The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Republicans Are Copying a Klan Front

Republican Governors DeSantis (Florida) and Abbott (Texas) are both taking refugees applying for asylum—including those escaping the communist dictatorship of Venezuela—and bussing them cross country and dumping them. Refugees are being lied to and told they have jobs waiting for them if they get on the bus, or in some cases the plane. It’s all a lie and expensive campaign gimmick for two politicians willing to waste taxpayer funds in their own quest to hold onto power.

This gimmick isn’t new, was done before when Southern racists bussed black residents North in a protest over integration and the end of Jim Crow laws. The two campaigns are virtually identical and inspired by the same motivations.

Newspaper clipping 1963 from John F. Kennedy Presidential Library

During the battle with segregationists, white supremacists and the Klan in the early 60s the White Citizens’ Council (WCC)—often a front for the Klan—used the very same tactic against African-Americans that Republicans are using against refugees. They put them on busses and sent them North with lying promises of new jobs waiting for them.

Lela Mae Williams and her children were lied to by the White Citizens’ Council and told they would have a job for her and a home for the children. She was even told President Kennedy would greet them when they arrived. Williams got dressed up for the president but it was all a lie to get them to leave the South at the behest of the white supremacists. NPR reported on this in 2020:

The idea was simple: When large numbers of African Americans showed up on Northern doorsteps, Northerners would not be able to accommodate them. They would not want them, and their hypocrisy would be exposed.

That’s exactly what the new white supremacists in the GOP are attempting to do with refugees today. One of the WCC bigots bragged, “We’re going to find out if people like Ted Kennedy … and the Kennedys, all of them, really do have an interest in the Negro people, really do have a love for the Negro.” Now, these bigots didn’t bus blacks with jobs north, only the unemployed. They bragged this would force Northern whites to join their racist campaigns and oppose desegregation and equal rights for black Americans.

DeSantis and Abbott copied not just the plan and its methodology but shared the same sort of motive. They wanted to “own the libs” by claiming them hypocrites for daring to care about refugees. Of course, in the past those “libs” included such well-known leftists as Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. But then they were Republicans before the party went full on authoritarian.

Clive Webb, a historian from the University of Sussex, who researched these so-called “Reverse Freedom Rides,” said the whole campaign was conceived “as a public relations exercise” for the White Citizens Council to “politically embarrass Northern liberal critics.” (A Cheap Trafficking in Human Misery, Journal of American Studies, 38, 2004.)

It was a plan that was engineered to fail intentionally, sending people least likely to find employment. Webb wrote:

When the Reverse Freedom Riders failed to secure employment they would be forced to add their names to the already bulging welfare rolls of Northern cities. Should those same Northern liberals who denounced the racial intolerance of white Southerners prove unwilling to assist the riders, it would expose their support for the civil rights cause as fraudulent and hypocritical. “This is a crude way of putting it” [WCC official] Singelmann told one reporter, “but we are telling the North to put up or shut up.”

The original plan by Southern racists petered out due to a lack of funding. They did solicit state money and in Louisiana asked for $100,000 to deport blacks and teach those Northern liberals a thing or two. But the legislature didn’t want to spend the money. This is something Republican bigots need not worry about, they are happy to divert tax monies to their own re-election campaigns.

DeSantis put his victims on a plane for Martha’s Vineyard and then gave the story to the hateful Fox News to pump up the new authoritarian Right. The problem facing DeSantis was Florida didn’t have a lot of refugees so he had to recruit them from Texas! Jonathan Chait, in New York Magazine noted DeSantis “ had to find immigrants in Texas and, essentially, kidnap them for his own use.”

To acquire the bait for his stunt, DeSantis apparently deployed staff into Texas to mislead the targets. “The migrants said a woman they identified as ‘Perla’ approached them outside the shelter and lured them into boarding the plane, saying they would be flown to Boston where they could get expedited work papers,” reports NPR.

To maximize the pain and suffering caused by the lies they told the refugees, the DeSantis gang of human traffickers refused to even let the town of Martha’s Vineyard (population 15,000) know the refugees would be landing there. Their purpose was to cause them as much trouble as possible by refusing to give the town a warning.

DeSantis then had his spokeswoman Christina Pushaw go public ridiculing the town, saying they “should be thrilled about this. …illegal aliens will increase the town’s diversity, which is strength.” It should be noted that refugees are not illegal aliens. It is entirely legal to apply for refugee status and was common when the U.S. actually supported freedom instead of the top-down, centrally planned “freedom” Republicans want.

However, the people of Martha’s Vineyard came together and gave food to the hungry visitors and found them places to sleep. The largely secular residents showed the compassion Jesus recommended for migrants—something evangelicals are loath to do—preferring to inflict hate, pain and suffering instead.

Back in 2004 Webb published the main academic study of the original bussing program in the bigoted South. He titled it “A Cheap Trafficking in Human Misery.” While Republicans may be copying the White Citizens Council there is one big difference. It still traffics in human misery to score political points, but with the spendthrift GOP doing it, it’s no longer cheap by any means.

Abbott and DeSantis imposed the costs of their campaign gimmick on taxpayers. Abbott’s scheme, as of August, cost taxpayers almost $13 million and that was before he decided to charter private jets. Florida under the inept authoritarian Ron DeSantis has budgeted $12 million to hijack refugees and dump them in other states; all to own liberals and libertarians who support migration. Meanwhile his newest stunt in Martha’s Vineyard screwed taxpayers out of $615,000 to pay Vertol Systems to dupe refugees in Texas to board a plane so DeSantis could pretend he “relocated” them from Florida. Yet not a single one of the refugees DeSantis dumped like unwanted cargo had been in Florida.

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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.