Over the weekend, the Twitter account for the regional office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection shared a deranged message from Stephen Miller, the white nationalist senior adviser who served under then-President Donald Trump.
One tweet, re-shared by the CBP’s West Texas account, claimed, “Violent criminals lay waste to our communities undisturbed while the immense power of the state is arrayed against those whose only crime is dissent. The law has been turned from a shield to protect the innocent into a sword to conquer them.”
Another invoked the border to suggest that the media and President Joe Biden were responsible for ushering in the end of America as we know it:
The media’s greatest power is its ability to frame what is a dire national crisis (eg “cops are racist” summer ‘20) and what is not. Biden’s eradication of our border means we are no longer a Republic—he’s ended nearly 250 years of constitutional government. The media is silent.
CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus issued a condemnation in response, but one thing is clear: This problem — that is, the issue of extremism in Texas' immigration enforcement — is deeper than tweets.
It’s troubling that any government agency would share such a maniacal message, but particularly so in West Texas, with its uniquely horrendous history of violent antagonism toward Mexican Americans. And as right-wing Texans in the CBP and elsewhere ramp up their rhetoric, there’s ample evidence showing that it can, and often does, lead to more violence.
The same town where the CBP’s West Texas office is located, El Paso, is the site of the deadliest attack on Latinos in modern U.S. history, a 2019 massacre outside a Walmart store that left 23 dead. And the suspect’s alleged manifesto voiced the same “sky is falling” rhetoric about immigration as Miller did on Twitter, a belief that has become central to the “great replacement theory” popular among white supremacists.
But the history of anti-immigrant extremism in West Texas spans even further back.
In a 1918 slaughter known as the Porvenir massacre, ranchers, Texas Rangers and members of the U.S. Army shot 15 Mexican Americans to death in an act of aimless racism directed at Latinos.
[The victims] were killed after a group of Texas Rangers, U.S. Army cavalry soldiers and local ranchers descended on their village, Porvenir, seeking revenge for a deadly attack at a nearby ranch a month earlier — although there was no evidence tying the villagers to it. Details of the massacre shed light on the daily realities of one of the most violent periods in Texas history. As bandits from Mexico led raids in Texas towns, law enforcement officers responded to growing fear by being openly violent towards people of Mexican descent.
In a 1918 article, the El Paso Morning Times described the massacre: “Men were dragged from their beds, and, without having been given time to dress, were led away in their night clothes to the edge of the settlement, where they were shot to death by the posse. ... The bodies of the men were found [the] next day where they had fallen, riddled with bullets.”
We must put the West Texas CBP’s retweets in their proper context and heed them accordingly. They are endorsements of an extremist former White House official at a time when Texas Republicans controlling the state are using similar language. But they’re also symptoms of a sick culture of racism we’ve seen rear itself — violently — in both the recent and the distant past.