, that the “Hispanic population, overwhelmingly Mexican, makes up 47 percent of New Mexico, 39 percent of California, 38 percent of Texas, 30 percent of Arizona, and 27 percent of Nevada.”
And, for decades, a network of organizations with indisputable connections to white nationalism have also advanced the genocide theory in the United States. According to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, “organizations like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and NumbersUSA are all part of a network of restrictionist organizations conceived and created by John Tanton.” A leading figure in the white nationalist movement in the United States, Tanton has regularly denigrated Mexican Americans often expressing concern that they were outbreeding whites, and has also professed his commitment to the idea that in order to maintain American culture within the United States “a European-American majority” is required.
Under Trump, this triad of organizations, once relegated to the fringe, now enjoy “unprecedented influence in the Oval Office,” and are “profoundly shaping national immigration policy.” In fact, many of the “proposals on immigration developed by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), have either been implemented or shown up in leaked draft proposals from the administration.” Representatives from CIS, FAIR, and NumbersUSA have even been invited to attend stakeholder meetings between ICE and immigration advocates, and several former staffers and sympathizers now fill key positions in the Trump administration including Jeff Sessions, Kris Kobach, Kellyanne Conway, Stephen Miller, Lou Barletta, and Julie Kirchner, FAIR’s former executive director, who once wrote that the “sight of millions of illegal immigrants and U.S.-born citizen children marching under Mexican flags and asserting their identities as something other than American is very troubling and should be seen as a wake-up call to the political leadership of this country.”
Even American politicians appear to have started alluding to the theory with increasing frequency. In March of 2017, for example, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) praised far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders in a tweet for understanding that “demographics are our destiny” adding that “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”
Rep. Steve King: “I’d like to see an America that’s just so homogenous that we look a lot the same” https://t.co/9nnRwDEbMW
— CNN (@CNN) March 13, 2017
More recently, State Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, complained that there weren’t “enough white kids to go around” in Arizona’s public school systems, and referred to immigration from Mexico as “an existential threat.”
An AZ legislator made these overtly racist comments about our students. It’s time to remove xenophobic radicals from elected office this November! We deserve leaders who understand we’re a nation of immigrants who bring a diversity of experiences & ideas. https://t.co/P5I9QpUHDI pic.twitter.com/NSrJS2WZA3
— David Schapira for Superintendent (@dschapira) June 13, 2018
In fact, Trump himself has frequently used coded language associated with the theory. In one tweet, he referred to sanctuary cities in California as immigrant “breeding concepts” while claiming, in another tweet, that Democrats “want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our country.” As Dana Milbank of the Washington Post explains, use of this language familiar to white supremacists and reminiscent of Adolf Hitler’s early anti-Semitic writing deliberately invokes an “image of Latinos breeding” and portrays them as “parasites among a host people, an enemy within given sanctuary when they should be cast out.” And, in his latest wink at white nationalism, Trump’s warning, issued during a press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May in July, that immigration leads to a loss of culture was a clear invocation of the genocide theory and “a staple of white nationalist rhetoric in the United States.”
There is, interestingly, a political dimension to the larger genocide theory. In 2016, candidate Trump warned that “this will be the last election that the Republicans have a chance of winning because you’re going to have people flowing across the border, you’re going to have illegal immigrants coming in and they’re going to be legalized and they’re going to be able to vote and once that all happens you can forget it.” This was an argument recently echoed by Tucker Carlson when he claimed that Mexico was interfering in American elections by “packing our election.”
Unfortunately, the genocide theory, or at least a version of it, has also resonated with many rank-and-file American voters. One political scientist has even attributed Trump’s victory in the presidential election of 2016 to what she calls “status shock.” According to a study by Diana C. Mutz, who explicitly rejects the economic hardship theory commonly proposed to explain Trump’s victory, many white voters supported Trump “because they felt threatened by increasing numbers of minorities” and “issues that threaten white Americans’ sense of dominant group status.”
By this point, it has become increasingly apparent that white nationalists have managed to insinuate the genocide theory within the highest levels of the Trump administration. This troubling observation is, unfortunately, not intended to function as hyperbole or overstatement. In light of this difficult new political reality, it would be prudent for Mexican Americans to recognize their tenuous position within the broader framework of this theory, and understand that, while those who have embraced this worldview consider immigration from Mexico to be the source of the problem, these true believers ultimately perceive Mexican Americans as the actual problem.
Nicolás Mena is the founder of the non-profit organization Mexican Americans in Solidarity With Mexico. For additional information about the organization, please feel free to visit solidaritywithmexico.org. You can also follow him on Twitter @solidaritywmex.