Donald Trump’s Easter weekend Tweetfest introduced many Americans to the “caravan.”
As he exclaimed on Sunday morning (immediately after offering a “HAPPY EASTER!”):
Border Patrol Agents are not allowed to properly do their job at the Border because of ridiculous liberal (Democrat) laws like Catch & Release. Getting more dangerous. “Caravans” coming. Republicans must go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW. NO MORE DACA DEAL!
He subsequently tweeted that “Mexico has the absolute power not to let these large ‘Caravans’ of people enter their country” and that “These big flows of people are all trying to take advantage of DACA. They want in on the act!”
The “caravan” to which he is referring is an annual event in which aid groups help migrants heading north travel as a group to protect them from drug cartels, pirates and other dangers. This year, a group of about 1000 people, mostly Honduran, are travelling together towards the United States, where many will attempt to seek political asylum.
Put aside for a moment that the caravan has nothing to do with DACA, as the migrants are not eligible for the Dreamers program, or that very few migrants who apply for asylum actually achieve it. Expect to hear a lot more about the caravan in the coming days. Why? Because it is the perfect symbol of Donald Trump’s white nationalist world view: an armada of dark-skinned foreigners marching inexorably towards the civilized (i.e., Western) world to take it over. In fact, to many of Trump’s supporters it is life imitating art.
The “art” in question is The Camp of the Saints, a 1973 novel by Jean Raspail that envisions an armada of refugees from the Indian subcontinent overwhelming France, causing Western civilization to collapse.
The book is profoundly racist, presenting the Indian refugees as subhumans who literally eat their own feces and engage in the most disgusting forms of depravity on their ships: “Everywhere, rivers of sperm… streaming over bodies, oozing between breasts, and buttocks, and thighs, and lips, and fingers.”
The book is not some sick escapist fantasy: it was intended as a warning. In Raspail’s story, France is split between leftists who want to welcome the refugees with open arms – and are ultimately massacred by the invading barbarians – and those who believe in “scorn of people for other races, the knowledge that one’s own is best, the triumphant joy at feeling oneself to be part of humanity’s finest.” In the end, the West’s division and weakness allows the rampaging horde to take over, leading to such atrocities as the Queen of England being forced to marry her daughter to a Pakistani.
The book has become a cult favorite of white nationalists on both sides of the Atlantic. It includes among its adherents the Intellectual Godfather of Trumpism, Steve Bannon, who during the 2016 campaign frequently compared the Syrian refugee crisis to the book. “It’s been almost a Camp of the Saints-type invasion into Central and then Western and Northern Europe,” he said during a Breitbart interview with then-Senator Jeff Sessions in 2015.
Those who adhere to this world view no doubt believe that the flow of people from Central and South America towards the U.S. is exactly the same as what France experiences in the book – and that America faces the same existentialist threat if it fails to stop the invading horde. That’s why Trump’s border wall has such resonance: it is, in the mind of some of his supporters a last-ditch effort to stop the destruction of a country that once was (and soon will be) great.
At a time when Trump’s efforts to build his “big, beautiful wall” have hit roadblocks from a recalcitrant Congress (not to mention that Mexico seems less than willing to pay for it), expect the President to ratchet up the urgency factor by citing the caravan as proof that America’s days are numbered.
None of this is to say that the immigration issue is not complex, and that those who advocate for stronger border protections are automatically racist. Remember that the Obama administration took steps to stem the flow of refugees from Latin America in 2014.
But when Donald Trump tweets about the “caravan” of people heading towards our shores, it is a not-too-subtle dog whistle for those who truly believe that America faces the same fate as the France of Raspail’s book.
In other words, the racist rantings of the white nationalist movement have, for all intents and purposes, found a welcome home at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Perhaps the Protocols of the Elders of Zion will soon get a Twitter shout-out.