Earlier this week, we noted Tom Cotton’s demagoguery on ISIS and the border. Here’s what Cotton said at a tele-townhall:
Groups like the Islamic State collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico who have clearly shown they’re willing to expand outside the drug trade into human trafficking and potentially even terrorism.
They could infiltrate our defenseless border and attack us right here in places like Arkansas. This is an urgent problem and it’s time we got serious about it, and I’ll be serious about it in the United States Senate.
The Cotton camp later said Cotton’s claims were based on blog posts from various right-wing media sources, such as World News Daily, Townhall, and Breitbart.com.
The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler digs in and finds that the claim is without merit and that Cotton appears to have been relying on dubious, highly speculative, or outright false information. He gives Cotton Four Pinnochios. Fact-checking sites are not definitive arbiters of truth and of course we already know Cotton blames fact-checking on the liberal media. That said, it’s interesting that Cotton and his rapid response team have thus far not really even tried to defend the original claim.
If you write about demagogues, one thing that will invariably happen is that the the audience for that demagoguery will find you. Some Twitter users who are deeply convinced that an invasion by ISIS across the border is an imminent threat asked me to “correct” my original post. On the contrary, I stand by it. The trouble with Cotton’s brand of fear-mongering is that there is no way, of course, to definitively prove that a speculative worst-case scenario won’t happen. Dig in to the websites that the Cotton camp is getting their intel from, and you will find bloggers who react to the Department of Homeland Security‘s statement that “[t]here is no credible intelligence to suggest that there is an active plot by ISIL to attempt to cross the southern border” by announcing “AKA… there’s evidence, but they’re calling it ‘not credible’ for now.”
For the record, you can see all of the sites that the Cotton campaign passed on as sources linked here, plus a 2011 Business Insider article on possible Hezbollah activity in Mexico that Cotton defenders treat as the Rosetta stone of border panic — and a Politifact piece from the time on that topic, then in vogue as a purported imminent crisis in GOP primaries (note that Hezbollah and ISIS are different groups with different aims who are in fact enemies in conflict with each other, but fear-mongering doesn’t rely on the finer points).
The truth is that an Arkansan is more likely to die being struck by lighting or drowning in a bathtub than by an ISIS attack. That’s not to say that the U.S. government shouldn’t be vigilant about intelligence and defense, but in moments when people are understandably frightened, we expect more from our leaders than to tell tall tales to sew panic for political gain. Tom Cotton talks a lot about being a statesman, and has written about the special role of the elite representatives in a republic providing calm and sober leadership without being inflamed by the passions of the populace. He talks a lot about being senatorial. He can do better than this.