by John Avlon
And you thought the health-care fight was vicious. As the White House wades into immigration, John Avlon reports on the vitriol ahead. Plus, the 25 most outrageous attacks, past and present.
Health care may be dominating the headlines, but history shows us that it’s well time for the latest immigration freak-out in America.
We’ve got all the tell-tale signs: a rough economy with high unemployment, times of great political change, and anger at “the other.” Hell, the "birthers" believe we have an illegal immigrant as president.
In fact, much of the wingnut anger we’ve been seeing this year riffs off some of the earliest ugliness in our politics—appropriately known as “the Know-Nothings.” This was a pre-Civil War era group devoted to blaming our young country’s ills on the immigrants of that era—namely Catholics of the Irish and German variety. They decried the lack of assimilation and alleged secret plots to destabilize the republic through fealty to the pope. Their nightmare in the White House would have been JFK.
America has always been a nation of immigrants, but somehow defending our heritage has always meant denying our heritage to some folks. So protestant New Yorkers formed the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner in 1849 as a secret society to highlight their more patriotic-than-thou bona fides. By 1852 they were a full-fledged political party, known as the American Party. Nativists’ mob-appeal means that they cannot last for long—they collapse under the weight of their own hate, ironically their essential un-American-ness. Many became Republicans.
Of course, anti-immigrant fervor still bubbles up—the targets shift as waves of immigration move the latest threat from Europe to south of the border to Asia and Africa. The phenomenon of illegal immigration and multi-generational linguistic segregation has made the tensions worse in recent years.
Arizona’s John McCain almost lost his party’s nomination for trying to work with another border-state Republican—President George W. Bush—to pass immigration reform in 2007. Now word comes that President Barack Obama is going to soon take on immigration reform—presumably because he doesn’t have enough on his plate. Here’s the positive spin: You’ve got to admire the man’s ambition.
Obama’s presence in the White House has already stoked some of the old Know-Nothing fires. Even figures like Pat Buchanan have been getting into the action publishing a column decrying the end of white America: “Without the assent of her people, America is being converted from a Christian country, nine in 10 of whose people traced their roots to Europe as late as the time of JFK, into a multiracial, multiethnic, multilingual, multicultural Tower of Babel not seen since the late Roman Empire.”
In another section of the column, the former Nixon and Reagan aide—whose own ancestors would have been the targets of Nativist anger—decries the new heroes of our evolving America: “Old heroes like Columbus, Stonewall Jackson, and Robert E. Lee are replaced by Dr. King and Cesar Chavez.” The fact that Pat singles out not one but two members of the Confederate Army speaks volumes about the impulses and ironies behind this allegedly pro-America movement.
So get ready for a new round of the ugly. The following list is of some of the most pungent anti-immigrant quotes from our recent wingnut history—from the racist to the ridiculous. Expect new additions to be added to this ring of dishonor in the coming months. A drum-roll please for the top hits of hate both from the original recipe, and the newest flavors of Know-Nothings:
1. “I think we now have sufficient population in our country for us to shut the door and to breed up a pure, unadulterated American citizenship. I recognize that there is a dangerous lack of distinction between people of a certain nationality and the breed of the dog.”—Senator Ellison DuRant Smith, April 9, 1924, the same year Congress passed the Johnson-Reed Act (also known as the Immigration Act of 1924), which banned European and Asian immigrants.
2. “Any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this republic whenever he gets ready."—President Woodrow Wilson in regard to “hyphenated Americans,” early 1900s.
3. Mexico "has been overtaken by lawbreakers from the bottom to the top…And now what you're protesting for is to have lawbreakers come here."—Glenn Beck, March 2006.
4. "They will get ladders made out of mesquite and climb it."—Maverick County, Texas, Sheriff Tomas S. Herrera, October 10, 2006, on how illegal immigrants would deal with a wall on the border.
5. "If American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Quran."—Representative Virgil Goode, USA Today, January 2, 2007.
6. "An immigration agent chased him for the last 10 miles."—Rush Limbaugh, on why Salvador Garcia, a Mexican, won the 1991 New York City Marathon.
7. “We don’t need illegals...Send ‘em all back. Send ‘em back with a bullet in the head the second time.”—Protester outside a high-school auditorium in Portsmouth, N.H. August 2009.
8. "Many Hispanics, as a matter of fact, you know what culture they are assimilating to? The rap culture, the crime culture, anti-cops, all the rest of it."—Pat Buchanan, Fox News, August 22, 2006
9. “The invasion of illegal aliens is threatening the health of many Americans.”—Lou Dobbs, Lou Dobbs Tonight, April 14, 2005, introducing a (later debunked) story on how illegal immigrants are bringing leprosy back to America.
10. "We need the National Guard to clean out all our cities and round them up... They have no problem slitting your throat and taking your money or selling drugs to your kids or raping your daughters, and they are evil people."—Chris Simcox, co-founder of the Minuteman Project and president of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. As quoted in the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report magazine, Summer 2005.
11. "I don't care if Mexicans pile up against that fence ... just run a couple of taco trucks up and down the line..."—Neal Boortz, talk-radio host on WSB-AM in Atlanta on June 18, 2007.
12. "My message to them is, not in two weeks, not in two months, not in two years, never! We must be clear that we will not surrender America and we will not turn the United States over to the invaders from south of the border."—Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA), at the March for America, Washington, DC, June 18, 2007.
13. "Shoot him."—Phil Valentine, anti-immigration talk-radio host, WWTN in Nashville, advising Border Patrol agents to shoot undocumented immigrants during an anti-immigrant rally in Franklin, Tennessee, April 27, 2006.
14. "Terrorists are also walking in unopposed; our southwestern border is littered with Arabic papers and Islamic prayer rugs."—Jim Gilchrist, founder of Minutemen Project, February 2006.
15. "The brown toxic cloud strangling Los Angeles never lifts and grows thicker with every immigrant added. One can't help appreciate the streets of Paris will soon become the streets of L.A. However, Paris' streets erupted while L.A.'s shall sink into a Third World quagmire much like Bombay or Calcutta, India. When you import that much crime, illiteracy, multiple languages, and disease—Americans pick up stakes and move away."—Frosty Wooldridge, anti-immigration author and activist, summarizing an address by a KABC-AM talk-radio host, to the Federation for American Immigration Reform director's meeting, Fall 2005.
16. "What we'll do is randomly pick one night every week where we will kill whoever crosses the border...step over there and you die. You get to decide whether it's your lucky night or not. I think that would be more fun."—Brian James, talk-radio host with KFYI-AM in Phoenix, March 2006.
17. "Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Languages or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion."—Benjamin Franklin, "Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind," 1751
18. "Mexican-Americans can now become citizens of Mexico again. The whole idea is to create this giant fifth column in the United States which can leverage the American government in elections and pressure them to do what is in the interest of the nation of Mexico."—Pat Buchanan, Fox News, August 22, 2006.
19. "We've got to make it in this country so (immigrants) can't exist here...We've got to rattle their teeth and put their feet to the fire!"—Terry Anderson, anti-immigrant talk-radio host with KRLA in Los Angeles, April 22, 2007.
20. "Our enemies are bloodied and beaten. We cannot relent. Our boot is on their throat and we must have the willingness to crush their "throat" so that we can put our enemy down for good. The sovereignty of our nation and the future of our culture and civilization is at stake."—Joseph Turner, Save Our State (S.O.S), now a staff member with the Federation for American Immigration Reform, October 7, 2006.
21. "Does this First World nation wish to become a Third World country? Because that is our destiny if we do not build a sea wall against the waves of immigration rolling over our shores..."—Pat Buchanan, syndicated column, 1990.
22. "The number of purely white People in the World is proportionally very small…in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are Germans also, the Saxons only accepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth."—Benjamin Franklin, "Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind," 1751.
23. "Mexican men have a reputation for leering and worse at little girls, which shouldn't surprise us, since sex with children is socially acceptable in Mexico."—Brenda Walker, California anti-immigrant leader and publisher. From VDARE.com article titled "Top Ten Reasons Why the U.S. Should Not Marry Mexico," January 1, 2007.
24. “[Miami] has become a Third World country. You just pick it up and take it and move it someplace. You would never know you’re in the United States of America. You would certainly say you’re in a Third World country.”—Tom Tancredo, November 2006.
25. “Americans man toll booths, pave roads, embalm bodies, and inspect sewers. Yet people really expect us to believe that they won't pick strawberries or oranges? It just doesn't add up.”—Glenn Beck, 2008
John P. Avlon is the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics. He writes a weekly column for The Daily Beast. Previously, he served as chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.
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