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COMMENTARY: DeSantis draws from white segregationist playbook

by St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Board (TNS) | September 22, 2022 at 3:00 a.m.

Whether out of ignorance or deliberate intent, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis drew from a white supremacist playbook when he tricked 50 immigrants into boarding a plane in Texas so he could stage the stunt of delivering them to wealthy vacationers at Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. The similarities are too striking to be mere coincidences between DeSantis' action and one pulled by the Little Rock White Citizens' Council in 1962.

Back then, it was dubbed the Reverse Freedom Rides -- an attempt to send Blacks to the North in response to Freedom Riders protesting public-transit segregation in the South. The Reverse Freedom Rides delivered busloads of Blacks, including to the Kennedy family compound in Hyannis, Massachusetts. It was a cynical attempt to suggest that white Northern liberals wouldn't be so supportive of civil rights if faced with an influx of Blacks at their doorsteps. Unemployed Black women who had recently been released from prison were chosen as a way to maximize the burden they would place on Hyannis residents.

It was, of course, an overt act of racism consistent with prevailing attitudes among Southern segregationists at the time. Funny how DeSantis chose the same rationale to trick newly arrived immigrants into flying to Martha's Vineyard. What's particularly strange about his ploy is that he had to import migrants from Texas for the flight since Florida doesn't border Mexico and, therefore, doesn't have a border problem.

DeSantis tried to claim the problems experienced in states like Texas as his own, claiming he was acting to "protect Florida" from an influx and asserting he's trying to give Northern liberals a taste of their own medicine. In a speech, he stated: "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."

There was, in fact, no sign whatsoever of people going berserk. Martha's Vineyard residents rallied to find shelter and food, and help the migrants with longer-term logistics.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who, like DeSantis, is seeking re-election in November, has bused thousands of volunteer immigrants to Washington in an attempt to force Congress and the White House into addressing border security and immigration reform. It's a campaign ploy, for sure, but at least it directs the attention of Congress to a problem that Democrats as well as Republicans on Capitol Hill have neglected for decades. Comprehensive immigration reform would bring a far more orderly process.

Now Abbott is busing immigrants to New York and Chicago as well. And he directed two busloads to empty out near the front of Vice President Kamala Harris' official residence at the Naval Observatory in Washington.

These ploys could be dismissed as little more than cynical campaign gestures -- if not for the serious history of racism at their roots.

Print Headline: DeSantis draws from white segregationist playbook

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