Conspiracy Theorists Defame Religious Charities That Aid Migrants

Conspiracy Theorists Defame Religious Charities That Aid Migrants

Migrants seeking asylum enter relief center run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in McAllen, Texas

Photo by Go Nakamura/Reuters

Right-wing media figures have ramped up their attacks on charities and NGOs that help resettle refugees and assist asylum-seekers as part of a broader campaign to demonize migrants and the Biden administration’s immigration policies. These types of broadsides go back years, but have increased recently as fearmongering about immigration becomes a central plank in Republicans’ 2024 electoral strategy.

Non-governmental organizations and charities, like Catholic Charities and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, have long assisted the federal government in welcoming refugees and other new arrivals to the United States and easing their transition. At its best, this system facilitates the smooth integration of people into communities ready to accept them, as was the case in mass resettlement of Ukrainian refugees following Russia’s invasion of their country two years ago.

This largely decentralized system has its weaknesses, though, primarily stemming from a lack of strong coordination at the federal level. Xenophobic and opportunistic politicians have been able to fill that vacuum and manufacture a crisis, exemplified by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to bus tens of thousands of migrants to cities like New York, Chicago, and Denver with the apparent goal of creating a crisis in Democrat-led cities in order to score political points.

That manufactured crisis has created an opportunity for right-wing media outlets to attack the organizations tasked with helping refugees and asylum-seekers. Recently, some right-wing figures have promoted a conspiracy theory claiming that these NGOs and charities are engaged in what amounts to an extortion racket, fueling migration in the hopes of inflating federal spending on the issue and capturing the additional money.

In reality, the money that comes from the federal government that these groups spend has been specifically allocated by Congress. Without providing any evidence, right-wing figures make wild assertions that migrant organizations are enriching themselves at the expense of the American public. Todd Bensman, a senior fellow at anti-immigrant think tank the Center for Immigration Studies, has also pushed this myth. (CIS is part of the Tanton network, a constellation of xenophobic organizations funded by John Tanton, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center refers to as “the racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.”)

In February alone, right-wing figures have attacked charities and NGOs that provide direct services to immigrants over a dozen times. It’s notable that this messaging is largely the same whether it’s coming from fringe sources, like Infowars, or conservative outlets which are ostensibly more respectable, like Fox. The narrative has also appeared on CNN, pushed by a former NYPD officer.

  • On February 1, a correspondent for conspiracy theory site Infowars described a new facility opened by Mission: Border Hope, a Methodist church, as a place where “the migrants are being bussed and processed and then distributed across the country.” The correspondent, Chase Geiser, then said the organization was “one example of sort of a mysterious NGO that’s involved in this giant industry of distributing migrants all across our country." [Infowars, The Alex Jones Show, 2/1/24]
  • The next day, Fox News’s Brian Kilmeade pushed the myth that resettlement organizations are getting rich off of serving migrants. He claimed that “Catholic charities are making a ton of money,” providing migrants with “school supplies” and overcrowding American public schools. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 2/2/24]
  • Former NYPD officer and current CNN analyst John Miller peddled a separate falsehood, blaming a resettlement charity for supposedly helping migrants flee from law enforcement following an altercation in New York City. “Yesterday we learned that they went to a Catholic charity that helps migrants, they got four bus tickets under false names and got on a bus headed for Calexico through St. Louis,” Miller said. All of the suspects later showed up for their court date. [CNN, This Morning, 2/2/24]
  • On the podcast of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, guest Liz Yore said, “The only way that we can do something is to cut off the funding to these NGOs.” [Real America’s Voice, War Room, 2/2/24]
  • Kilmeade returned to the topic on February 5, claiming, “The other thing that bothers a lot of people is the amount of money that goes to the NGOs, Catholic Charities, and others making a ton.” He repeated that falsehood at least one other time that morning, saying, “Let's talk about the NGOs, Catholic charities. They get huge money to house and provide accommodations to illegal aliens who are trying to get into this country.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 2/5/24; 2/5/24]
    • On The Charlie Kirk Show, former Trump adviser Stephen Miller portrayed social structures to assist new arrivals as nodes in a vast conspiracy. “To understand [immigration], you have to understand the money,” Miller said. “You have to follow the money. You have to follow the NGOs. You have to follow the corporations. You have to follow the Chamber of Commerce. You have to follow all the people who profit off of unchecked immigration.” [Salem Media Group, The Charlie Kirk Show, 2/5/24]
    • Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, referred to “funding for NGOs” as a “poison pill” that should be removed from a border militarization bill that was already a wishlist of right-wing priorities. [Fox News, America Reports, 2/7/24]
    • Charlie Kirk suggested that liberal philanthropist George Soros was personally shaking down Arizona for supposed resettlement funding it had received from the federal government. “Makes you wonder, what is George Soros doing in Arizona if it's true, and sounds like it was,” Kirk said. “Maybe he's, you know, meeting with a lot of the NGOs that he's funding on the border. Maybe he's getting an update about pouring money into the state.” [Salem Media Group, The Charlie Kirk Show,2/12/24]
    • On War Room, guest Jackie Toboroff baselessly suggested resettlement organizations were arming migrants. “We don't even know where they're getting their weapons,” Toboroff said, referring to migrants. “Are our politicians giving them to these illegal aliens? Is it the NGOs?” Toboroff did not cite any evidence to back up the claim that migrants are “sitting on stockpiles of weapons and drugs.” [Real America’s Voice, War Room, 2/13/24]
    • Blogger Peachy Keenan said on Fox News, “Catholic charities spend billions of dollars, taxpayer money that the federal government gives them, to fly people over to Central America and sort of get them into this country, and they set them up. And we are paying for it.” [Fox News, Fox News at Night, 2/21/24]
    • On War Room, Bannon said in reference to the refugee resettlement organization HIAS: “They got the Hebrew group that used to get the poor Jews out of the Russia with the pogroms, and Poland with the pogroms, and now they're there to exacerbate the invasion on our southern border.” Bannon then said, “These NGOs are demons” and “anti-American.” [Real America’s Voice, War Room, 2/26/24]
    • Retired NYPD officer and Fox News contributor Paul Mauro echoed the line Bensman and others had pushed. “If you look down deep enough, the NGOs and the faith-based institutions that are running the buses and running the sponsorships, they can't let this go because the money is coming from the American taxpayer,” Mauro said. [Fox News, America Reports, 2/26/24]
    • Fox News’ Rachel Campos-Duffy similarly cast resettlement groups as malevolent actors in a broader conspiracy. “They are part of the journey all the way into Latin America, all the way into where they fly everyone out into the cities,” Campos-Duff said. She added: “[NGOs] sound like they’re a charity because they’re associated with Catholic relief services or Lutheran relief services. But the real way to understand them is to see them as a shadow government, a shadow bureaucracy, even a shadow political party, they are able to operate in secrecy and do what the government can’t do with no oversight.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 2/27/24]

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.


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