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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

America's shame, Rhode Island-style

RIILE (Rhode Islanders For Immigration Law Enforcement) is a nativist hate group.

The inspiration for RIILE and a big help in organizing the group was FAIR, (Federation for American Immigration Reform) according to a June 29, 2008 ProJo piece by Karen Lee Ziner. 

Sandra Gunn, FAIR’s Eastern field rep, “came to Pawtucket… at the invitation of William ‘Terry’ Gorman, a 68-year-old retired postal worker and member of FAIR since 1997. Gorman, increasingly frustrated, wanted to organize his own local campaign against illegal immigration. Gorman and his wife were among the eight people at the organizational meeting on Feb. 28, 2006, of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement. Gunn provided start-up strategy, literature from FAIR and advice to the new members, Gorman said.”

On Friday, July 18, 2014 RIILE organized a protest against the large number of refugee children crossing the border. The action at the Rhode Island State House was at the behest of ALIPAC (Americans for Legal Immigration PAC). The protest drew about two dozen people and consisted of Terry Gorman and others speaking to a tiny crowd of rapidly dwindling reporters.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified both FAIR and ALIPAC as Nativist hate groups based on their rhetoric, and there is little to differentiate RIILE, though the SPLC has not made the determination that RIILE is a hate group.

The SPLC website says of FAIR: “Although FAIR maintains a veneer of legitimacy that has allowed its principals to testify in Congress and lobby the federal government, this veneer hides much ugliness. FAIR leaders have ties to white supremacist groups and eugenicists and have made many racist statements. Its advertisements have been rejected because of racist content. 

FAIR’s founder, John Tanton, has expressed his wish that America remain a majority-white population: a goal to be achieved, presumably, by limiting the number of nonwhites who enter the country.”

ALIPAC’s president, William Gheen, recently asked his members to mail their used underwear to members of congress and to the refugee children crossing the border, saying “Instead of using our tax money to buy illegals 42,000 pairs of new underwear, we would like to send the illegals and DC politicians a message by mailing them our used underwear, and some of our pairs are in really bad shape due to the bad economy and all of the jobs illegal immigrants are taking from Americans.” 

In an open letter to the SPLC, Gheen complained about being labeled a hate group.

On Friday, here in Rhode Island, Terry Gorman talked for nearly an hour in a rambling, conspiracy fueled screed warning of disease, economic cataclysm and possible terrorist incursions as a result of offering aid to the thousands of undocumented refugee children arriving at our borders. 

Gorman blamed the recent gang violence in Providence on “illegals” with no evidence to support his claims.

And then there were the conspiracy theories. According to Gorman, as many as four hundred refugee children may have been flown into Rhode Island on a pair C-130’s and then bused to secret locations throughout our state on the day of the rally. 

Gorman has heard this rumor on Facebook and claims the information is solid, but is not at liberty to reveal his source. Obama and Chafee, says Gorman, are working together to destroy Rhode Island and destroy the United States.

In an hour of unbelievable statements, the most over-the-top was when Terry Gorman said that if he knew that there was a busload of refugee children leaving Quonsett airport, he would lay down in front of the bus to prevent the children from finding shelter in our state. 

Gorman is the kind of person who sees news reports of unhinged Americans screaming at frightened, hungry busloads of children and imagines how cool it would be to join them at the front lines. He is a fearful, mean-spirited person.

Unfortunately, Terry Gorman was not alone. Joining him behind the podium was Gorman’s daughter-in-law and executive director of RIILE, Karen Gorman; Larry Girouard of Rhode Island Taxpayers; Rhue Ruis, Republican challenger to Representative Jim Langevin; John Carnavale, Republican running for Secretary of State; right-wing radio host Lee Ann Sennick; Mike Daz, who runs an organization in nearby Massachusetts called Overpasses for America and Monique Chartier, who writes for Anchor Rising and is associated with the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity

Mark Zaccaria, the Republican challenger to Senator Jack Reed, wished he could have been there, but had a prior engagement.

These then, are the people in Rhode Island who lack compassion, are ruled by fear and susceptible to nonsensical conspiracy theory. These are the people who see a humanitarian crisis and respond with thinly veiled racism, stupidity and xenophobia. These are, without a doubt, the very worst people Rhode Island has to offer, and I find solace in the fact that they are not only small in spirit, but small in number and small in support.

The arguments made during the rally can be heard in the statements of people not directly associated with the groups represented. 

State representative Peter Palumbo demonstrated once again that he has no problem bullying children when he wrote a letter to Governor Chafee asking that refugee children be turned away from our state. (Palumbo, it should be remembered, once called my niece, Jessica Ahlquist, an “evil little thing” and a “pawn star” on the John DePetro Show simultaneously dehumanizing and sexualizing a sixteen year old girl.) Palumbo argued that the state simply can’t afford to help out hungry children, sentiments echoed by Gorman, Chartier and others at the rally.

Meanwhile, Bishop Thomas Tobin has taken a powerful stand against such hate. Speaking as the leader of the Providence Diocese, Tobin said, “If the refugee children come to Rhode Island, I hope and pray that all the members of our community will work together, in a thoughtful and compassionate way, to welcome them and care for them to the very best of our ability.” 

Tobin added, “Certainly the children should not be the object of our political scorn. As a starting point, in our public discussions, let’s avoid the negative rhetoric that serves only to inflame passions and divide the community.”

Let that sink in: Children should not be the object of our political scorn. Then compare that statement to the full video of Gorman’s hate rally. 

Warning: it will turn the stomach of decent people. (This video and the one above were shot by Adam Miner.)

Here’s the ad for the rally RIILE ran on Craig’sList:

RIILE CraigsList

Steve Ahlquist is a writer, artist and current president of the Humanists of Rhode Island, a non-profit group dedicated to reason, compassion, optimism and action. He also maintains the blog where almost all his writing can be found. The views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of any organization of which he is a member.

His photos and video are usable under the Creative Commons license. Free to share with credit.

Twitter: @SteveAhlquist