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Heather Cox Richardson  Oct 26Share
       

“Caravans” of migrants to our southern border are once again headline news on the Fox News Channel, but while these anti-immigrant stories divert attention from news that those on the right would like to bury, as usual, they also establish a larger pattern. 

Whipping up fears of immigration is standard for authoritarians trying to convince followers to support the loss of civil liberties in order to promote law and order. One of those who rose to power with just such an argument is Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, a figure those on the right are championing these days. Fox News Channel Personality Tucker Carlson broadcast from Hungary appreciatively earlier this year, presenting Orbán’s government, which has systematically dismantled democracy, as enviable. The American Conservative Union is planning to have its 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Hungary, as well.

This backstory gave disturbing context to today’s news from the Government Accountability Office. The GAO is a government agency within the legislative branch (most of the ones you’re used to hearing about are in the executive branch) that audits, investigates, and issues reports for Congress. Known as the congressional watchdog, the GAO tries to cut through spin to do honest, thorough, and nonpartisan evaluations of government issues.

Today, the GAO reported that actions of the Trump administration had undermined U.S. goals in the Northern Triangle countries that are currently driving immigration to the southern border. Since 2008, the U.S. has funded development projects in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to promote economic development, provide security, and combat corruption. This investment was designed, in part, to slow the movement of immigrants escaping the violence and economic dislocation of the region to the U.S. border.  

In March 2019, the Trump administration abruptly halted promised money, and that freeze continued until June 2020. Today’s GAO report documented how that suspension hurt 92 of the 114 projects underway under the control of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and 65 of the 168 projects operating under the State Department.

Migration to the border soared, right before the 2020 election. 

While Trump Republicans were trying to convince white American voters that immigrants threatened them, another story today suggests the real goals of the Trump machine.

The Guardian revealed that several members of the secretive Council on National Policy (CNP) claim that they were the ones behind the 2017 tax cuts on corporations and wealthy Americans. Wealthy right-wing Christian activists organized the CNP in 1981 to push the country toward religious and libertarian policies.  

Also today, the Washington Post Magazine ran a long story about CNP, calling it “the most unusual, least understood conservative organization in the nation’s capital.” CNP is registered as a charity, but it is essentially a central planning center for right-wing activists across the country. Washington Post reporter Robert O’Harrow, Jr., explained how CNP members, who initially opposed Trump, swung behind him when he promised to combat abortion. 

Members of CNP are a who’s who of wealthy conservative or political figures, including Leonard Leo, a leading light of the Federalist Society, which advocates for a conservative judicial system; Steve Bannon, a key Trump adviser; David Bossie, who headed the group Citizens United and who was Trump’s deputy campaign manager; and Kellyanne Conway, a White House adviser. Their goal, they say, is to create a moral America. 

So, it appears, the fearmongering about immigrants helped to give power to a secret group of wealthy Americans who lobbied for huge tax cuts for the richest Americans.

The stories about CNP suggest its members have focused on keeping emotions high and Trump in power. The CNP was instrumental in opposing business closures and mask mandates to combat the coronavirus. A number of members, including Cleta Mitchell—the lawyer who was on the phone with Trump during his infamous call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, asking him to switch the state into the Trump column although Biden had won it—and Ginni Thomas, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife, backed “Stop the Steal” efforts.

Their efforts, we have increasing evidence, were promoted by Facebook, the giant social media company. Starting last Friday, 17 different news outlets have been publishing the “Facebook Papers” based on internal company documents provided to Congress and the press by whistleblower Frances Haugen. The stories allege that Facebook prioritized profits over truth and safety, deliberately amplifying right-wing voices and dividing the country. 

Facebook denies the allegations. 

Reports of migrant caravans might well be attempts to divert attention from the service of the Republicans to the wealthy, as well as from the story of January 6, which is becoming clearer as information continues to come out. Today, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol interviewed Steve Bannon associate Dustin Stockton. Stockton was one of the organizers of the Women for America First rally on January 6 that got taken over by the unpermitted Stop the Steal rally which led to the attack on the Capitol. 

According to a piece by Joshua Kaplan and Joaquin Sapien in ProPublica last June, Stockton was so concerned about the Stop the Steal people that he urged Amy Kremer, another leader of the Women for America First rally, to contact her associate Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, in the days before January 6 to warn him things were getting out of hand. The committee has subpoenaed Kremer to testify on October 29. There are signs that Kremer or an associate might have been a source for yesterday’s Rolling Stone article, suggesting that someone from Women for America First is willing to cooperate with the committee.

The Rolling Stone article, which provided names of lawmakers allegedly involved in planning the January 6 rally, refocused attention on the fact that it was Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) who was speaking at length as the mob broke into the building. His speech delayed the evacuation of the House chamber for 15 minutes, so that the House members were still present when the mob, including Ashli Babbitt, tried to get at them. A police officer shot and killed Babbitt as she broke through the doors. 

Last night’s Rolling Stone story also identified Republican Lauren Boebert (CO) as a participant in planning meetings for the events of January 6. Today she said in a carefully worded statement: “I had no role in the planning or execution of any event that took place at the Capitol or anywhere in Washington, DC on January 6.”

Today, once again, President Joe Biden refused to claim executive privilege to prevent the January 6 committee from seeing documents Trump wants to hide. 

Meanwhile, the Democrats in Congress continue to try to move the country forward, hammering out their infrastructure measure. They hope to have it finished before President Biden leaves for meetings with European leaders later this week.

Notes:

https://www.salon.com/2021/10/14/cpac-set-to-stage-far-right-conference-in-hungary-as-prosecutors-zero-in/

https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2016/01/15/fact-sheet-united-states-and-central-america-honoring-our-commitments

https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/central-americas-turbulent-northern-triangle

https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/09/17/761266169/trump-froze-aid-to-guatemala-now-programs-are-shutting-down

https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-21-104366

https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/sw-border-migration/usbp-sw-border-apprehensions-fy2019

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