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Republican congressmen are now talking about throwing migrants from helicopters

<span>Augusto Pinochet in Chile, on 1 May 1987.</span><span>Photograph: Eric BRISSAUD/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images</span>
Augusto Pinochet in Chile, on 1 May 1987.Photograph: Eric BRISSAUD/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Three years ago, the Intercept published an illuminating article about the rise of the “Hoppean snake” among far-right extremists, a meme which the Intercept labelled especially “disturbing for its frightening historical reference”. For the uninitiated, the Hoppean Snake in its various forms usually depicts a serpent wearing the military hat of the American-backed Chilean dictator Gen Augusto Pinochet in the foreground while figures are dropping out of helicopters to their death in the background.

The meme specifically refers to Pinochet’s known strategy of kidnapping, torturing, killing, and – here’s the point – throwing his political opponents out of helicopters and into the ocean to dispose of them. The Intercept noted that many groups and individuals on the far right, such as the “Boogaloo Bois, Proud Boys, Three Percenters, Oath Keepers, armed Trumpists, and the like wear T-shirts that offer ‘free helicopter rides’.” and when they do so, “they are referencing a program of extermination.”

Related: Biden officials decry Trump’s anti-migrant xenophobia – yet quietly copy his stance| Moustafa Bayoumi

It’s alarming to see such rhetoric from the far-right fringes; imagine seeing this kind of political violence being advocated by a sitting politician or someone seeking the highest office in the land.

Well, you don’t have to imagine it anymore. Last week, Republican congressman Mike Collins of Georgia did just that. On Twitter/X,, Collins commented on a widely circulated picture of Jhoan Boada, a man who was recently arrested for allegedly assaulting two police officers in New York City outside a migrant shelter.

Boada was one of seven men arrested, and multiple reports refer to him as a “migrant”. After leaving court, Boada was photographed raising his two middle fingers to reporters as he walked away. The picture prompted Republican congressman Anthony D’Esposito of New York to offer the racist riposte: “We feel the same way about you. Holla at the cartels and have them escort you back.”

Collins then joined in. “Or we could buy him a ticket on Pinochet Air for a free helicopter ride back,” he wrote.

As HuffPost’s Christopher Mathias, who covers the far right, put it on X: “So we have a congressman joking or not joking about extrajudicially executing a migrant arrested for a crime (allegedly assaulting a cop) that tons of non-migrant citizens get arrested for too.” Mathias also notes that the “free helicopter ride” meme has been popular with white supremacists and neo-fascists for about the last seven years.

That such rhetoric is dangerous to human life and damaging to our political culture is hardly difficult to fathom. Collins was even briefly suspended from X for violating its rules against violent speech, which considering the bevy of white supremacists and neofascists on that site is quite an accomplishment. (“Never delete. Never surrender,” he posted, after his account was reinstated.) But Collins was hardly the only American political figure recently promoting political assassination.

Lawyers for Donald Trump told a federal appeals court last month that a president would basically be immune from prosecution if the president ordered “Seal Team 6 to assassinate a political rival”, as a judge asked. Trump’s legal team argued that the president “would have to be impeached and convicted” before any prosecution could proceed. The New York Times called the argument “jaw-dropping”. The New Yorker wrote that we should all be worried, not because of Trump but because of how unsettled the law actually is.

Rightwing disdain for everyone but themselves fuels this authoritarian thinking, and it is readily found in the writing of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, the German American academic to whom the Hoppean snake refers. (When contacted by the Intercept in 2021 about the meme, Hoppe said: “What do I know? There are lots of crazy people out there!”) In his 2001 book Democracy: The God That Failed, the libertarian Hoppe writes that: “there can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and expelled from society.”

Expulsion is also necessary, Hoppe argues, for “the advocates of alternative, non-family and kin-centered lifestyles such as, for instance, individual hedonism, parasitism, nature-environment worship, homosexuality, or communism”.

Meanwhile, far-right groups assembled this past weekend in a convoy for a “Take Back Our Border” rally in Eagle Pass, Texas. Near this border town is the standoff between Texas governor Greg Abbott and the federal government, after Abbott installed razor wire along the border and denied federal border patrol agents access to the area. Three people, a woman and two children, drowned after the razor wire was installed, and the supreme court ruled recently that the federal government could remove the razor wire. After the ruling was issued, Representative Mike Collins introduced legislation banning the government from removing the wire.

Appearing at the “Take Bake Our Border” rally was rightwing journalist Michael Yon, who offered a tirade about how the US border has become insecure because of the funders of immigration to the United States. Among his targets was HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which he described as “Jewish, right?” He continued: “This is quite interesting because [HIAS] are actually funding the people who are going to come to places like Fort Lauderdale, synagogues, and they’re going to scream ‘Allahu Abkar’ and they’re going to shoot the shit out of them. Right? And they’re coming across the border, and it’s being funded with Jewish money.”

In reality, HIAS’s work aiding immigrant Muslims and Latinos so terrified the white supremacist Robert Bowers that he – not a Muslim yelling Allahu Akbar – subsequently shot and killed 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the deadliest attack on Jewish people in US history. But why let facts get in the way of a good racist screed?

Jews, Muslims, immigrants – everything is a threat. Violence is the solution. Opponents should be assassinated. Fascists are role models. Welcome to the Republican party in the year 2024.

  • Moustafa Bayoumi is a Guardian US columnist