It’s déjà vu all over again. American philosopher Yogi Berra
The Know Nothings are back!
Indeed, it’s déjà vu all over again. The Know Nothing Republican Party is rearing its ugly head again. Given the recent U.S. Census report – the U.S. white population is down, the Latino population is booming – the GOP Know Nothings are going to intensify their assault on our community. And let’s be clear: the Know Nothing Republican campaign is deadly dangerous – it has inspired murders. [More on this below.] Some contextual background:
The American Republican Party, later re-named the American Party, was founded in 1843 and flourished in the 1850s. Its goals were straightforward: restrict immigration and prevent Roman Catholics from holding public office. To be a member of the party one had to present proof of a Protestant pedigree (a “Religion Passport,” as it were), and support mandatory Bible-reading in public schools and a 21-year naturalization period for immigrants. In the manner of secret societies and street gangs, party members used hand signals and passwords to communicate among themselves. They came to be known as the Know-Nothings because members were instructed to say “I know nothing” when asked about the party or its beliefs.
“You will not replace us!”
The party’s ideology rested on a “replacement” fear, that is, party members feared that if allowed to immigrate freely, Catholics, primarily from Ireland and Germany, would numerically overcome and replace (in jobs, political posts, etc.) the native-born and well-established Protestants. And if that weren’t bad enough, the replacer immigrants would inevitably even vote! This led to a slew of voter-suppression proposals such as imposing poll taxes and establishing a 21-year waiting period before immigrants could apply for citizenship and the voting rights that inhere in citizenship.
There was a racial aspect to the Know Nothings’ perspective. In a 1755 essay, Benjamin Franklin, who set the tone for the Know Nothings, infamously railed against the “swarthy” (i.e., “of a dark color, complexion, or cast”) German (and Irish) immigrants who were diminishing the “whiteness” of the country.
A harbinger of things to come: About the time the Know Nothing Party was establishing itself, a cholera epidemic that filled the hospitals and killed tens of thousands hit the country. Without a scintilla of evidence to support their position, the Know Nothing adherents blamed the immigrants for bringing the disease and spreading it. Cholera is not an airborne disease. It is transmitted primarily via unclean water and contaminated food.
Blame the immigrants, why don’t we?
The ancestors of the Know Nothings have never stopped scapegoating immigrants for societal, economic, etc. ills besetting the country at any given time. Here’s a sampling:
* The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was steeped in fears about Chinese workers bringing disease to the United States. Citing no evidence, San Francisco’s city health officer blamed Chinese people for a local smallpox epidemic. In 1900, San Francisco authorities, declaring an outbreak of the bubonic plague, quarantined Chinatown, surrounding it with barbed wire.
*In the late 1920s and early 1930s, on the eve of the Great Depression, then-President Hoover decided to deport people perceived to be “outsiders,” i.e., Mexican immigrants, who were allegedly taking Americans’ jobs. About 1.8 million people were forcibly deported. As many as sixty percent of those sent “home” to Mexico were U.S. citizens, including American-born children of Mexican descent.
* In 2011, massive wildfires were ravaging my home state of Arizona. A Republican U.S. Senator issued a statement blaming undocumented workers for having started the fire. The U.S. Forest Service issued a statement saying that there was no evidence whatsoever that undocumented workers had started the fire. It turned out that two non-Mexican men pleaded guilty to starting the fire.
* In 2014, right-wing Republicans asserted that undocumented immigrants were bringing Ebola into the country, and some even suggested shutting down our southern border completely. One Fox Channel anchor purveyed a scenario whereby an Ebola-infected terrorist, after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, might launch a biological terror attack on the U.S. The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unequivocally declared that Ebola was not coming in via the U.S.-Mexico border.
* In 2015, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump asserted in his campaign speeches that Mexican immigrants presented a significant medical danger because they were bringing in infectious diseases. Challenged repeatedly, Trump could not and did not produce any evidence to support his claim.
* In 2015-16, a Zika epidemic spread across the Americas. With zero evidence, a right-wing blogger and Fox Channel personality issued a rant blaming undocumented immigrants coming into the U.S for the Zika virus. Researchers from Yale and the University of Pennsylvania refuted the right-wing blogger’s diatribe.
* Today, in 2021, taking a page from the “they bring viruses” playbook, Florida Governor and Trump cultist Ron DiSantis, whose state is in a Covid crisis due to his irresponsible stance against masks and vaccinations, is falsely blaming undocumented workers/immigrants for the Covid surge in Florida.
* A recent poll showed that unvaccinated respondents (who are mostly Republican and are the cause of the current Florida and other red-state Covid surges) blamed immigrants crossing the southern border for the Covid surges in various states. The evidence proves otherwise.
“You will not replace us!” – again!
“You will not replace us!” chanted the white supremacists – whom Trump described as “very fine people” – as they marched through the streets of Charlottesville, VA in 2017.
As noted above, “White replacement theory,” aka “replacement theory,” is a fundamental underpinning of the White supremacist movement. Its current incarnation is rooted in the 2012 elections. Republicans noted the great influence of the “Latino/Hispanic” vote and the concomitant emphasis of that community on immigration reform. Republicans began to worry about their ability to win future elections.
Because discussing ways to diminish the Latino/Hispanic vote openly was considered socially and politically toxic, the Republican fears were conveyed through code – the oft-mentioned “dog whistles” – rather than discussed openly. But Trump’s overt racism brought replacement theory out from under the rock it lived in. Soon members of Congress and Fox Channel opinion entertainers were openly propounding replacement theory.
The main pillars of replacement theory are (1) the lower birth rate among Whites (as compared to non-Whites), (2) immigration reform that might allow a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, and (3) the increase in voter behavior among Latinos/Hispanics as well as Blacks and other dark-skinned folks. The fear is that not only will white people in general be replaced by non-whites, but, more importantly, that white voters will be replaced by non-white voters.
The “replacement theory” movement inspires murder…
The “replacement theory” movement is not simply an intellectual, ideological notion. It is deadly dangerous and has resulted in murders in its name.
* At the 2017 Charlottesville, VA rally where the white supremacists marched chanting “You will not replace us!” an avowed white supremacist murdered a young woman who was protesting the supremacist gathering. He purposely plowed his car into a group of anti-supremacist protesters, killing the woman and injuring dozens of others.
* In 2018 domestic terrorist Robert Bowers killed 11 Jewish worshipers in a synagogue and wounded six others. He maintained the Jews were helping the “invaders,” the immigrants who were replacing white folk.
* In 2019 domestic terrorist Patrick Crusius killed 21 people in El Paso, Texas, seeking vengeance against Mexican “invaders.” Minutes before the attack, Crusius posted a manifesto citing the white supremacy “Great Replacement” theory, saying that he hoped to kill as many Mexican people as possible because they were replacing native-born Americans and taking away job opportunities.
I end as I started: the Know Nothing Republican Party is rearing its ugly head again. The “replacement theory” that is driving them is the force behind their attempts to criminalize our history by making it illegal to teach Mexican American history and to make it very difficult – and in some cases nigh on impossible – for us to vote, etc. The browning of America terrifies them. No doubt the recent U.S. Census report that the U.S. white population is down while the Latino population is booming will drive them into a frenzy.
The replacement theory underpinning the Know Nothing Republican campaign is deadly dangerous. It has inspired the murder of innocents. Demonizing immigrants as bearers and spreaders of a deadly disease has the potential of inspiring more acts of domestic terrorism. There was once a time when the U.S bragged about being “the land of immigrants.” Those days obviously are gone. c/s