How does a stupid and ridiculous lie come to be adopted and promulgated by senior officials of the US government?
Well it turns out it’s easy.
You start with an easily misinterpreted photo that apparently confirms the assumptions of progressive opponents of immigration law enforcement that the officers who control our southern border are cruel racists. Then you create a crowd on Twitter saying that the photo captured an array of hideous abuse.
You add open border organizations and civil rights groups that speak out against the alleged misconduct in the harshest possible terms. You throw a White House vice president and press secretary at the top who have no respect for the truth and are happy to push any narrative that suits them.
Finally, as a piece de resistance, you deploy a President of the United States who is too cynical or too grumpy to bother with facts and who usually follows the crowd rather than leading it, and make them make a statement endorsing the ridiculous fictions about the misleading photo.
This is how President Biden condemned the agents of the border patrol on horseback for having “tied” Haitian migrants to Del Rio and declared that they “will pay” for their “horrible” and “scandalous” behavior.
It doesn’t matter that there was no strapping, that border officials didn’t do anything wrong other than trying to enforce a border crossing while working for a fundamentally task-indifferent administration and that there is an ongoing agent investigation – itself a travesty – Biden was prejudging.
Sawyer Hackett, an apparatchik who runs Julian Castro’s PAC, was one of the early supporters of the blatant lie on Twitter. He tweeted the photo showing a border officer on horseback grabbing a migrant’s shirt – his reins flying through the air – and said officers were “rounding up Haitian refugees with whips”, and it represented “unfathomable cruelty” .
On the contrary, it was quite unfathomable and not in the least cruel. It was a long-standing and common practice that officers used horses due to the difficult terrain and tried to prevent migrants from entering the country illegally. They did not have a whip and twirled the reins to control their horses. Hours after the photo caused a stir, these facts were easily verified.
Even Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas defended the officers before receiving a note from his superiors that they had become hate characters to be used as punching bags.
A few days later, media reports still referred to the non-existent whips allegedly wielded by the officers. Advocacy groups just wanted the Whip story to be true, and for a part of America – basically anyone stupid enough to take what Harris and Biden are saying at face value – they got it right.
Despite the haze of disinformation, fact-checkers did not descend en masse. No Twitter account has been suspended. All the people who claim to purportedly defend American democracy against lies and propaganda spread on social media (and there are undoubtedly a lot of them) have stepped aside or joined the heap.
News organizations have gone to great lengths to label President Trump’s lies as such, indeed giving every indication they loved to do so.
In contrast, the New York Times story of Biden lashing out at agents didn’t suggest he could be wrong. In fact, the original version of the article reinforced its defamation by referring to “images of agents hunting on horseback and in some cases using the reins of their horses to beat fleeing migrants”. The newspaper had to make a correction.
It has long been the case on college campuses that awakened narratives have the power to trample on facts and fairness. This phenomenon has escaped the confines of academia and is now being played out at the highest echelons of American political power. Neither the Twitter hacks nor the President of the United States cared about what really happened in Del Rio, not when the lie was more alluring and useful.