White supremacists didn’t like my suggestion that we open our borders to Syrian refugees. After that piece ran on RollingStone.com Saturday, I was flooded with messages on Twitter calling me a “retard,” “moron” and “faggot.” When they found out I was Jewish, I was a “lying kike motherfucker.”
Those were the open extremists, of course, the ones who put hashtags like #WhiteGenocide in their Twitter bios; I saw at least one Hitler photo as an avatar. But whether they were open with their Nazi sympathies or more subtle, one thing was clear: The white-rights crowd does not want Syrian refugees – refugees who are fleeing the very kind of terrorism we saw in Paris last week – to be allowed into the United States. They expressed, in no uncertain terms, that they oppose allowing foreign – and brown! – refugees to come to Europe and America, and they’re using the fear of terrorism in the wake of the Paris attacks to spread their racist message.
Nothing they said was surprising. This was the worst the Internet has to offer, after all.
What may be more surprising is how many U.S. politicians are now saying things that sound frighteningly close to that ugly rhetoric.
It is now the mainstream position of the Republican Party that we should immediately stop accepting refugees because of the dangers of terrorism. Former Arkansas governor and B-team presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has even suggested we “close the borders,” as though ISIS is sneaking over the Detroit River from Canada.
Republican governors all over the country are announcing they won’t allow refugees to be resettled in their states – a power they don’t actually have. Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan, which has the largest Muslim population in the country, said “our first priority is protecting the safety of our residents.” Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley tweeted, “We refuse Syrian refugees” because he “will not stand complicit to a policy that places the citizens of Alabama in harm’s way.” (Because I’m sure ISIS had imminent plans to attack Birmingham.)
Snyder and Bentley were joined in their sentiment by the Republican governors of Texas, Arkansas, Indiana and Louisiana, where presidential candidate Bobby Jindal bragged he “signed an Executive Order instructing state agencies to take all available steps to stop the relocation of Syrian refugees” to his state.
Republicans in D.C. are joining the fray as well. Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions wants to put anti-Syrian refugee language into a critical spending bill that needs to pass in less than a month to avert a government shutdown. The entire operations of the United States government could grind to a halt, so Sessions – who was once denied a federal judgeship based on his discomfiting record on race – can make the point that he doesn’t think we should resettle Syrian refugees.
When rhetoric not unlike that found in the ugliest corners of the Internet starts to emerge from the mouths of our elected officials, watch out. It’s one thing for the fringes to make blanket statements about an entire nationality; it’s another thing when our leaders do so.
Donald Trump is currently the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president; a new Reuters/Ipsos poll out Friday puts him back into a comfortable lead over Ben Carson. Trump’s campaign relies on appealing to the worst instincts of the GOP primary electorate. His campaign took off thanks to – not despite – his comments about undocumented Mexican immigrants being “rapists.”
Trump doesn’t just want to close off our borders to refugees. On Morning Joe Monday, he suggested we might have to. Trump may be a joke, but that language isn’t. It is a deliberate attempt to pit the mostly white, Christian voters who support his campaign against Muslims. It’s ugly, it’s un-American and it should terrify anyone who loves this country that these ideas are becoming mainstream.