“Burn the Mexican flag!”: A Look Back at Hateful Anti-Immigration Rhetoric from 2006

By T.G.
Media Matters | March 18, 2010

In anticipation of the upcoming immigration marches, Media Matters for America has compiled a review of the hateful and outrageous right-wing rhetoric surrounding the immigration debate in 2006.

Right-wing rhetoric: Immigrant-rights marchers, immigrants are seeking to reclaim the Southwest for Mexico

"Reconquista" is a discredited smear used by the right to generate fear of Latino immigrants. During the 2006 immigration debate, right-wing media repeatedly advanced the discredited smear that Mexican-Americans and Mexican citizens -- particularly "illegal aliens" -- are plotting to take over the U.S. Southwest for Mexico.

Dobbs referred to potential "army" of "illegal alien" "invaders" taking over Southwest. During an April 2006 broadcast of his now-defunct CNN show, Lou Dobbs introduced a report by stating: "There are some Mexican citizens and some Mexican-Americans who want to see California, New Mexico and other parts of the Southwestern United States given over to Mexico. These groups call it the reconquista, Spanish for reconquest. And they view the millions of Mexican illegal aliens in particular entering the United States as potentially an army of invaders to achieve that takeover." Correspondent Christine Romans reported, "Long downplayed as a theory of the radical ethnic fringe, the la reconquista, the reconquest, the reclamation, the return, it's resonating with some on the streets," and went on to say: "A lot of open borders groups disavow it completely. But the growing street protests in favor of illegal immigration, Lou, are increasingly taking on the tone of that very radicalism." [CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, 4/31/06]

CNN reporter referenced "the Vicente Fox Aztlan tour," used "Aztlan" graphic sourced to hate group. Lou Dobbs Tonight correspondent Casey Wian characterized then-Mexican President Vicente Fox's trip to Salt Lake City, Utah, as a "Mexican military incursion" and claimed that "[y]ou could call" Fox's trip to the United States "the Vicente Fox Aztlan tour." During Wian's report, CNN featured a graphic of "Aztlan" that was sourced to the Council of Conservative Citizens -- an organization whose "Statement of Principles" reads: "We also oppose all efforts to mix the races of mankind, to promote non-white races over the European-American people through so-called 'affirmative action' and similar measures, to destroy or denigrate the European-American heritage, including the heritage of the Southern people, and to force the integration of the races." [Lou Dobbs Tonight, 5/23/06]

Malkin: "[T]he vast majority of mainstream Hispanic politicians" embrace "the intellectual underpinnings of reconquista." On Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, columnist and blogger Michelle Malkin declared that protesters in Los Angeles were "people who believe that the American southwest belongs to Mexico, that we don't have a right to enforce our borders, and who do nothing more than try to sabotage our sovereignty." Malkin later added that "the kind of quote-unquote 'pride' that a lot of these illegal alien activists are touting now goes much further than just being proud about one's heritage and one's roots. The idea, the intellectual underpinnings of reconquista, are embraced by the vast majority of mainstream Hispanic politicians." [Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, 3/30/06]

Wash. Times editorial: Protesters approve of "reconquista" agenda. A Washington Times editorial accused Latinos who protested against a proposal to restrict immigration of either supporting or having given "tacit approval" to the "reconquista" agenda of "Hispanic radicals," which the editorial said was the "reconquering of Mexican land lost during the Mexican-American war." [The Washington Times, 3/30/06]

Fox's Gibson suspicious that Latino advocacy groups are set on "retaking old Mexico territories ... by pure birth rate." While saying that he was citing an internal email from the National Council of La Raza, John Gibson claimed on his Fox News show that he was suspicious that advocacy groups like the NCLR favor "the so-called reconquista," which Gibson described as the "retaking of old Mexico territories, which are now part of the United States, by pure birth rate." Gibson also asserted that the NCLR "is a group dedicated to the betterment of the race," adding, "good, but try being American while you are at it, guys." [Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson, 4/3/06]

O'Reilly: Purported immigrant protest "organizers" have hidden "hardcore militant agenda" to take back American Southwest. On his radio show, O'Reilly said that the "organizers" of immigrant rallies have a "hardcore militant agenda of 'You stole our land, you bad gringos.' " O'Reilly said that the "slogan" of the demonstrations' organizers was "[W]e didn't cross the border, the border crossed us," and that this meant that the organizers believed that Americans "stole [their] land." The organizers' hidden "agenda underneath," said O'Reilly, was that "now, we're going to take it back by massive, massive migration into the Southwest." [Westwood One's The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly, 5/1/06]

Buchanan: "Chicano chauvinists and Mexican agents" want to "take back through demography and culture what their ancestors lost through war." In his book, State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America, published in August 2006, MSNBC contributor Pat Buchanan wrote: "Chicano chauvinists and Mexican agents have made clear their intent to take back through demography and culture what their ancestors lost through war." He also wrote that the United States must keep "Americans of European descent" from becoming the "minority" in order to "survive[]." [State of Emergency (Thomas Dunne Books)]

Malkin: "[W]e saw ... that supposed fringe" that favors reconquista "come out into the mainstream." O'Reilly said to Malkin, "So I know that there's an undercurrent of militancy that says, 'Hey, this is our territory. You stole it from us in the Mexican-American War. We're going to take it back now by illegal immigration.' But I think that's a fringe, nutty group, not the mass of millions that we have." Malkin replied: "Well, I guess I disagree with you there, Bill, because I mean, we saw in April and May of this year [2006] that supposed fringe come out into the mainstream. And it wasn't just a dozen folks who are ensconced in the ivory tower who believe that the Southwest is Aztlan and it belongs to them." O'Reilly later asked her: "You think that this massive immigration to the United States, 15 million strong, is a part of a plan to bring back territory to Mexico?" Malkin responded: "Well, I take the Mexican government at its word when it says that is exactly its plan." [The O'Reilly Factor, 8/23/06]

Right-wing rhetoric: Immigrant rights marchers are "racis[t]"

Malkin: "[M]ilitant racism from another protected minority group was on full display" from "Latino supremacists." In her syndicated column, Malkin wrote of immigration rallies, "Well, this weekend, militant racism from another protected minority group was on full display. But you wouldn't know it from press accounts that whitewashed or buried the protesters' virulent anti-American hatred." Malkin also wrote: "Apologists are quick to argue that Latino supremacists are just a small fringe faction of the pro-illegal immigration movement (never mind that their ranks include former and current Hispanic politicians from L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to former California Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cruz Bustamante)." [Creators Syndicate column, 3/29/06]

Savage: "[B]rown supremacists" are "behind these protests." On his nationally syndicated radio show, Michael Savage said: "So, it seems to me that there's a certain group of immigrants that's not very happy and they're all Hispanic. I don't see any other racial group out there in the streets, do you? Now, that's very interesting. I'm not allowed to raise the issue or the specter of brown supremacists behind these protests. Don't tell me this is all about compassion for immigrants, because it is not at all only about compassion for immigrants. They are trying to provoke the takeover of the United States of America." [Talk Radio Network's The Savage Nation, 4/11/06]

Right-wing rhetoric: Pro-immigration marchers should be arrested or deported

Fox's Asman wondered whether marches are a perfect chance to "round up these lawbreakers and ship them out." Guest-hosting Fox News' Your World, David Asman discussed nationwide protests of immigration reform and wondered: "With so many illegals hitting the streets, is this the perfect time to round up these lawbreakers and ship them out?" As Asman spoke, the on-screen text read: "Round 'Em Up?" Later, the text read: "Perfect Chance to Arrest Illegal Immigrants?" [Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, 4/10/06]

Smerconish: "[L]aw enforcement ought to step in" at immigration demonstrations and consider "gathering ... up" undocumented immigrants. Guest-hosting MSNBC's Scarborough Country, Philadelphia-based radio host Michael Smerconish suggested that "maybe law enforcement ought to step in" at pro-immigration demonstrations and consider "gathering ... up" undocumented immigrants. Smerconish wondered why there was "zero discussion" of "gathering them up" at the demonstrations, when "[a]ll I keep hearing is how would we ever find them?" [MSNBC's Scarborough Country, 4/10/06]

Doocy suggested "round[ing] them up right then, when they're saying, 'Hey, I'm right here.' " On Fox & Friends, syndicated radio host Erich "Mancow" Muller announced that he was "having a big rally here in Chicago" for a "group" that he said was "pro-illegal murder and illegal car thieves." Muller added: "We're just getting together, and we're going to be out on the street. We're for illegal murder and illegal car thievery. So, we just like illegal stuff." Muller added: "I just like illegal murder and illegal car thieves. So, you know, it's illegal, but -- and, in fact, all the people who have done it are going to be out there on the street, and hopefully, none of the cops will come arrest us." Co-host Steve Doocy then said: "Yeah, you wouldn't want to round them up right then, when they're saying, 'Hey, I'm right here.' " [Fox News' Fox & Friends, 4/3/06]

Right-wing rhetoric: Stoking fears over displays of the Mexican flag

Media figures attacked Mexican-flag wavers, but not those waving Irish, Italian, or Israeli flags. Following immigration rallies, media figures criticized demonstrators for carrying Mexican flags, but the same media figures had not complained about people waving other nations' flags, such as Irish flags at St. Patrick's Day events, Italian flags at Columbus Day events, or Israeli flags at Israel Day events. Some commentators even dismissed the comparison. For instance, National Review editor Rich Lowry called the Mexican-flag waving "more ominous" than the St. Patrick's Day or Columbus Day displays.

Savage: "[B]urn the Mexican flag!" On his radio show, Savage urged his listeners to "burn the Mexican flag" in opposition to undocumented immigrants, telling them to "[b]urn a Mexican flag for America, burn a Mexican flag for those who died that you should have a nationality and a sovereignty, go out in the street and show you're a man, burn 10 Mexican flags, if I could recommend it. Put one in the window upside down and tell them to go back where they came from! And if that's a little to xenophobic for you, ask yourself why the xenophobes from Mexico wave their flag in your country." [The Savage Nation, 3/27/06]

Fox News: Waving Mexican flag shows "antagonistic edge," waving U.S. flag "just a cover" and "a ploy to win America's support." Asman cited demonstrators' use of Mexican flags as evidence of "an antagonistic edge" and suggested that the use of U.S. flags and signs written in English at pro-immigration demonstrations was "just a cover" by the demonstrators to conceal their "real intention, which is to keep things as normal among illegal immigrants in the country." Similarly, Neil Cavuto suggested that the pro-immigration demonstrators' U.S. flags were "just a prop" and "just a ploy to win America's support." [Your World with Neil Cavuto, 4/10/06; 4/11/06]

Right-wing rhetoric: Immigration is an "invasion"

Buchanan: Illegal immigration is "an invasion of the United States of America" and "[t]he whole world is coming." On MSNBC's Hardball, Buchanan claimed that the influx of undocumented immigrants into the United States is "not immigration" but "an invasion of the United States of America" that is "coming not only from Mexico," but "from the whole world." He reiterated: "The whole world is coming." [MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, 5/15/06]

Savage: "This is an invasion by any other name." Savage said, "We, the people, are being displaced by the people of Mexico. This is an invasion by any other name. Everybody with a brain understands that. Everybody who understands reality understands we are being pushed out of our own country." [The Savage Nation, 3/27/06]

Buchanan: "This is an invasion, the greatest invasion in history." In State of Emergency, Buchanan wrote of immigration: "This is an invasion, the greatest invasion in history." He also wrote: "We are witnessing how nations perish. We are entered upon the final act of our civilization. The last scene is the deconstruction of the nations. The penultimate scene, now well underway, is the invasion unresisted." [State of Emergency]

Right-wing rhetoric: U.S., Mexico are in a state of "war"

Tancredo: [W]e are at war with Mexico, in a way." On Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, WorldNetDaily.com columnist Tom Tancredo -- then a Republican congressman from Colorado -- said, "[I]n a way, we are at war with Mexico, in a way. I'll say it in this way: Mexico is aiding and abetting an invasion of this country. They are part of the problem. They are doing what they are -- in fact, they are creating situations along that border using their own military to protect drug trafficking into the United States, pushing their own people into the United States for a variety of reasons. It is an invasion. It is an act of aggression." [Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, 6/26/06, transcript from the Nexis database]

Beck sidekick Gray: "[W]e are in a war with Mexico right now." Pat Gray, who is now a co-host of Glenn Beck's radio show, appeared on Beck's then-CNN Headline News show and claimed that "we are in a war with Mexico right now." After Beck agreed that "we better wake up soon," Gray responded: "[O]r we're going to wake up dead." [CNN Headline News' Glenn Beck, 9/25/06]

Right-wing rhetoric: Immigrants are fundamentally altering American culture or way of life

O'Reilly claimed to have exposed the "hidden agenda" behind the immigrant rights movement: "the browning of America." O'Reilly claimed that during his Fox News show, guest Charles Barron, a New York City councilman, had revealed the "hidden agenda" behind the current immigration debate. O'Reilly told his radio listeners: "[T]he bottom line is Charles Barron said last night is there is a movement in this country to wipe out 'white privilege' and to have the browning of America." But in the interview, Barron at no point claimed that he and other advocates for immigrant rights are motivated by a desire to force white Americans into the minority -- despite O'Reilly's repeated efforts to provoke such an acknowledgment. [The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly, 4/12/06]

Beck: "[I]llegal immigrants are attacking our culture, and our way of life." On his then-CNN Headline News show, Beck said, "[A]t the very least, illegal immigrants are attacking our culture, and our way of life. They are not melting into our melting pot -- they're here for the cash." He later said, "I mean, we've got all these threats coming in from overseas, but the simplest way is for us to lose the culture of the West is just to do nothing and let illegal immigrants not melt in and take the culture away from us." [Glenn Beck, 8/24/06]

Buchanan: "They're not welcome to come here and insult the symbols of our country, and that's what these outsiders have done." On Scarborough Country, Buchanan said that a Spanish-language version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" is "a provocation and an insult" and that immigrants are "not welcome to come here and insult the symbols of our country, and that's what these outsiders have done." Buchanan then said that the Spanish recording is "a good thing in this sense: The American people are awakening to the character of these people." [Scarborough Country, 5/1/06]

Matthews: Republicans "have a right to fear" a "cultural change" that would result in their hometowns "becom[ing] overwhelmingly Mexican." On Hardball, Matthews claimed that House Republicans who had passed a bill that would apparently have criminalized undocumented immigrants, their employers, and those who provide aid to them "have a right to fear" a "cultural change" that would result in their home states and towns "becom[ing] overwhelmingly Mexican." Matthews was responding to a suggestion by guest Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now, that "the Republicans who passed the House bill" are "afraid" that the United States will soon have "a majority Latino population." Matthews later said, "It's not my point view necessarily," before suggesting that "90 percent of this country" agrees with the "viewpoint" that "I didn't move to Mexico; Mexico moved to me, and I'm complaining about it." [Hardball with Chris Matthews, 3/30/06]

O'Reilly: "[Y]ou're on a nice block ... and then the house next to you is turned into an illegal alien Club Med." On his radio show, O'Reilly said:

You've got the folks who don't have emotion invested in it, other than the farmers down and the ranchers down on the border are going -- as the lady just called up, [caller] -- say, look, I got garbage in my -- on my ranch every day. I mean, I'm under siege. They have emotion invested in it. But those of us up here don't.

Unless you live in a town, like Farmingville, Long Island -- we went over this before -- where you bought a house, you spent a couple of hundred thousand dollars, you're on a nice block, your kids are happy, and then the house next to you is turned into an illegal alien Club Med. And this happens all over the country. [The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly, 3/27/06]

Buchanan: "I think what's coming is the complete balkanization of America." On Hardball, Buchanan said, "I think what's coming is the complete balkanization of America, and I'm afraid it's going to be by ethnicity and culture, and language, and every other way. ... And so, then, it's not like the country you and I grew up in, Chris, whereby we were monocultural. We were monocultural." [Hardball, 6/5/06]

O'Reilly wondered whether children of Mexican immigrants in U.S. "have any kind of traditional value system" or are "setting up Acapulco North." On his radio show, O'Reilly wondered whether children of legal and undocumented immigrants from Mexico who are attending school in the United States "have any kind of traditional value system at all, vis-à-vis what America used to be," or whether they are "taking their Mexican values, because most of them are Mexicans, and, you know, basically setting up Acapulco North." [The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly, 8/15/06]

Buchanan: "You're going to have a giant Kosovo in the Southwest, which de facto is going to secede." On Scarborough Country, Buchanan said: "[Y]ou cannot absorb 40 to 60 million more people. You're going to have a giant Kosovo in the Southwest, which de facto is going to secede from this country." [Scarborough Country, 6/5/06]

Buchanan: Immigration will turn U.S. into "a polyglot boarding house for the world, a tangle of squabbling minorities." On CNN's The Situation Room, Buchanan warned that "[w]e'll become a polyglot boarding house for the world, a tangle of squabbling minorities." He continued: "The problem with the immigration, basically -- let's take Mexico -- is these folks are breaking the law, first. Secondly, they're coming in huge numbers, like no other group before. Third, they're from a contiguous nation. Fourth, 58 percent of Mexicans believe the Southwest belongs to them. Fifth, the Mexican government is pushing them in here, and it's got a political and ideological agenda." [CNN's The Situation Room, 8/28/06]

Right-wing rhetoric: Immigration reform is part of plot to institute "North American Union"

"North American Union" is an absurd conspiracy theory. Right-wing media, including Dobbs, have obsessively warned that elements in the U.S. government are secretly plotting to merge the United States with Mexico and Canada in a "North American Union" similar to the European Union. During the June 21, 2006, edition of his CNN show, Dobbs stated that "the Bush administration is pushing ahead with a plan to create a North American union with Canada and Mexico" and later asked: "Do you think, our question is, maybe somebody should take a vote if we're going to merge Canada, Mexico and the United States as the leaders of the three countries are attempting to do with the security and prosperity partnership? Yes or no. Cast your vote at LouDobbs.com." Dobbs' CNN colleague Suzanne Malveaux later described the North American Union rhetoric as "conspiracy theor[y]." [Lou Dobbs Tonight, 6/21/06]

Corsi: "North American Union ... was the hidden agenda behind the Bush administration's true open borders policy." Jerome Corsi, co-author of Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, wrote in a column that "President Bush is pursuing a globalist agenda to create a North American Union, effectively erasing our borders with both Mexico and Canada. This was the hidden agenda behind the Bush administration's true open borders policy. Secretly, the Bush administration is pursuing a policy to expand NAFTA politically, setting the stage for a North American Union designed to encompass the U.S., Canada, and Mexico." [HumanEvents.com, 5/19/06]

WND's Farah linked Bush guest-worker proposal to plan by "one-worlders" to merge U.S., Mexico, Canada. Appearing on a radio show, WorldNetDaily founder and editor Joseph Farah claimed that the "one-worlders" of the Council on Foreign Relations have a plan to merge the United States, Mexico, and Canada by 2010 and suggested that Bush's proposed guest-worker program is part of this plan. Farah said, "Sometimes, the conspiracies are right." [American Family Radio's Today's Issues, 4/4/06]

Buchanan: Vicente Fox's "ultimate goal" is making Mexico and U.S. "basically part of the North American Union." On Lou Dobbs Tonight, Buchanan said, "The government of Mexico is pushing its poor and unemployed into the United States to ease social pressure on itself. Secondly, they get $16 billion in remittances back to Mexico. Third, it is awoken to the idea that it can reannex the American southwest, which it used to hold, linguistically, culturally, ethnically and socially, not militarily by pushing all these people in there and creating a gigantic fifth column in America." Buchanan added: "The ultimate goal of Vicente Fox is the erasure of the border between the United States and Mexico. He has said as much and to make the two basically part of the North American Union in which Mexico will get ... a constant flow of cash from the wealthy USA and La Reconquista is the objective." [Lou Dobbs Tonight, 9/5/06, Nexis transcript]

Other hate speech and outrageous rhetoric

Savage: Undocumented immigrants at protests are "vermin." On his radio show, Savage warned political leaders against "tak[ing] to the streets," saying "to the politicians": "I warn you personally. You will not be re-elected. If you take to the streets with the vermin who are trying to dictate to us how we should run America, even though they're not even entitled to vote or be here, you're going to be thrown out of office. The people will throw you out of office. There are not enough of them to re-elect you. You will be out of a job. You will not have a living. You will be hunting for a job. Maybe, you'll be picking the vegetables." [The Savage Nation, 4/10/06]

Beck: Undocumented immigrants are either "terrorists," outlaws, or people who "can't make a living in their own dirtbag country." On his radio show, Beck claimed that there are three reasons that an undocumented immigrant "comes across the border in the middle of the night": "One, they're terrorists; two, they're escaping the law; or three, they're hungry. They can't make a living in their own dirtbag country." [The Glenn Beck Program, 4/27/06]

O'Reilly: Immigration controversy is "becoming a race war." On his radio show, O'Reilly stated that "you just cannot keep assimilating millions of people in here at the rate they're coming without unintended consequences. And you've got them all day long. So now, it's becoming a race war. That's what it's becoming -- a race war. You see half a million people show up in L.A. and they were waving Mexican flags. And they're saying, 'Hey, we have a right to be here.' No, you don't. If you're illegal, you don't have a right to be here. But they don't see it that way." [The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly, 3/29/06]

Boortz: "[W]here do we store 11 million Hispanics just waiting to ship 'em back to Nicaragua, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico? ... The Superdome!" Nationally syndicated radio host Neal Boortz said that undocumented immigrants "are not going to be shipped back. I mean ... think about -- Mexico doesn't want 'em back, first of all. Think what happens if we round -- first of all, where do we store 11 million Hispanics just waiting to ship 'em back to Nicaragua, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico? Where do we store 'em? ... The Superdome! Exactly. And the Astrodome in Houston. That's where we'll put 'em. We've got practice." [Cox Radio Syndication's The Neal Boortz Show, 3/27/06]

Cavuto: Are immigration protests "economic terrorism?" On Your World, Cavuto addressed the "Day Without Immigrants" protests, asking, "So is it freedom of expression, or economic terrorism?" At various points throughout the program, the on-screen text echoed Cavuto's question, asking: " 'A Day Without Immigrants'; Economic Terrorism?" [Your World with Neil Cavuto, 5/1/06]

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