Society / March 28, 2024

Conservatives Wasted No Time Getting Wildly Racist About the Baltimore Bridge Collapse

Even as the search continued for survivors, the right-wing ecosystem was using the tragedy to smear immigrants and Black people.

Rebekah Entralgo
Maria Bartiromo talks to Sen. Rick Scott on Fox Business on Tuesday, March 26, 2024.

Maria Bartiromo talks to Senator Rick Scott on Fox Business on Tuesday, March 26, 2024.

(Fox Business)

For most people, the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore on Tuesday was a shocking disaster. But for many in the conservative world, it was a chance to do their favorite thing: inject racism into the discourse.

Even as first responders searched the frigid waters of the Patapsco River for survivors, the right-wing machine was using the tragedy to fuel its never-ending xenophobic and bigoted campaign against immigrants and perceived “wokeism.”

“The White House has issued a statement on this saying that there’s no indication of nefarious intent in the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge,” Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo told her guest, Senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.). “But of course, you’ve been talking a lot about the potential for wrongdoing or the potential for foul play given the wide open border.”

On X, formerly known as Twitter, verified right-wing users–boosted by the site’s algorithm—shared videos of Brandon Scott, the Black, 39-year-old mayor of Baltimore, with racist dog whistles.

Current Issue

Cover of April 2024 Issue

“This is Baltimore’s DEI mayor commenting on the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge,” wrote one user with over 250,000 followers. “It’s going to get so, so much worse. Prepare accordingly.”

Conservative lawmakers also joined in, hoping to leverage the tragedy to gain cultural and political clout among their rabid base. Phil Lyman, a Republican state representative and current candidate for governor of Utah, responded to a post from the Young Conservative Federation targeting Port of Baltimore Commissioner Karenthia Barber, a Black woman whose professional biography describes her as specializing in “diversity, equity and inclusion audits and consulting,” among other things.

“This is what happens when you have Governors who prioritize diversity over the wellbeing and security of citizens,” he wrote. In a follow-up tweet he added, “DEI=DIE.”

The governor in question—Maryland’s Wes Moore—is, like Mayor Scott, a young, Black man.

The Nation Weekly

Fridays. A weekly digest of the best of our coverage.
By signing up, you confirm that you are over the age of 16 and agree to receive occasional promotional offers for programs that support The Nation’s journalism. You may unsubscribe or adjust your preferences at any time. You can read our Privacy Policy here.

The bridge’s collapse, which officials say occurred after a cargo ship lost power and crashed into a support column, has laid bare the extent to which conservatives will seize any opportunity to warp our collective reality to further their cultural crusade against immigrants and Black people.

As much as those on the right would like for the general electorate to submit to their narrative that the nation is under siege—if not by undocumented immigrants then liberal bureaucrats pushing an “anti-white” agenda—the reality on the ground does not bear that out.

Setting aside the lie that diversity and incompetence go hand in hand, the notion that, for instance, Scott—who was overwhelmingly elected to lead a majority-Black city after nearly a decade on the city council—is some kind of diversity hire is laughable on its face. But it provides cover for what conservatives really want to say, which is that a young Black mayor is unqualified, ill-equipped, and culpable for any tragedy.

While federal investigators believe the bridge collapse is not the result of terrorism or any intentional act, immigrants are involved in the catastrophe, though just not in a way that serves the narrative of Fox News. Six construction workers, who were working the overnight shift fixing potholes on the Francis Scott Key Bridge when it collapsed, remain missing and are feared dead. All six are young Latino men originally from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, with families living in Baltimore’s close-knit immigrant neighborhoods of Highlandtown and Dundalk.

“They are all hard-working, humble men,” Jesus Campos, an employee of contractor Brawner Builders—whose workers are among the missing—told The Baltimore Banner through a translator. Campos added that all of them came to the city for a better life—not necessarily for themselves, but for the loved ones they left behind.

“I feel devastated with what happened. They are all my friends, they are coworkers. I feel very sad,” he said.

It is these men’s lives—and their possible deaths—along with the mere existence of a majority-Black city led by Black elected officials, that the conservative media ecosystem so gleefully exploits for their own political gain.

Thank you for reading The Nation!

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read. It’s just one of many examples of incisive, deeply-reported journalism we publish—journalism that shifts the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media. For nearly 160 years, The Nation has spoken truth to power and shone a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug.

In a critical election year as well as a time of media austerity, independent journalism needs your continued support. The best way to do this is with a recurring donation. This month, we are asking readers like you who value truth and democracy to step up and support The Nation with a monthly contribution. We call these monthly donors Sustainers, a small but mighty group of supporters who ensure our team of writers, editors, and fact-checkers have the resources they need to report on breaking news, investigative feature stories that often take weeks or months to report, and much more.

There’s a lot to talk about in the coming months, from the presidential election and Supreme Court battles to the fight for bodily autonomy. We’ll cover all these issues and more, but this is only made possible with support from sustaining donors. Donate today—any amount you can spare each month is appreciated, even just the price of a cup of coffee.

The Nation does not bow to the interests of a corporate owner or advertisers—we answer only to readers like you who make our work possible. Set up a recurring donation today and ensure we can continue to hold the powerful accountable.

Thank you for your generosity.

Rebekah Entralgo

Rebekah Entralgo is a writer and editor based in Baltimore, Md. Her writing has appeared at CNN, NPR, The New Republic, and Newsweek.

More from The Nation

Dr. Hilary Cass in London

What the Cass Review Means for Trans Kids in Britain—and Beyond What the Cass Review Means for Trans Kids in Britain—and Beyond

A new review of gender-affirming healthcare in England could change the way gender-questioning children and young everywhere people receive care.

Natasha Hakimi Zapata

NPR

NPR’s Problems Won’t Be Solved by “Viewpoint Diversity” NPR’s Problems Won’t Be Solved by “Viewpoint Diversity”

Society / March 28, 2024 Conservatives Wasted No Time Getting Wildly Racist About the Baltimore Bridge Collapse An embattled NPR editor denouncing the network’s practices fails…

Chris Lehmann

US Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito.

Samuel Alito Can’t Tell the Difference Between Sex Discrimination and Peanut Butter Samuel Alito Can’t Tell the Difference Between Sex Discrimination and Peanut Butter

A unanimous Supreme Court ruling on sex discrimination hides serious ideological differences, beginning with Alito’s long-standing hostility to women’s rights.

Elie Mystal

ROTC division march

As the Threat of War Looms, Some Students Regret Joining ROTC As the Threat of War Looms, Some Students Regret Joining ROTC

Often priced out of college, those in the Army ROTC can earn hefty scholarships. But reservists can’t always be guaranteed safety. “I don’t think I would’ve made the same decision...

StudentNation / Gabe Levin

Surgeons performing a “classic cesarean section.”

Fearing Legal Threats, Doctors Are Performing C-Sections in Lieu of Abortions Fearing Legal Threats, Doctors Are Performing C-Sections in Lieu of Abortions

Some physicians are doing unnecessary and invasive surgery on pregnant patients “to preserve the appearance of not doing an abortion.”

Mary Tuma

Pope Francis gives Regina Coeli address on Easter Monday.

The Vatican’s Bewildering New Declaration The Vatican’s Bewildering New Declaration

It’s raised controversy with its unfortunate treatment of trans people. But its own arguments support their right to self-determination.

Michael F. Pettinger