Even in an era when we see outrageous and appalling behavior every day thanks to streaming services and social media, the images were shocking. On September 19th, U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback were filmed and photographed in Del Rio, Texas carrying whips and moving aggressively through a crowd of terrified Haitian asylum seekers. They seemed to be attempting to corral some of those who were returning after crossing the Rio Grande into Mexico to buy much needed food for their families.
Rather than provoking an outpouring of empathy on right leaning media outlets that so often claim to have traditional ‘Judeo-Christian’ values, let alone reporting on what would make so many people make the dangerous trek from as far away as South America to the U.S., pundits like Tucker Carlson, who has an audience of over 3 Million for his nightly Fox News show, used the crisis to spread the far right conspiracy theory that these desperate people were part of a sinister plan to ‘replace’ voters of European descent in the country with migrants.
This clearly anti-Semitic theory first spread on the French far right by writer Renaud Camus has been sanitized by commentators like Carlson to refer to ‘elites’ associated with the Democratic Party rather than Jewish people, who they claim are trying to change the demographics of a country of some 330 million to give their party a permanent electoral advantage.
“In political terms, this policy is called ‘the great replacement’, the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from far-away countries,” the heir to the Swanson frozen food fortune opined last week, “They brag about it all the time, but if you dare to say it’s happening they will scream at you with maximum hysteria.”
A moment’s thought is all it takes to refute this narrative. Even if all migrants were to become Democratic voters, which seems unlikely, this is an irrational argument in terms of the sheer numbers that would be required to accomplish this ‘Great Replacement’. Also, the numbers already show that Republicans have become a minority party in the U.S. and would probably not be able to win the U.S. presidency without the archaic electoral college system (and many seats in the country’s Congress without gerrymandering and voter suppression).
Sadly, in terms of migrants and refugees, although the rhetoric is more humane, the policy hasn’t changed much during the Biden presidency. Using Title 42, a previously rarely invoked World War Two era law that allows the government to prevent migrants from staying in the country during “public health emergencies,” which was used by the Trump administration to deport migrants without due process due to the pandemic, the current administration sent more than 2000 (including 40 children) back to Haiti (for many younger people whose families fled after a massive earthquake in 2010, to a country they don’t really know).
It should also be clear that the problem represented by large numbers of Haitian asylum seekers was not one that the United States should have had to face alone. Allies, especially those like Canada and Haiti’s former colonial master, France, who have played major roles in the ongoing suffering in the country should have offered to take up the asylum cases of at least some of these migrants but were silent as they were returned to Port au Prince by American authorities.
As an aside, it’s very telling that after the Haitian revolution finally freed the country’s slaves in 1804, reparations were demanded by France, not for the emancipated slaves but for their former owners, a tax that the small country paid until 1947 and at least a part of the reason for the country being the poorest in the western hemisphere for much of its history.
By using their platforms to demonize these desperate people and spread the Great Replacement theory to more mainstream audiences, Carlson, Charlie Kirk and others demonstrated the growing influence of the extreme right, whose theories seem to be filtering up to the more mainstream outlets from much smaller web-sites and message boards that portray these conspiracy theories in more apocalyptic terms.
It wasn’t reported until last week, but the web hosting and domain registration company Epik, known for hosting many sites banned by larger, better known providers, was breached by hackers from the Anonymous collective on September 13th in an operation appropriately named ‘Epik Fail’. The company has hosted the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer and 8Chan, which they dropped after a mass murderer who attacked mosques in Christchurch New Zealand was found to have posted a manifesto titled, you guessed it, ‘The Great Replacement’, reportedly touching on some of the same themes articulated by Carlson last week. It has also provided or provides its services to Infowars, The Proud Boys, Gab, Bitchute, Parler and a variety of sites associated with Qanon.
As reported by Ars Technica, one unfortunate aspect of the hack is that millions of email addresses and other data collected by the company through the use of what are called WHOIS records of domain registrations and stored by them on their servers despite them never using the company’s services were made public as part of the leak.
Although the release of this personal information for both non-customers and people unrelated to the far right is troubling and it might have been preferable to find some way to withhold it by delaying the release, the trove has already proven important for tracking extremists and has provided new evidence to both journalists and law enforcement about the events of January 6th at the U.S. capitol.
As Rita Katz of the SITE Intelligence group explained to The Washington Post, “The company played such a major role in keeping far-right terrorist cesspools alive. Without Epik, many extremist communities — from QAnon and white nationalists to accelerationist neo-Nazis — would have had far less oxygen to spread harm, whether that be building toward the Jan. 6 Capitol riots or sowing the misinformation and conspiracy theories chipping away at democracy.”
Although there are some on the right still attempting to either shift blame or downplay the significance of January 6th, one Epik customer, theDonald.win, which changed its name to Patriots.win in the aftermath of that day, was filled with anonymous posters calling for and planning an insurrection in the lead up to the unrest.
Speaking to the importance of the hack to activists opposing the far right, journalist Mikael Thalen recently quoted from the Anonymous ‘press release’ cited above, “This dataset is all that’s needed to trace actual ownership and management of the fascist side of the internet that has eluded researchers, activists, and, well, just about everybody,”
From the Great Replacement theory to anti-mask and anti-vaccination propaganda, the far right is finding niches that allow them to draw ever larger numbers of people to their reactionary, anti-science views. The promotion of these ideas, including long discredited theories about what is in the end a social construct, ‘race’, by corporations like Fox and Epik, puts innocent people at risk, whether from mass shooters or a deadly disease, is, at the very least, irresponsible. They must take their portion of the blame for the terrible suffering such cynicism for profit will continue to cause for the foreseeable future and the accelerating slide into authoritarianism in the world’s most powerful democracy.