‘Camp of the Saints,’ Black Lives Matter, and the Crisis of Latino Leadership (OPINION)

Jun 2, 2020
3:40 PM

(Photo by Alfonso Gonzales Toribio)

After eight days of fierce protest, Black Americans have seized world attention with the power of spontaneous mobilization, urban rebellion, and protest through the Black Lives Matter movement. Protests are fueled by righteous indignation over the continued murder of Black men like George Floyd and many other daily injustices, including the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the Black community.

As evidence by the Mexican flags, other Latin American flags and Brown faces at the protests throughout the country, Latino youth —by the murder of black Americans— have turned out in mass. Despite their presence on the ground, we are still facing a crisis of Latino leadership that has failed to articulate a vision and national call to action that could resonate with the demands of these youth and older Latinos who are also upset about state violence and the systematic attacks against their communities amid the pandemic.

Latino workers are on the front lines of the service sector and face mass COVID-19 outbreaks in restaurants, agricultural sectors and food-processing plants. Over a million Latinos with some form of temporary status like DACA and TPS face the looming threat of deportation. And Latino migrants and refugees (including children), face immigration court proceedings, death in detention, deportation and exclusion from many relief efforts during the worst pandemic in 100 years.

Despite the daily injustices, there is no independent Latino led social movement like the one that put millions of immigrants on the street to protest the racist Sensenbrenner bill of 2006. We lack social mobilization and leadership in the face of resurgent racism and a real authoritarian and neoliberal turn in government that favors billionaires, attacks freedom of speech and assembly and that is hostile to human, migrant and refugee rights.

The burning question is how to congeal these distinct Latino sectors into a social and labor movement that could fight for justice in our communities and show solidarity with the black movement amid the pandemic.

Though this may seem insurmountable, we can get powerful ideas on how to accomplish this from Jean Raspail’s novel “The Camp of the Saints.”

Written in 1973, the novel about France being invaded by refugees was republished in English in 1994 by the Social Contract Press, which was founded by John Tanton. A neo-eugenicist and founder of the Center for Immigration Studies and Federation for American Immigration Reform, Tanton had a vision for maintaining a clear Euro-American majority in the U.S.

Known to be a favorite novel of Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon, the text allows us to get into the heads of the architects of Trump’s immigration policies and to understand their fears and desires. It has served as a quasi-spiritual document and a “don’t let this happen to you” guide for the neo-eugenicist right for the past 40 years. It supports their vision of using immigration policy as an instrument to maintain a white majority and to deter third-world migration to the U.S.

Drawing on symbolism from the Bible’s Book of Revelations, “The Camp of the Saints” depicts a group of white nationalists camping on a beach in southern France to take a heroic stand against the “Last Chance Armada,” a constellation of refugee ships, for a final conflict between good and evil. The latter is depicted as an anti-French, dark-skinned horde bringing disease, superstition, and hyperfertility to the birthplace of enlightenment to destroy it.

The controversial novel laments post-1968 radicalism in France and the decline of national pride in its imperial exploits and military, and reveals anxiety over “the white man’s meager numbers” in a world with billions of dark-skinned people.

The novel frequently refers to the refugees as invaders, animals, rats, ants, and “n•ggers,” while venerating the supposed genetic superiority of whites. It glorifies the South African apartheid regime for preventing the refugees from landing on its shores because it had the “courage” to threaten to shoot any refugee, including women and children, who set foot on South African soil.

Raspail writes, “There are two-and-a-half billion people in the world: five hundred million human beings, and two billion natives.” This reflects a central tenet of his book and of the neo-eugenicist ideology upheld by Trump and his immigration advisors: that non-whites are non-humans and therefore are genetically unfit for democracy and its rights regimes. This is what facilitates the reduction of human beings to essential workers who must risk infection or die of starvation. It is the same ideology that allows for refugees, including children, to be detained and face deportation proceedings to poor countries where the virus could potentially kill millions. And it is the same ideology that allowed for the police in Minneapolis to brutally and sadistically murder George Floyd.

In a chapter that could not be more relevant to our moment, Raspail writes of an uprising of mostly African meatpacking workers and expresses his ultimate fear. “If the Third World Factory workers of France rose up in spontaneous revolt that night — in places as far removed… it’s because for the last three days the pent-up tension had built to such a pitch that the lid finally blew, in a seething eruption of wild, expectant hopes.” Indeed a meatpacker uprising, among other factors, paves the way for the formation of an alliance that allows the refugees to march into Paris and contributes to the isolation of the white nationalists who are eventually defeated.

The novel reveals what could be the Achilles heel of Trump and the right-wing bloc: a united front comprised of Latino meatpacking and agricultural workers, intellectuals, refugees, undocumented youth, temporary status holders, and others with Blacks, Native Americans, and progressive whites. The historic weight of the moment with a proto-fascist President that has the nation on the verge of collapse demands the kind of Latino leadership that could help forge such a united front to turn the tide not only against Trump but against the authoritarian neoliberal bloc that he symbolizes.


Alfonso Gonzales Toribio is an Associate Professor and Director of Latin American Studies at the University of California Riverside. He is political theorist and author of the award winning book, Reform Without Justice: Latino Migrant Politics and the Homeland Security State (Oxford 2013). He has published opinion pieces in The HillHuffPostPolitico, among other outlets.