Views from Kansas: ‘Send her back’ hits local nerve

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

Oh, for the good old days, when crowds at Trump campaign events merely chanted calls for the imprisonment of a political adversary. “Send her back!” invokes the kind of rallies you really don’t want to defend.

We’ve walked a long way in the wrong direction since Barack Obama told us that, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.”

Or from when Obama’s Republican opponent, John McCain, at the height of their presidential campaign in the summer of 2008, admonished a supporter that she was wrong to say that Obama couldn’t be trusted because “He’s an Arab.”

“No ma’am,” he told her. “He’s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about.”

“Send her back,” was of course inspired by President Donald Trump’s tweet that four minority congresswomen, three of whom are U.S.-born and all of whom are U.S. citizens, should “go back” to their own countries.

“So interesting,” the president wrote, “to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run.”

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was born in the Bronx; Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley was born in Cincinnati and grew up in Chicago; Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib was born in Detroit; and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar came here as a refugee from Somalia.

The president, who seems to be in constant communication with our lesser angels, would no doubt be outraged at the suggestion that somebody, somewhere, might take his “go back where you came from” ugliness to heart and act on it.

But for Kansas refugees from Somalia, it’s neither a new worry nor much of a leap.

Last year, a jury in Wichita convicted three Kansans who called themselves “the Crusaders” of scheming to kill as many Somali refugees as possible in a Garden City bombing that never happened.

The defense actually argued that the men had been influenced by 2016 campaign rhetoric. Though whose they did not say, they tried to pack the jury with as many Trump voters as possible. In a motion the judge rejected, defense attorneys wrote that they wanted voters from redder counties in western Kansas that went even more heavily for the president in 2016 included in the jury pool.

In hours of taped conversations, Curtis Allen, Patrick Stein and Gavin Wright talked about hoping to start a race war by detonating a series of bombs at the Garden City apartment building where many Somali refugees they called “cockroaches” live and worship.

They “wanted to send the message Muslims are not welcomed here — not in Garden City, not in Kansas, not in America,” prosecutor Risa Berkower said in her opening statement.

And where did they get that idea?

“If you all think back to the summer of ’16,” said Wright’s attorney, Kari Schmidt, “that was a very difficult time.”‘

Jim Pratt, the attorney for Stein, said his client believed that whatever the result of the 2016 election, Obama was not going to move out of the White House, but would instead declare martial law.

“Hate ruled the day,” he told the jury. “It was into this mix that we land.”

And from this mix that we must decide to extricate ourselves.

Moussa Elbayoumy, the Kansas board chair for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said local Muslims also remember that a white man yelling racial slurs shot two Indian engineers in a bar in Olathe two years ago, because he mistakenly thought they were Muslim.

“Get out of my country,” Adam Purinton yelled before shooting them and a third man who tried to intervene.

The president’s rhetoric and the crowd’s chant, Elbayoumy said, “present a clear and present danger to anyone who’s seen as ‘not one of us.’ People are concerned about traveling, driving and going out.”

The antidote, he said, “will take all of us saying this does not represent our values.”

It doesn’t, right?

— Originally published in The Kansas City Star.


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