Trump and Dehumanization
Trump Invasion and Infestation Rhetoric
Since the initiation of his campaign for President, Trump has invoked rhetoric dehumanizing immigrants, particularly Mexican immigrants, as an “invasion” and “infestation.” His use of this language continues well into his presidency, amplifying a culture of “us” and “them” to the highest office in the land. Trump embraces broadcast media, rallies, and social networking platforms to project his bigoted viewpoints. His dependence on the social media platform Twitter permits him to deliver his rhetoric to millions of people in real time. Below are only some of the instances in which Trump has classified immigrants in these negative confines, as well as advocated for immigrants to be ineligible for constitutional rights.
On April 18, 2018, Trump tweeted:
“There is a Revolution going on in California. Soooo many Sanctuary areas want OUT of this ridiculous, crime infested & breeding concept. Jerry Brown is trying to back out of the National Guard at the Border, but the people of the State are not happy. Want Security & Safety NOW!”
In May 2018, while speaking to officials during a meeting at the White House, Trump made the claim:
“We have people coming into the country or trying to come in, we’re stopping a lot of them, but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are, there aren’t people. These are animals.”
After receiving backlash from these comments, Trump defended his rhetoric before a crowd in Tennessee on May 29, 2018 stating:
“And then I have to listen to Pelosi and these people saying ‘we have to respect them, they're human beings.’ They are not human beings. They are not human beings. This is why we call the bloodthirsty MS-13 gang members exactly the name I used last week. What was the name?”
To which the crowd responded by shouting: “Animals!”In this same month, the official White House website was edited to describe MS-13 gang members as “violent animals.”
On June 19, 2018, Trump tweeted:
“Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country like MS-13. They can’t win on their terrible policies, so they view them as potential voters!”
In a tweet on June 24, 2018, Trump wrote:
“We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came. Our system is a mockery to good immigration policy and Law and Order. Most children come without parents…”
On October 29, 2018, Trump tweeted:
“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!”
At a campaign rally in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on November 4, 2018, Trump used the term “invasion” twice claiming:
“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”
On November 18, 2018, Trump tweeted:
“The Mayor of Tijuana, Mexico, just stated that “the City is ill-prepared to handle this many migrants, the backlog could last six months.” Likewise, the U.S. in ill-prepared for this invasion, and will not stand for it. They are causing crime and big problems in Mexico. Go home!”
In a tweet on January 31, 2019, Trump wrote:
“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!”
When announcing his plans to declare an emergency at the Southern Border at the White House on February 15, 2019, Trump said the following:
“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.”
On March 9, 2019, Trump tweeted:
“....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”
While speaking at a campaign rally in Melbourne, Florida on May 9, 2019 Trump mentioned “invasion” in reference to Hispanic immigrants on seven occasions within one minute. At some point Trump made the statement:
“"And don't forget, we don't let them and we can't let them use weapons. We can't. Other countries do. We can't. I would never do that. But how do you stop these people?"
Prompting one audience member to shout:
To which Trump responded by laughing with the crowd and joking:
“That’s only in the Panhandle you can get away with that statement, only in the Panhandle!”
In a tweet on June 1, 2019, Trump wrote:
“....U.S. in order to avoid paying the 25% Tariff. Like Mexican companies will move back to the United States once the Tariff reaches the higher levels. They took many of our companies & jobs, the foolish Pols let it happen, and now they will come back unless Mexico stops the.....
...travesty that is taking place in allowing millions of people to easily meander through their country and INVADE the U.S., not to mention the Drugs & Human Trafficking pouring in through Mexico. Are the Drug Lords, Cartels & Coyotes really running Mexico? We will soon find out!”
USA Today analyzed the transcripts from 64 rallies Trump has held since 2017, and uncovered how frequently Trump has used the following terms when discussing immigration:
Predator: 31 times
Killer: 32 times
Animal: 34 times
The hell out of our country: 43 times
Criminal: 189 times
Alien: 213 times
Though this is only a fraction of the statements Trump has made throughout his campaign and presidency, they unequivocally reflect the perpetuation of a culture of equating Hispanic Immigrants with animals and effectively vilifying this group. Despite Trump’s denial that his rhetoric has contributed to this culture, the United States has experienced a surge in violent hate crimes targeting Hispanic Immigrants by white supremacists espousing Trump’s rhetoric. Through his rhetoric, Trump has effectively satisfied the Dehumanization Stage outlined by Genocide Watch by perpetuating a culture which believes American born citizens will be better off without immigrants.
Dehumanization and Fox News
Under the Trump Administration, Fox News has amplified and aligned conservative opinions with white supremacist, bigoted, and xenophobic views. For over three years, Fox News has propagated dangerous and dehumanizing rhetoric against Hispanic Immigrants to millions of Americans and voraciously operates as an ally to Trump’s policies. In this section, we will review instances in which Fox News pushed dehumanizing views of immigrants on their platform.
In 2019 alone, Fox News:
Made over 70 on-air references to an invasion of migrants
Played over 55 clips of Trump calling the surge of migrants an invasion
Made 24 references to an invasion on Fox & Friends, Fox & Friends First, and Fox & Friends Weekend.
Host Tucker Carlson invoked invasion rhetoric on 9 occasions
Host Brian Kilmeade invoked invasion rhetoric on 7 occasions
Host Laura Ingraham invoked invasion rhetoric on 5 occasions
4 elected Republicans have used invasion rhetoric on Fox News
In this video Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight host engages in a conversation with guest Seth Barron, the associate editor of City Journal and Project Director of the NYC Initiative, in which the pair speak disparagingly about undocumented immigrantsThis video created by the Washington Post illustrates the numerous occasions in which Fox News has perpetuated a white supremacist ideology claiming immigrants are replacing white Americans.
In this video, ABC News comments on Tucker Carlson's rhetoric dehumanizing immigrants.
This video created by Media Matters shows an array of Fox News hosts and guests vilifying, criminalizing, and invoking invasion rhetoric against Hispanic immigrants.
These videos demonstrate the adoption of dehumanizing views targeting Hispanic immigrants by a mainstream mass media outlet.
Dehumanization and Immigration Officers
Following the election of Trump, immigration officers throughout the United States have become more empowered through executive actions and Trump’s rhetoric. This in turn has further fueled immigration officers to embrace dehumanizing actions targeting Hispanic Immigrants. In this section, we will review a court case in which an immigration officer ran over a migrant with his Customs and Border Patrol supplied vehicle, as well as Facebook groups operated by immigration officers vilifying and dehumanizing Hispanic immigrants.
On December 3, 2017, former U.S. Border Patrol officer Matthew Bowen intentionally ran over Antonin Lopez Aguilar, a 23 year old Guatemalan migrant. Lopez Aguilar was attempting to cross into the United States from Nogales. After crossing, Bowen sought to apprehend Lopez Aguilar and engaged in a vehicle chase, resulting in Bowen hitting Lopez Aguilar with his car. Lopez Aguilar was taken to a hospital to treat abrasions and bruises, before being sentenced to 30 days in federal prison for crossing illegally. Bowen’s initial report failed to document the horrific incident; however, evidence obtained by prosecutors overwhelming demonstrates Bowen’s attack was intentional and fueled by bigotry. In court filings publicly released by the Federal Tuscan Court, Exhibit 1 of evidence presented by the prosecution consisted of Bowen’s text message records to other CBP officers. The messages reveal a pervasive dehumanizing and despicable culture within CBP viewing migrants as less than human.
The first section of Exhibit 1 is labeled “Messages that Could be Perceived as Racist of Offensive.” These messages were sent from Bowen to other CBP officers, one of which, Agent Lonnie Swartz, was tried for second-degree murder in 2012 for fatally shooting 16-year old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez through the border fence while Elena Rodriguez stood in Mexico. Swartz was acquitted by a jury in November 2018.
Messages with CBP Officers:
On December 18, 2017 Bowen received a text message from Agent Sylliasen:
“Did you gas hiscorpse or just use regular peanut oil while tazing?? For a frying effect. What”
Bowen responded to Sylliasen writing:
“Guats are best made crispy with an olive oil from their native pais.”
This exchange overwhelmingly reflects a dehumanization culture in CBP resulting in the abuse and torture of migrants. In these messages the agents discuss a policy not supported by any U.S. law enforcement agency, soaking a person in oil prior to tazing them. This act serves to further harm migrants, as well as subverts their constitutional rights. These messages also illustrate the commonplace bigotry present in CBP work forces through Bowen’s categorization of Lopez Aguilar as a “guat”.
In a text message to Agent Swartz on December 4, 2017, Bowen describes the incident writing:
“I used an f150 to do a human pit maneuver on a guat running from an agent. It was in front of cameras and everybody thought I ran him over so they made it into an SIR even though the tonk was totally fine. Just a little push with a ford bumper”
The “human pit maneuver” referenced here by Bowen is not a policy upheld or in place anywhere throughout the United States. This term stems from the CBP’s Precision Immobilization Technique, or PIT, in which an agent uses their vehicle to stop a fleeing vehicle by crashing into it. The use of the racial epithet “tonk” to refer to Lopez Aguilar is a clear example of dehumanization language targeting migrants crossing the border. This message is not only an admission of guilt for the use of unlawful force against Lopez Aguilar, but also speaks to the larger culture of CBP viewing excessive force and illegal tactics as acceptable if inflicted against a migrant.
Messages Referencing Trump:
From Bowen to Swartz November 20, 2017:
“Mindless murdering savages. PLEASE let us take the gloves off trump! And we all just responded to code to 2 agents trying to catch 5 tonks at the fence in mariposa, tonks starting rocking caused one agent to fall and sustain a gash to his arm. Disgusting subhuman shit unworth of being kindling for a fire.”
This disturbing text message exemplifies the empowerment of bigotry and dehumanization by immigration officers against immigrants as a result of Trump’s rhetoric and policy decisions. The message not only embraces racial epithets and equates migrants to murdering savages, but also designates migrants as not being human. This message aptly serves to overcome human revulsion to murder and affirmatively dehumanizes migrants.
Once the prosecution requested this evidence be submitted before the jury, Bowen’s defense attorney Chapman attempted to argue the messages would prejudice the jury against Bowen, as well as justified Bowen’s rhetoric. Chapman argued the language “is commonplace throughout the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, that it is part of the agency’s culture, and therefore says nothing about Mr. Bowen’s mindset.” After the judge ruled the evidence was permissible, Chapman claimed the messages which “refer to aliens in a pejorative manner, or that reflect Mr. Bowen’s political beliefs, have no bearing on any element of the offenses the Government will seek to prove at trial.” Despite these assertions, Bowen pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for violating the rights of Antonin Lopez Aguilar.
Secret Border Patrol Facebook Group:
In July of 2019, ProPublica, a non-profit investigative newsroom, released a report uncovering a secret Facebook group used by approximately 9,500 Border Patrol agents. The Facebook group titled “I’m 10-15” was created in August of 2016, and describes itself as a space for former and present officers to discuss work. The name is derived from Border Patrol code for “aliens in custody”, 10-15. ProPublica confirmed numerous participants were present border patrol officers, including a supervisor based in El Paso, Texas. Following this report, CNN discovered an additional secret Facebook group named “The Real CBP Nation”, which maintained over 1,000 members. The contents of the groups consist of dehumanizing rhetoric against migrants, as well as threatening members of Congress who actively speak out against CBP practices. The posts include xenophobic comments, sexual assault threats, and mocking of migrant deaths. The following content is distressing, violent, and may negatively impact some students. Please exercise discretion.
Posts Relating to Congressional Members:
A screenshot from the Facebook group, run with this text: “That's right bitches. The masses have spoken and today democracy won. I have returned. To everyone who knows the real me and had my back I say thank you. To everyone else? This is what I have to say.....”
Posts Relating to Migrant Families:
Posts Related to Migrant Deaths:
These posts sufficiently expose an existing unwavering xenophobic, violent, and volatile culture among immigration officers focused on dehumanizing Hispanic immigrants. Considering the daily interaction these officers maintain with migrants, the employment of individuals holding such views is dangerous and negligent to migrants’ safety. Since the publication of these groups, only three Border Patrol agents have been fired. The Head of Border Patrol, Carla Provost, resigned following revelations she participated in the 10-15 Facebook group. As of January 25, 2020, the current Head of Border Patrol is Rodney S. Scott, who also was a member of the 10-15 group. Under the Trump Administration, dehumanization of Hispanic immigrants is rewarded with prestigious positions and federal protection.