Iowa Republicans Need To Stop Immigrant Fear-Mongering

Enough already.

In yet another weekend where it seems like the country is coming apart, terrorist gunmen in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio massacred innocent people.

Details are just starting to emerge about the Dayton murderer, but we already have a disturbing — and all too familiar — profile of the El Paso killer.

A 21-year-old white male, Patrick Crusius drove nine hours from his Dallas metro home to intentionally seek out and murder Hispanic people. Authorities believe a manifesto posted online before the massacre is, in fact, his, one in which he makes clear his racist intentions.

“This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” the terrorist writes. “I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.”

He goes on to warn that an increasing Hispanic population that votes for Democrats will lead to “a one party-state.” Crusius suggests that by massacring Hispanic people in America, the population at large will be given “an incentive” to leave the country, adding that it’s, “An incentive that myself and many other patriotic Americans will provide.”

Many people warn about sharing such “manifestos,” but the stark reality is that this racist screed is going to bounce around the internet plenty with or without you tweeting about it or reading it. I personally believe it’s useful to look at the minds of evil in order to better understand what’s happening, rather than just taking the generic summaries of it from others.

And in it, you’ll find his ideology doesn’t fit into some neat box, other than the typical, young white man societal outsider who thinks himself smart for talking about broad, big-idea trends. There’s also plenty of utterly racist thoughts, like opposing “race mixing.”

But the motivation around his specific target and desire to commit mass murder revolves around ideas that are pretty similar to what you hear in a Steve King interview about the so-called “great replacement.” Or at a Donald Trump rally. Or in any of Trump’s Facebook ads that warn of an “invasion.”

“[Democrats] intend to use open borders, free healthcare for illegals, citizenship and more to enact a political coup by importing and then legalizing millions of new voters,” he writes, echoing a line of thought you hear from plenty of Republican events.

Which brings us to Iowa.

In the aftermath of these horrific events, it can seem like the political system is so thoroughly broken, that there is little you can do locally that will have any impact.

However, there is one thing we could improve in Iowa to even slightly reduce the chances that something like this happens here: the Republican Party of Iowa can stop its reckless, dangerous fear-mongering on immigrants.

Throughout the past few election cycles, major Republican candidates and the state party have embraced the “murderous illegal alien” frame in their TV ads and messaging strategies. David Young did it heavily in his 2016 race around the Sarah Root death. Rod Blum literally ran this ugly, blatantly race-baiting ad in his unsuccessful race in 2018 that included this image:

After a brief lull after the 2018 election, the Republican Party of Iowa is back at it this summer, doubling down on their “dangerous immigrant” rhetoric.

“Iowans have been directly impacted by our country’s broken immigration system in recent weeks — one illegal immigrant is the leading suspect in a triple homicide, and another has been accused of kidnapping a 16-year-old girl,” read the party’s latest press release on Thursday. “At the same time, immigration has been a hot topic throughout the Democratic debates, as 2020 candidates discuss plans to open our borders and grant illegal immigrants free health care.”

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Joni Ernst frames her opposition to border crossings as an effort to “protect American lives,” again implying that if immigrants come to America illegally, the chief concern is that they’ll kill or hurt someone. This is noteworthy, as Republicans could easily make plenty of economic arguments around immigration, but instead choose to focus on this angle.

Steve King and other top Iowa Republicans were quick to seize upon the triple-murder in Des Moines last month by a man who had been deported twice before. King said in a video, “There are thousands of graves across this countryside that are there because we didn’t enforce immigration law.”

None of this is to suggest we shouldn’t be upset and demand action in response to these tragedies that have happened in Iowa. And I think most can at least understand how anyone could have an initial reaction of anger that is basically, “a person who shouldn’t have been here committed murder.”

But it’s a different discussion entirely when you then constantly connect that back to this framing that immigrants as a whole are particularly dangerous and murderous, despite all evidence that shows the opposite.

That’s not also to say we can’t have a real debate on immigration. But there are plenty of ways Republicans could discuss immigration reform and border security — even policies that differ considerably from Democrats’ — that doesn’t involve defamatory phrasing and imagery of immigrants being dangerous murderers.

When three Democratic presidential candidates came out to Council Bluffs a few weeks back for an AARP forum on seniors and health care, state Republicans rallied outside, not to offer their different policy ideas for those topics, but to rail against dangerous immigrants. Any time a political event happens in Council Bluffs, it gives Republicans a chance to bring out the Root case (a young woman who was killed in a car accident by an undocumented immigrant who was then released on bail and disappeared).

The press conference they held was one of the more grotesque things I’ve witnessed in Iowa politics. Obviously, a mother’s grief can take whatever route it wants, and Michelle Root, the mother of Sarah Root, has every right to any opinion she wants. But perhaps it’s not the most responsible idea to put someone in that situation in front of the cameras in furtherance of this immigration messaging that isn’t about policy, but about fear-mongering of immigrants themselves.

I’m sure Republicans would retort that Democrats highlight the parents of children killed by gun violence, though in those cases, the message isn’t the denigration of an entire race.

Iowa Republicans have known well enough at times in the past when to back off.

For a moment in 2018, it looked like the Mollie Tibbetts murder would become another racial flashpoint, but Republican politicians largely left it alone after the pleadings of her father to not use it for political purposes. Democrats were critical of part of Kim Reynolds’ initial reaction to the news, though it’s notable that afterwards she avoided relating it to immigration. (That did not, however, stop Trump from literally fundraising off of Tibbetts’ death in a campaign email last month.)

It’s time once again for them to back off.

Why? Because every time they shout to the public that “open borders” means Iowans will get murdered by dangerous “illegal immigrants,” they’re adding to the risk of a politically-motivated shooting in our state.

Just look to what happened in Cedar Rapids a few weeks ago. A Cedar Rapids man with a considerable history of racist social media postings threatened a Jewish organization in New York City. He was fortunately arrested before his words could turn into actions, but his online history reads just like the El Paso terrorist and other racially-motivated murderers that came before him. He just as easily could have turned his hate onto one of our communities in Iowa.

These people live among us. While much of their radicalization occurs online, it’s been exceedingly obvious how much of Trump’s rhetoric and that of today’s Republican Party has contributed to the situation.

There will always be hateful, unstable people out there — and there will be other mass shootings that aren’t politically-motivated. But what we don’t need to do is give people like them a motive. They don’t need one more thing to trigger them coming from a Republican Party of Iowa press release that gets covered in a news story in the Cedar Rapids Gazette or on KGAN.

We’re living in one of the most volatile times in American history. In the past few years, we’ve seen domestic terrorists target and slaughter black people in a church, Hispanic people in a Walmart, Jewish people in a synagogue and more. How will history compare these attacks by white supremacists to the most infamous killing of black people in the 1950s and 1960s?

Everyone involved in Iowa politics is a part of history being made right now. Which side do you want to be on?


by Pat Rynard
Posted 8/4/19

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