The Trump administration’s white supremacist propaganda machine removed a video on Saturday that it had posted earlier in the week. The removal came hours after this story, which has been updated, reported on its use of false migrant crime statistics and a fictionalized story about a dark-skinned migrant murdering a man with a knife.
The video had been uploaded to YouTube on Thursday by Border Patrol, part of the Department of Homeland Security, which did not respond to a request for comment about it on Friday and also did not immediately respond to a request Saturday evening for comment on its removal. According to YouTube, the video, which had been viewed about 1,500 times as of Saturday afternoon, "has been removed by the uploader."
The video had appeared to reflect the influence of Trump’s senior adviser and speechwriter Stephen Miller, who was introduced to white supremacist ideas as a teenager and helped radicalize the Department of Homeland Security by elevating far-right union leaders in 2016, as I report in my book Hatemonger.
Entitled “The Gotaway,” the three-minute video began in Miller’s home state of California, where darkness envelops a patrol vehicle and horror-movie music plays as agents listen to audio of a real newscast detailing the murder of a 64-year-old woman. “This is getting out of hand,” one agent says. That was followed by dramatic footage of Border Patrol agents arresting suspects, and one of them getting away. Moments later, that person stabs a man who then bleeds out on the ground as the screen fades to black and titles appeared: “Every apprehension matters…” and then “DO YOU KNOW WHO GOT AWAY?”
The three-minute film then concluded with a fast-paced succession of news headlines featuring the well-known and often-cited murder cases of Kate Steinle and Mollie Tibbetts, whose relatives have spoken out against the way the Trump administration has attempted to twist and sensationalize their deaths for anti-immigrant purposes.
One of the headlines came from the Washington Examiner: “Report: Illegal immigration leads to 2,200 deaths, 118,000 rapes, 138,000 assaults.” But those numbers actually refer to crimes committed against immigrants on their route to the United States.
Another inaccurate headline came from the right-wing blog Breitbart: “Fact Check: Yes, Thousands of Americans Have Been Killed By Illegal Aliens”–a claim uttered by Trump and Miller. The blogger, John Binder, links to a Government Accountability Office report that he claims “reveals about 12 Americans a day are killed by illegal aliens.” But that report (PDF) shows no such statistic. U.S. Customs and Border Protection's own "Criminal Alien Statistics" show that only 10 "illegal aliens" detained in the last three and half years had been convicted of homicide or manslaughter.
Five years ago, Miller, who’s long had a morbid fascination with violence, wrote about the 2015 murder of the same 64-year-old woman featured in the video into Trump’s immigration plan. “An illegal immigrant from Mexico, with a long arrest record, is charged with breaking into a 64-year-old woman’s home, crushing her skull and eye sockets with a hammer, raping her, and murdering her,” the plan read.
The Border Patrol’s propaganda film reused the same crime because there aren’t that many cases of migrants murdering people in the U.S., despite what the video suggests. Migrants commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born people, according to most studies. The publication of false crime statistics about Black and brown people painting them as more violent than whites is a common white supremacist recruiting tactic.
The Border Patrol’s film appeared to have been based in part on Netflix’s TV show “Narcos,” as Nick Miroff observed Friday in the Washington Post—lingers on the tattoos of the dark-skinned killer, echoing Miller’s obsession with showcasing them in demonizing press releases. During Trump’s campaign, Miller repeatedly inserted graphic descriptions of migrant crimes into Trump’s speeches–focusing on murders with blunt objects, such as knives and machetes, to cast the perpetrators as “animals,” a term white supremacists frequently use to refer to brown and Black people, including in a hate letter that circulated at Miller’s high school when he was a teenager.
One of Miller’s first actions in the White House was to create an office in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) dedicated to the demonization of immigrants: the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE). He called for the weekly publication of lists of migrant crimes through VOICE and the White House press office. Some warned the lists could inspire violence against people from Latin America. But Miller was hellbent on the demonization. He directed the communications team to showcase photos of the alleged criminals, and especially to feature their gang tattoos.
Miller is not solely to blame for the dark turn Border Patrol has taken, or for crimes that the demonization of immigrants might inspire, such as the execution of 23 people in El Paso last August by a white terrorist imagining he was saving Americans from a “Hispanic invasion.” But he and Trump have pressured officials at the Department of Homeland Security to demonize and target migrants, and more recently, to go after Black Lives Matter protesters in Democrat-run cities.
Right-wing extremism is responsible for most extremist-related violence in this country, including more than 90 percent of attacks and plots this year. You would never know it from videos like Border Patrol’s or from listening to Trump officials such as acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf, who is supposed to protect Americans from extremism. Instead, Trump officials promote lies meant to stoke white fear. The blood is on all of their hands.