Fake cop photo stoking fear in the US
IT'S a harrowing image - a riot policeman covered in his own blood - but paired with reports the cop sustained the injury from a 7000-strong group of migrants, it's left thousands of Americans scared and angry.
A collection of images featuring "brutalised" Mexican police officers are gathering speed online, after a number of high-profile right-wing groups shared them around Facebook and Twitter.
"Don't expect to see these images in the MSM (mainstream media)....goes against their narrative," one post shared by more than 12,000 people reads.
"Mexican police are being brutalised by members of this caravan as they attempt to FORCE their way into Mexico - And WE are supposed to believe these are just poor, helpless refugees seeking asylum???"
Ginni Thomas, the outspoken wife of US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, also shared the graphic images on her 8000-strong Facebook page.
Despite Ms Thomas later deleting the post and Twitter and Facebook suspending a number of accounts that shared the fake news, the post has taken on a life of its own.
Fact checking site Snopes traced the original post back to October 20 when Twitter user Mike Allen posted the photo of the bloodied police officer.
"Mexican police are being brutalised by members of this caravan as they attempt to FORCE their way into Mexico - and WE are supposed to believe these are just poor, helpless refugees seeking asylum??? I am 100% behind POTUS deploying our military!"
That message, shared to Mr Allen's 133,000 Twitter followers, was picked up by Facebook user Jacque Guinan.
Ms Guinan parroted Mr Allen's message, adding two more photos of bashed Mexican policeman.
At the time of writing this article, Ms Guinan's post has been shared more than 36,000 times.
In reality, the original photo came from a 2012 incident involving students and police in Mexico City.
The other two photos, also of Mexican police officers, were taken at incidents involving student protests.
Both photos were more than four years old.
'IT'S BETTER TO GO HOME'
The migrant caravan began as a group of about 160 people who agreed to leave together from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, relying on numbers to improve their safety on a trek in hopes of finding better lives in the United States.
Reports on the migrant caravan in local media quickly caught the attention of other Hondurans fed up with their country's lack of jobs and excess of crime and people began flocking to join in, swelling the group to more than 1000 as it approached the border with Guatemala on October 12.
Earlier this week, the United Nations estimated the group had grown to include around 7000 people however the Mexican government, which gave its own figure yesterday, estimates the group is around 3700. Children appear to make up about 5 per cent to 10 per cent of the people in the caravan.
The migrant caravan has reached Mexico and will spend Wednesday night in the southern town of Mapastepec, around 1600kms south of the US border.
The group has strung up a hodgepodge of plastic sheeting to protect themselves first from the blistering sun and then from a light rain.
The town's main square is small and the migrants are spread out in several locations.
That makes it difficult to get a sense of their numbers, though if the crowd has diminished it appears to be only slightly.
Little by little, sickness, fear and police harassment are whittling down the migrant caravan with many of the 4000 to 5000 migrants camped overnight under plastic sheeting in a town in southern Mexico complaining of exhaustion.
The group, many with children and even pushing toddlers in strollers, planned to depart Mapastepec at dawn Thursday.
But in recent days a few hundred have accepted government offers to bus them back to their home countries.
Jose David Sarmientos Aguilar, a 16-year-old student from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, was one of at least 80 migrants waiting in the town square of Huixtla, where the rest of the caravan departed Wednesday morning, for four buses that would take them back to Honduras.
Sarmientos Aguilar said it was partly the spontaneous nature of the caravan - many people joined on the spur of the moment - as well as the rumours of migrants dying that did him in.
He joined the march "without thinking about what could happen and the consequences it could bring," he said.
He said the death of a migrant who fell off a truck Monday - and vague rumours of two migrants killed in Huixtla - also pushed him to return.
"There have been a lot of tragedies. It's not necessary to go on losing more lives to reach there (the U.S.)," he said.
"I am a little sick in the chest. I have a cough. And so instead of risking getter sicker and something happening to me, it's better to go home."
Carlos Roberto Hernandez, of Yoro province in Honduras, has a rumbling cough.
For him, it was the scorching heat during the day and the evening rains that led him to drop out.
"We got hit by rain, and ever since then I've had a cold," Hernandez said.
Asked if he would make another attempt to reach the U.S., he said emphatically: "No. I'm going to make my life in Honduras."
For Pedro Arturo Torres, it appeared to be homesickness that broke his determination to reach the U.S.
"We didn't know what lay ahead," said Torres. "We want to return to our country, where you can get by - even if just with beans, but you can survive, there with our families, at peace." The Mexican federal government's attitude has also played a role in wearing down the caravan.
All the food, old clothes, water and medicine given to the migrants have come from private citizens, church groups or sympathetic local officials.
The federal government hasn't given the migrants on the road a single meal, a bathroom or a bottle of water. It has reserved those basic considerations only for migrants who turn themselves in at immigration offices to apply for visas or be deported.
Officials say nearly 1,700 migrants have already dropped out and applied for asylum in Mexico.
- With Wires