Gary Johnson is Right: “Illegal Immigrant” is Incendiary

Johnson is Correct to Object to Term

by Josh Guckert

Libertarians loathe “PC culture.” This idea reflects the fact that some Americans get offended at the strangest and silliest issues. With that background, some so-called “libertarians” are complaining about Gary Johnson’s hearty objection to the use of the term “illegal immigrant.” But this anger by critics is very misfounded. Johnson is correct to call out conservatives and alt-right sympathizers for the use of this incendiary and offensive term.

Many terms are not on their face objectionable or offensive. Take for example the phrase “all lives matter.” Though five years ago, no one could ever find such a saying problematic, modern context changes the narrative. Seeing as the wording is used as a counter to “black lives matter,” it is not difficult to see the dog whistle nature of the phrase.

Other phrases simply wear out their welcome over time. While many generations ago, it was in fact the correct terminology to denote black Americans as “negroes” or “colored people,” no one would argue that these terms are no longer acceptable.

The same can be said of “illegal immigrants.” Though just a few years ago, it was a term used by all sides to those in the United States without legal status, it has since become a verbal weapon of the anti-immigration right. It serves only to “otherize” certain classes of people, and particularly Hispanics. Those using the word suggest that it is merely the “legal term,” but words matter when used in rhetoric, and the terminology makes a difference in the message conveyed.

With that in mind, we can view the interview between conservative activist Guy Benson and Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson. The tone of the immigration question can be heard immediately as Benson refers to President Obama’s immigration executive action as “amnesty.” This term has been created as a slur by conservatives like Ted Cruz to de-legitimize any efforts to reform the American immigration system.

Rather than merely accepting that the term “illegal immigrant” is offensive to Hispanic Americans, as Johnson points out, Benson insists that Johnson explain why this is. This refrain is a common response from conservatives when discussing black and Hispanic issues in the country: they too often care about being “right” and “proving a point” rather than listening to the issues minority communities face. After, they express bewilderment when conservative ideas are unable to find traction in these same demographics.

Want to see first-hand the proof that this term is a dog whistle to the alt-right and the ugliest portions of the anti-immigrant movement? Ask the advocates themselves. One quick scan through the comments on the Info Wars article shows the responses, demanding that these immigrants be instead called “invaders,” and one person suggesting that “I hope some black plays the Knockout Game with Gary Johnson’s empty head.”

Familiarly, some even attempt to legitimize their points by suggesting that black and Hispanic Americans are the “real racists.” While a comment section is in no way a definitive platform statement of any kind, it certainly gives a “feel” for who are the critics.

The important note is this: while libertarians loathe PC culture, there is a difference between merely “being PC” and actually saying obnoxious and incendiary things. Benson and alt-righters engage in the latter with terms like “illegal immigrant.” While the impulse may be to defend those under attack for being “offensive,” libertarians would be wise to understand the significance of certain terms when placed in context. In this instance, Governor Johnson is correct to object to this phrase, and libertarians should support his statements calling out the anti-immigrant right portion of the conservative movement.

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