CORRECTION: "Gun Owners to Shoot 'Illegal' Voters" Hoax
Editor's note: It's been revealed that the two men profiled below were actually engaged in a hoax. An update has been added by the author to the original article.
The two men I encountered claiming to be Republicans advocating for shooting voters suspected of fraud at the poll were conducting a hoax.
They pulled a similar stunt in New York around Occupy Wall Street, as seen in this video here:
Having worked with the Yes Men, I was suspicious. But I did also think it was likely they were the real deal because the right is that unhinged from its global warming and evolution denialism to its fantasies about Obama and female sexuality.
I should have been more skeptical, but as I wrote, I thought no one could be this sick.
They came to a rally against voter suppression and conducted a prank about shooting voters when there are tens of millions of people still alive in this country who lived through the time when people fought and died to secure the right to vote for all citizens of this country.
At the rally, speakers poured their hearts out about having their right to vote stripped as part of a concerted campaign by a party whose sole appeal is the poison of nativism and racism. The right is reviving all the ugliness and horrors of our 100 years of apartheid.
Unlike groups like the Yes Men, who creatively expose the workings of the powerful, there was no purpose to their stunt. All they did was torment people who are tormented by a degenerate vicious right every day of their lives.
Even more important than this, is the media’s focus on piddling controversies like the two convention attendees throwing nuts at a Black camerawoman. While ugly, it allows everyone from the right to liberals to dismiss racism as an individual aberration that can be surgically excised by cutting off the offending parts.
If the media called the right’s voter fraud and poll fraud for it is – Jim Crow 2.0 – then incidents such as these would be seen for what they truly are: symptoms of a racist social system that is consciously implemented by both parties, but blood-thirstily advocated by the right.
TAMPA, Florida – They were classic buttoned-up conservatives, but I couldn’t believe my ears. “Are you guys performance artists?” "No," Stevens snorted.
Just a few minutes earlier, two men who identified themselves as Robert Stevens and John Nelson had handed me a flyer. It explained that they wanted the state of Florida to pass a “Protect the Polls law” under which “anyone suspected of committing voter fraud can be fired upon – provided the weapon is registered and operated by its licensed owner.”
The two 28-year-olds, who said they were from West Palm Beach, were straight out of central casting for Young Republicans. I was trying to figure out if they were as crazy as they sounded or were just trying to punk everyone.
Stevens claimed that “illegals and other people without government IDs” were committing voter fraud. I outlined a scenario, “I’m a gun owner. I go to the polls. I have my gun. So, how does it work? There’s this guy who looks like an illegal alien, and he looks pretty shifty ...”
“And you shoot him,” Stevens said, cutting me off. After some more questioning, and deciding that I would need to see identification, Stevens added, “I think a gun owner should be able to ask for ID and help us police the poll, protect the polls.”
I continued: “So if I think this looks like a fake ID and he tries to go in....”
Stevens: “Use your gun. Use your gun.”
Me: “I can cap him?”
Stevens: “Yep, yep.”
Now, when I first saw Robert Stevens and John Nelson at the rally against voter suppression in Tampa’s Centennial Park I didn’t pay them much attention. I thought they were ballsy, showing up with Romney buttons and wading into a lion’s den of protesters fired up about the Republican strategy to roll back hard-won voting rights.
I was more interested in talking to Krown Deon. A St. Petersburg native, Deon said he served 10 years in a state penitentiary for selling an ounce of cocaine to an undercover cop. He was released from prison a decade ago, got custody of his three boys – “Their mamas weren’t doing too well,” he explained – and supported them by working as a baker and a traveling musician. One is studying medical science in college, and a second just started college.
Then in 2008, Deon said, “When the hype came with the whole Obama thing, I had been out long enough to get my rights restored.” Four years later, on the eve of the 2012 election, he discovered his ability to vote had been stripped away.
When I circled back, Stevens and Nelson had attracted a crowd and were handing out flyers. A Fox News reporter was dribbling out weak questions, so I dove in. “You’re saying … if someone is at the polls and they think someone else is committing voter fraud…”
“They should be sure, hopefully they should be sure,” Stevens clarified.
Me: “And they’re like pretty sure, they should be able to shoot the person?”
Stevens: “Yes, yeah.”
Nelson: “Or present their weapon…”
Stevens: “Well, if this law is passed that would be within their rights.”
Nelson: “But this is not law and we don’t want to encourage anyone to do anything illegal because that’s the last thing we want to do. We don’t want people to be hurt.”
Me: “You just want to make it legal to shoot suspected…”
Nelson: “It’s legal to stand your ground right now if you feel threatened.”
Stevens: “We don’t want people shot but we want to keep the wrong people away from the polls.”
Me: “You want the option.”
A cyclone of anger was swirling around us. Chants of “Fox News lies” and “Show us your tax returns” lashed our ears. At one point I stepped back from the knot of reporters and tried to calm the crowd down, counseling that these guys would hang themselves with their own words. But the inflamed passions erupted again and a rally organizer politely asked them to leave because they were disrupting the event.
I was muttering that Stevens and Nelson were performance artists or it was a ploy by some liberal group. No one could be that extreme. But I quickly ruled out those possibilities. A political prankster would not be so sick as to torment people who bore the historical scars of voter intimidation. And the Democrats would not risk such a bizarre stunt.
I caught up with them as they walked away from the fracas. Stevens said they were “supporters” of the Republican Party and platform, adding “we try not to affiliate” with the party. “We don’t want to bring on, you know …”
They wouldn’t tell me who was behind their Web site. The domain was registered on Aug. 20 through Domains by Proxy, a private registration service. They have a Twitter account with three followers and are peddling $35 T-shirts that say in small type “NO ID?” above “VOTE AND DIE!” in huge type (mocking the “Vote or Die” campaign).
As we parted ways I mentioned to one of the remaining reporters that I thought it was a prank. He shook his head no, and spat out, “Fucking crazy.” He turned to his cameraman and said, “We finally got something.” I heard another journalist say the same thing, and I thought the same thing as well.
We lap up the wingnuttery because it sells. Just like every product is new and improved, the Right becomes ever more extreme because yesterday's outrage has become part of the discourse.
When Republicans first started screeching about virtually non-existent voter fraud, I thought it would fall on deaf ears. Who could take a party seriously whose main selling point is Jim Crow 2.0? Unfortunately, the Right knows from decades of experience that by spreading a crooked lie with a straight face it can game a media that dutifully reports every outrageous fiction as a legitimate perspective.
Krown Deon’s experience is a snapshot in the Right’s organized campaign to deny voting rights to the poor and African Americans. The mainstream media is incapable of uttering the underlying truth: The Tea Party, the odious heart of the GOP, is racist. It’s an ideologically gated community of old conservative whites who barely veil their racist bile. They hate blacks (“welfare recipients”), Latinos (“illegals”) and Muslims (they don’t even bother using code words for them).
The Republican-Tea Party wants to cut social welfare that’s puny compared to corporate welfare, the war machine and road building, which subsidizes the Right’s base in suburbs and small towns. The annual bill for the homeowner interest tax deduction alone – more than $200 billion – is more than every social program minus Medicaid combined, and 70 percent of the benefit goes to households that earn more than $104,000 a year. The Tea Party never seems concerned about kicking those welfare queens off the dole.
I won’t say the mainstream media is entirely to blame, but it is a crackhead so fixated on the latest rush of scandal that it is too addled to explain how voter suppression is part of an undeniable history of vicious racism. And the media is the media of the 1%, so it denies that we live in the best democracy money can buy, where policy and politicians are sold off to the highest bidder.
It’s why, despite my skepticism, I think Protect the Polls is the real deal. Robert Stevens and John Nelson had the natural patter of demented logic that infects the Right – Obama is a Kenyan-born Nazi Muslim socialist; global warming is a liberal plot; the earth is 6,000 years old; rape is a form of conception.
Perhaps Protect the Polls and the vision of righteous suburban warriors gunning down illegal Mexicans and criminal blacks sneaking into the polls will remain in the noxious backwater from which it sprang. But with a militarized border that shames the Berlin Wall, a prison system that turns the torture of black and brown bodies into a profitable commodity, “stand your ground” laws that encourage open season on minority youth, and reporting from a city under martial law as the media pretty-up our democratic corpse for primetime, I wouldn’t bet against it.