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In the fall of 2022, the DEA warned parents that fentanyl, a potent, deadly opioid, was being dyed bright colors to entice young children into addiction and overdose. Quickly labeled "rainbow fentanyl," the story was amplified by right-leaning politicians and pundits. Despite overwhelming expert testimonies that children were not being targeted, the story transformed into a narrative about illegal immigrants murdering innocent children. This paper applies the theories of the emerging field of Disinformation Studies to analyze the "rainbow fentanyl" panic. Specifically, I define fear as a central component in disinformation by showing how fear 1) shapes, mobilizes, and socializes a base; 2) obstructs logical decision making, leaving individuals open to manipulation; and 3) motivates the false justification of bigotry. My findings contribute to a growing body of evidence that indicates a covert Republican strategy to operationalize racially divisive, fear-based appeals to win votes.



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Theories of Fear: Disinformation, Racism, and the Republican Party