Who’s the Terrorist?

Ritchie Calvin
6 min readJan 21, 2024
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

It’s true, and these are the best and the finest. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” (Donald J. Trump, 2015)

The “acceptability” of immigrants ebbs and flows. For example, in in 1943, the US government entered into an agreement with the Mexican government. The “Bracero Program” allowed Mexican citizens to engage in agricultural work within the US. The efforts in WWII had created a shortage of workers in the US, and the braceros were meant to fill the labor shortage. Over the span of the program (22 years), millions of Mexicans came to the US to work. Although the agreement explicitly stated that workers were to be treated well, they were not. However, the government saw the need for agricultural labor, and they brought in millions of worker.

However, when the job market changes and/or when the economy falters, public and government attitudes about foreign labor shifts. They are less welcome; they are vilified.

Quite (in)famously, Donald Trump engaged in this kind of rhetoric on the day he declared in 2015 his run for the presidency. (See quote above.)

The rhetoric and the hatred have only intensified. The MAGA stance is strongly anti-immigrant, and we see many examples of it.

On January 16, 2024, Oklahoma state Representative J. J. Humphrey wrote and introduced H.B. 3133.

The bill announces that it addresses “acts of terrorism” and that those acts lead to “property subject to asset forfeiture.” The bill is very short. Not even a full page. It reads:

SECTION 1: . . .
Any person who:
1. Is of Hispanic descent living within the state of Oklahoma;
2. Is a member of a criminal street gang as such term is defined in subsection F of Section 856 of Title 21 of the Oklahoma Statutes; and
3. Has been convicted of a gang-related offense enumerated in paragraphs one (1) through sixteen (16) of subsection F of Section 856 of Title 21 of the Oklahoma Statutes, shall be deemed to have committed an act of terrorism as such term is defined in Section 1268.1 of Title 21 of the Oklahoma Statutes. Any and all property, including real estate and personal property, conveyances, including aircraft, vehicles or vessels, monies, coins and currency, or other instrumentality used or intended to be used, in any manner or part, by said person shall be subject to forfeiture as provided in Section 1738 of Title 21 of the Oklahoma Statutes.
SECTION 2. This act shall become effective November 1, 2024.

So, did you all get that? If a person is of Hispanic descent, and that person has committed an “an act of terrorism” then “Any and all property” is now subject to forfeiture.

That’s it. Anyone who is Hispanic is a terrorist.

Anyone who is Hispanic forfeits any and all property.

Oh, I can read. The “and” in between point 1 and point 2 is meant to make all the difference, no? It reads anyone who is Hispanic AND has been convicted of a gang-related crime is a terrorist. And, yet, it singles out Hispanic.

Nothing about this is ambiguous, is it?

It is full-on racism. It is full-on ethnocentrism. It is full-on white supremacy. And it fundamentally misunderstands the issues.

If Humphrey is concerned about gang-related activities and gang-related crime, then he might have written and introduced a Bill that leaves out any mention of race or ethnicity. It could simply say any person convicted of a gang-related crime shall be deemed a terrorist and thus subject to forfeiture.

But it doesn’t say that. Humphrey intentionally aimed it specifically at Hispanics.

Now, after the Bill was published, he caught some flak, and he tried to walk it back. It didn’t really work. When asked about the new Bill, Humphrey said “I apologize for using the word Hispanic, but I was not wrong. Again, these are Hispanic. Reality is they are Hispanic. There’s nothing to be ashamed with.” In order to remedy his mistake, he’ll revise the Bill to change “Hispanic” to “undocumented here illegally, or something like that.”

To be clear, when Humphrey says that there is “nothing to be ashamed with,” he’s talking about himself. He is not saying “there’s nothing wrong with being Hispanic.” No, he’s saying “I have nothing to be ashamed about for calling out and naming Hispanics as terrorists.”

In another interview, Humphrey notes that he is looking primarily at Mexican drug cartels. He sees the deaths caused by fentanyl as acts of terrorism and equivalent to 9/11. In this interview, he notes that he will widen his focus to other drug cartels, as well.

One problem here is that he may be conflating two separate issues. The asylum-seeking families at the southern border are not part of the drug cartels. They are not bringing and selling fentanyl for the Sinaloa cartel. If he wants to target the drug cartels as terrorists, perhaps his efforts need to be in Mexico, or in coordination with the Mexican government. Or in looking at US foreign policy.

Still, Humphrey says he is addressing “terrorism,” so let’s look at the definition of “terrorist.”

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term “terrorist” first appears in 1794, in reference to the French Revolution. In that case, the Terrorist was someone who supported democracy and who was willing to shed blood to achieve the aim. In that example, we would likely applaud the Terrorist.

By 1806, the term is no longer limited to the French political scene. It becomes used more widely. The OED says: “A person who uses violent and intimidating methods in the pursuit of political aims.” Arguably, al-Qaeda was using violent means for political purposes. They objected to US foreign policy and hoped to influence US actions, and they used violent means to influence politics.

The OED further clarifies that a terrorist typically is “a member of a clandestine or expatriate organization aiming to coerce an established government by acts of violence against it or its subjects.” Again, al-Qaeda fits the definition.

Do the asylum seekers at the southern border fit the definition? Not even close. They are not using violent means. They are not a coming here to affect US political policies. They are fleeing an untenable situation at home. They are not here with political aims.

Are the drug cartels terrorists? Absolutely true that they wreak havoc and leave a trail of dead, here and at home. Do they engage in violence? Absolutely. Do they enact violence with political aims? No, they do not. They protect their product. They protect their members. They kill users without a thought, but have no political aim. Their aim is to make money. Pure and simple. They are capitalists, at heart.

The Braceros were not terrorists. The farm workers are not terrorists. They asylum seekers are not terrorists. They are scapegoats.

Is J. J. Humphrey a terrorist? True, he uses violent language. True, like the cartels, he causes harm to other people through his own words and actions. True, he has political aims in using the language that he does. He quite literally wants to re-write the laws of the land.

However, Humphrey does not belong to a clandestine or expatriate community. He’s on the inside. He’s in the majority. He’s a racist and a bully.

He may think that he’s addressing fentanyl deaths, but he’s really just scapegoating an entire community of people.

Ritch Calvin is an Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at SUNY Stony Brook. He is the author of Queering SF: Readings, Feminist Epistemology and Feminist Science Fiction (Palgrave McMillan) and edited a collection of essays on Gilmore Girls (McFarland). His most recent book is Queering SF: Readings (Aqueduct Press).