How master propagandists falsely linked immigrants to the Florida school shooting
Conservative commentator and author Ann Coulter speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Beneath the surface of our wrenching national conversation in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting is a case study in how propaganda works in the hands of masters to sow demagoguery at the expense of basic humanity.

After the Valentine’s Day school onslaught that left 17 people dead, conservative pundit Ann Coulter wrote a column.

Coulter is one of only 45 people whom President Donald Trump follows on Twitter, according to a Huffington Post news article “Who Is Ann Coulter And Why Is She So Friendly With Donald Trump? Coulter and Trump share similar social media ambitions—“stirring up the pot,” as Coulter puts it, and being noticed. As a conservative megaphone, she is Trump’s most vocal supporter who matters.

At the time Coulter’s book In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome! was released in 2016, she warned Trump that she’d be riding him on immigration. She’s kept her promise.

In response to the Parkland shootings, Trump stirred the pot with fulminations about arming teachers. But Coulter had a different mission. Her column, “Amazing New Breakthrough to Reduce Mass Shootings!” was syndicated widely among conservatives via Breitbart,TownhallFree RepublicTrapshootersFort Bend HeraldTrendolizer,Glock TalkThe Patriot PostInfowars, and Veterans in Defense of Liberty.

In it Coulter identified “16 immigrant mass shootings” since 2000. That’s out of a total of about 34 mass shootings, as she counts them: 47 percent. The number plays into the polarizing characterization of immigrants as a scourge on safe American communities. A fuller characterization is this: Immigrants commit fewer crimes than the population at large and are a driving force of American growth and productivity.

So who are these immigrants prone to mass shootings? She claims they are first- and second-generation immigrants.

What’s a second-generation immigrant? It’s an odd, confusing term that seems oxymoronic. It’s a person born in the U.S. I thought we referred to them as Americans. Some have one immigrant parent, some have two, some have naturalized Americans as parents and have immigrant grandparents.

According to the Pew Research Center, that’s about 20 million adults and another 16 million minors, or 15 percent of the U.S. population, who apparently aren’t “real” Americans, according to Coulter, and their numbers are growing. They tend to earn more and are better educated than their immigrant parent or parents. They are less likely to live in poverty.

As Ann Coulter insinuates convincingly to those who see the world as she does, mass shootings would be cut in half and the FBI would not be as incompetent if it weren’t chasing immigrants who should be deported. As it is, the deported just get replaced by others in the perpetual motion immigrant chain.

I have to admit that all this hits close to home. I’m one of those second-generation immigrants, though I’ve never thought of myself that way. Born in Chicago and all. I wonder if it hits close to home for Trump, who is a second-generation immigrant, thanks to his Scottish mom. Or to his wife, Melania, who is a first-generation immigrant.

I wonder if it hits close to home for Ann Coulter, too. Don’t get me wrong. She doesn’t have immigrant parents to stain her pedigree that on one side goes back to the American Revolution.

But she did have a father, John Vincent Coulter. So let’s take this in another equally ridiculous direction. If I get her line of reasoning, a second-generation immigrant is an immigrant (rather than a first-generation American) because he is one generation removed from an immigrant and lived in the same house.

Coulter is one generation removed from her father, and they lived in the same house, which according to my calculations, makes her, among other identities, a second-generation male.

I’m no more an immigrant than she is a male.

The irony, or the mastery, is that Coulter wrote the column in response to the Parkland school killings, which appear to have been perpetrated by Nikolas Cruz. Nikolas? Not a common American name spelled that way. Cruz? Hispanic. Could be Spanish, Portuguese, Mexican, Honduran, Nicaraguan, or American, in that it’s the 12th most common surname in Puerto Rico and the most common surname of all in Guam, according to the lifelong learning site ThoughtCo.

When the name Nikolas Cruz emerged on Feb. 14 as the perpetrator in the shootings, alarm bells were set off on far-right websites, Twitter feeds, and chat groups. Of course, he’s an immigrant. Some said he was a Dreamer, which means an immigrant and one with illegal status in the U.S., and that he is a DACA recipient, which means to the far-right that he is being allowed to stay in the U.S. because of a suspect executive order by President Obama. Craig Brittan, the far-right Republican candidate to replace Jeff Flake as U.S. Senator from Arizona, jumped on.

It turns out that Nikolas Cruz is not a DACA recipient or a Dreamer or an illegal immigrant or an immigrant, even a second-generation immigrant, as far as anyone knows. Cruz was adopted in infancy by the Cruz family, who had recently moved from Long Island to Florida. It is not publicly known who Cruz’s biological parents were before Lynda Cruz and her husband adopted and named him.

Among the accounts of Nikolas Cruz’s social media outbursts are those in the private Instagram chat group Murica, on which Cruz talked about keeping Blacks in chains, cutting their necks, killing Mexicans, and hating gays and Jews, and his affiliation with the Republic of Florida, a White nationalist militia that has advocated for a White-only state in Florida, according to the Associated Press. CNN contributed that during one of Cruz’s chat group rants, he said, “My real mom was a Jew. I am glad I never met her.”

No, Nikolas Cruz is not an immigrant, though his name ensures that Coulter, a touchstone for millions of alienated, angry Americans who are few generations removed from their own immigrant forebears, can keep Trump’s feet to the fire by blowing on the Nikolas Cruz dog whistle. The dog whistle works, no matter how off-key it is.

Long after we’re sapped of mourning, and the urgent voices of both gun control advocates and 2nd Amendment rights defenders have become hoarse in anticipation of another round, masters of propaganda like Coulter will have stretched the web of inhumanity that weaves together illegals, immigrants, second-generation immigrants, chain migrants, terrorists, Muslims, refugees, and troubled 19-year-olds with names like Nikolas Cruz into one xenophobic melting pot.

I’m being alarmist?

The mission statement of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is to administer “the nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity and promise by efficiently and fairly adjudicating requests for immigration benefits while protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our values.” It says so right on the agency webpage.

The page was amended last week, on Feb. 22. Before that, it included the phrase “USCIS secures America’s promise as a nation of immigrants …”

Replaced mission statement on top. New statement, as of Feb. 22, below.

Has that promise really gone? It will be up to this nation of third- and fourth- and fifth- and sixth- and seventh- and eighth-generation immigrants to make sure this “nation of immigrants” is not replaced by “nation of enough immigrants.”

Jack C. Doppelt wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Jack is a journalism professor at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. He is also a founder and publisher of Immigrant Connect and SJNN (Social Justice News Nexus), author of this failed attempt to appeal to the Republican conscience—“If Trump Makes It One Year Without Impeachment, Then Let’s Talk Supreme Court Nominees and of T-Rump and the march to extinction.