The midterms were a win for free and fair elections. Nativists are still coming for democracy.
Yates is the senior researcher for antisemitism at Human Rights First.
While defenders of democracy celebrate midterm victories over some of the most aggressive opponents of free and fair elections, the anti-democratic movement’s hold on some new and incumbent officeholders only grows.
Anti-immigrant extremists have shifted their attacks to target democracy, and election deniers welcome them with open arms. These two streams of hate are evolving into a single movement with shared ideas and overlapping institutions.
Earlier this month — days after some of the most extreme election deniers’ rejection at the polls — retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn hosted the “Great ReAwakening” in Tulsa, Okla., part of a national election-denial circuit he’s been on since December 2020, when he encouraged then-President Donald Trump to order the U.S. military to “re-run” that election.
While Flynn and his allies are known for election disinformation, they’ve added immigration to their focus. In August, Flynn’s organization, The America Project, held a conference dubbed “Border911” that falsely depicted migrants as participating in “an invasion,” part of a nefarious scheme so “the Democratic Party maintains control over elected officials in America.”
It was not a one-off; it reflects a growing effort by anti-democratic, far-right extremists to harness nativism to support their authoritarian program.
They mix voter suppression and the denial of the 2020 election outcome with rhetoric that portrays migrants as physical, cultural, political, and racial threats—joining antisemitism and white supremacy to the broader far-right, anti-democratic movement. It has inspired deadly terrorist attacks against Black, Latinx, Jewish, Muslim, and other minority communities in the U.S. and around the globe.
The common ingredient is the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory. Adapted from Nazi fabrications and decades-old antisemitic, racist, and xenophobic conspiracies, this specious theory suggests white people are being replaced by minorities who will overwhelm them in the voting booth.
Now a growing number of pundits and politicians — including many who won Nov. 8, such as Sen.-elect J.D. Vance, Sen. Ron Johnson and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott — are adopting it to frame their discussion of the southern border, claiming new migrants are part of a partisan scheme to “replace” current voters.
They don’t just target today’s migrants. Fox News host Tucker Carlson suggests that anyone whose family came to this country after the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act is not a “legacy American,” but part of a “great replacement” and therefore less worthy of citizenship and the right to vote.
They call into question the legal status of American citizens with recent immigrant heritage — both native-born and naturalized — to delegitimize our democratic system as demographics shift away from white majorities.
This ideological convergence drives a growing network of overlapping organizations and actors — often former Trump administration officials — who peddle nativist and anti-democratic conspiracies and disinformation.
The Center for Renewing America, founded by Trump alum Russ Vought, employs many others, including Ken Cuccinelli, Trump’s acting deputy secretary of homeland security. They call migration an “invasion” while simultaneously focusing on voter suppression efforts.
This summer’s “Border911” brought together some of the most visible and well-funded election deniers and nativist actors, like Tom Homan, Trump’s ICE director who told Congress that unauthorized immigrants should “look over your shoulder,” and Lara Logan, whose embrace of the “great replacement theory” and QAnon conspiracies is so extreme she was banned from Newsmax.
The spread of their fearmongering and disinformation destabilizes our multiracial society, threatens immigrant communities and undercuts our democracy.
Nearly half of Americans believe the great replacement conspiracy theory, and over three-quarters of those people reject the legitimacy of the 2020 election. If these networks continue to flourish, their hateful agenda will overcome the institutional and social barriers that on Election Day helped protect our democracy from extremism.
We must hold legally and politically accountable those who threaten our communities and our right to participate in free, fair, and accessible elections.
Members of Congress and other national leaders must condemn their colleagues’ use of “invasion” rhetoric and other dangerously nativist language, not only for its xenophobia, but also its link to the anti-democratic agenda.
Federal and state governments must underscore respect for democracy and the rule of law by complying with existing immigration laws that protect migrants’ right to seek asylum and rejecting calls for the illegal use of the National Guard on the border.
Democracy’s defenders must underline the link between anti-democratic and anti-immigrant actors. These extremists are uniting behind the idea that the American electorate should be predominantly white and Christian. They are animated by their belief that any deviation from this imagined electorate is the result of a malicious conspiracy by the left.
As nativists and election deniers come together, those who work to counter the discrimination and violence they advance must do the same.
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