On the morning of Aug. 3, 2019, a 21-year-old white supremacist uploaded a document to the message board 8chan explaining why he was about to kill as many Mexican people as he could. “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” he stated. “They are the instigators, not me. I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by the invasion.”
He had driven 10 hours from Allen to El Paso, Texas — the border city where 80% of the population is Hispanic — with an AK-47 and a thousand rounds of hollow-point ammunition. He parked at a Walmart, entered the store and opened fire, ultimately killing 23 people in what has been described as the deadliest anti-Latino hate crime in American history.
Among his victims was Luis Alfonso Juarez, 90, who was grocery shopping with his wife. “Don’t be afraid,” Juarez told her before bullets tore into both their bodies, ending his life and leaving his wife, who survived, suddenly without her partner of 70 years.
This past July, the couple’s daughter, Meg Juarez, had the opportunity to look the young white supremacist who ripped her family apart in the face. “Native Americans and Mexicans were already here before your American settler homies rolled in,” Juarez told him at a sentencing hearing. “Think about that when you say you’re defending your country.”
Now, when Meg Juarez checks the news, almost every Republican politician and right-wing pundit sounds like the man who shot her parents. They’re talking about an “invasion” at the border and the “great replacement” of white voters wrought by immigration.
“That language that they continue to use, which is fear-mongering and demonizing immigrants, is just stripping people of their humanity,” Meg Juarez told HuffPost this week. “When they use that language, it dehumanizes these folks, and that’s how we got somebody to go to El Paso and shoot immigrants because he thought that he was protecting something.”
People visit a makeshift memorial at the scene of a mass shooting at a shopping complex, Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019, in El Paso.
There has been an explosion in violent anti-immigrant rhetoric in recent months as Republicans, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and likely presidential nominee Donald Trump, keep escalating their conflict with President Joe Biden over what to do with a rise in immigrants and asylum seekers at the southern border.
Last month, Abbott boasted that his administration would do everything in its power to stop immigrants from crossing the Rio Grande, including installing dangerous razor wire along the river that defines the U.S. border with Mexico. “The only thing we’re not doing is shooting people,” he said, because “the Biden administration would charge us with murder” — a winking admission that he’d permit extrajudicial killings if it didn’t mean going to prison.
And when the Supreme Court ruled last month in favor of the Biden administration’s desire to remove the razor wire installed by Abbott, the governor responded by threatening to defy the highest court in the land, invoking language reminiscent of Southern states’ statements of secession before the Civil War.
The federal government, he said in a statement released last week, had “broken the compact between the United States and the States,” and he had a duty to stop the “invasion” at the southern border. In short order, Republican governors from 25 states jumped at the chance to support Abbott, releasing a statement commending him for “stepping up to protect American citizens from historic levels of illegal immigrants, deadly drugs like fentanyl, and terrorists entering our country.”
Trump, meanwhile — who launched his 2016 presidential bid by calling Mexicans “rapists” — said during a recent reelection campaign speech that immigrants were “poisoning the blood” of America, phrasing that could’ve been ripped straight out of the pages of “Mein Kampf,” Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitic manifesto.
And then there were right-wing pundits like Charlie Kirk, head of the MAGA youth organizations Students for Trump and Turning Points USA, who last week used his podcast — a top 100 show on Apple Podcasts — to tell people it was time to buy guns for the coming “invasion.”
“The break-ins, the looting, the murder, the rapes, the arson, it’s — by the way, this is just getting warmed up,” he said on “The Charlie Kirk Show,″ according to Media Matters. “You got 15,000 fighting-age males that are getting deployed all across the country. Native-born Americans, you better buy weapons, everybody. Have a lot of guns at your disposal. I would never leave your home without a weapon. It’s the new country we live in. It is ‘Mad Max.’ Biden is creating ‘Mad Max.’ You’re on your own.”
Kirk, as well as former Fox News prime-time host Tucker Carlson, have also frequently invoked the “great replacement,” a conspiracy theory that holds that Democrats are importing immigrants into the country to “replace” white voters.
Experts worry this type of rhetoric is likely to inspire vigilante violence targeting immigrants, like what happened at that El Paso Walmart four and a half years ago. Similarly, the “great replacement” theory was the motivating force for mass shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
This is Meg Juarez’s fear, too, as she hears the conservative apparatus in America demonize asylum seekers and immigrants, portraying them as an invading horde or army rather than human beings fleeing poverty, violence and war.
It’s this type of mass dehumanization that led to her father’s death, she said. The shooter saw her dad as just another Mexican to kill for his body count, as opposed to the man her dad actually was. Someone who came to this country from Chihuahua for a better life, who didn’t have a college education but trained as a welder and helped build vital infrastructure throughout Texas, making enough money to raise seven children. He loved the environment and voraciously read issues of National Geographic to better understand the world around him.
Meg Juarez said she recently met with the district attorney in El Paso, who is seeking the death penalty for the man who killed her dad. (While a federal judge sentenced the shooter to 90 life sentences, the state of Texas is seeking his execution.)
“He seemed to be proud that Governor Abbott appointed him, and I reminded him, ‘Yeah, you may have been appointed by Abbott, but look at how horrible he is to immigrants, and here you are representing a community full of immigrants,’” she said.
The district attorney’s office did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Meg Juarez wants all these politicians and pundits to understand that language has consequences.
“When they talk about immigrants, they conflate them with criminals and bad people, and as long as they do that, of course, their base is going to think that they’re protecting them from something, something that doesn’t exist,” she said. “And so I would just ask them to not use that dehumanizing language. They are helping to incite violence.”
CORRECTION: This article initially stated 22 people died in the El Paso shooting. The 23rd victim, Guillermo “Memo” Garcia, died of his injuries nine months later.