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Xenophobic, Anti-Immigrant Posturing Prompts Convoy, Impeachment

A convoy to Eagle Pass is part of a broader landscape where elected officials rely on anti-immigrant messages to justify Texas’ attempts to assert supremacy over the federal government, the impeachment of the secretary of Homeland Security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and scuttling an immigration reform package in the Senate.  

Over the past few weeks, the nation has witnessed a standoff between Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the federal government over attempts to close off sections of the border around the Rio Grande and not allow federal agents into the area to process migrants seeking asylum. Abbott’s anti-immigrant posturing received broader support from the right-wing media ecosystem and hate groups. The standoff sparked a convoy of hard-right opportunists to travel across state lines to rally in support of the Texas governor. The convoy and standoff exist within a greater display of xenophobia by federal lawmakers, including those making up the far-right flank of the Republican Party.

Eagle Pass and the convoy

Eagle Pass migrants

A woman wipes away tears after she and other migrants crossed the Rio Grande and entered the U.S. from Mexico, to be processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas. (Photo via AP/Eric Gay)

Abbott took it upon himself to erect a barrier of razor wire between Shelby Park in Eagle Pass and the Rio Grande River to try and deter migrants. He then denied the Biden administration access to the border, which culminated in a lawsuit against Texas and a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of the federal government to grant them access. This is part of Abbott’s broader anti-immigrant agenda, which includes an attempt to stop a supposed “invasion” of Texas by migrants. Claims of “invasion” have become a trope among right-wing lawmakers and the hard right despite dangerous similarities to the racist “great replacement” conspiracy theory. Twenty-five U.S. governors issued their support of Abbott’s refusal to comply. Abbott also signed into law S.B. 4, a bill allowing local and state law enforcement to arrest and detain those they think to be undocumented immigrants. The bill faces pushback from human and civil rights groups that claim it is xenophobic, is unconstitutional, and encourages racial profiling and family separation.

Governors weren’t the only ones to rally in support of Abbott. Antigovernment extremists and hard-right figures flocked to support the Texas governor. The mobilization included a “Take Back Our Border” convoy  starting at various points in the country and ending in Texas, Arizona and California. The convoy attracted all sorts of ideological actors billing themselves as “God’s Army,” ranging from QAnon influencers, sovereign citizen types, far-right conspiracy theorists and paramilitary-type groups. The gathering underscored immigration as a throughline connecting the hard right.

The Feb. 3 rally reportedly featured crowds in the hundreds protesting and waving flags. Convoy spokesperson Dr. Pete Chambers and standing committee member Robert Agee are members of the sovereign citizen group Republic of Texas, which once took a man hostage and had a standoff with police.

Chambers promoted the convoy multiple times on Infowars, the conspiratorial, antigovernment website run by Alex Jones. During his appearances, Chambers spoke of “an invasion on the border” and claimed that migrants are being used by globalists to take over the U.S. from within and that migrant children would be sacrificed to the “altar of Moloch,” a reference to conspiracy theories popularized by Jones and British conspiracy theorist David Icke about influential people participating in satanic child sacrifice.

Agee previously participated in Reawaken America, an extreme, conspiratorial Christian nationalist road show. He was also part of a fundraiser for Chambers’ group called “The Remnant A-Team,” which was sponsored by The America Project. The Project was founded by QAnon influencers Mike Flynn and Patrick Byrne. Agee and his wife, Jaime, run Banners 4 Freedom, a ministry that creates right-wing billboards.

Other convoy committee members are affiliated with right-wing conspiratorial radio show “Sovereign Radio,” which covers such topics as alleged “deep state” politics, human trafficking, pedophilia and election fraud conspiracies.

Kim Yeater and Mark Anthony, two convoy steering committee members, have an online show sponsored by QAnon conspiracy influencer Mike Flynn. Yeater’s guests have included anti-immigrant figures, militia and border vigilantes, conspiracy theorists and constitutional sheriffs association leaders.

Scotty Saks, a “Sovereign Radio” host and convoy steering committee member, promoted the convoy on an online show by Scott McKay, aka Patriot Streetfighter. McKay is a QAnon conspiracist and Tactical Civics member who has co-opted antisemitic conspiracy theories.

While on McKay’s show, Saks alleged that migrants crossing the border are “part of the globalist plot to destroy America,” and then claimed, “You bring in all these illegals [and] we’re not going to be speaking English, we’re not going to be maintaining our culture.”

The United Patriot Party promoted the convoy on its social media. In January, the group’s North Carolina militia put out a call to action inviting people to come to Eagle Pass. Some of the people with them also attended the convoy event in Texas, and one provided security.

More hard-right individuals joined the convoy at its rally point or its final destinations of Quemado, Texas, near Eagle Pass; Yuma, Arizona; and San Ysidro, California.

Despite being kicked out of the U.S. trucker convoy in 2022, neo-Nazi Ryan Sanchez, who was previously linked to the white nationalist Rise Above Movement and white nationalist Nick Fuentes’ “groypers,” joined this convoy and headed to the rally in Yuma, Arizona.

Members of Patriot Front attended the convoy stop in San Ysidro, along with Leave Our Kids Alone. Leave Our Kids Alone made headlines when it protested at a North Hollywood, California, elementary school where one of its members used a PA system to announce his desire to “zip-tie the principal” and to hurt teachers, staff and those present supporting educators and the LGBTQ+ community, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The group also sponsored an Oct. 21, 2023, Gays Against Groomers rally.

At the Virginia convoy rally point, the prayer was given by Y.G. Nyghtstorm, a board member for Church Militant, an orthodox anti-LGBTQ+ media outlet. Ivan Raiklin, a QAnon-adjacent, “Big Lie” and COVID-19 conspiracy theorist, also attended. Raiklin is a Reawaken America alum.

In Texas, militia and border vigilante Johnathon Townsend Alexander, who runs Companies in Action and Live Border News and has been affiliated with the Oath Keepers, the Idaho III% and antigovernment activist Ammon Bundy was at the convoy rally. Joshua James Ryan Lawrence, who goes by Joshua James, was also in attendance. James ran for Bernalillo Sheriff in the last election and lost. He is also a member of the sovereign group Republic of Texas, acting as “sheriff” in their fake “Texian” government.

One Texas event speaker was QAnon and sovereign citizen influencer Ann Vandersteel. Vandersteel’s speech supported the creation of citizen militias and promoted sovereign citizen Miki Klann. Vandersteel, like Agee, McKay, Yeater and Raiklin, has spoken on the Reawaken American circuit.

Convoy speakers and attendees were not the only extremists present at the convoy stop in Texas. Security guard Mike Forzano, aka Mike America, runs a group called Exiled Patriots in Southern California. He has “ brawled with leftist protesters, shown up to rallies armed with knives, and spearheaded violent anti-LGBTQ+ rallies that brought together Proud Boys and white supremacists,” according to VICE News. Forzano shared a picture of his group “getting set up” for the Texas event on Twitter, a post that was retweeted by Washington 3% militia vice president Erik Rohde.

Although the convoy rallies were relatively peaceful, they posed a direct threat to the community. Members of the convoy threatened to burn down Firefly, the border patrol migrant holding center in Eagle Pass, Texas, and kill the migrants inside it. The facility was forced to evacuate.

The convoy also received broader hate group support. The white nationalist hate group VDARE promoted the convoy on its blog. The anti-immigrant group Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC) published a call to join the convoy, especially to Overpasses for America, a mass demonstration movement associated with xenophobic banner drops across the country, and the Minutemen, a militia-style group focused on the border whose members have been involved in criminal activity, including the murder of a father and daughter during a home invasion.

Some from the Eagle Pass community, including a handful of community leaders, disapproved of the convoy and Abbott’s actions at Shelby Park and held a press conference prior to the convoy’s arrival.

Abbott

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (center) announces a deployment of National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border at a 2019 news conference in Austin, Texas. Listening are Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, left, and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. (Photo by Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

“Anyone seeking to inform themselves and gain knowledge about the situation at the border is welcome into our community as long as you embrace our cultural diversity,” said Jessie Fuentes, a retired businessman and educator, at the press event. “This is our community; this is our house. Don’t come here to preach hate. Respect and honor thy neighbor, and act accordingly.”

Fuentes also criticized Abbott, saying he is using their community for “political theater.”

Like the convoy, invasion rhetoric was prevalent around the impeachment of Mayorkas.

Mayorkas impeachment

On Feb. 13, the U.S. House voted along party lines to impeach DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas after failing to secure enough votes a week earlier. Many immigrant rights and immigration advocates have soured on the Biden administration over its policies, which include some that have continued from the Trump era. Mayorkas is the defendant on various lawsuits filed by the SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project. Still, the impeachment process, led by hard-right members of Congress, has been peppered with anti-immigrant rhetoric and championed by hate groups. Impeachment hearings offered an opportunity for hard-right lawmakers to broadcast anti-immigrant messages and conspiracy theories. Erin E. Wilson, senior director ofextremism and human rights at Human Rights First, said in a February 2024 press release, “Let’s call these proceedings what they are – an opportunity for extremists to normalize antisemitic and conspiratorial white supremacist bigotry.”

Following the impeachment vote, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., one of the lead advocates for impeaching Mayorkas, tweeted that he is “inviting the invasion of America.” Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., tweeted: “Today we get another chance to hold someone accountable for the damage that the Biden Border invasion has done. I will be voting in favor of Sec. Mayorkas’ impeachment.”

Abbott supported Mayorkas’s impeachment, tweeting, “No Cabinet Secretary has done more damage to America.” He claimed: “Countless lives have been lost. Communities destroyed. Crime is pervasive.” Abbott has faced similar criticisms resulting from his own policies, including deaths in the Rio Grande River from his buoy border blockades and tarnishing the community around Shelby Park in his efforts to defy the federal government.

The decision to impeach Mayorkas was lauded by xenophobic groups. The anti-immigrant hate group Federation for Immigration Reform (FAIR) issued a press release on Feb. 13 applauding the House’s efforts to impeach. Longtime FAIR president Dan Stein, who once claimed non-white immigrants are “getting into competitive breeding” in the U.S., claimed Mayorkas was behind migrants arriving at the southern border. “He [Mayorkas] has actively encouraged it, facilitated it, and then forced the costs down the throats of the American people,” Stein said.

Mayorkas

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testifies before the Senate Appropriations committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., in November 2023. (Photo via REUTERS/Julia Nikhinson)

FAIR has been helping lay the groundwork for impeachment, claiming Mayorkas and the Biden administration have “embraced open-border policies from the very start.” In a June 18, 2023, article published on FAIR’s website, the group wrote, “FAIR will work closely with the Homeland Security Committee to uncover the facts and help document the evidence in support of impeachment.”

VDARE also pushed for impeachment. In 2022, the group published an article citing the Democrats’ impeachment of Trump, arguing, “You cannot complain about an invasion and let the man responsible go unpunished.” After the first failed efforts to impeach, VDARE published a piece by conservative firebrand Ann Coulter with the headline: “Impeach Mayorkas Again! Force Democrats To Show They Support Great Replacement!”

The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), an anti-immigrant hate group, also helped build the case against Mayorkas, publishing multiple articles that criticize him. CIS serves as the think tank for the contemporary anti-immigrant movement, publishing skewed reports justifying anti-immigrant policies and promoting white nationalist content as legitimate sources in the immigration debate.

During the Homeland Security Committee’s markup of H.R. 863, Greene submitted a CIS article from January 2024 into the record accusing Mayorkas of turning the humanitarian parole system into a “mass-migration tool.”

As first reported by VICE News, some white nationalists were excited to see Mayorkas impeached and highlighted him being Jewish to further tie him to the “great replacement.” Proponents of this conspiracy theory often accuse Jewish people of being the masterminds behind the “great replacement.” Proponents of this conspiracy theory often accuse Jewish people of being the masterminds behind the “great replacement.” White nationalist livestreamer Nick Fuentes declared on his show last week: “Big news. The House has finally voted to impeach the Jewish DHS Secretary Alexander Mayorkas.” White nationalist blogger Jason Kessler wrote on Telegram, “The Jew Mayorkas has been impeached.” The Senate trial for the impeachment is expected later this month.

Senate relief package

The impeachment came days after Republicans tanked a Senate relief package that included border security measures and changes to the asylum process. The bill worried immigration advocates, who viewed it as being extremely harsh and out of step for the needs of border communities.

Sirine Shebaya, executive director of the immigrant rights coalition National Immigration Project, told Fox 5 San Diego: “Senate leaders have decided to sell out immigrant communities in exchange for foreign aid. The proposals would subject people to expulsion without due process, expand this country’s inhumane detention apparatus and exacerbate human rights abuses at the border.”

Anti-immigrant groups and their political allies also pushed back the bill, claiming it not to be regressive enough. In a Feb. 11 article, FAIR claimed the bill to be “packed with giveaways to open-borders advocates.”

The Senate relief package debacle shows the same anti-immigrant animus undergirding impeachment of Mayorkas and the standoff in Eagle Pass. And given that federal and state officials continue to push xenophobic rhetoric and hard-right extremists stand willing to answer, there appears to be no signs of this climate slowing down.

Photo illustration by SPLC

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