How immigrants became the target of white nationalists

A makeshift memorial outside an El Paso, Texas, Walmart store where a shooting left 22 people dead. (Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

In February of 2000, approximately 400 people gathered outside the town hall in Siler City, N.C., for an anti-immigration rally led by David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who’d briefly served as a Louisiana state legislator.

“Do you understand that immigration will destroy the foundations of this country?” Duke asked the crowd of supporters, protesters and onlookers, according to a report from the event in the Greensboro News & Record. “When you have more diversity, you end up having more division and more conflict.”

Duke had been invited to Siler City by a local resident who opposed the town’s rapidly expanding Hispanic population, made up largely of Mexican immigrants drawn by jobs in the poultry processing industry.

“To get a few chickens plucked, is it worth losing your heritage?” Duke — who for most of his career was better known for his aversion to African-Americans and Jews — asked the crowd, according to the Washington Post.

The influx of Latino immigrants — which Duke called “an American tragedy” — was part of a larger trend that had emerged across much of the southern United States toward the end of the last century and particularly in North Carolina, which saw a 110 percent increase in Hispanic residents between 1990 and 1998.

That was just the start of a broader demographic shift that would occur throughout the country. But in many ways, the rally would come to mark the beginning of a new era for the white supremacy movement in the United States. The results of the 2000 U.S. Census showed that over the previous decade, the country’s Hispanic population had ballooned by nearly 60 percent, from 22.4 million to 35.3 million, outnumbering African-Americans for the first time. Overall, Hispanic people in the U.S. skewed younger and had higher birth rates than the aging population of native-born white Americans, leading demographers to predict that continued growth of the Hispanic population would make whites a minority in the U.S. before the middle of the century.

After that forecast became public, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Heidi Beirich said, “the whole white supremacist movement started to shift its focus to immigrants.” Beirich, an expert in extremism and head of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, says that the rapidly expanding Latino population was viewed as a growing threat to white American culture and political preeminence. Meanwhile, in Europe, the influx of Muslim immigrants gave rise to parallel fears of a “great replacement.”

Today, Beirich said, “the major thing that motivates all white supremacists, what they’re united on, is this idea that nonwhite immigrants are coming into home countries and replacing them in their homelands. A form of white genocide.”


Law enforcement keeps watch outside the El Paso Walmart that was the site of a recent mass shooting. (Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)


That idea is reflected throughout the four-page manifesto that officials believe was written and posted online by Patrick Crusius, the suspect in a mass shooting that killed 22 people and injured more than two dozen in El Paso over the weekend. The 21-year-old Crusius is being held on capital murder charges, while federal authorities have said they’re treating the attack as a domestic terrorism case and are “seriously considering” pursuing federal hate crime and firearm charges as well.

The manifesto, which describes the attack as “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas” and an attempt to defend “my country from cultural and ethnic replacement,” was posted to the extremist online message board 8chan shortly before Crusius opened fire on a crowded Walmart in the predominantly Hispanic border city of El Paso.

According to the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, the El Paso shooting was “the deadliest white supremacist attack in the United States in more than 50 years.”

Beirich believes the incident did not happen in a vacuum, but “is the culmination of decades of organizing on the radical right and increasing over time emphasis on the evils of immigrants and demographic threat.”

Edie Hallberg looks for her missing mother, Angie Englisbee, 87, who was in the Walmart store during the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, Aug. 3, 2019. (Photo: Andres Leighton/AP)

In fact, it is the latest in a string of major domestic terror attacks in the U.S. and abroad over the last several years that were carried out by white nationalists with a similar motive.

Anders Breivik, the far-right Norwegian terrorist behind the 2011 bombing and mass shooting that left 77 dead, made clear that he was driven by hatred of Muslim immigrants and a desire to defend Norwegian and European culture from what he viewed as destruction by multiculturalism. Breivik, who was convicted on mass murder and terrorism charges in 2012, defended his actions in court and said he deliberately targeted the mostly teenage participants of a summer youth camp held by Norway’s Labour Party hoping to force the party to change its policy on immigration.

Social media posts by Robert Gregory Bowers, the man charged with killing 11 people in a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue last fall, suggest that he too was driven by fears about immigrants — who he also called “invaders” — destroying the “white race” and in particular, his belief in a conspiracy theory that Jews are leading the “white genocide” by helping bring nonwhite immigrants to the U.S.

Brenton Tarrant, the Australian man charged with murdering 51 people in shootings at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, this past March, also appears to have been motivated by the same anti-immigrant sentiments.

The manifesto linked to Crusius seeks to preemptively discredit attempts to blame President Trump’s own anti-immigrant rhetoric for the El Paso attack, insisting that the author’s ideology predates Trump’s presidency and campaign. But there are striking parallels between some of the language in the manifesto and speeches and tweets by President Trump, and in that used by congressional Republicans and commentators on Fox News. Most obvious is the description of immigrants as “invaders.” Trump has repeatedly referred to migrants traveling in large groups or caravans to request asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border as “an invasion,” and even deployed active duty military troops to the border to make that point.

President Trump responds to news of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, August 5, 2019. (Photo: Leah Millis/Reuters)

According to an analysis by the Guardian, Trump’s campaign has put out more than 2,000 ads on Facebook since January using the word “invasion” to describe migrants arriving at the southwest border. The manifesto echoes Trump’s claims that Democrats support “open borders” and “free healthcare for illegal immigrants” to attract new voters to the party, and predicts that “fake news,” a term regularly used by the president to discredit unfavorable media coverage, will link the shooting to Trump’s rhetoric. Monday morning, before condemning “racism, bigotry and white supremacy” in a televised address from the White House, the president appeared to place blame on the media for the recent spate of mass shootings, tweeting “Fake News has contributed greatly to the anger and rage that has built up over many years.”

While expressing disdain for both Republican and Democratic leadership, the manifesto concludes that the Republican Party — which has increasingly backed harsher immigration policies under President Trump — is the best hope for reducing “the process of mass immigration and citizenship.” The document raises the alarm about Hispanic voters in Texas seeking to “turn Texas into an instrument of a political coup which will hasten the destruction of our country.”

The anti-immigrant ideas that appear to have driven Crusius and others to violence may not have originated with Trump, but even prominent white nationalist figures have acknowledged that the president’s rhetoric on immigration in his 2016 campaign is what earned him the support of many in their movement — including David Duke.

Listing the campaign proposals that attracted members of the far right to Trump, Jared Taylor, founder of the white nationalist magazine American Renaissance, cited “building a wall to keep out illegals, sending home all illegals, taking a very hard look at Muslims, ending sanctuary cities, putting an end to birthright citizenship.”

Nearly a year later, following the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., Yahoo News spoke to Don Black, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and founder of Stormfront.org, the first major internet forum for white nationalists. Black reflected on how the movement has changed since he first got involved in the 1960s, and why he believed it was seeing a resurgence.

“Of course, immigration motivates a lot of people,” Black said at the time. “And of course, Trump has inspired a lot of people.”

_____

Download the Yahoo News app to customize your experience.

Read more from Yahoo News: