Starting in August of last year, Texas Governor Rick Perry began to hone a new message. In an effort to manufacture foreign policy credibility, Perry tried to repackage the policy challenges of a border state governor into a poor-man’s version of national security expertise. In a speech at the Heritage Institute he tied concerns (hysteria) over unaccompanied minors detained at the border into a terrorist threat. The cherry on that sundae was Perry’s vague claim that ISIS was trying to cross the Rio Grande.
In politics a claim can be patently stupid and ingenious at the same time. After all, can YOU prove that no terrorists have crossed the border into Laredo? By wrapping up phony concerns over immigration, terrorism, and Ebola into a fat little packet of white worry, Perry and other Republicans managed to overcome a mounting pile of good news. In 2014, an increasingly peaceful, prosperous and healthy country went to the polls in a frothing panic.
Perry’s idea picked up steam, fueled by categorical denials from every credible source. By October, Republican candidates were repeating the claim. Republican Senate candidate Tom Cotton improved on the story by inventing the idea that ISIS was working with Mexican drug cartels. Congressman Duncan Hunter decided to take the courageous step of making up evidence to back the claims. On October 8, just a few weeks before early voting began in several states, Rep. Hunter announced on Fox News that ten ISIS fighters had been captured trying to cross the southern border.
Sometimes a claim is just too truthy not to be true. Right wing group Judicial Watch repeated the claim with slightly different details. The claim went viral, fueled by negligent journalism. Look at how this Southern California TV station covered Hunter’s claims and handled his utter lack of evidence:
“But have any been caught at all? According to a Department of Homeland Security representative, any suggestion of ISIS crossing our borders is “categorically false and not supported by any credible intelligence or the facts on the ground.”
Bee says it is possible the Feds may want to keep the details – who was arrested, how they got in – quiet so ISIS will not gain an advantage.
A representative for Hunter’s office told 10News they are standing by their assertion.”
Priceless. Politician makes bullshit claim. Journalist establishes that there is no evidence for said bullshit claim. Lack of evidence is mentioned in the 12th sentence of a 14-sentence story, right next to comments from a random local “expert” dismissing the government’s denial. And the story ends with Hunter’s insistence that he stands by his lie. All the public hears is PANIC NOW.
On the other side of the election, Ebola is gone. The pace of unaccompanied minors appearing at the border has dropped by about half. The terrorists who haunted your local Dairy Queen in 2014 remain elusive. Somehow, with the election behind us, all of these terrifying, existential threats to the Republic have mysteriously resolved themselves. None of the people who invented or spread the lies about the ISIS threat have suffered any consequences.
What happened to the ten ISIS fighters that were apprehended on our southern border? They never existed, of course. A few days later, Hunter quietly “clarified” his lie, a move that gathered far less attention than the lie itself. He never apologized. Meanwhile Rick Perry is still trying to build a Presidential campaign on ISIS fears. ISIS is Rick Perry’s biggest ally in the 2016 Election.
Lying to manufacture fear worked in 2014. As long as it works, we can expect to see it again and again and again…