A Desert Full of Bones: Razor Wire, Asylum, and Fascism

There’s a scene in the 1981 film Time Bandits (spoiler warning), in which Kevin the landscaping angels who kidnapped him find themselves in a flat, barren landscape, with mist in the air, and the bones of strange creatures strewn about. They’re following a divine map, but it’s leading them so far into the desert that they might never find their way out. It’s a fair concern, given that time God “guided” the Israelites on a 40-year version of an 11-day trek, but just when the group is close to giving up, they hit a wall. An invisible barrier.

Randall shatters it with a skull, and they continue on their quest into the lair of Evil, but what if the barrier hadn’t broken? What if they’d come all that way, braving ogres and giants, shipwrecks and cannonfire, only to die in that desert, and become just a few more bones littering the ground outside the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness?

When I hear Republicans (and some Democrats) demand that we build a wall along the southern border, this desert full of bones always comes to mind. At first, it felt too “extreme” to say, but there has never been a question that every barrier erected along that border means more people dead. It has also become increasingly clear that Border Patrol and the people howling for a closed border absolutely do want to fill that desert with bones. They want to kill anyone trying to cross that border from the south who doesn’t go through a checkpoint. They don’t care that US law states that all humans have a right to enter the United States, by any means, to request asylum. Those who do so have a right to have their request considered, before any action is taken to deport them. When they talk about “The Law”, what they mean is “what we think ought to be the law”, and they feel fully justified in “enforcing” that, regardless of the actual legality, or the harm done. They look at some of the most desperate and powerless people in the world, and they want them to die.

They are sadistic, murderous extremists, and I no longer feel any hesitation in labeling them as such.

Honestly, I haven’t felt much hesitation about that for a while now. Desantis committed human trafficking for political gain, and conservatives across the US cheered him on, but now Gregg Abbot has taken things to another level, by actively trying to kill and maim anyone trying to cross using razor wire barriers and traps in and around the Rio Grande. Content warning for descriptions of horrifying violence, and discussion of hate speech going forward.

“Stuck in razor wire”

If that phrase doesn’t give you a reflexive chill, take a moment to really think about what it means.

And think about what it means that someone would see razor wire, and try to cross it anyway. We hear a lot about how dangerous the journey north can be, and when you see people willing to risk shredding their bodies like that, it’s hard not to conclude that they must be fleeing something genuinely awful; so awful that no amount of deterrence will dissuade them. It’s very clear that the people who want a closed border don’t actually care whether someone has a legitimate asylum request. They neither know nor care about the history or conditions of the countries from which people are fleeing, and if we’re honest, they don’t even see these people as human.

In addition to the buoy barrier, it appears that there are barrels wrapped in razor wire, presumably to tempt anyone crossing the river to use the barrels as floats, only to be cut up or – in the case of the child mentioned above, stuck on the blades of the wire. It also seems that there’s razor wire just in the water, where nobody crossing would be able to see it. This is, as said in this interview, torture. It’s also attempted murder, because in case anyone needed to hear this, slashing someone with a blade while they’re trying to cross a river dramatically increases their chances of drowning, not to mention the danger from the injury itself.

The Biden administration has not been great on the border issue. They didn’t stop separating children from their families, and they’re continuing to push for unreasonable – and unconstitutional – restrictions at the border. That said, this stuff with the razor wire was too much for them, and the DOJ has sued Texas for failing to remove the barriers as directed:

The DOJ suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Texas, seeks an injunction to block the state from placing more of the wrecking ball-sized, razor wire-topped buoys, which have already reportedly injured several people. The complaint accuses Texas and Abbott of violating the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act by erecting the barrier in a U.S. waterway without permission.

“This floating barrier poses threats to navigation and public safety and presents humanitarian concerns,” Associate U.S. Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement. “Additionally, the presence of the floating barrier has prompted diplomatic protests by Mexico and risks damaging U.S. foreign policy.”

The lawsuit came on the same day that Abbott defiantly refused a DOJ request to dismantle the 1,000-foot barrier, which was installed along with netting and razor wire in and along the river that Mexicans call the Río Bravo near Eagle Pass in Maverick County.

“Texas will fully utilize its constitutional authority to deal with the crisis you have caused,” Abbott wrote in a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden in response to the DOJ’s request. “Texas will see you in court, Mr. President.”

In a weekend CNN appearance, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) called Abbott’s anti-migrant efforts “barbaric” and “extreme cruelty.”

“For him, this isn’t about border security—it’s about using taxpayer money to feed red meat to right-wing extremists,” Castro said of Abbott on Twitter.

It is also, I think, not just about immigration. This is how they want to respond to global warming. They know that global warming is already causing migration, just like they’ve always known that their efforts to close the border were killing people. Their solution to climate change is to maintain US power, and to use that power to force poor countries to keep supporting the rich ones, and to murder anyone who steps out of line. For that plan, climate change is actually a benefit, because it will make it that much harder for poorer nations to stand on their own, and to try to improve their conditions. At the same time, it will make it harder for people to survive the journey to the US and the crossing. They absolutely want that desert full of bones – they’d string bodies up along the wall as a warning, if they could – but deaths that happen before reaching the border make them happy too.

There were a few articles that went around, during Trump’s first (and hopefully only) term as President, about how folks close to him were big fans of a book called The Camp of the Saints. This book, beloved of Stephens Bannon and Miller is a revolting work of  propaganda from a French white supremacist who died in 2020 (good riddance), and it tells the story of a fleet of refugee boats sailing from India to France. The basic overview is that the Indian refugees are described throughout the book in disgusting and dehumanizing terms, as a liberal French society welcomes their approach, and the conservative “heroes” recommend that the boats be sunk at sea (sound familiar?) to save France from the zombie-like horde.

I do not recommend you read the book, but I do recommend you check out this overview of it by Youtuber José. I’m putting emphasis on this book right now, because I think it is extremely relevant to the current international fascist movement. Fascists seem to be driven by an obsession with humiliation and disgust. They constantly think and talk about cuckoldry, and the defeat of the “West”, and when they talk about groups of people they hate, they always find ways to invoke disgust. My first encounter with it was a website I found, back in highschool dedicated to hating Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was tortured to death in 1998. It was filled with graphic descriptions of what the website’s creator apparently thought gay people did, and all of them, including body fluids and excrement, could have come straight from the pages of The Camp of the Saints. Likewise, fascists love describing their targets as diseased – another thing immigrants apparently share with LGBTQIA people.

There are many groups under attack right now, but all of them are facing the same threat, and it is a very real threat. Fascists are actively coming for trans people and asylum seekers, just as the Nazis did in the early days. Defending those groups should be enough motivation for any decent person, but even if it’s not, they never stop there, because they always need people to blame and punish for their society’s problems.

I think it’s likely that the courts will rule against Abbot and his death traps, but they will keep hurting and killing people in the meantime. More than that, this will not be the last such attempt. If you take anything away from this let it be that, as long as fascists have any power, they will use that power for these ends. What’s happening at the border is shocking, but it’s not actually very far from what’s considered acceptable in US political discourse. Plenty of Democrats support closing the border. Plenty of Democrats support US meddling in South and Central America, and want to continue doing it. Part of the reason fascists have power in the US, is because the Democrats are a center-right party within a government that has spent decades supporting and aiding fascist groups all over the world, in the name of opposing left-wing movements. This is why I don’t have much faith in the Democratic Party’s ability to fend off rising fascism, and why I think it’s so important for us to build organized, collective power that’s not centered around elections or beholden to political parties. There is ample evidence that even if the Democrats are in power, they won’t do what’s needed without relentless pressure from the left. We are fighting fascism, with all of the horror and death that brings, and that means being clear about both the danger, and what tools and allies we do or do not have in that fight.

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  1. StevoR says

    Horrific. Seems to me that surely there’s a case here to arrest and try Gregg Abbot on Crimes Against Humanity charges? Of course I’m not a lawyer and I know Heads of State are somehow excluded – except where they’re not? Guess that might or might not include Governors at state level? It shouldn’t.

  2. says

    As far as I know, the US doesn’t really acknowledge crimes against humanity when it comes to its own people. Sometimes folks at the bottom of the hierarchy will get in trouble for shit like Abu Ghraib, but the people actually ordering atrocities? The US government protects them.

  3. StevoR says

    “There are many groups under attack right now, but all of them are facing the same threat, and it is a very real threat. Fascists are actively coming for trans people and asylum seekers, just as the Nazis did in the early days. Defending those groups should be enough motivation for any decent person, but even if it’s not, they never stop there, because they always need people to blame and punish for their society’s problems.”

    Quoting for Truth.999

  4. StevoR says

    @2. Abe Drayton : That’s also true and really infuriating. The USA seems to think its above the law – and above basic ethics – in this regard doesn’t it?

    Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc .. should have faced trial over their invasion of Iraq based on mis- and disinfo for starters.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    I read The Camp of the Saints not long after it first came out in English/paperback, and I second our esteemed host’s recommendation to skip it. It came with praise from a conservative pundit with an occasional sharp turn of phrase named J.J. Kilpatrick, and utterly killed the margin of respect I’d had for him before.

    The French characters give flowery speeches; the Indians (led by a man whose tongue was cut out, described only as “the dung-eater”) get only one short paragraph of dialog in the whole novel, and that just reciting some lines from a (parody of a) white liberal politician.

  6. Dunc says

    “[A] 19-year-old woman stuck in the razor wire having a miscarriage” is undoubtedly the worst goddamn image I’ve encountered in really quite some time. Probably could have used a stronger content warning, although I’m not sure where you even start with that one… I expect they’ll want to prosecute her for endangering her unborn child too.

  7. says

    Sorry for the inadequate warning. I had hoped that what I gave plus the mention of razor wire in the title would be enough, but these things are hard to gauge. I’ll add the word “horrifying”, since this shit feels like something out of a Saw movie.

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