How the El Paso Gunman Echoed The Words of Right-Wing Pundits
How the El Paso Gunman Echoed The Words of Right-Wing Pundits
Tucker Carlson went on his prime-time Fox News show in April last year and told his viewers not to be fooled. The thousands of Central Americans on their way to the United States were "border jumpers," not refugees, he said. "Will anyone in power do anything to protect America this time," he asked, "or will leaders sit passively back as the invasion continues?"
When another group approached the border six months later, Ann Coulter, appearing as a guest on Jeanine Pirro's Fox News show, offered a dispassionately violent suggestion about what could be done to stem the flow of migrants: "You can shoot invaders."
A few days after, Rush Limbaugh issued a grim prognosis to his millions of radio listeners: If the immigrants from Central America weren't stopped, the United States would lose its identity. "The objective is to dilute and eventually eliminate or erase what is known as the distinct or unique American culture," Mr. Limbaugh said, adding: "This is why people call this an invasion."
There is a striking degree of overlap between the words of right-wing media personalities and the language used by the Texas man who confessed to killing 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso this month. In a 2,300-word screed posted on the website 8chan, the killer wrote that he was "simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion."
It remains unclear what, or who, ultimately shaped the views of the white, 21-year-old gunman, or whether he was aware of the media commentary. But his post contains numerous references to "invasion" and cultural " replacement " -- ideas that, until recently, were relegated to the fringes of the nationalist right.
An extensive New York Times review of popular right-wing media platforms found hundreds of examples of language, ideas and ideologies that overlapped with the mass killer's written statement -- a shared vocabulary of intolerance that stokes fears centered on immigrants of color. The programs, on television and radio, reach an audience of millions.
In the four years since Mr. Trump electrified Republican voters with slashing comments about Muslims and Mexicans, demonizing references to immigrants have become more widespread in the news media, the Times review found.
Sometimes the hosts are repeating the president's signature phrases. Sometimes the president appears to take his cues from television pundits. The cumulative effect is a public dialogue in which denigrating sentiments about immigrants are common.
Before the first groups of Central American migrants received heavy news media coverage in 2018, words like "invaders" or "invasion" were rarely used by American outlets. In the last year, the use of such terms has surged, with references to an immigrant "invasion" appearing on more than 300 Fox News broadcasts. The vast majority of those were spoken by Fox News hosts and guests, but some included clips of Mr. Trump using that language at rallies and other public appearances.
The Times analysis examined the last five years of show transcripts from Fox News, CNN and MSNBC to measure the frequency of terms like "invasion" and " replacement ." Segments that included this language were verified by watching clips of the shows to determine whether hosts and guests were speaking in their own words or reporting on the language of others.
"It's a bit of a vicious cycle," said the conservative writer William Kristol, a Republican critic of Mr. Trump's who has worked at Fox News and other networks. "Something is said on Fox News, and Trump repeats it, and that legitimizes it -- and then someone else goes a little further."
He added, "The use of what once would have been viewed as really extreme and inappropriate and sometimes conspiratorial, sometimes dehumanizing language is really striking."
While the notion of immigrants as a national threat was a feature of the conservative Patrick Buchanan's unsuccessful bids to win the Republican presidential nominations in 1992 and 1996 (he used the phrase "illegal invasion" then), they ran counter to the Republican Party's efforts to make itself more appealing to Hispanics and other minorities in the two decades before Mr. Trump became its front-runner.
The portrayal of immigration as a menace has returned with force, a shift brought on not just by radio and TV hosts, but by Republican leaders in Congress and the president himself. This year Mr. Trump has used the terms "invasion" or "invaded" seven times on Twitter to describe the situation at the border, at one point referring to the approach of the migrants as "the attempted Invasion of Illegals." At rallies, he has injected terms like "predator," "killer," and "animal" in his descriptions of immigrants.
The Trump-friendly media world -- from outlets like Sinclair Broadcast Group and The Drudge Report to platforms like Breitbart News and Gateway Pundit -- has used similar incendiary rhetoric. "The fact of the matter is that this is an attempted invasion of our country -- period," Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump campaign adviser, said last year in a commentary on migrants that aired on nearly 200 Sinclair television stations.
At the start of the El Paso suspect's screed, he refers to the "great replacement ," a white supremacist conspiracy theory based on a French book that claims the migration of minority groups can lead to a "genocide" of white culture.
The El Paso suspect, who confessed to the mass shooting last week, claimed in the document he posted to be defending against a "Hispanic invasion of Texas." The words "invasion" and "invaders" appear six times in the text, a stark parallel to the language heard on conservative television and talk radio today.
Before the El Paso shootings, others with deadly or hateful motives used the same language.
The replacement theory was prominent in a document posted on 8chan by the suspect in the massacre that killed 51 people in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March.
The man who is alleged to have killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue last October had expressed his contempt for "invaders" before he opened fire on the congregation with an AR-15-style assault rifle, the authorities say. During the white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 that left one woman dead, marchers shouted, "You will not replace us."
Lawrence Rosenthal, a professor at the Berkeley Center for Right-Wing Studies, said that the shared vocabulary of white nationalists and many prominent conservatives was chilling. "Where that intersects with the Republican Party today," he added, "is the Republican argument that the Democrats are in favor of immigration because that will give them a permanent majority."
Mr. Limbaugh, whose syndicated radio show has a weekly audience of 15 million, has trafficked in similar themes. "Why does the left want this invasion? Why do they want it to come?" he asked in June 2018. "This invasion is a means of transforming the country."
On Wednesday, responding to the El Paso shootings, Mr. Limbaugh said, "What is it about the word 'invasion' that so bothers these people? Is it because that's what it is? Have we ever seen anything like this?"
On Fox News, Mr. Carlson has proffered a version of this idea, albeit in less extreme language than that of the 8chan message boards where the El Paso killer lurked. "I'm for Americans, and nobody cares about them," the host said on his show in March, pushing back against criticism that he was anti-immigrant. "It's like, 'Shut up, you're dying. We're going to replace you."'
Mr. Carlson, whose show averages about three million viewers a night, has featured guests who subscribe to the replacement theory, like Peter Szijjarto, the foreign minister to Hungary's nationalistic president, Viktor Orban. In February, Mr. Carlson and Mr. Szijjarto discussed the need to increase birthrates in their respective countries. Otherwise, Mr. Carlson said, "our plan here in the West is to just let the depressed people die off and replace them with people from other countries."
Another prime-time Fox News host, Laura Ingraham, who was considered for a communications job in the Trump administration, has used similar language. Last October, she warned viewers that their opinions "will have zero impact and zero influence on a House dominated by Democrats who want to replace you, the American voters, with newly amnestied citizens and an ever-increasing number of chain migrants."
Fox News had no comment.
The overlap between fringe ideology and the words of conservative talk show hosts is not accidental, critics say. "They're putting that into the zeitgeist," said Carl Cameron, the former chief political correspondent for Fox News, who now works for a news aggregator aimed at a progressive audience, Front Page Live. "Fox goes out and looks for stuff that is inherently on fire and foments fear and anger," Mr. Cameron added.
The use of "invasion" and "invaders" has also surfaced on outlets away from right-wing media. The Times review of demonizing terms for immigrants found a spike in such terms in 2018 on CNN and MSNBC, but almost exclusively in the context of reporting how leading conservatives had been using such language.
Fox News, it should be noted, is not monolithic. While its prime-time lineup of Mr. Carlson, Sean Hannity and Ms. Ingraham is devoted to right-wing commentary, some of the network's news reporters, like the anchor Shepard Smith, have taken pains to refute misleading language about migrants. Chris Wallace, the "Fox News Sunday" host, recently grilled the White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, about the racism inherent in Mr. Trump's critical remarks about Baltimore.
Days after the El Paso massacre, Mr. Carlson said on-air that white supremacy was "actually not a real problem in America" and likened it to a "hoax." His words ignited widespread criticism, including from fellow conservative commentators like Erick Erickson and a Fox News weekend anchor, Arthel Neville.
The next night, Mr. Carlson returned to his show and urged his critics to "calm down," warning about the roiling divisions in the country, before announcing that he was leaving on a vacation that he and Fox News said had been previously planned.