One last look at his Wall. President Trump could not resist. Philosophically, no final journey could be more fitting. January 12, 2021, Trump’s last stand in a border town called Alamo, Texas. The Wall and “Alamo” have clear symbolic meaning and are deeply related. No doubt, Trump’s MAGA followers see themselves as heroic defenders of an American Alamo. “Remember the Alamo”—it’s a powerful mythos.
Trump’s last presidential trip was to rally support for building more of the Wall, but the underlying philosophical purpose was to put one last stamp on the myth of the Alamo for MAGA America. Of course, the actual Alamo is located in San Antonio, 240 miles north of the Rio Grande. But, this is not about mere reality. This is about myth, a mythos that shapes an American worldview, which then determines “reality.”
It is only an epic myth that can justify the horrors of Trump’s Wall and the racist prison camps along the American border. “Make America Great Again” begins with “Remember the Alamo.” MAGA is the latest genesis of the mythos seen in John Wayne’s The Alamo (1960), where Davy Crockett and his band of Texans battled the Mexican solders swarming over the walls of the Alamo.
For the takeover of the U.S. Capitol in 2021, QAnon joined Crockett’s mythic team, along with the patriotic ringleaders—President Trump, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Rudy Guiliani, and Donald Trump, Jr. The MAGA takeover of the Capitol was a violent insurrection seeking to overturn a fair presidential election, one incited by Trump and others within the GOP. Many view it as an attempted neo-fascist coup d-etat. And it may not be over, yet.
No doubt, the irony of MAGA “patriots” swarming the walls of the Capitol building is lost on those who see themselves as defenders of an America under siege everywhere—like the Texans at the Alamo. That may seem absurd, but it is no less true. After all, President Trump’s 2016 digital campaign strategy was called “Project Alamo.”
For the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump selected a small digital marketing agency (Giles-Parscale) headquartered in San Antonio — a vibrant and cosmopolitan city of 1.5 million people, with over 60% being Hispanic or Latinx. San Antonio is home to friendly people, awesome food, cool art, the lovely Riverwalk, and the historic Alamo, one of the most popular tourist sites in Texas and ground zero for one of the founding myths of Texas and America.
Of all places, Trump’s digital campaign was based in the home city of the Alamo. Given the mythic status of the Alamo in American culture, it’s not surprising that Giles-Parscale labeled Trump’s marketing campaign “Project Alamo” — centered on a massive social media political campaign costing over $100 million. As detailed in The Great Hack (the 2019 documentary about the use of social media in the Trump and Brexit political campaigns), Giles-Parscale used highly-targeted Facebook ads and fake news to stoke neo-fascist fears of America and Texas being invaded at the southern border.
Project Alamo, Trump’s Wall, the prison camps at the border, and even the El Paso mass murderer’s fear of the “Hispanic invasion of Texas” — they all exist in a Hollywood-Disneyfied version of American history, powered by an origin myth which has become a 21st-century nationalist religion.
Everything at the border flows from this myth — from walls to prison camps to the mass murder in El Paso.
Border Wall Texans in 1995
Born and raised in Texas, I have witnessed (directly with my own eyes, ears, and experiences at border checkpoints) the border and wall issues building for over twenty-five years in the Lone Star State.
My first encounter with Texans wanting a border wall was at Ross Perot’s “United We Stand America” convention in Dallas in 1995, broadcast nationally by CNN and other TV news organizations. United We Stand was formed by supporters of Perot, the Texas billionaire who ran for president as an independent in 1992 and received 19% of the popular vote, one of the most successful independent campaigns in American history. Many experts thought Perot’s followers were building a viable third party — known as the Reform Party. Of course, with two decades of hindsight, we can see how “United We Stand,” the Reform Party, and Perot point directly toward the Tea Party, MAGA, and President Trump.
There is an ideology and historical worldview beneath all the politics. After completing my PhD at The University of Texas at Austin, I worked as a professor in Dallas. A colleague and I attended the “United We Stand” event because educators were admitted for free, and we were curious about Perot’s philosophy and his followers. At the event, there were numerous tables set up for people advocating all kinds of conservative and “patriotic” issues. This was the Alt-Right, circa 1995.
There were also tables manned by Texans handing out flyers advocating a border wall. In discussions with them, three things became very clear—empirically and factually obvious in their beliefs.
1) They were ultra-patriotic nationalists.
2) They were extremely religious and believed Texas and America were divinely ordained as “God’s country.”
3) They believed Texas and America were under siege at the Rio Grande.
All three reasons comprise the border myth justifying the wall — Christian nationalism and racist fears of invasion from Mexico. Supporters will say the wall is about protecting America, but it’s deeper than that. Trump’s Wall is their 21st century Alamo! Hence, “Project Alamo.” This Alamo mentality was deeply embedded in the attempted takeover of the Capitol, though the necessary actions were reversed. Rather than defend a fortress from the inside, the “patriots” needed to scale walls and bust in doors to “Stop the Steal” and take back America.
Cold War Propaganda
After World War II and during the early stage of the Cold War, American pop culture went into overdrive to protect the dominant ideologies and worldviews — especially the visions of the past and the west.
This was effected via Hollywood films like The Alamo (1960) and the opening of Disneyland (1955), with its mythic “Frontierland.” America had heroically helped defeat the Nazis in World War II and the world soon learned the horrors of the Holocaust. Back at home, America was forced to confront its two original sins—the bloody history of slavery and the near-genocide of Native Americans in the pursuit of “Manifest Destiny.” Supposedly, the American destiny included a preordained expansion of Euro-American Christian culture and industrial capitalism from the Atlantic to the Pacific. For the American future to make any coherent sense, especially during the Cold War and the battle with the Soviet Union, the American past had to be protected and purified. Plus, thousands of nuclear weapons (tested in the deserts of the west) had to be justified to “protect” America in the Cold War.
Nothing essential has changed. It’s the same basic ideology with MAGA.
“You May All Go to Hell and I Will Go To Texas”
Most Texans are extremely proud of their history, especially the mythic grandiose legends. Central to that history is the Battle of the Alamo, immortalized in the epic film starring and directed by John Wayne. Playing Texas hero Davy Crockett, Wayne was Hollywood’s prototypical American warrior — tall, tough, and ready to fight for America in westerns and war movies. Legend has it that Crockett, upon losing a Congressional election in Tennessee, said: “You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.” Crockett eventually found his own hell at the Alamo.
As dramatized in The Alamo, Crockett led (an estimated) 200 Texans against 1800 Mexican soldiers led by General Santa Ana. For thirteen days in 1836, the Texans defended the Alamo before being wiped out in total defeat. “Remember the Alamo” became a battle cry for the Texans when they defeated Santa Ana at San Jacinto, in a surprise attack the next month. The victorious Texans soon founded the Republic of Texas and the border with Mexico was set at the Rio Grande. Texas was indeed a “whole other country” (as claimed in the famed tourism ads of the 1990s) for nine years — its own independent nation before joining the United States in 1845.
For the following century, the border was open, with people from Texas and Mexico freely crossing the Rio Grande, trading with each other, marrying among each other, sharing the river for irrigation, and so on. Of course, these historical facts are conveniently ignored, forgotten, or unknown to the “patriotic” supporters of Trump’s Wall.
In the climactic battle in The Alamo, the Mexican soldiers are shown scaling and swarming over the walls of the Alamo, valiantly defended by the Texans. This is how many supporters of Trump’s Wall see themselves, defenders of a mythic America packaged by Hollywood. It’s the same with the MAGA insurrectionists, though Crockett now has QAnon and Proud Boys at his side.
The Border Myth
Texas is also based in the legend of cattle and oil, as dramatized in Giant (1956), the sprawling Hollywood film with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean. In the final scene of Giant, Hudson (playing an oil-rich Texas rancher) starts a fist-fight with the racist owner of a roadside diner because he refuses to serve Hispanics. Sixty-five years later, the same racist issues exist. Why?
During the Cold War, Hollywood cranked out countless “western” movies and TV shows that presented an overall vision where American cowboys and settlers were the God-fearing good guys, the patriotic forces of “law and order” and Christian-capitalist civilization. In contrast, the Native Americans were usually depicted as little more than savages on horses needing to be shot, bewildered peoples needing to be civilized and converted to Christianity, or subservient sidekicks learning about truth, justice, and the American Way (such as “Tonto,” the loyal pal of the Lone Ranger). Of course, the movies and shows were propaganda justifying racial conquest and colonization.
From Texas to Arizona to California, the “wild west” had to be tamed. With Hollywood deploying directors like legendary John Ford and megastars like John Wayne, the studio system transformed the American west into the heroic myth of “the Frontier”—precisely because the West was the dual site of “rugged individualism” and racist annihilation. It was complete hypocrisy, then and now.
The Alamo’s depiction of valiant Texans fending off Mexican soldiers swarming over walls subtly illustrates the myth of a pure and faithful “Texas” (and “America”)—a state, nation, and mindset supposedly ordained by God, whose white followers are destined to rule vast lands after a great struggle. Then peace and (religious) freedom will prevail. The same myth was on display in 1955 Disneyland, where “Frontierland” was largely presented as an uninhabited wilderness, a past in which freedom-loving white people traversed the lands in wagons, stagecoaches, and trains. This was very much the exact idea in the 1872 “American Progress” painting by John Gast. Cars and the interstate highway system merely completed the process in the 1950s and 1960s.
The famed painting symbolized “Manifest Destiny” and was reproduced in a popular series of travel guides for the American West. There was also a “western” town in Frontierland, an outpost for the expanding American empire. This Hollywood-Disneyfied view was oblivious to the 10,000 years of humans living in the desert southwest, including Desert Archaic peoples, Ancestral Pueblans (a.k.a., the Anasazi), and Native Americans, all having lived there before the bloody arrival of Catholic conquistadors, Christian settlers, and American soldiers.
America’s “Manifest Destiny” begins in the annihilation of native peoples and ends in Disneyland and Trump’s Wall. All of this is a delusional fantasy, a mythic legend of white supremacy long used to justify the racial conquest of “Texas” and “America” by ideologies and theologies that migrated to this continent via caravans of boats from Europe.
Texas and America have never been this myth for everyone — just ask the Native Americans who were slaughtered and African Americans who were enslaved. After the slaughter, the land taken from the Native Americans was turned over to the Christian-capitalists to practice (religious) freedom and agricultural-industrial exploitation. Historian Gary Clayton Anderson details the systematic slaughter in 19th century Texas in his book The Conquest of Texas: Ethnic Cleansing in the Promised Land.
Everything at the Texas and southwest border follows from this myth of racial-religious-nativist purity. The Drug War, the Immigration War, the racist fear of Black Lives Matter, and every war which justifies both the internal purification and external deterrence against the “invasion” — from the DEA, ICE, and militarized police in the interior of America to the Border Patrol and Trump’s Wall along the Rio Grande. As shown by the policies of President Trump and Texas Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, this myth has evolved into a 21st-century neo-fascist religion, supported by nonstop patriotism and propaganda.
It can only be a militant myth that justifies ripping families apart at the border, while also humiliating them by placing them in cages and pens.
It can only be a militant myth, now powered by QAnon, that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and a coup d’etat was needed to take America back.
Of course, President Trump was not the first president to expand border fences and send troops to the US-Mexico border — he was preceded by Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. In many ways, the Democrats have proven no better than the Republicans on the border. So we’re saddled with failed policy after failed policy, above and below the Rio Grande, collectively fueled by America’s support of corrupt regimes to win the Cold War in Central America, the profound effects of the failed Drug War, and bogus origin myths perpetuated by Hollywood, Disneyland, the Alt-Right, and now QAnon.
From “Remember the Alamo” to MAGA’s attempted coup—the underlying mythos is present. There is no other conclusion to draw. That’s precisely why Trump, Cruz, Hawley, Giuliani, the 147 Republicans who voted against certifying the election, and all those deluded Davy Crocketts who invaded the Capitol must be held accountable, as prescribed by the law. Otherwise, the USA may face a neo-fascist future with a reality-TV star as its first strongman dictator — of a mythic Alamo of American freedom.
That’s why we must challenge the mythos at all levels. Before it’s too late.
1] According to the New York Times and Washington Post, the El Paso mass murderer (who killed 23 people in a Walmart) posted a manifesto online which expressed his fear of the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
2] Gary Clayton Anderson, The Conquest of Texas: Ethnic Cleansing in the Promised Land, University of Oklahoma Press, 2005.