Whether you find it amusing that Republicans are suggesting ISIL terrorists are crossing the southern US border, or alarming that they don’t even acknowledge the facts when the Homeland Security folks completely trash their theory, it helps to have some idea of where they’re coming from. Here’s Ed Kilgore’s theory.
Now it may just be, as Kevin Drum has suggested, that this is just word-salad-mixing whereby candidates toss out combinations of words that excite “the base” or upset low-information voters. But there’s another and more obvious way to look at it: Republicans are appealing to an atavistic tendency to think of “the border” as a barrier against all the terrible things in the world Out There, in the benighted lands beyond America. “Sealing” the border — a laughable concept when you think about it — will somehow restore Fortress America, and all the terrorists and diseases and free-loaders and non-English-speakers and socialists and atheists will be kept out the way God intended it. And the crazier and more dangerous the “outside world” becomes, the more making it all go away seems appealing.
I would add to this the tendency of some, especially the more fundamentalist, Christians to identify with stories of persecution from New Testament times, and to imagine themselves as persecuted in the current day. Nowadays, of course, that persecution consists in being prevented from enforcing their particular sense of morality on the rest of us. But this kind of feeling comes more from internal circumstances than external ones. For some people it’s preferable to feel persecuted because that removes them from power and thus makes them not responsible for all the terrible things that happen around them. The problem is, it also makes them not responsible for the good things, leaving them helpless. And if you feel helpless you’re ripe for exploitation.