A man drove more than 10 hours to a Walmart in the Texas border city of El Paso Saturday, reportedly intending to kill Latinx people and immigrants. Minutes before he shot dozens of people, a racist, xenophobic manifesto appeared on the 8chan online forum, warning readers of a “Hispanic invasion” of Texas. Federal officials believe the shooter wrote it.
The language used to describe Mexican Americans and Latinx immigrants was shocking — not just because of the hatred and racism it revealed, but because it was similar to the language repeated by the president of the United States.
Lawmakers and critics have pointed out that the shooter may have been imitating Trump’s rhetoric about an “invasion” of “people” and “illegal immigrants.” During a recent campaign rally in the Florida panhandle, for example, Trump used the word “invasion” seven times in less than a minute.
However, when the president uses “invasion” to describe migration, he is evoking a violent, foreign military conquest — nothing close to reality. What Trump calls an invasion is in fact a humanitarian crisis.
While it’s true that there’s been a recent surge in the number of Central American migrants heading to the US, the vast majority are families, and they are turning themselves in to Border Patrol officers to request asylum. Voluntarily turning oneself in to authorities is hardly an invasion by any meaning of the word. But repeating the false “invasion” narrative plays to the fears of white supremacists. The El Paso shooter, like some others who have committed mass murder, seemed to believe that brown immigrants are taking away the power of the white American majority.
Frightening Americans about an imaginary invasion even appears to be part of Trump’s reelection strategy. A recent New York Times analysis found that 2,000 political ads that Trump bought on Facebook included the word invasion.
In response to the criticism, Trump has claimed to be “the least racist person.” He also condemned “racism, bigotry, and white supremacy” during a speech at the White House after the weekend’s mass shootings.
But a few tepid responses don’t erase the president’s long history of incendiary rhetoric. Nor does it amend for the consequences of such rhetoric.
In the past year, Trump has warned the public about an invasion of Latinx immigrants and asylum seekers at least two dozen times. Here are all the instances where he has invoked “invasion” (excluding when he was only referring to an invasion of drugs and human traffickers).
Trump describes a border “invasion” at least 21 times in public speeches, remarks, and campaign rallies in an eight-month period
Campaign rally in Melbourne, Florida, May 9, 2019 (7 mentions of “invasion”)
“This is an invasion,” Trump said about the waves of asylum seekers arriving at the US-Mexico border. In fact, he said “invasion” seven times within one minute, then asked the audience what to do about the so-called invasion. “Shoot them,” someone yelled. Trump smiled and made a joke about it.
Republican Jewish Coalition conference in Las Vegas on April 6, 2019 (1 mention of “invasion”)
“I’ll do whatever is necessary to stop the invasion of our country,” he said at the Republican conference. “That’s what it is. At the heart of the crisis are the 9th Circuit rulings in the Flores case and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act [which are] driving a staggering surge of illegal families and minors into the hands of our incredible Border Patrol people....”
Here, Trump was blaming the surge in border crossings on a federal law and court ruling that protects asylum seekers and trafficking victims. He seems to suggest that these laws encourage people to seek asylum in the US, which is hardly the same thing as an invasion.
Campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on March 28, 2019 (2 mentions of “invasion”)
“We are on track for one million illegal aliens trying to rush our borders. It is an invasion, you know that,” he said. “I say invasion. They say isn’t that terrible? I don’t know what these people are thinking.”
Unlike what Trump said at his Grand Rapids rally, there are not one million illegal aliens “rushing our borders.” Yes, there has been a sharp increase in the number of people seeking asylum in recent months, but they are mostly families turning themselves in to border officers to request asylum. The latest federal data shows that Border Patrol officers apprehended about 688,000 people from October to June, which includes those who requested asylum. That’s nowhere close to one million.
Remarks after vetoing a resolution blocking his border Emergency Declaration on March 15, 2019 (2 mentions of “invasion”)
“... We’re on track for a million illegal aliens to rush our borders,” Trump said. “People hate the word ‘invasion,’ but that’s what it is. It’s an invasion of drugs and criminals and people.”
The vast majority of people arriving at the border are legal asylum seekers. There is simply no evidence that asylum seekers are committing crimes or transporting drugs.
Workforce advisory meeting at the White House on March 6, 2019 (3 mentions of “invasion”)
“We’re all working together,” he told tech leaders and members of the press. “We have our military sent to the border. We have 8,000 military personnel right now at the border. We are doing an amazing job considering it’s really an onslaught very much. I call it ‘invasion.’ They always get upset when I say ‘an invasion.’ But it really is somewhat of an invasion.”
Trump did send military troops and members of the National Guard to the border; there are currently about 6,500 there. But there’s been no violence or bloodshed or any other type of standoff at the border that would require a military intervention (which isn’t even legal on US soil). Troops are basically providing help with surveillance of the border.
Announcing border emergency declaration at the White House on February 15, 2019 (3 mentions of “invasion”)
“So, we’re going to be signing today, and registering [a] national emergency. And it’s a great thing to do because we have an invasion of drugs, invasion of gangs, invasion of people, and it’s unacceptable.”
There’s simply no evidence that more drugs or gang members are entering the US than before, which means there is no real emergency.
Campaign rally in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on November 4, 2018 (2 mentions of “invasion”)
“No nation can allow its borders to be overrun. And that’s an invasion. I don’t care what they say. I don’t care what the fake media says. That’s an invasion of our country,” Trump told the Chattanooga crowd.
“Build that wall!” the audience chanted in response.
“Thank you,” Trump replied. “And you’re right. And we started the wall.”
Campaign rally in Mosinee, Wisconsin, on October 24, 2018 (1 mention of “invasion”)
At a Wisconsin rally, Trump mentioned a case in which immigrants allegedly “infiltrated with MS-13. And we got them,” he said.
“Get them the hell out,” someone in the crowd yelled.
“He says get them the hell out,” Trump responded. “We are actually. We actually are. Right? We are getting them out of this country by the thousands, if you can believe it. But, you know, it’s like liberating, like a war, like there’s a foreign invasion.”
Trump seems to want a war at the border, but it’s just not happening.
Trump describes an invasion at the border six times on Twitter in a nine-month period
....Coyotes and Illegal Immigrants, which they can do very easily, or our many companies and jobs that have been foolishly allowed to move South of the Border, will be brought back into the United States through taxation (Tariffs). America has had enough!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 2, 2019
....and renovated, with MUCH MORE to follow shortly. Tens of thousands of illegals are being apprehended (captured) at the Border and NOT allowed into our Country. With another President, millions would be pouring in. I am stopping an invasion as the Wall gets built. #MAGA— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 9, 2019
More troops being sent to the Southern Border to stop the attempted Invasion of Illegals, through large Caravans, into our Country. We have stopped the previous Caravans, and we will stop these also. With a Wall it would be soooo much easier and less expensive. Being Built!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 31, 2019
Humanitarian Crisis at our Southern Border. I just got back and it is a far worse situation than almost anyone would understand, an invasion! I have been there numerous times - The Democrats, Cryin’ Chuck and Nancy don’t know how bad and dangerous it is for our ENTIRE COUNTRY....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2019
The Mayor of Tijuana, Mexico, just stated that “the City is ill-prepared to handle this many migrants, the backlog could last 6 months.” Likewise, the U.S. is ill-prepared for this invasion, and will not stand for it. They are causing crime and big problems in Mexico. Go home!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 18, 2018
Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border. Please go back, you will not be admitted into the United States unless you go through the legal process. This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 29, 2018
Trump mentioned an “invasion” of Latinx immigrants at least twice before his election
"@cookingdoll: @realDonaldTrump Yet another illegal arrested for bludgeoning a woman. Stop the invasion.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 5, 2015
"@sandrapatriot: @stephenfhayes WHAT U REALLY SHOULD B ANGRY ABT IS THE INVASION OF MILLIONS OF ILLEGALS TKING OVER AMERICA! NOT DonaldTrump— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2015
Fox News anchors are also responsible for promoting the racist “invasion” conspiracy theory.
Vox’s Aaron Rupar points out that instead of apologizing for using the dehumanizing language, Fox News personalities have defended such language since the El Paso shooting:
On Tuesday, host Brian Kilmeade — echoing the manifesto written by the El Paso shooter, who in turn drew inspiration from President Donald Trump — defended the use of the term “invasion” to describe migrants and asylum seekers crossing the southern border, saying, “if you use the term ‘invasion,’ it’s not anti-Hispanic, it’s a fact.”
Is it surprising then that someone would decide to stop the imaginary invasion? “If we can get rid of enough people,” the El Paso shooter allegedly wrote in the manifesto, “then our way of life can be more sustainable.”
Words matter. They have impact. Especially when they’re uttered by the president of the United States.