Column: Here’s how Fox News’ white supremacist propaganda can be stopped
In March 2006, then-CNN host Lou Dobbs told viewers about a Mexican conspiracy to reconquer the Southwest, which the United States took from Mexico 158 years earlier in the Mexican-American War.
“There are some Mexican citizens and some Mexican Americans who want to see California, New Mexico and parts of the Southwestern United States given over to Mexico. These groups call it the reconquista,” Dobbs declared. “They view the millions of Mexican illegal aliens in particular entering the United States,” he said, “as potentially an army of invaders to achieve that takeover.”
For the record:
8:23 a.m. Aug. 12, 2021An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Lou Dobbs told CNN viewers about the “reconquista” threat in April 2006. It was in March 2006.
Dobbs didn’t dream up the “reconquista” conspiracy theory. He borrowed it from fringe extremists — just as Fox News host Tucker Carlson, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other right-wingers are now borrowing a similar “replacement” fantasy from white supremacists.
This recent delusion, made mainstream by the GOP, says a cabal of Democrats or Jews are orchestrating an invasion of brown and Black people to “replace” whites. It confuses population growth, which is crucial, with population replacement, which implies catastrophic subtraction. The conspiracy theory has motivated massacres, other hate crimes and even the Jan. 6 coup attempt.
This spring, Carlson parroted the lie, saying: “The Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate — the voters now casting ballots — with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World ... that’s what happening, actually. Let’s just say it. That’s true.”
Fortunately, the past yields lessons for how people can fight the new wave of white nationalist propaganda.
In the ’90s, California’s demographic change triggered panic about a “Third World” takeover, which spread east like noxious smoke. Latinophobes saw signs of “reconquista” everywhere: in the sight of Mexican flags fluttering in the wind, the sound of “press 1 for English” on customer service messages, the gardener’s “Buenos días!”
A 1997 zoned edition of The Times ran a full-page ad from a Sherman Oaks right-wing group warning of a “reconquista” and “a struggle with Mexico and Mexican nationalists over control of the American Southwest.”
The “reconquista” narrative has roots in a paranoid distortion of a 1969 Chicano youth conference document identifying goals for Latinxs, including “reclaiming the land of [our] birth” — which served to inspire a sense of belonging and political empowerment for marginalized students whose ancestors were native to this continent.
The fringe conspiracy theory was normalized nationwide by Dobbs and then-MSNBC contributor Pat Buchanan, who ran for the Republican Party presidential nomination in the ’90s. In the 2000s, Buchanan wrote two replacement theory books, “Death of the West” and “State of Emergency,” which claimed: “Chicano chauvinists and Mexican agents have made clear their intent to take back through demography and culture what their ancestors lost through war.”
But Dobbs did the most to spread the lie, inviting border paramilitary leaders and pseudo-intellectuals from “think tanks” established by white nationalist John Tanton onto CNN.
“Lou Dobbs was the ur-white hater of our age,” said Roberto Lovato, who in the fall of 2009 launched BastaDobbs.com, a coalition of more than 40 Latino grass-roots groups that urged CNN to stop elevating Dobbs, in an interview with me. Dobbs made those views acceptable on major media.
The “reconquista” fiction has now morphed into the “replacement” hysteria — but this time, it also wraps in virulent antisemitism and fears of white genocide.
Charles Kamasaki, a senior advisor at UnidosUS, the Latino civil rights organization, says the inevitable outcome of “reconquista” and “replacement” visions is violence. First, they dehumanize an entire group. Then, they categorize it as an existential threat. Finally, they claim the government can’t be trusted to act. “Any response is acceptable if you believe the future of the country is at stake,” he told me.
In 2008 and 2009, a sustained campaign by UnidosUS, then called the National Council of La Raza, engaged with CNN Worldwide President Jim Walton to end the dangerous rhetoric used by CNN hosts.
With Southern Poverty Law Center, Media Matters for America and other civil rights groups, the council persuaded several advertisers to pull funding. Within weeks of that and Lovato’s grass-roots campaign, Dobbs left CNN. Combined pressure from corporations, civil rights groups and citizen activists seemed to work. “Reconquista” delusions faded.
Now, fast-forward a decade to replacement theory, basically reconquista 2.0. But Fox, unlike CNN, seems immune to moral shaming and financial pressure.
Fox has lost tens of millions of dollars in ad revenue since 2018, when Carlson intensified his anti-immigrant vitriol. This year, he got behind replacement theory. Michael Edison Hayden, an investigative reporter with the SPLC, told me that Carlson’s “hold over his audience only seems to be strengthened by the attempts to quiet him.” Carlson whips up white frenzy and fidelity by playing the victim of “cancel culture.”
Angelo Carusone, Media Matters for America’s chief executive, said Fox is insulated from ad revenue loss because it relies on unusually high subscriber fees. Cable and satellite TV subscribers fund Fox whether they watch it or not. “Fox News could have zero dollars in ad revenue and still have a 90% profit margin,” Carusone said.
Tens of millions of households pay for Fox, even though only 3.5 million of those are Fox viewers. One way to fight back, Carusone said, is to complain to your cable provider about high Fox fees and threaten to switch providers. A Media Matters campaign, #unfoxmycablebox, urges: “Don’t sit idly by while Fox News takes your money to fuel hate, bigotry and lies.”
If corporations won’t stop themselves from endangering lives with “replacement” lies, viewers can. Advertisers and civil rights groups couldn’t break the reconquista panic until average Americans joined the effort. Sharing outrage on social media isn’t enough. A phone call might be.
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