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Nancy Mace demonstrates how easy it is to fear-monger on crime

You don’t need to click the video that Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) posted to X (formerly Twitter) on Saturday to be misinformed. The text accompanying the video summarized its premise — “Since Joe Biden took office, crime has skyrocketed across our country.” — and that, by itself, is false.

But the video goes further, including exaggerations and debunked allegations to cast the past few years as unusually harrowing and dangerous ones for Americans. This is an ad, after all, one promoting Mace’s reelection to Congress before South Carolina’s Republican primary. And ads are meant to sell something, not necessarily to accurately inform people.

Which Mace’s doesn’t. Consider what she says about crime:

“You’re seeing, since Joe Biden took office, crime skyrocket all around the country.”

It is an ongoing frustration that reliable data about crime are compiled only belatedly. We looked at this in September 2022, as right-wing outlets like Fox News were gearing up their coverage of crime before the midterm elections. Fox and its allies insisted that crime was surging, often pointing to anecdotal incidents or cherry-picked numbers from specific cities.

The reality, revealed only once the FBI released its national estimate more than a year later, was that violent crime and homicide rates were lower in 2022 than in 2020, the last year of Donald Trump’s presidency. The property crime rate was about the same as in 2020, even after rising from 2021 to 2022.

The violent crime rate and property crime rates in 2022 were lower than every year of Donald Trump’s presidency. Only homicides increased, an increase that started during the year the coronavirus pandemic emerged. Partial data from 2023 indicates that violent crime (and homicide) continued to drop last year.

Other measures of crime offer a slightly different picture. The Bureau of Justice Statistics surveys Americans to gauge the frequency that people are victims of crime, regardless of whether they report it to the police. That data shows an uptick in 2022 — though the numbers were generally similar to those in 2018.

But this isn’t what Mace is claiming. In fact, it’s a good demonstration of how all of this works. She doesn’t need to make a specific claim about crime any more than Fox News did in September 2022. She just needs to wave her hand and declare that Biden is overseeing a surge in crime and she can rely on the baseline set by Fox News and other right-wing outlets for her target audience — Republican voters and donors — to get agitated. Introducing nuance allows her and her allies to cherry-pick ways they can argue that their vibes are valid.

Consider what Mace says next in the video:

“Especially in big cities, you see illegal immigrants coming in, beating up our cops and being taken out without, without bail, let out of jail without bail, giving the middle finger to America and our men and — men and women in blue and in uniform.”

This, again, is just Mace amplifying right-wing rhetoric. Trump and Fox News are pushing this politically potent idea. The video snippet included in Mace’s video showing a man displaying his middle finger to reporters — a snippet plucked from Fox News with on-screen text reading “MIGRANT IN NYPD ATTACK GIVES MIDDLE FINGER” — doesn’t show what she suggests. That incident that unfolded in Times Square was in heavy rotation on Fox earlier this year, offered up in the way Mace described it. But the dispute between police and the immigrants turned physical when an officer reacted to an insult one man had made. As for the guy with the middle finger? He wasn’t there at all. The district attorney exonerated him after his arrest.

Mace then turns to the border:

“You’re seeing crime skyrocket. You’re seeing fentanyl cases skyrocket. We’re letting China — we’re literally allowing China to import deadly drugs like fentanyl into this country, and it’s killing our children and killing our citizens. We are allowing Joe Biden to — to have the cartel sneak drugs into the country, smuggle people into the country illegally. Like, it’s just okay to do that under Joe Biden.”

It is not “okay,” of course. One of the ways we know that fentanyl is being smuggled into the country is that so much of it is stopped at the border — because it is not okay. Much of that smuggling, incidentally, is done by U.S. citizens who are better able to get into the country. Nearly all of the seizures occur at border checkpoints.

The number of deaths from fentanyl increased in recent years, including in 2023. That increase (like the increase in fentanyl seizures at the border) began in 2020.

Again, though, you see the political utility: Mace loops in China, the border, drugs and Biden in a dishonest way as part of her political pitch. (China is a central source for chemicals used in fentanyl production, but the actual drug is not being “imported” by China as Mace claims, much less with the government’s approval.)

There’s no real corrective that will work here. Fox News certainly isn’t going to hold Mace’s feet to the fire. There was, for a while, a “community note” on Mace’s post on X, the social media platform’s means of allowing users to add context or corrections to claims being made. It pointed out that the data don’t support Mace’s claim, but that note no longer appears.

So the ad remains there, making an indefensible claim and encouraging people to visit her campaign website.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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