The Donald Trump administration is a circus. Naturally, amid all the chaos, many important stories get buried. I would like to turn your attention to a statement Trump made Aug. 22 via his favorite medium — Twitter.
This half-baked tweet is problematic for a variety of reasons. Firstly, as is so often the case with Trump, the claim is dubious at best. To be fair, the first part of the statement is not explicitly false, just misleading. Though a policy of land expropriation is being carried out by the South African government, to simply point that out and treat it as a problem without providing necessary context is dishonest in practice.
The discriminatory policies of South Africa’s former apartheid government created huge levels of societal inequality between white and Black people. The legacy of this morally reprehensible regime still haunts the country to this day. One of the many racist policies enacted under apartheid was the uncompensated theft of Black-owned land and the confinement of the Black majority to only 7 percent of the nation’s arable land.
The current land expropriation policy is an attempt at redressing apartheid era grievances. A returning of stolen goods, if you will. And the government is well within their legal right to do this: South Africa’s constitution allows for such action on the grounds of trying to right the wrongs of the past.
There is also a justification for doing this on the grounds of enhancing national welfare. Too much land in too few hands naturally creates market inefficiencies. In the words of former South African President Nelson Mandela: “(Land expropriation) fosters national reconciliation and stability. It underpins economic growth and improves household welfare and food security.”
The expropriation vision laid out by current South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is an extremely moderate one. His government has made a concerted effort to target unused land and abandoned buildings first and foremost to inconvenience as few people as possible. What Ramaphosa and the African National Congress are doing is a logical step forward for the South African nation and ought to be treated as such.
As for Trump’s second claim, there is no well-documented “large scale killing of farmers” taking place in South Africa right now. National police records show the financial year of 2017-18 saw the lowest number of farm murders since 1991.
Factual inaccuracies aside, the casual observer may be left a bit confused by Trump’s tweet concerning South Africa. What do they have to do with us? The whole thing seems out of left field. South Africa—and all of Africa, for that matter—is all but nonexistent in everyday American political discourse.
However, the alleged plight of white South African farmers has become a hot-button issue with a rather unsavory crowd. The “alt-right” has, unsurprisingly, embraced the false narrative of white oppression and Black brutality wholesale. The promotion of this conspiracy theory seems to be a concerted effort by the movement to raise the racial consciousness of whites and incite a fear of Black people. Simply put, it’s a propaganda campaign meant to draw people to their cause of hatred and racism.
Naturally, the big names on the “alt-right” have been at the forefront of propagating this lie. Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke has spoken out extensively on the topic, referring to the land expropriation efforts as “white genocide.” Breitbart News Network, the self-proclaimed “platform for the alt right,” has published countless articles painting white farmers as helpless victims of their violent Black overlords.
“Alt-right” darling and popular YouTuber Lauren Southern recently came out with a documentary peddling the conspiracy theory called “Farmlands.” The film has been met with much-deserved backlash largely due to the fact that it’s little more than a collection of unverified anecdotes about white farmers who were victims of violence. Sad? Yes, but the film’s assertion that these instances are indicative of a broader trend is simply not true.
It’s worth noting Southern’s far-right activism has gotten her into trouble in the past. Back in 2017, she was detained by the Italian Coast Guard for attempting to block a refugee boat in the Mediterranean. She then was subsequently banned from entering the UK while on a trip to meet with Generation Identity—a neo-Nazi terrorist organization that has set up military—style training camps across Europe.
Trump’s propagation of this racist conspiracy theory is just the latest in a long line of instances in which he has marched in lockstep with these bad actors. In the past he called “alt right” protestors at Charlottesville “very fine people,” retweeted Islamophobic posts by the deputy leader of fascist political organization Britain First and retweeted a fake crime statistic published originally by a neo-Nazi group exaggerating Black on white murder rates. I could go on, but I won’t.
Trump no longer has the benefit of plausible deniability. Richard Spencer is not the face of the “alt-right”—Trump is. With the infiltration of such an ideology into the highest political office in our country, what were once the worst elements of the fringe have become the new mainstream. A serious swing of the pendulum will be needed, and fast, if we want to restore order.
Moreover, with Trump stating he ordered Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to investigate, our foreign policy is openly functioning off of a foundation of lies and propaganda. Though not unprecedented, this is an abject disgrace and beneath us as a country. Everything about this situation screams “DANGER!,” yet the story largely flew under the radar.
Elias Khoury can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.