A van in the Take Back the Border convoy sports a barbed-wired Christ urging "Faith over Fear"

Participants supporting the “Take Our Border Back” convoy gather near Cornerstone Childrens Ranch near Quemado, Texas on February 2, 2024.

(Photo by Sergio Flores/AFP via Getty Images

The Border Convoy Was a Green Light for Political Violence

The bigotry and violence that stemmed from the border convoy represents a terrifying snapshot of what anti-democracy forces want America to look like.

This past weekend, the nation saw a dangerous in-person mobilization, the troubling result of bigoted rhetoric and online organizing, an ilk of which we haven’t seen since the January 6 insurrection.

The much-hyped anti-immigrant convoy of a few dozen pickup trucks, dubbed by its organizers as “Take Our Border Back,” made its way from the East Coast and expanded as it coalesced on Saturday, February 3, with rallies in Eagle Pass, Texas; San Ysidro, California; and Yuma, Arizona. The convoy, mostly comprised of lesser-known pro-Trump grifters, also had the endorsement of elected officials and right-wing media figures. Its “goal” was ostensibly to draw further attention to a perceived crisis on the U.S./Mexico border, but to dismiss it as a mere publicity stunt would be a mistake. Last weekend’s Take Our Border Back convoy was a rallying cry to white nationalist groups and a green light for political violence.

The fact that the convoy occurred at a moment when anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S. has reached a fever pitch is hardly a coincidence.

Our democracy also requires an end to impunity for illegal paramilitary activity.

Election years traditionally are harbingers of spikes in anti-immigrant sentiment, and this year is no different, with political ads in states far from the border full of nativist vitriol and former President Donald Trump telling an audience that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country.” In Congress, repeated attempts from the GOP to impeach Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas are entirely focused on xenophobia, and white nationalist groups around the country are also jumping on the anti-immigrant bandwagon, organizing anti-migrant protests in multiple states.

It would also be a mistake to see the border convoy as an isolated incident. Instead, it is part of an escalating effort by illegal paramilitary groups to use violence and to achieve their anti-immigrant goals. These groups are acting with impunity—not only are they rarely stopped by law enforcement, but worse, they have even been colluding with them. They are mobilizing members based on the same bigoted rhetoric being echoed by members of Congress, and they are attracting bad actors from across the anti-democracy movement.

Last weekend’s rallies included local neo-Nazis, anti-democracy politicians like Joe Kent, and anti-democracy provocateurs. Their driving force is rhetoric that can lead to violence. For instance, Gov. Greg Abbott, who said, “The only thing that we’re not doing is we’re not shooting people who come across the border.” Small pockets of attendees have engaged in direct intimidation of migrants, filming them and espousing conspiracies about aid groups on the border. Earlier last week, the Border Patrol processing center in Eagle Pass had to be evacuated after the FBI warned of threats. And on February 6, news broke of a militia “sniper” Paul Faye Sr. arrested the day before after plotting to go to the border with explosives to target Border Patrol agents in an attempt to inspire a “domino effect” of more targeting of federal agents.

Faye Sr.’s court records reveal that he is a proponent of the great replacement conspiracy theory, which has motivated antisemitic violence in Pittsburgh, anti-Black violence in Buffalo, racist violence in El Paso, and anti-immigrant violence at the border again and again. This is the same conspiracy theory echoed by many border convoy speakers last weekend and by members of Congress, who used it as justification for filing articles of impeachment against Mayorkas. In fact, according to the immigrant rights group America’s Voice, GOP candidates and officials have echoed the great replacement theory over 1,040 times in the past year, a sobering example of how white nationalist conspiracy theories have moved from the margins to the mainstream.

The dangerous mobilization last weekend was just the latest chapter demonstrating the link between bigoted rhetoric to violence and intimidation. Paramilitary groups have spent decades crossing state lines and flocking to “patrol” the border, to hunt down and detain migrants. Many of these groups are not doing so stealthily but are advertising and filming their “missions” and openly asking for donations and supplies through Amazon wish lists. The problem has become so widespread that in July of last year, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Reps. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) and Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) called on the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the presence of paramilitary militia groups patrolling the border and their attempts to court law enforcement personnel.

We didn’t arrive here overnight. While former President Trump certainly helped to expedite the process, before him, the organized anti-immigrant movement in the United States spent decades cultivating relationships with elected officials, drafting draconian legislation at the local level, and spewing out reports blaming immigrants for all of America’s ills. That movement was founded by white nationalist John Tanton, who once wrote, “I’ve come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.”

Thankfully, border communities last weekend demonstrated that there is much we can do to defend against pernicious anti-immigrant sentiment. They organized, they spoke out based on their values, and they prioritized community safety. We need to see the same dedication from our elected officials in Congress to push back, again and again, against the normalization of bigotry.

Our democracy also requires an end to impunity for illegal paramilitary activity. The evacuation of the Border Patrol processing center in Eagle Pass along with the arrest of Paul Faye Sr. should send a clear message to Border Patrol that America’s militia movement is not their friend. For too long, the Department of Homeland Security has evaded scrutiny from civil rights groups for evidence that its agents are working directly with these vigilante groups. A clear rejection of armed illegal paramilitary groups by Customs and Border Protection would close the space for these groups to operate.

The bigotry and violence that stemmed from the border convoy and the racist conspiracy theories that fueled the Mayorkas impeachment hearings represent a terrifying snapshot of what anti-democracy forces want America to look like. We must continue to reject that vision and work toward an America that includes opportunities and rights for all of us.

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