Here my words and bear witness to my vow. Night gathers and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realm of men.
— “The Oath of the Night Watch,” Game of Thrones.
At this very moment, large, well-organized caravans of migrants are marching towards our southern border. Some people call it an “invasion.” It’s like an invasion. They have violently overrun the Mexican border. You saw that two days ago. These are tough people, in many cases. A lot of young men, strong men. And a lot of men that maybe we don’t want in our country.
— Donald Trump. November 1, 2018.
Turns out I wasn’t wrong to suggest back in the summer that there were deep affinities between Israeli and American border rhetoric and the apocalyptic imaginary of contemporary Hollywood. When I wrote, I was grappling with the border-wall imaginary around Gaza and how it worked to transform (in image and story) one of the most destitute and desperate societies of human history (contemporary, besieged Gaza) into vicious enemies who were not quite human. The more I thought about it, the more I saw how it resonated with genre narratives (from sci-fi and fantasy to Westerns) about the frontiers of humanity. Game of Thrones meets World War Z meets Lord of the Rings meets The Searchers.
In both news reporting and fiction entertainment, we now regularly encounter images of walls erected to protect beleaguered groups of heroes from invasion by masses of humanoid monsters in the form of zombies, orcs, White Walkers, and unruly natives.
At the time, I had not yet discovered The Green Line, the fash podcast from Border Patrol brass Brandon Judd, Chris Cabrera, and Art Del Cueto. Thanks to an especially brilliant episode of Intercepted, I learned about this podcast, which is sponsored by Breitbart, as well as a knife manufacturer, a boot company, and a Texas physical therapy provider corporation that specializes in workman comp cases. The hosts play up the fact that they are leaders in the National Border Patrol Council, a right-wing frontier militia that poses as a labor union for federal employees.
Day after day, the hosts bring the voice of nativist ressentiment and weapons-positive chauvinism to a discussion of American politics. They call for wider gun proliferation and criminalization of non-citizen residents. They also, unsurprisingly, advocate a cruel if familiar military strategy against refugees fleeing the ravages of US-backed dictators and death squads in Central American. If you ever wanted reasons to abolish the Department of Homeland Security, you’ll find them here.
What’s fascinating and disturbing is that this podcast very consciously broadcasts from the ramparts. Yes—the hosts see themselves as the Night’s Watch, as cosmic guardians not just of a particular civilization, but of humanity itself. Westeros is real to them, and so is the Wall. Take a listen to this 2016 episode of the Green Line or any other and judge for yourself.
Do Border Patrol leadership imagine they work for Jon Snow? How many patrolmen really believe that Honduran refugees are White Walkers? Shockingly, some do.
Sadly, Herzl and Sobchak were correct to point out that if you will it, it is no dream. For those with enough will and weaponry, the wall between the imagined and the actual is never too thick or too high.
Obviously, science fiction doesn’t cause zombie apocalypses. But apocalyptic-minded armed thugs, with the full force of the state behind them, might just act on their fantasies in this actual world.