El Salvador has the twelfth most negative net migration rate in the world, behind only failed states like Syria and Somalia and Polynesian countries going underwater due to climate change. The citizens of El Salvador and surrounding countries such as Honduras and Guatemala turn to the Land of Opportunity to escape the growing amount of gang violence in their countries. This common need for security has drawn migrants into a so-called “caravan” heading toward the United States’ southern border. Made up of several waves, the pilgrimage totals about 8,000 people, though the numbers fluctuate.
This caravan was a major talking point in 2018 midterm campaigns, especially for Republicans. Conservative candidates sought to incite fear and xenophobia in voters, and President Trump led the fearmongering with an October 22 tweet that said “Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in [with the migrants]”—an idea that both has no basis in fact and is racist toward Central Americans and Middle Easterners. As these attacks on the migrant caravan escalated, criticisms that were once reserved for Alex Jones-suite conspiracy theorists found their time in the light. One in particular concerns me greatly.
George Soros is a Jewish, Hungarian-born philanthropist who spends millions of dollars each election supporting Democrats and liberal causes. He is also a frequent target of anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories from those on the far right. Last April, as a different caravan of migrants was approaching the United States from the south, some radical conservatives spread false rumors that Soros was helping fund its movement. The rumors did not catch on, but with this more recent caravan, the theory has resurfaced.
On October 16, Fox News host Laura Ingraham said, “I want to talk a little bit about who is funding the caravan… political sectors are culpable—unidentified political influences.” The next day, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) tweeted, “Footage in Honduras giving cash 2 women & children… Soros?” Donald Trump Jr. liked that tweet, as well as one authored by conservative actor James Woods that called the caravan “Soros nonsense.” In the next few days, the theory was repeated on Fox networks by an anchor, a guest, and another U.S. Representative.
Eleven days after Ingraham baselessly claimed that someone was paying the migrants, the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh was attacked by an anti-Semite whom I won’t name in this column. Eleven Jewish people lost their lives that day by a man who walked in the front doors of a bris shouting, “All Jews must die!” That man had posted on social media that “there is a [Jewish] infestation” in the country and that the migrants on the caravans were “invaders” funded by Jewish enablers.
Just hours after the Pittsburgh massacre, Chris Farrell, the director of Investigations at Judicial Watch (a conservative organization that aims mostly to discredit Hillary Clinton), made a guest appearance on Lou Dobbs’ Fox Business. Farrell talked about how the migrants were surely being paid by the “Soros-occupied State Department,” a phrasing that sounds alarmingly similar to “Zionist-occupied government,” a white nationalist catchphrase and favorite slogan of the Pittsburgh shooter. Fox aired this segment, which was a rerun from a few days earlier, after a man had walked into a synagogue and killed innocent people because of the same ideas that the segment itself propagated.
Fox News and its affiliates are the favorite media source of the Make America Great Again movement and effectively another arm of the Trump establishment. In early November, several Fox hosts even appeared on stage at Trump rallies ahead of the midterm elections. This is an excellent business strategy—ratings are skyrocketing, and profits have been strong (apart from the occasional sexual harassment coverup scandal). But while Fox News might be profitable, it’s not legitimate journalism. It puts politics before facts, preconceived notions before investigative factfinding, and ideology before people’s lives. Even more concerning is that this state-run media is the only source of news for a broad swath of the nation.
I believe the government’s role is never to interfere with the press; it sets too dangerous a precedent for obstructing oppositional media. And the idea of Trump supporters being willing to switch over to CNN or MSNBC seems impossible as long as the current political climate persists. Democracy functions only when the people are well-informed, and the best option we have to maintain that state is to keep putting pressure on Fox to do its job. In much the same way that it is the media’s responsibility to criticize and check the government, it must be the people’s responsibility to criticize and check the media. When Fox News refused to fire Bill O’Reilly after the reveal of sexual harassment cover-ups, it was the people’s boycott that eventually got him off air. So be mindful of what channel you’re watching and what website you’re visiting—it matters. It certainly mattered in Pittsburgh.