- John Moore/Getty Images
- Conspiracies and misleading information about a migrant caravan making its way through Central America and Mexico have flourished in recent days with the help of prominent conservatives.
- On Monday, the president claimed that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed” in with the migrant caravan, though he later admitted he had no evidence to support that.
- Right-wing activists and websites have spread a host of false claims, including that philanthropist George Soros is funding the caravan.
Conspiracies and misleading information about a caravan of thousands of Central American migrants currently making its way north through Mexico have flourished in recent days with the help of prominent conservatives, including President Donald Trump.
The caravan has provided Trump with an opportunity to move attention from the alleged torture and murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudis, a key ally, and the news that several explosive devices were mailed to prominent Democrats this week, to the issue of illegal immigration, which he has long used to energize his base.
Just two weeks before the midterm elections, Trump has repeatedly drawn attention to the situation, and on Thursday announced he will send 800 US Army troops to help secure the US-Mexico border.
“We are a great Sovereign Nation. We have Strong Borders and will never accept people coming into our Country illegally!” he tweeted Wednesday.
A Soros conspiracy
One of the most popular conspiracies currently circulating online is that George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist and Democratic donor who is regularly targeted by the right, is funding and organizing the migrant caravan.
Campbell Soup Co. executive Kelly Johnston, a former secretary of the US Senate, promoted the Soros conspiracy and argued that his non-profit, Open Society Foundations, is controlling “where [migrants] defecate.” Johnston, the company’s vice president of government affairs, later deleted the tweet and his account. (In a previous tweet, Johnston called Soros a “terrorist.”)
On Monday, a pipe bomb was sent to Soros’ New York home.
The conspiracy that Soros and other non-governmental organizations are funding the caravan, which began in Honduras, appears to have come from the Honduran ambassador to the United States, Marlon Tábora Muñoz, who sent a video of men purportedly handing cash currency out to migrants in Honduras to Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, a close Trump ally.
Muñoz sent the unverified video after Trump publicly threatened to cut off or substantially reduce aid to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador as punishment for their failure to halt the caravan.
Gaetz posted the video on Twitter and suggested that Soros is behind the caravan.
“Footage in Honduras giving cash 2 women & children 2 join the caravan & storm the US border @ election time,” he wrote. “Soros? US-backed NGOs? Time to investigate the source!”
But the video was filmed in Guatemala, not Honduras, and migrants in the caravan told The New York Times that they were given the equivalent of between 13 and 26 cents by individuals supporting their effort.
Republicans and other critics of the caravan have also promoted the conspiracy that Democrats are funding the migrants.
“Supporters of the DNC are donating money to create caravans,” read a post shared on The Deplorable’s Facebook page. “This is real Human Trafficking funded by the democrats [sic].”
‘Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners’
On Monday, Trump tweeted that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed” in with the migrant caravan, later adding that there are some “very tough criminal elements in the caravan.”
The president may have gotten the idea from “Fox & Friends” host Pete Hegseth, who suggested on the morning show that ISIS members may have joined the caravan, referring to a recent claim by Guatemala’s president that his government had arrested and deported “over 100 ISIS fighters.”
There is no evidence to support Trump’s claim – a fact he later admitted, but not before Vice President Mike Pence repeated the unsubstantiated assertion, saying, “it’s inconceivable that there are not people of Middle Eastern descent in a crowd of more than 7,000 people.”
“There’s no proof of anything but they could very well be,” the president said Tuesday.
Bloodied Mexican police officers
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife, Virginia Thomas, a conservative activist known for spreading right-wing conspiracies, was one of many this week to spread photos they claimed showed Mexican police officers injured by members of the caravan.
But the photos were actually taken in 2011, 2012, and 2014 and aren’t related to the caravan, despite reports that some law enforcement officers, migrants, and others have been injured as the caravan has made its way north.
Thomas tweeted that “the media won’t share” the images, which were also posted on several popular pro-Trump Facebook pages, including Trump Train, Make America Great Again, and the Diamond and Silk Fan Page.
One photo of a bloodied law enforcement official was actually taken during a 2012 student protest in Mexico, according to The Times.
A photo of bloodied law enforcement officers from 2012 was used to make false claims about the migrant caravan. Here’s Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, helping spread it: https://t.co/03omMOnwPS pic.twitter.com/2bqji6TwwH
— Craig Silverman (@CraigSilverman) October 23, 2018
Many critics of the caravan have claimed that migrants are bringing disease into the US.
“We don’t know what people have coming in here – we have diseases in this country we haven’t had in decades,” conservative Fox News host Laura Ingraham said during her primetime program on Tuesday night.
A tweet claiming that migrants are bringing a host of illnesses, including tuberculosis and polio, into the US accompanied by an image of a baby purportedly infected with scabies, went viral on right-wing sites online.
There is also a viral rumor claiming, with no evidence, that the caravan members are carrying diseases like tuberculosis, dengue fever, and polio. This one has almost 3,000 shares and was spread inside a large QAnon group. pic.twitter.com/GGnCgBMUa1
— Kevin Roose (@kevinroose) October 24, 2018