Right-Wing Talk Of An ‘Invasion’ And ‘Civil War’ Risks Rise In Vigilantism, Experts Say

A conservative panic about immigrants at the southern border has included calls to "buy weapons."

Right-wing influencer Charlie Kirk, leader of the MAGA youth groups Turning Point USA and Students for Trump and the host one of the most listened-to podcasts in the United States, encouraged his listeners this week to take up arms in preparation for an “invasion” of immigrants at the southern border.

“The break-ins, the looting, the murder, the rapes, the arson, it’s — by the way, this is just getting warmed up,” Kirk said Wednesday on “The Charlie Kirk Show,” echoing white supremacist talking points depicting immigrants and asylum seekers as inherently criminal. “You got 15,000 fighting-age males that are getting deployed all across the country. Native-born Americans, you better buy weapons, everybody. Have a lot of guns at your disposal. I would never leave your home without a weapon. It’s the new country we live in. It is ‘Mad Max.’ [President Joe] Biden is creating ‘Mad Max.’ You’re on your own.”

The day before, Tucker Carlson, who had hosted the former Fox News prime-time juggernaut “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” had also suggested it was time for civilians to take matters into their own hands.

“It’s unanimous: Everyone in power, from the White House, to the hedge fund managers, to the Supreme Court of the United States, has decided to destroy the country by allowing it to be invaded,” Carlson told his 11 million followers on X (formerly Twitter). “That leaves the population to defend itself. Where are the men of Texas? Why aren’t they protecting their state and the nation?”

Kirk and Carlson — both of whom have long promoted the “great replacement theory,” falsely suggesting Democrats are bringing migrants into the country to “replace” white people — were responding to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this week that said the federal government could remove dangerous razor wire Texas had installed along its border with Mexico.

In his response to the ruling, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) released a statement Wednesday that used language eerily reminiscent of Southern states’ statements of secession ahead of the Civil War: He threatened to defy the Supreme Court decision, declaring that the “federal government has broken the compact between the United States and the States.” The next day, Republican governors from 25 states issued a joint statement supporting Abbott, praising him for “stepping up to protect American citizens from historic levels of illegal immigrants, deadly drugs like fentanyl, and terrorists entering our country.”

It was the latest, most dramatic escalation between Abbott and President Joe Biden over the situation at the border — an escalation experts say has corresponded with increasingly dangerous rhetoric from prominent conservatives that could encourage violent vigilantism targeting immigrants.

“It does provide a lot of license to vigilantes,” journalist Patrick Strickland, author of the book “The Marauders: Standing Up to Vigilantes in the American Borderlands,” told HuffPost. “This is not an ‘invasion’; it’s desperate people fleeing organized crime or poverty or war or violence. It’s not the same as the organized regiments of a formal army.”

Strickland pointed to the mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in 2019, when a white supremacist who wanted to stop the “Hispanic invasion” at the southern border opened fire, killing 22 people in what has been called the deadliest anti-Latino hate crime in American history. Earlier that year, Abbott had published campaign material calling on Texans to “defend” the state and to “take matters into our own hands” when it comes to immigration.

“This is not an ‘invasion’; it’s desperate people fleeing organized crime or poverty or war or violence. It’s not the same as the organized regiments of a formal army.”

- Patrick Strickland, author of "The Marauders"

Similarly, in 2018, as then-President Donald Trump, with the help of Fox News, manufactured a panic about a “migrant caravan” marching toward the southern border, another white supremacist opened fire inside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. The shooter, who had cited antisemitic conspiracy theories about Jews hastening the replacement of white Americans by importing immigrants into the country, killed 11 worshippers.

Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), who represents the El Paso area, said her “community knows better than any that there are deadly consequences to the hatred and xenophobia the far-right is promoting.”

“A reminder to them that the white supremacist who drove over 10 hours to my community on August 3, 2019 to massacre immigrants and Hispanics used the same language they continue to espouse,” Escobar told HuffPost in a statement. “The normalization of such violent rhetoric and dehumanization led to the murder of innocent people in El Paso, and I fear such hatred and unfounded fear will only perpetuate the next incident.”

Also of concern is the long, menacing history of right-wing paramilitary groups along the U.S.-Mexico border, including in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when white supremacist leaders David Duke, then a grand wizard in the Ku Klux Klan, and Louis Beam, head of the Texas Knights of the KKK, patrolled the border in search of migrants. There was another explosion of right-wing militia activity along the border when Barack Obama was president.

There remains a large coterie of paramilitary groups, often acting with the implicit, or explicit, support of elected lawmakers and law enforcement officials.

“People often think of vigilantes as operating completely separate from the state, completely removed from politics, and that’s actually not the case,” Regina Bateson, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Colorado at Boulder, told HuffPost. “So it’s very common that there are relationships between people involved in vigilantism and elected officials. It’s a way of pushing political agendas, sometimes trying to sort of force the state into acting where it wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Bateson said the current conservative panic about migrants crossing the border is fostering conditions that could lead to a new period of vigilantism.

First, she said, there are already “pre-existing networks” of militias along the border, and they have all the “relevant skills.” Second, vigilantism is typically carried out by “someone from a more powerful or more privileged group in society, targeting somebody who’s from a more marginalized group” — in this case, predominantly white Americans targeting Latino migrants. This more privileged group, Bateson added, will frame their actions as “defensive,” depicting their targets as a threat, even if they’re the ones “proactively carrying out ‘security patrols,’ or acting in ways that are offensive, like proactively going out and looking for people.” Finally, Stateson said, right-wing vigilantism often thrives when there’s an abundance of harsh, dehumanizing language about the target group.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has threatened to defy a Supreme Court decision that allows federal officials to remove razor wire from the U.S.-Mexico border.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has threatened to defy a Supreme Court decision that allows federal officials to remove razor wire from the U.S.-Mexico border.
Eric Gay/Associated Press

Abbott has used such language. Earlier this month, the governor boasted that “the only thing we’re not doing is shooting people” crossing the border because “the Biden administration would charge us with murder” — seemingly implying he’d condone the extrajudicial killings of asylum seekers if he and other Texans could get away with it.

And last month, Trump said immigrants were “poisoning the blood” of America, words that parallel language Adolf Hitler used about Jews in “Mein Kampf.”

Right-wing figures have also started to invoke the possibility of a new civil war if Biden doesn’t deal with the “invasion” at the border, as reported by Media Matters.

“My thoughts are that the feds are staging a civil war, and Texas should stand their ground,” Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) wrote on X earlier this week.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt also indulged in fantasies of a hypothetical “force-on-force” conflict between Texas and the Biden administration during an interview this week with Newsmax.

If the Biden administration were to take over control of the Texas National Guard as a way of ending the conflict with Abbott, Stitt said, he’d understand if soldiers started to consider not obeying the president’s orders.

“I think they would be in a difficult situation: to protect their homeland or to follow what Biden’s saying,” Stitt said. “It’s very interesting. But then, you know, then you’ve got Oklahoma and Florida and Tennessee, and you got all these other states that would send our National Guard to help and to support the efforts of Gov. Abbott. Because every state is a border state.”

Matt Walsh, the popular Daily Wire host, said this week that “red-state governors will need to ignore the Supreme Court and do what needs to be done to protect their citizens and the border,” adding, “The last civil war was unimaginable until it wasn’t.”

Tim Pool, a conservative YouTuber with more than a million subscribers, described what’s happening in Texas as a “Fort Sumter-esque type scenario,” referring to the opening battle of the Civil War. “It does feel like it could be escalating to this federal vs. state conflict.”

Kirk also got in on the action. “So someone says right here, ‘Charlie, what would happen if Texas ignores the ruling? Will the government go to war with Texas?’” Kirk asked on his podcast, reading a question a listener had sent in.

“The federal government would come in, and some people would say, ‘Well, that’s the seeds of a civil war.’ Is that what you want? Where does this end?” Moments later, Kirk added, “By the way, I’m all on board.”

Tucker Carlson posted a video Friday of an interview he conducted with Abbott in which the Texas governor said he is “prepared” for a conflict with the federal government.

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