Congressman Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., sought to rile up supporters over a "migrant caravan" en route to the U.S. in an email sent just a day after a 47-year-old white supremacist— driven by a conspiracy belief that Jews are behind the caravan—committed the deadliest anti-Semitic mass murder in U.S. history.
Robert Bowers, armed with an AR-15 and three .357 SIG-caliber semi-automatic Glock handguns, entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa., and killed 11 members. Just before the massacre, Bowers posted a message on Gab, a-social media site popular among white supremacists, blaming HIAS, a Jewish nonprofit that aids refugees.
"HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people," Bowers wrote. "I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I'm going in."
In the days leading up to the massacre, President Donald Trump claimed, with no facts to back it up, that "Middle Easterners" were among the thousands of Central American migrants who are fleeing on foot. His press secretary, Sarah Sanders, later explained that he was referring to "terrorists."
In Palazzo's email Sunday, Mississippi's fourth district congressman wrote that he supports Trump's efforts to "end the caravan."
"This week, a migrant caravan of thousands of immigrants started making their way toward our Southern Border," Palazzo wrote. "Unfortunately, we should expect more 'migrant caravans' and other tactics as long as the Democrats continue to push loopholes that weaken our immigration system and make our country vulnerable."
Lies About George Soros and the Caravan Fuel Violence
The suggestion that the caravan is a political "tactic" hearkens to a false conspiracy theory spread by Fox News, several elected Republican officials and across social media, that billionaire Democratic donor George Soros is behind the caravan. Soros is a Jewish Holocaust survivor who is often framed incorrectly as a Nazi himself. He supports efforts in the U.S. to improve the criminal-justice system, along other human-rights issues often framed as "liberal" by detractors.
On Sunday, the Auschwitz Museum corrected a photo shared thousands of times of a young Nazi officer, claiming it was Soros. The museum warned that it was not. "This is a lie," the museum tweeted. "The man in the picture is Oskar Groening, a member of the SS garrison of the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp."
Last week, Cesar Sayoc, a devoted Trump supporter obsessed with conspiracy theories about Soros, mailed a pipe bomb to the billionaire and more than a dozen Democratic leaders and supporters during a week when caravan conspiracy fervor was reaching a high pitch among Republicans, even though the group was more than 1,000 miles from the United States.
"The Soros-caravan conspiracy theory weaves together anti-Semitism, fear of immigrants and the specter of powerful foreign agents controlling major world events in pursuit of a hidden agenda," Washington Post reporter Joel Achenbach wrote Sunday. "And it appears to have had real-world consequences on Saturday for Jews attending services, including a baby-naming ceremony, in their synagogue in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood."
The "alt-right"—today's catchphrase for white supremacists and white nationalists—uses the word "globalist" as an anti-Semitic code word for Jewish and often for Soros himself.
Legal to Apply for Asylum, But Only at U.S. Border
The caravan, made up of refugees traveling on foot who are still 1,000 miles south of the U.S. border, departed Honduras in mid-September, fleeing violence. The only legal way that a person can seek asylum in this country is to approach a U.S. border and apply. They cannot request asylum while in another country, including at a U.S. consulate. It is legal for individuals or groups to travel to the U.S. border to request asylum.
On Oct. 25, the Washington Post reported that Trump plans to send 800 to 1,000 U.S. troops to the border to ward off the refugees, a number he raised to 5,000 this morning. Republicans hope to use the issue of the caravan to turn out Republican voters in the Nov. 6 midterms, although the caravan is likely weeks away from the border and is not in violation of U.S. or international law.
"I fully back the President and his efforts to put an end to this caravan," Palazzo wrote. "Border security is national security, and we must prioritize the safety of Americans first."
Palazzo's email did not mention the Pittsburgh tragedy, but in a tweet Saturday, he offered prayers for the families and victims.
"These anti-Semitic acts of hatred and evil have no place in our society," he wrote.
Palazzo faces a midterm challenge from Democrat Jeramey Anderson, a state legislator.
"We are thinking about the community of Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh," Anderson tweeted Saturday. "We pray for strength and peace for all those affected by this senseless act of hate."
At least three Jewish synagogues are in the district Palazzo represents.
On Nov. 6, the same day as the national midterms, voters in all four of Mississippi's congressional districts choose representatives, and voters choose U.S. senators in the two statewide U.S. Senate races.
Voters in Mississippi must bring a valid form of voter ID such as a driver's license or student ID. Polls in the state are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Ashton Pittman covers politics and elections for the Jackson Free Press. Follow him on Twitter @ashtonpittman. Email him at [email protected]. Read more 2018 campaign coverage at jfp.ms/2018elections.