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Consider this from NPR: NPR

The offices of the Matamoros Resource Center. The nonprofit works with asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Verónica Gabriela Cárdenas for NPR


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Verónica Gabriela Cárdenas for NPR


The offices of the Matamoros Resource Center. The nonprofit works with asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Verónica Gabriela Cárdenas for NPR

April 15 started out as a typical day for Gabriela Zavala. She juggled the demands of her busy family life in Texas, running the Resource Center Matamoros, a small NGO that helps asylum seekers in Mexico, across the border from Brownsville.

By evening, her world was turned upside down, as her inbox was flooded with threats.

Zavala soon realized that she and her NGO, RCM, had been featured prominently in a social media thread showing flyers allegedly found in Matamoros, Mexico, that urged migrants to vote illegally for Joe Biden in the next election. The thread was posted by an arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation called the Oversight Project. It showed an image of a flyer in Spanish with the RCM logo and that of President Biden’s campaign.

Video from the thread showed flyers hanging in portable toilets at a migrant encampment in Matamoros, with a message reminding migrants to vote for Biden to keep him in power. The flyers are signed in Zavala’s name.

The problem? Zavala says she had nothing to do with the flyers.

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Clumsy translations, missing phone numbers

Mike Howell, executive director of the Oversight Project, said the thread did not accuse Zavala of authoring the flyer. He also said The New York Times he condemns death threats. He told NPR the flyer was “very real.”

The leaflets were written in error-ridden Spanish. The text includes an outdated description of RCM from its website that has not been updated in years. This part appears to have been done via Google Translate. The flyer also lists a very old phone number – which also appears on the outdated website.

“Reminder to vote for President Biden while you are in the United States. We need four more years of his term to remain open,” the flyer reads.

Zavala says she doesn’t support the flyer’s message: “I would never stand there and say to someone who can’t vote, who I know can’t vote, ‘Hey, go vote.’ “

Zavala does not know who wrote or posted the flyers found in the portable toilet.

Andrea Rudnik, of the migrant aid group Team Brownsville, says she hasn’t seen the flyers at the encampment, nor heard of any volunteers or migrants who have seen them.

“These port-o-potties are pretty dirty. If we wanted people to know something, it would be put in another location,” Rudnik said.

A social media reaction

By the time Zavala realized why she was receiving so many hate messages, the viral storm had already exploded.

The thread about the flyers quickly spread and racked up more than 9 million views on the X social media platform.

The social media thread posted by Oversight Project credits Muckraker, a right-wing website, with discovering the flyers. Muckraker is run by Anthony Rubin, who often uses undercover tactics in his videos.

Rubin spoke to NPR and said the flyer video was shot by an anonymous source with a “close connection” to his team.

On April 15, hours before the flyer thread appeared online, Rubin and his brother rang the Matamoros resource center to say they wanted to volunteer. Rubin confirmed this in an interview with NPR.

RCM staff called Zavala so she could talk to Rubin about volunteering. And later, a clip of that phone call ended up in the flyer thread, with a caption saying that Zavala had implied that she “wants to help as many illegal immigrants as possible before President Trump is re-elected.”

NPR’s Jude Joffe-Block looks at the full story in today’s episode. Tap the play button at the top of the screen to listen.

This episode was produced by Audrey Nguyen and Brianna Scott. Additional reporting from Mexico was provided by Gaige Davila of Texas Public Radio and independent journalist Verónica Gabriela Cárdenas. It was edited by Brett Neely and Courtney Dorning. Our executive producer is Sami Yenigun.

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