I have to give credit to right-wing extremists. They didn’t immediately turn the swine-flu epidemic into a xenophobic witch hunt against Hispanics.

They waited a few days.

Perhaps that was to gather their thoughts. Although if that is the case, I’m not sure why they bothered, because the empty, tired rants aimed at Latinos are shocking not for their offensiveness, but for their predictability.

A virus originates in Mexico, for reasons that scientists still cannot explain, but anonymous commentators have the answer: Because Latinos are dirty and “Mexicans are pigs!” (an actual posting to a conservative website).

Illegal immigrants are to blame, according to other wise sages, and will soon infect us all. Meanwhile, still other rational minds postulate that the outbreak is actually a terrorist attack, instigated by germ-warfare experts who are counting on Mexicans to infiltrate the country.

Actually, that last one gets bonus points for combining three right-wing obsessions (immigration, terrorist evil-doers, and conspiratorial plots) into a parfait of pure insanity.

This kind of hatemongering goes back to the Middle Ages, when Jews became a convenient scapegoat for the Black Death. Since then, the Irish, Italians, Spaniards, gays, and many others have been blamed for nature’s occasional hissy fits with us.

As MSNBC points out, “It’s ‘the other,’ the group not seen as part of the nation, the one who threatens it in some way that gets blamed for the disease.”

So Mexicans, already accused of bringing down America’s economy and values, are now destroying our health as well.

Well, it’s clear what we have to do: Let’s focus all our fear and rage on Edgar Hernandez, the five-year-old Mexican boy who has been identified as Patient Zero in this outbreak. Just look at him. Who knows what vile plot he’ll unleash on us next…