Column: For Republicans, ‘Bomb the Mexicans’ is the new ‘Build the Wall’

Ron DeSantis, wearing jeans and dark short-sleeved shirt and sunglasses, stands outside in the middle, hands on his hips,
Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis waits to speak at a news conference along the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass, Texas, on Monday.
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)
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When then-President Trump proposed shooting migrants in the legs and firing missiles into Mexico to destroy drug labs, he did so in private.

Republican politicians are now expressing their bloodlust in public. As “Build the Wall” loses its edge, “Bomb the Mexicans” is becoming mainstream in the GOP.

On Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — Trump’s top challenger for the Republican presidential nomination — promised to deploy the U.S. military against transnational cartels in Mexico and advocated for executing people crossing the border who are carrying drugs. “You absolutely can use deadly force,” he said.


All of the party’s top presidential contenders endorse a counterterrorism operation against cartels in Mexico, in some cases regardless of Mexico’s desires. Trump has called for “battle plans” targeting drug traffickers “just like we took down ISIS.”

Opinion Columnist

Jean Guerrero

Jean Guerrero is the author, most recently, of “Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump and the White Nationalist Agenda.”

The idea exploits the grief of tens of thousands of Americans who’ve lost loved ones to fentanyl, sometimes made in Mexico with chemicals from China. Republican bills introduced in both chambers of Congress seek to authorize military force in Mexico. Other legislation would designate cartels in Mexico as foreign terrorist organizations or classify fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction, among other things.

No politician has proposed bombing the U.S. corporations behind thousands of opioid-related deaths, but why would they? To rally American support for state violence, bloodmongers need racism.

A new NBC News poll found that military force against cartels, at least at the border, was more popular than all other policy positions in the survey, including anti-transgender messages. About 86% of Republican primary voters and 55% of all voters favored using troops at the border to stop drugs.

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) has been sounding the alarm about Republican proposals that lay the groundwork for an invasion of Mexico. During a House Foreign Affairs committee meeting about a bill to classify fentanyl under the chemical weapons convention, he argued that it gave victims’ families false hope.

“There’s literally a black hole in this piece of public policy that doesn’t address the American side at all,” Castro said. He was referring to the U.S. demand for drugs and government data showing U.S. citizens represent the vast majority of drug traffickers, despite the popular perception of cartels as Mexican.


Republican legislation also ignores the fact that cartels in Mexico operate almost exclusively with guns smuggled in from the U.S. in defiance of Mexico’s gun laws, some of the most stringent in the world. Imagine if Mexico were planning to invade the U.S. to attack American gun companies, which make products known to kill tens of thousands of Mexicans each year and which refuse to take basic steps to stop gun smuggling. Instead, Mexico is merely suing the gun manufacturers.

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“If we really want to fight criminal organizations and drug traffickers, we need to decrease their firepower,” Alejandro Celorio Alcántara, legal advisor for Mexico’s ministry of foreign affairs, told me.

Castro has introduced a bill that would curb gun trafficking to Latin America and the Caribbean, the Americas Regional Monitoring of Arms Sales (ARMAS) Act. So far, it has no Republican co-sponsors, although Castro hopes to change that soon. GOP leaders seem to prefer a strategy that will create more war-torn regions from which people are displaced and help transnational cartels to expand their territory, as often happens when the U.S. military interferes south of the border.

Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has scoffed at Republicans’ proposals, saying the use of U.S. military force in Mexico would violate Mexico’s sovereignty. Even if Republicans could coerce Mexico into accepting some form of military intervention, the result would almost certainly be greater harm.

If Americans understood the economic realities of what drives drug trafficking and migration from the region — including the role U.S. corporations play in propping up corrupt local elites — they wouldn’t be advocating for more bloodshed in that country. But Republican politicians aren’t interested in finding real solutions for reducing the flow of desperate migrants or for families harmed by opioid addiction. They’re into political gain, by any means necessary.

A few months ago, I spoke to a 52-year-old white woman whose son died in 2021 from a fentanyl overdose. I’d first met this woman while reporting on Trump voters ahead of the 2020 election, and she agreed to speak to me about her grief on condition of anonymity.


She had thoroughly internalized the GOP’s scapegoating of Mexicans. “If it stops the drugs from coming across the border, I will bring a gun down there and I will start shooting,” she told me. She broke into sobs. “I’ve never felt that way,” she said, “it’s not because I hate — I don’t hate immigrants. I don’t hate them as people. But I hate what they’re doing to our country. They’re invading our country, stealing our livelihoods, murdering our children.”

If President Biden doesn’t stop the drugs, she said, it’s only a matter of time before private citizens organize an offensive at the border. “Me, my family, my husband, and everybody I know is ready to do it,” she said.

The danger of her fantasies is real. But she isn’t the villain, and seeing her that way would only increase our political polarization and the potential for civil war.

We can recognize the real threat behind her views while understanding that people like her have been victimized by a failure of drug policies, coupled with corporate powers that profit from addiction and armed conflict.

Neither she nor the migrants who’ve been made scapegoats are the real enemies.

Our nemeses are the right-wing demagogues who want us to destroy one another.