Humans have a semi-hardwired, primal impulse to feel a visceral disgust when it comes to “others.” Many people, one researcher told Science of Us, “view outsiders with disgust — partly due to the risks of infectious disease that outsiders carried in our evolutionary past — and this causes a conservative shift in our thoughts and attitudes.” John F. Kelly, a Marine Corps. general, recently translated this instinct quite literally into “Ebola-infected immigrants will soon be stampeding for our borders! Everybody freak!”
During a speech at the National Defense University on Tuesday that was written up on the Department of Defense’s website, Kelly managed to stoke people’s worst fears about immigrants and disease while spoonfeeding Fox News its newest panic.
How would his apocalyptic scenario unfold? First, Ebola reaches Central America and starts spreading there. “If it breaks out, it’s literally, ‘Katie bar the door,’ and there will be mass migration into the United States,” Kelly said. “They will run away from Ebola, or if they suspect they are infected, they will try to get to the United States for treatment.”
Kelly also told the story of meeting a group of Liberians on the Costa Rica–Nicaragua border who were headed to the United States — “illegally, of course,” he added for emphasis. They “could have made it to New York City and still be within the incubation period for Ebola.”
Naturally, his dark tale also features “transnational criminal networks” smuggling infected people into the U.S. All in all, the whole thing — or the parts of it reported in the DoD item, at least — reads as strikingly in line with various far-right conspiracy theories involving immigrants and disease (if you want to lose your faith in humanity, do a Google search for “immigrants Ebola” or “immigrants enterovirus” — the Google Trends line for the former is almost vertical since June).
Obviously, the general’s speech is an endless succession of what-ifs — if this happens, then this could happen, then this could happen … then THIS could happen! Except people aren’t going to remember that his speech is a tottering pile of hypotheticals — they’re going to remember the horrible worst-case scenarios he painted. And right on cue, here’s Rush Limbaugh and the Weekly Standard reporting that a Marine general is spreading the word about the scary, Ebola-infected immigrants who will soon be massing on our border.
We emailed the Pentagon to see if the DoD wanted to comment and will append this post if anyone gets back to us.
Update: A DoD official sent along the following statement:
We expect our combatant commanders to prepare and plan for all manner of contingencies and threats. That’s their job. Our focus remains on supporting the international community and the government of Liberia in their efforts to stop the spread of Ebola in Western Africa. That’s our commitment. We remain in close contact with our friends and partners in the international community as together we look for ways to assist against this deadly disease. It’s important for everyone to be thinking carefully about all aspects of this deadly disease. That’s what General Kelly is doing.