DeSantis’s Martha’s Vineyard Stunt Plays Well With MAGA Base

TIf this is something you recognize, please let me know. These people were offered housing and employment, and a community which was open to newcomers. It was going to be a difficult transition, but the reward of leaving behind an unfulfilling life for better prospects was certain to make it worth it. It sounded like a great deal for people who just wanted to have a better life. But, without another choice, they packed into buses.

The script for such a mean-spirited stunt is playing out this week in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., but its original run dates back a full 60 years to Hyannis, Mass. Back then, Black Southerners were the political pawns being relocated to near the Kennedy family’s compound at the end of Cape Cod. It was done to humiliate Democrats in the midst of the Centennial celebrations for the Civil War which freed slaves from the South. These days, the unwitting props are migrants seeking refugee status, and the setting for the scheme has moved to not far from the Obama family’s island home.

To be honest, both versions are small-scale, shameful stunts which are unlikely to help confused communities of color who are treated with indifference, or even malice. If you look at it in purely political terms, the moves are unlikely to help Republicans’ standing with those same communities whose political power is only growing—and shifting away from Democrats. Still, it may energize the GOP’s spiteful base, many of whom want nothing more than to “own the libs.” Yes, it may just be possible to troll your way to the White House on the backs of the vulnerable in this current Republican Party.

Here are some facts to help you understand what’s happening. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is about as MAGA-like as any other person not named Trump. He took credit for the two-plane caravan that brought about 50 migrants from San Antonio. (That’s right; these weren’t even migrants holding in Florida. The planes left Texas for Crestview, Fla.; one then stopped in Spartanburg, S.C., while the other stopped in Charlotte, N.C., before both landed at the Vineyard’s small airport within minutes of each other on Wednesday.)

It was an echo of the Texas governor’s move. Greg Abbott’s recent efforts bussing migrants north, including a deployment of about 100 people to just outside Vice President Kamala Harris’ home Thursday and last week’s dispatch of 75 migrants to Chicago. Arizona Governor. Doug Ducey used similar tactics to send busloads full of immigrants to New York City and Washington, D.C.

It is important to note that all three men have their sights set on the White House.

According to their official position, the destinations cities are known as sanctuary cities. These cities have made it clear that they are open to accepting undocumented migrants and better prepared for handling the influx. It is obvious that Democrats want to make it difficult for Democrats in places they control. D.C. took in over 10,000 immigrants from Texas. Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a temporary state of emergency last week. According to Mayor Eric Adams, New York is in a crisis.

The staged sabotaging of cities and migrants alike may win its architects early admirers in the GOP’s anti-immigrant wing. The graphics were broadcast on Fox News Thursday night, revealing how happy that section of the Republican Party was about the outcome. “Great News: Martha’s Vineyard is Finally Diverse!” crowed the graphic during Tucker Carlson’s show. Sean Hannity was giddy with what he described as hypocrisy in the outrage on the liberal enclave: “Just 50 migrants later, the entire island has now entered into a state of full-blown state of panic, racism—according to their definition—and xenophobia,” he said in his monologue.

That isn’t exactly what is happening. These island immigrants claimed that they had been promised work in Boston. They were instead loaded on planes from San Antonio, then dropped off at Nantucket. Officials were taken by surprise, as they tried to offer housing, food and even a playground for children. State institutions—helmed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker—sprung to action to accommodate these pawns, many who hail from Venezuela. Local nonprofits, businesses, and churches are working in overdrive to ease the indignity of those who now find their entire lives upturned so that men they’ve never met can score political points.

Back in 1962, the earlier version of this weeks’ surprise was orchestrated as payback for liberal activists’ work a year earlier in breaking down racist barriers to housing, transportation, voting rights, and simple human decency. Black residents were lured by racists to board Greyhound buses that headed North on what became known as the Reverse Freedom Ride.

In one case described in historian Clive Webb’s research, the White Citizens’ Council in Little Rock, Ark., recruited indigent Black residents to go to Hyannis, as reprisal for Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s order to desegregate interstate bus terminals and to ding Edward Kennedy, who was preparing for a Senate run of his own. “President Kennedy’s brother assures you a grand reception to Massachusetts. Good jobs, housing, etc. are promised,” according to one poster. Ted Kennedy organized a welcoming committee to welcome newcomers. Many times, they were also welcomed by journalists and photographers.

Other White Citizens’ Councils sent Black residents to the New Jersey community of Nicholas Katzenbach, who was a top Justice Department official during the Kennedy years before becoming Lyndon Johnson’s Attorney General, and the towns where other top officials in the civil rights divisions lived. Kennedy Presidential Library provided a link to the newspaper article that was published at the same time as the segregationists bristled about their plans.

These numbers weren’t huge, but they were still in line with wider patterns of migratory movements of Black people. An estimated 5 million Black individuals emigrated from the South between 1941-1970. This is what we call the Second Great Migration. The developments remade American cities, but not necessarily small enclaves like those found on Cape Cod or on Martha’s Vineyard. Many people moving to Hyannis were misled. Only one of the 96 Blacks who were lured to Cape Cod in 1962 was still living in Hyannis in 1965. In other words, the pawns caught on pretty quickly and deftly reclaimed control over their lives away from their part in white politicians’ photo-ops.

It’s entirely reasonable to expect something similar now on an island that is a liberal, summer playground just seven miles off the coast from Cape Cod. Sasha Obama, who spent her summer on the island serving seafood and negotiating with tourists, voted for Biden by a 4 to 1 margin over Trump.

Labor Day marks the beginning of the end for this season. Many of the restaurants have already shuttered and the seasonal workers—many from international destinations—are starting to shuffle off the island. Summer population rises to around 200,000, while the annual population is about 17,000 in year. Fifty more people wouldn’t fundamentally change the tenor of the place, but it’s not as if there are a ton of available jobs or homes as temperatures are already dropping into the 50s.

Still, the stunts—then as now—reek of exploitation, and the victims are those least equipped to resist. Although the relocation of these migrants might prove to be temporary, it shows how one tribe in America views it as smart political. As The Atlantic observed of the Trumpists: “the cruelty is the point.”

Abbott, DeSantis, Ducey may even make things worse than in the original iteration. These 2022 actions are clearly state-sponsored, and they were carried out under the auspices of the entire population, unlike the 1962 segregationist stunts. That’s right: your taxpayer dollars picked up this expert-level trolling meant to grease the path for potential Republican presidential contenders.

For these would-be-refugees—and potentially future voters—their abrupt relocation was one of their first experiences in the United States, and an eye-opening peek into how many of the country’s citizens see newcomers. The three governors get a lot of praise on MAGA Twitter. But consider the larger damage that this is doing the Republican brand. This includes Latino voters who are seeing people similar to them being treated second-class human beings. Varieties The smirks only misfortune can induce.

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To Philip Elliott at

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To Philip Elliott at


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