The Mexicans are coming! The Mexicans are coming!

Fears of a gun-toting death cult overrunning the United States drives Middle America’s fear of illegal immigration from Mexico. No, I am not a loonie. I am merely repeating a sentiment expressed in a recent item in the Daily Telegraph’s political news blog. The article, entitled “A Mexican death cult is fuelling America's anti-immigration backlash. This is about crime, not race,” discusses the effects on U.S. opinion on the prevalence of the Mexican cult, Santa Muerte, among drug dealers.

Perhaps I should not be so critical of an article slotted into the news blog section of the newspaper, but this story just doesn't cut it. This piece combines faulty logic with a lack of political and religious sensibility about the North American scene. It is also an object lesson in wasted opportunity and of stepping on a story by letting untested assumptions drive the narrative.

The Telegraph’s argument is: Some illegal aliens from Mexico are devotees of the Santa Muerte cult. Americans do not like illegal immigration from Mexico. Therefore, fears of Santa Muerte lie behind opposition to illegal Mexican immigration.

Sorry.  This won't do.

The bottom line: Correlation does not imply causation.

Cum hoc ergo propter hoc, my old Latin master used to say. This is a logical fallacy: "A occurs in correlation with B. Therefore, A causes B." Passage of a quarter century has not erased my memories of having had to write this 100 times in my copy book. But enough about me; let’s turn to the story.

The article has a nice opening that details the connection of some Mexican drug dealers with the Sante Muerte cult. The author then gives his view of what this all means.

Europeans complain mightily that Muslim immigration has introduced fundamentalism to their secular continent. Yet they tend to look upon Middle America’s fear of illegal Hispanic immigration with contempt, as if its paranoia was motivated entirely by racism. Reporting on new legislation designed to drive illegal immigrants out of the Deep South, The Guardian’s Paul Harris writes that it heralds, “The prospect of a new Jim Crow era – the time when segregation was law – across a vast swath of the old Confederacy. [The legislation] will ostracise and terrorise a vulnerable Hispanic minority with few legal rights.”

Indeed it will, and that is a tragedy. But the debate about illegal immigration isn’t just about competition over jobs or lingering white racism. Many Americans share the European fear that mass migration is subverting their democratic culture from within. In the same way that exotic cells of Jihadists have established themselves in London and Paris, criminal gangs motivated by bloodlust and kinky spiritualism have been found living in the suburbs of Boston and Atlanta. One of its many manifestations is the cult of Santa Meurte.

The author advances some strong claims. Now let’s see him defend his argument. He begins with a description of Santa Muerte.

Santa Muerte is part Virgin Mary, part folk demon. The image of a cloaked saint wielding a scythe is supposed to offer those who venerate it spiritual protection.  .. For the poor of Mexico – a nation torn between extremes of wealth and injustice – Santa Muerte is a very pragmatic saint. Like the gang leaders who offer hard cash in return for allegiance, she provides material blessings that the Catholic Church can no longer afford to bestow.

Tens of thousands of Mexicans living in America venerate Santa Muerte and have no association with crime. Nor is the cult purely ethnic .. But the prevalence of Santa Muerte imagery among drug traffickers injects an interesting cultural dimension to the debate over illegal immigration. It accentuates American fears that the drug war in Mexico is turning into an invasion of the USA by antidemocratic fanatics.

The article turns to a discussion of the Mexican gangs and their drug wars, and notes the “warring cartels are bound by a perverse ideology, with Santa Muerte as a unifying icon that terrifies opponents into submission.” However, this is not substantiated.

Having started off hard left, the article closes hard right, stating:

Nevertheless, Americans of every ethnicity are legitimately concerned about their country being poisoned by a criminal subculture that blends political corruption with ritualised murder. Europeans should not be so quick to judge their transatlantic friends. Americans face a vicious threat of their own.

Now there is a story here. Some Mexican gang members are votaries of an esoteric cult that venerates death. Mass migration to the United States is bringing this cult north of the Rio Grande. Coincidentally, it also follows a domestic political fracas surrounding revelations that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Justice Department permitted guns illegally purchased in the United States to “walk” into Mexico to arm the drug gangs in an operation called “Fast and Furious.”

I find this fascinating and would want to know more about the cult: its origins, number of adherents, relationship to folk religions or indigenous beliefs, a response from the Roman Catholic Church and the voices of its followers. Are all members of Los Zetas, one of the gangs named, devotees?

The New York Times has done some great reporting on the intersection of crime and religion in Mexican society that raises the issue of whether a church should accept money earned through criminal activities. The Telegraph does a great job in being provocative, painting Middle America in harsh, condescending tones, but it has not been true to the story. The necessary reporting is not present. Instead, we are offered a theory.

Perhaps this is permitted in an item that has strayed from the opinion pages to the halfway house of a news blog. However, to support the claim that American perceptions of Mexican migration to the U.S. are influenced by fears of this cult needs evidence. Am I being unfair? Petty? Prickly?

What say ye?

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