The murder of Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts in mid-July of this year has provided another emotional flashpoint in the long-running debate over immigration law in the United States, a debate that Donald Trump purposefully inflamed for his own political gain in 2016 and is raging at fever pitch as the 2018 midterm elections quickly approach.
President Trump has invoked Tibbetts’ murder countless times since July, along with Republican candidates at every level to justify further crackdowns on undocumented immigrants. In the debate over the criminal threat represented by undocumented immigrants against American citizens, anecdotes like the killing of a young white woman in a low-crime rural area frequently substitute for the data that consistently shows undocumented immigrants commit crimes at a much lower rate than the native-born population.
CNN reports via FOX 31 yesterday that the family of Mollie Tibbetts wants it to stop:
Since authorities revealed the suspect in the killing of Mollie Tibbetts is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, Iowa’s Latino communities have been the target of rising anti-immigrant sentiment.
But the father of the late 20-year-old college student has had enough. He’s spoken out, and he has a message: Don’t exploit my daughter’s death to promote a racist agenda.
“I encourage the debate on immigration; there is great merit in its reasonable outcome,” Tibbetts wrote in an op-ed for the Des Moines Register on Saturday. “But do not appropriate Mollie’s soul in advancing views she believed were profoundly racist.”
Here’s more from Rob Tibbetts’ op-ed:
The person who is accused of taking Mollie’s life is no more a reflection of the Hispanic community as white supremacists are of all white people. [Pols emphasis] To suggest otherwise is a lie. Justice in my America is blind. This person will receive a fair trial, as it should be. If convicted, he will face the consequences society has set. Beyond that, he deserves no more attention.
To the Hispanic community, my family stands with you and offers its heartfelt apology. That you’ve been beset by the circumstances of Mollie’s death is wrong. We treasure the contribution you bring to the American tapestry in all its color and melody.
In Colorado, by far the politician most eagerly exploiting Mollie Tibbetts’ murder for political gain is an elected official in no real danger of losing his seat in November: Rep. Dave Williams, Republican of Colorado Springs, who succeeded the infamous Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt representing one of the safest Republican seats in the Colorado General Assembly. Surprising absolutely no one, Rep. Williams has been on a social media tear:
This was absolutely preventable.
Democrats care more about helping #IllegalAliens break our laws, than protecting Americans from animals like this.
— Rep. Dave Williams (@RepDaveWilliams) August 21, 2018
It is preventable, but reckless Democrats care more about allowing criminal #IllegalAliens to run loose on our streets rather than protecting American families from harm.
— Rep. Dave Williams (@RepDaveWilliams) August 22, 2018
We could cite many more examples, but you get the idea. Since winning his seat in the 2016 elections, Rep. Williams has repeatedly thrust himself into the national debate over immigration, appearing on FOX News in support of Trump’s policies and maximizing publicity of his stillborn legislation to retaliate against so-called “sanctuary cities.” In response to one such piece of legislation, readers will recall that Rep. Joe Salazar was filmed telling a group of supporters incredulously that Rep. Williams is “half Latino”–a gaffe Williams turned into a veritable circus of feigned outrage.
Salazar’s choice of words may have left the door open for Williams, but the incident is a useful window into the peculiar brand of “identity politics” Williams not only practices but has relied upon to differentiate himself in Republican politics. Being willing to pose in photos with unabashedly racist national Republican figures like Iowa’s Rep. Steve King (above), combined with rhetoric that mainstream Republicans avoid lest they be lumped in with racists like King, makes Rep. Williams highly appealing to the overwhelmingly white conservative Republican voters he represents. Best of all, if you’re not extremely careful about pointing this out, Williams will turn the contrived indignation on you too! As they say in show business, it’s nice work if you can get it.
Rep. Williams is not unique with this strategy of what you could accurately call reverse identity politics, but in moments like this–when the politically-motivated animus against immigrants reaches a level where decency itself requires everyone to call it out–this is when it looks the very worst.
This is when, if a man like Dave Williams has any shame, he feels it and stops talking.