Commentary

Martha’s Vineyard migrant stunt demonstrates Gov. DeSantis’ inner jerk

His goal: become our first full-bore Christian Nationalist president

September 26, 2022 7:00 am

“Here’s what Jesus would not do: lie to a bunch of vulnerable poor people fleeing for their lives and dump them out like trash, then boast about it.” Credit: Gerry Images

What kind of weapons-grade jerk celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month by using taxpayer money to lure four dozen frightened, exhausted Latino asylum seekers onto a couple of chartered planes, promising jobs, work permits, and free housing, flies them to Martha’s Vineyard, then brags about it?

Why, Florida’s own Ron DeSantis, of course, burnishing his brand.

And, in case you’ve forgotten, his brand is hatred.

The governor says he transported these people from San Antonio to “a sanctuary jurisdiction” to protect Florida from them. They never were in Florida, but DeSantis could somehow tell they were thinking about coming here.

Gov. Ron DeSantis addressed a news conference on Sept. 20, 2022. Source: Screenshot/Florida Channel

DeSantis claims he used his authority under a line item in the state budget which allows for “the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state consistent with federal law.”

Except these are not “unauthorized aliens;” they are asylum seekers. Until a court rules on their status, they’re here legally.

The governor, on the other hand, may be in some legal trouble. Did he misappropriate taxpayer money? Did whoever enticed people onto the planes he paid for commit fraud? A brochure given to some of the asylum seekers pledges English classes and “up to eight months of cash assistance.”

The sheriff of Bexar County, where San Antonio is located, has opened a criminal investigation. Three of those asylum seekers are now suing him. State Sen. Jason Pizzo is suing, too.

The citizens of Florida will foot the legal bill.

But the governor’s core supporters across the country don’t care that he lies or bullies or breaks the law or does actual harm to actual human beings, as long as he “owns the libs.”

In his latest stunt, DeSantis’ operatives in San Antonio told another group of migrants they could have a free plane trip to Delaware, where there would be jobs for them. Social services were waiting — as was the press.

But the flight was canceled without warning and the migrants left stranded at a LaQuinta Inn by the Interstate: no money, no food, no prospects. One man told the Miami Herald: “I want to cry because I feel hopeless. I have nothing. How do I work? How do I survive?”

A DeSantis flunky who wanted to remain anonymous said the whole exercise was to “punk” the media.

DeSantis has one goal: become our first full-bore White Nationalist president. To achieve it, he’ll borrow Donald Trump’s playbook, whipping up white folks’ fear that their America — the one in which they were unambiguously in charge — is being taken over by feminists, gays, Marxists, Muslims, secular humanists, climate change activists, the “woke,” the over-educated elites, and migrants.

Especially migrants. To DeSantis, they’re not real people fleeing a particularly vicious dictatorship in Venezuela, they’re mere props for his 2024 campaign.

DeSantis figured he’d expose what he sees as progressive hypocrisy, “virtue signaling,” by sending this human cargo to the famously affluent Martha’s Vineyard: “The minute even a small fraction of what those border towns deal with every day is brought to their front door they all of a sudden go berserk,” he sneered.” They’re so upset that this is happening.”

Not for the first time, the governor got it wrong. The locals didn’t “go berserk.” They welcomed the people who got dumped on their front porch like so many Amazon boxes. Churches fed and housed them. Residents raised money to give them gift cards and cell phones.

After 48 hours or so, most left — voluntarily — for Joint Base Cape Cod, where they could meet with aid agencies. Lawyers, too: One of the most vicious aspects of the fraud perpetrated on these asylum seekers is that they may miss their court dates. If they don’t show, they could be kicked out of the U.S.

True to form, DeSantis was economical with the truth, claiming Martha’s Vineyard “deported those people off the island the very next day.”

He struggles to recognize human decency.

No random choicde

Appealing to racism, however, that he can do. Martha’s Vineyard was no random choice. Barack and Michelle Obama have a vacation home there. Tucker Carlson, Fox’s head white nationalist, says the Obamas should open their home to the Venezuelans: “You could probably fit a dozen immigrant families in Barack Obama’s pool house.” The Obamas could put a “soccer field on the lawn” and build “an outdoor goat barbecue.”

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas thinks Vice President Kamala Harris should do likewise. To that end, he sent three busloads of migrants from Texas to her official residence, the Naval Observatory in Washington, and left them on the street. One was a month-old baby.

A lot of these asylum seekers come from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and other countries DeSantis and Abbott regularly excoriate as evil “communist” regimes. DeSantis has made a hobby of ranting about communism, muscling through a bill to make Florida students learn about its myriad evils, so you’d expect him to approve of helping people escape such horrors.

Instead, DeSantis and Abbott are heirs to the white supremacists of the 1960s, resurrecting the “Reverse Freedom Rides.

In 1961, the Congress for Racial Equality organized Freedom Riders to integrate Greyhound buses rolling through the South, trying to see if the Supreme Court’s ruling outlawing segregation in interstate travel would be upheld locally. It wasn’t. Many Freedom Riders were beaten and arrested.

Outraged by Black people attempting to assert their rights as Americans, the White Citizens’ Council — a middle-class version of the Klan — hit on the idea of tricking them into moving North. In 1962, they targeted poor laborers and single mothers with the promise of jobs and housing. They said maybe President John F. Kennedy himself would be there to meet them in Massachusetts.

A busload got out near the Kennedy family compound in Hyannis. One Arkansas lawyer who helped plan the stunt said, “We’re going to find out if the Kennedys, all of them, really do have an interest in the Negro people, really do have a love for the Negro.”

JFK didn’t show up, but a good number of his neighbors did and helped as best they could. Some of the Black families stayed in Hyannis; many moved to Boston. Obviously, the North was no Promised Land: they encountered racism there, too.

Refresher course in decency

Our immigration system is dysfunctional — under-resourced and over-influenced by racist stereotypes. But every time we try to fix it, the Right pitches a fit about how the American Way of Life (they mean white hegemony) is under threat.

We’re not poor and we’re not crowded: We have plenty of room. Our economy needs more workers, too. Not only did we lose a million people to COVID, our population growth is flatlining.

But Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis win votes by ginning up white folks’ anger.

Ron DeSantis presents himself as a Christian, barking about “putting on the full armor of God” to battle “the left.” His interpretation of Paul, however, would surprise the apostle, who meant to rally the Ephesians “to stand against the devil.”

Perhaps the governor should take a look at another of Paul’s Epistles, Philippians 2: 3-4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,” and ask himself, what would Jesus do?

Here’s what Jesus would not do: lie to bunch of vulnerable poor people fleeing for their lives and dump them out like trash.

DeSantis might want to go back to Sunday School for a refresher course in Christian behavior.

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Diane Roberts
Diane Roberts

Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of the St. Petersburg Times–back when that was the Tampa Bay Times’s name–and a long-time columnist for the paper in both its iterations. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books, most recently Dream State, an historical memoir of her Florida family, and Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. She lives in Tallahassee, except for the times she runs off to Great Britain, desperate for a different government to satirize.

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