Zed Nelson traveled the length of the Rio Grande river from Colorado to the Mexico border, through a part of America that is increasingly right wing, armed and united in a raging hostility toward its elected President.
This is a story about extreme right-wing politics, and a journey along the route of one of the longest rivers of the United States.
The river starts in the mountains, where the crystal-clear waters of the Rio Grande rise in one of Colorado’s National Forests. It then travels 3,000km through three US states, forming a natural but highly contentious border dividing Texas and Mexico.
Following its path, one travels through a landscape that reflects the deep-seated divides currently underpinning the nation’s political landscape. By the time the water empties into the Gulf of Mexico, it is polluted, depleted and muddied, like the region’s politics.
These are volatile times in US politics. An expression of this is the anti-tax, anti-government Tea Party movement. Reckless, anarchic and strident, it is galvanizing support around the country; at the same time, fear and rage seem to be driving out the facts.
Supporters of the ‘Birther movement’ claim Obama was not born in the US. People describe him as a radical Muslim. An enemy.
This kind of statement is not limited to the fringes. A recent Harris poll suggested that a majority of Republican supporters believe Obama is a Muslim and a socialist who “wants to turn over the sovereignty of the United States to a one-world government”.
Anti-immigration sentiment along the US border with Mexico is also increasing. Speaking at a Tea Party tour in Arizona, one delegate recently spelled out his plan for dealing with illegal immigration: “Put a fence in and start shooting.”
In Texas, close to where the Rio Grande ends it journey, the McAllen Tea Party warns that “revolution is brewing in the Rio Grande Valley”.
Two and a half years after the official start of the worst economic downturn in nearly 80 years, and less than 18 months into the rule of America’s first black president, the mood along the Rio Grande is turning ugly.