Sunday night, I sat in the ballroom of a Miami resort and watched Florida governor Ron DeSantis tell the crowd about how Texas governor Greg Abbott had been sending busloads of migrants* to Washington, D.C. His envy was undisguised. Stunts like this, which use humans as props for a set piece about owning the libs, are the trademark of his own governing style. (He has done this with ex-felons, splashily arresting 20 and charging them with fraud.) You could almost see the wheels turning in his head.
Last night, DeSantis pulled off the stunt. He lured a couple dozen immigrants onto a pair of planes and flew them to Martha’s Vineyard, where he deposited them onto an unprepared island. He then handed the story to Fox News, a network that has coordinated closely with him and predictably gloated over his latest triumph.
The conceit of Abbott’s stunt is that his state is so overwhelmed with illegal immigrants he needs to send them to the place that is supposedly causing their arrival. DeSantis, not having a land border with Mexico, had no such pretext. Instead, he had to find migrants in Texas and, essentially, kidnap them for his own use.
To acquire the bait for his stunt, DeSantis apparently deployed staff into Texas to mislead the targets. “The migrants said a woman they identified as ‘Perla’ approached them outside the shelter and lured them into boarding the plane, saying they would be flown to Boston where they could get expedited work papers,” reports NPR.
Jeremy Redfern, a DeSantis spokesperson, embraced the comparison to illegal traffickers. In response to a complaint that DeSantis neglected even to give advance notice to Martha’s Vineyard so it could prepare accommodations, Redfern sniffed that coyotes don’t do this:
The premise is that DeSantis has no obligation to take any more interest in safeguarding human welfare than an illegal smuggling operation does.
It’s not just that DeSantis stole the idea from Abbott. The idea was employed even earlier by White Citizens Councils in the 1960s, which — much like DeSantis — lured Black people onto buses with promises of jobs and then deposited them in the North. White Citizens Councils bused three dozen Black people to Hyannis, the Kennedy home, in 1962.
The premise of the gimmick was that hypocritical northern liberals pretended to care about the rights and welfare of Black people in the South but wouldn’t actually be willing to live up to these ideals if put face to face with the dark-skinned underclass Southerners had to live with every day. “We know you’ll protect their civil rights and give them equal employment opportunities,” sneered the White Citizen’s Council leader who carried out the stunt.
Christina Pushaw, another DeSantis spokesperson, mocked the libs the same way:
What actually occurred was the opposite of Pushaw’s prediction. When the news of the stunt broke, volunteers at Martha’s Vineyard rushed out with pizza, salad, and soup. “People were just showing up (at the church) with food, rice, and beans,” Carla Cooper, head of the Democratic Council of Martha’s Vineyard, said. “When something happens to our island, we come together to help. We are going to take care of these people.”
You would think this response would have humiliated DeSantis, whose imagination had no room for the possibility that anybody could act so humanely. Instead, conservative media simply responded as if rich liberals had acted in the way Desantis anticipated. The Federalist gleefully reported that liberals were “melting down” as if they were angry at having to accommodate immigrants, rather than at DeSantis’s abuse of immigrants. It became a “fact” in the conservative media that Martha’s Vineyard was responding to the immigrants with terror:
DeSantis’s whole political style is premised on the idea that conservative media is a closed information ecosystem. Reality doesn’t matter. The voting-sting operation fell apart when the targets turned out to have been informed by the government that they were eligible, but conservative media did not report that. He can claim anything he wants, as long as it flatters the correct heroes and mocks the correct villains. All he need do is continue supplying material for the right-wing media machine, and it will continue pumping out stories of his heroism, regardless of reality.
Correction: This story originally described the migrants as having entered the country illegally, as DeSantis claimed, but their status is unclear, and some or all may have sought asylum legally.