The Masquerade of Identity Politics, Part Three

In Part Two, I left you with a bit of recent Caroline County history and a description of an issue which arose over a contract agreement between the county and Immigration and Naturalization Service for the use of an empty building as a detention center for illegal immigrants.

To quickly recap: The facility is for adult, non-criminal immigrants awaiting a hearing for either deportation or asylum. The purpose of detention is to assure that immigrants attend their court appointments.

Before looking at the data collected from several social media forums, there are a number of side stories worth exploring before we look directly at what I gathered over a two week period from residents (and some non-residents) who commented about the contract between the county and the federal government.

These side notes are interesting in answering questions about identity politics. How easily are people swayed by strangers they don’t know, but who appear to be taking their side or joining their group? How important is community and community involvement with neighbors who are not anonymous, but have real names and faces?

What happens when people and/or their opinions are attacked on social media? Does the “group think” that is so prevalent today prevail, or do people rely on their own research and personal experience?

One of these side notes is the involvement, at least in a small way, of the Virginia ACLU. This happened via their facebook page where they allowed posters to spread completely false information calling the county, in general, ugly names. In the classic hallmark of identity politics, all 30,000 residents were included in this disdain.

Our supervisors were called “tea partiers” in spite of the fact that two of them run as Democrats and one is the local Democratic Committee Chair. Commenters made assumptions based on absolutely no knowledge of the makeup of the board although it is easy to research. This is true identity politics at its best, written in order to fit a narrow narrative. Activists with information from this direction attended a “protest board meeting” where all of 12 people showed up. Ten were not even county residents.

One of our black supervisors who runs for election as a Democrat made it loud and clear in the public board meeting that the ACLU and its 12 protesters needed to hit the road and would not be telling him what to do. Later, there was no mention on their social media page of this rather harsh rebuke. Not surprising, since it does not fit this particular identity politics narrative.

It is interesting to note, while discussing deliberate or simply ignorant misinformation, that the board meeting in question was held a week after the contract was signed with Immigration and Naturalization. This was a regularly scheduled monthly meeting, but was billed by this small conclave as a special meeting in response to their pressure.

Apparently part of the reason for their presence was to protect Caroline citizens from the actions of their own board, making a fairly lame case that contracts such as these should be negotiated in public. This was briefly picked up by the media, but not expounded upon. I suspect they well knew that to suggest that government negotiate contracts in public shouts a loud lack of even rudimentary understanding of what is legal. Contract negotiations and personnel issues are always discussed in closed sessions.

Displaying further lack of connection to reality and community, as well as the misconception that all people of color vote and act exactly the same, there was some attempt to rally black pastors, all of which bombed. One minister who attended the board meeting does not live here but pastors a church in Caroline, and no members of his congregation accompanied him.

At the actual meeting, the board chairman explained the dilemma of the jail’s unique situation and some of the proposed uses which had already been on the table and rejected by the county.

“With the regional jail no longer in operation, the major concern for Caroline County became what comes next? Some of the potential future outcomes were clearly not in the best interest of the county or its residents. If the facility was abandoned, would the county lose control over the future use of the property? Would the federal government seek to reclaim the facility through condemnation or other means and use it to house hardened criminals, terrorists, or immigration detainees?

“Would the Commonwealth of Virginia, which provided a portion of the funds to construct and operate the regional jail, petition the federal government to use the facility to house violent offenders of the type previously excluded from the jail by agreement with the other localities?

“The Board believes that all of these outcomes are very possible, any one of which would leave Caroline County with no control over the use of the property and no compensation in return.”

As I gathered my research on the issue, I disclosed on the forums that I was gathering data for a story and asked several questions of everyone posting including how long they had lived in the county, and how they viewed themselves on the political spectrum. All but three of the 39 posters provided information so I have omitted findings from those three. For what it’s worth, although several thousand members had access to the forums, the opinion posters were 80 percent women.

Regardless of any partisan affiliation, there was a definitively positive difference in those who knew and interacted and participated with the community, and those who did not. This is typical of local politics where folks vote for who they know and see as a positive force in their locality on a regular basis, regardless of party. This is a concept neither party on the state or national level has, to date, ever grasped.

Even with the outside influence of several ACLU people, by and large local left-leaning folks were the most civil and polite and constituted what I named Group 1 or The Civil and Concerned.

In general, Group 1 (8 people) leaned left although two described themselves as Independents. All but one were either lifelong residents or had lived here for 15 years or more, and were genuinely concerned with the treatment of immigrants at detention centers. When it was pointed out that the jail employees had developed a stellar reputation in our community for 20 years, and had been held in high esteem by the community and the inmates, it actually made a difference.

When it was further pointed out that we all knew and interacted with those who were in charge of the jail and their families, this opposition (cruel and inhumane treatment) all but disappeared. Translated: When faces and names of real people were attributed to the detention center, people became reasonable and this entire group except for one (about 10 people) stopped posting on Facebook.

Group 2, or those I called The Cold, Disconnected, and Clueless (7 people), were left-leaning citizens who had been here two years or less, or were not Caroline residents, and were essentially for catch and release. They wanted no holding facilities whatsoever. They did not care about jobs or income or even how immigrants would subsist while waiting for hearings. They attributed no significance to names and faces or the loss of jobs or, ironically for that matter, to immigrants as individuals. The operative word they used most often was “all.” All immigrants were mistreated and down-trodden individuals and should be given asylum whether they had committed crimes or not. All detention centers were unnecessary, and they and all the people who ran them were inhumane.

They did not see the relationship between more money for schools and public safety in the form of an extra $850,00 a year from the rental of the facility. When the point was made that this was the yearly equivalent of a three-cent per-hundred dollars tax raise, or about $175.00 a year per household, this made no difference. To help with perspective, one cent of real estate in Caroline is $250,000 net income to the county, while our neighbors to the north can expect one cent in real estate to generate between $1-2 million.

When the economics were discussed, everyone from this group was happy to raise taxes even when it was noted that seniors on a fixed income were unable to meet tax obligations now. One poster pointed out that government could always get money from somewhere like borrowing, better known as the theory of the benevolent money tree. Three members of this group spoke about persecution by the government in amorphous terms but gave no specifics.

Group 3, I called The Knee-jerks. They were right-leaning to Independent (5 in number) who saw the headline and went off on a tirade, not bothering to read anything other than the headlines. This is a reminder of how hot the immigration issue is at present. One constituent left a hate message on my answering machine about the “immigrant halfway house” the county was running, regardless of the fact that the facility is a detention center and is run by ICE. They then left an apology the next morning when they had calmed down enough to read the agreement.

I include this group because the mere mention of illegal aliens in the their backyard was enough to initially shut down any research on the facts. All of this group were lifelong residents who had conveniently forgotten that criminals were present in the jail for twenty years right in their backyard. When asked if they wanted all jail facilities shut down in the Commonwealth, the answer of course was no, and that they had not thought of that. To be clear, none of them were for catch and release, and wanted detention centers, just elsewhere.

Group 4 I called the Middle Ground Thinkers (11 people) who identified with right-leaning politics and clearly researched the topic and understood the issue. They would have had the award for civility; however, most chose to take on the last group below and had to use some strong language to win the day after reasonable dialog and facts did not prevail. They understood that logically you cannot shove a person back across the border without some legal adjudication, nor can you dump them in the streets either. They had no qualms about the treatment of inmates because they know the jail staff and the reputation there and said so.

This group was the best educated on what federal immigration policy actually is today and had strong ideas and opinions on what needed to be changed. They were thankful for the job opportunities and the income to Caroline, especially given the possibilities of the facility being taken by the state. None of them were paranoid about a huge influx of immigrants into Caroline County, understanding that people were even less likely to come back to the county where they were detained if they ended up released.

The last section of posters, Group 5 (5 people), I had to call the I Hate Everyone Group. These posters included a brand new resident, three residents who had lived here just over a year, and two lifelong residents. They were against any kind of holding facility for any kind of illegal immigrants and for the expense they entailed. Despite the fact that it was pointed out that illegal immigrants already exist in our county and are not in a detention center, they expressed horror and outrage at this proximity but still did want immigrants in a detention center within the confines of their county or anywhere else.

When it was further pointed out that the jail housed criminals for years, and was being considered for other uses which would not have been good for Caroline, this made no difference. According to them, criminals and the mentally ill, as well as gang members, were better than any kind of immigrant. They brought disease and crime and worse. When it was also pointed out that they were essentially advocating for catch and release, and that these holding facilities are necessary to the deportation they so hoped for, this made no difference. Their preference was that immigrants not exist. There were no solutions offered for how to make sure deportation happened or any other practical consideration. This group talked about how they had been persecuted but gave no real specifics. The hate was palpable.

The woman who led this group and who had been in Caroline less than a year had already expressed in previous posts her dislike for everything in Caroline including its schools. Everything in the community where she came from was superior to where she now lived. Members of the Thinkers Group called her out repeatedly until she removed herself from the forum, but not before she made a horse’s behind of herself, mostly in the form of personal assumptions about members, none of which she knew. If all else fails, get personal, right? This presents a problem, however, if you know so little about the people in your community that you are clueless, but it is the hallmark of identity politics.

Ironically, members of Group 5 on the right and Group 3 on the left used the elderly and homeless as a foil to say what the building should be used for. When the question was asked where the money would come from to run a homeless shelter or a “shelter for seniors” (whatever that is) and where the homeless and the elderly should come from, there was no answer. When asked where the homeless were in Caroline, not one had any idea. When asked if they had ever participated in any local programs to feed or support seniors, they became offended. That the deed to the land from A.P. Hill had a clause that the building must be used for a correctional facility made no difference.

In an irony to end all ironies, toward the end of the two weeks when the postings were winding down, I watched members of the right-leaning I Hate Everyone Group and the left-leaning Cold, Disconnected, and Clueless group call for voting out the Board of Supervisors to stop immigration polices. They gave each other thumbs up, not understanding they were on opposite teams and, of course, disregarding the fact that county supervisors have no control over federal immigration policy. Somehow, new members of a local board, in their mind, would stop border crossings and also at the same time allow open borders.

In Part Four, I’ll wrap it up on the data using my own reflections as a group of one.

See also Part One.