The Situationist

The Situation of Terror Babies

Posted by Adam Benforado on August 17, 2010

Over the past few days, allegations of a frightening new terrorist plot have emerged.  Indeed, at the end of last week, Texas State Representative Debbie Riddle and Texas Congressman Louis Gohmert appeared on different editions of “Anderson Cooper 360” to sound the alarm that the Obama administration has been ignoring a critical threat to the United States.

What is this ominous menace?  Iranian nuclear missile silos?  North Korea transporting dirty bomb material into the United States?  The Chinese government developing technology to disable the U.S. power grid over the Internet?

Nope.  The answer is “terror babies.”

According to Riddle and Gohmert, terrorist organizations are sending pregnant women into our country so that the children that they bear will have American citizenship and, thus, be able to come and go into the United States as they receive terrorist training overseas.

If that seems fairly far-fetched and unnecessary, given that al Qaeda and other groups have no problem recruiting foreign terrorists willing to carry out attacks on America and Americans in the present, you would be correct.  As became clear during the interviews, neither Riddle nor Gohmert have any evidence whatsoever that this threat exists.

So if the claim is utterly baseless—as a former FBI agent explained to Anderson Cooper—why would Riddle and Gohmert be asserting it on national television and, in Gohmert’s case, on the floor of the House?

My guess is that these “scare stories,” in Cooper’s words, are linked to recent efforts to repeal the 14th Amendment, a move championed by the likes of former Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo—and current Republican leaders, John McCain, Jeff Sessions, and John Boehner, among others.

With anti-immigrant sentiment riding high and certain to be an issue in the fall elections, the notion of getting rid of birthright citizenship by overturning the Amendment has been gaining significant steam, with various politicians sounding the alarm.  As Sessions explained to Politico.com, “I’m not sure exactly what the drafters of the [14th] Amendment had in mind, but I doubt it was that somebody could fly in from Brazil and have a child and fly back home with that child, and that child is forever an American citizen.”  In an effort to properly frame the discussion, many supporters of repeal have employed the term “anchor babies” to reflect the perception that illegal immigrants use the babies to try and anchor themselves to the United States.

However, those who want to prevent the children of illegal immigrants from gaining automatic citizenship simply by being born on U.S. soil have a little problem—quite literally.

The target of their attack on the Constitution is the most innocent and blameless of parties: tiny new born babies.  It seems extremely harsh—and downright un-American—to penalize a baby for the decision of her parents.  After all, the baby didn’t have any say at all over her parents’ immigration choices or citizenship status.  And, in fact, many people who would readily come down hard on adult illegal immigrants, balk at the idea of punishing newborns.

Thus, supporters of overturning the Amendment have desperately needed to change the way Americans feel about these children.  Getting people to think of them as inanimate objects—“anchors”—rather than innocent victims has not been strong enough.  Americans need to be encouraged to view immigrant babies negatively, just like their immigrant parents.

Enter the idea of “terror babies.”

The awful brilliance of the strategy is not only that it effectively casts immigrant babies as hated outgroup members, but that it requires no actual factual support.  Riddle, Gohmert, and others can simply make the inflammatory allegation and then sit back as media forces turn it into a debate, carefully making sure that they allow both sides to present their opinions and giving plenty of air time to the crazy claims.

In his ten minute spot with Cooper, Gohmert offered nothing that came close to evidence as Cooper repeatedly pressed him for the basis for his claims.  To anyone watching, this was not so much a debate, as one person asking reasonable questions in a calm tone of voice and another person ranting gibberish at the top of his lungs.  However, when the interview was finished, CNN labeled the video “Cooper, Gohmert debate ‘terror babies’” with a description that read “Rep. Louie Gohmert and CNN’s Anderson Cooper engage in a spirited debate over the lawmaker’s ‘terror babies’ claims.”

The description might as well have been “Gohmert coasts to victory in CNN appearance.”

The goal for the champions of repeal is not to win the argument—something that they surely cannot do—but to plant the seeds of fear in the minds of the public and to get us all familiar with that oddest of juxtapositions: terror babies.

It gives a whole new meaning to original sin.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Fear,” “The ‘Turban Effect’,” “The Bush Frame: Us vs. Them; Good vs. Evil; Intentions vs. Consequences,”  “Clarence Darrow on the Situation of Crime and Criminals,” A Convenient Fiction,” “The Law and Situation of Military Propaganda,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part VI,” and “With God on Our Side . . ..”

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2 Responses to “The Situation of Terror Babies”

  1. This post reminds me of terror management theory. And I have loved terror management theory since I first read it way back when. :) Fear is amazing and it has impact that we don’t even realize. We asked Joel D. Lieberman & Jamie Arndt to write for us about terror management applications in the courtroom for The Jury Expert. And they did. In their piece on ‘Terror Management Theory and Jury Decision-Making’, they apply the theory and then our jury consultants add more about how to apply this fascinating theory in the courtroom. You can read this piece at http://www.astcweb.org/public/publication/article.cfm/1/21/4/Terror-Management-Theory-and-Jury-Decision-Making. It isn’t ‘terror babies’ but it is a real treatment of how terror management theory is involved in our day-to-day activities/tasks.

  2. [...] The Situation of Terror Babies  [...]

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