Fear Conquers All: My Afternoon with Oregonians for Immigration Reform
Gary "Rusty" Fleming was a no-show at the Salem Public Library on Saturday January 26th, but in spite of this over 75 people turned out for the OFIR-hosted screening of his film "Drug Wars: Silver or Lead." The film is a bloody romp through the lawless world that is the US and Mexico border. The movie was written and produced by Gary "Rusty" Fleming, filmmaker and volunteer public information officer in Hudspeth County, Texas.
Oregonians for Immigration Reform are an interesting bunch of folks. Their members actively write to local publications, chastising journalists for not referring to undocumented people as "illegal-immigrants" and calling for the implementation of the highly unreliable E-verify system. Last month the Federation for Immigration Reform (FAIR) released a publication entitled "The Fiscal Burden of Illegal-Aliens on Oregonians," which OFIR proudly makes references to in their endless stream of guest opinion columns and letters to the editor. The report is lousy with exaggerated numbers and fully acknowledges that it has no data on the immigration status of foreign-born students, but claims that 75% of the US-born children of undocumented immigrants will need Limited English Proficiency instruction. OFIR hasn't shut up about this report since it came out and it didn't take long to learn something about this group: they're ticked off, they're vocal, and they're scared to hell of pretty much everything. This event was no exception to the rule, and OFIR had been hyping it since December with urgency and panic in every website update, one of which insisted:
"The producer of the documentary recommends that children as young as 10 should see this movie. Gangs and cartels are targeting even younger children now. Shockingly, eight year olds are the new cartel target for drug addiction. Every child is at risk."
So because 8 year olds were at risk (8 year olds dude, 8 year olds) I decided to cruise down to Salem to catch the screening of "Drug Wars: Silver or Lead", and maybe even shake hands with the chubby Drug War guru. Still high from only paying 50 cents an hour for parking, my buzz was immediately killed when we learned that Rusty Fleming was not going to be there that day because of a family emergency. OFIR President Cynthia Kendoll offered us sincere apologies and promised us that Rusty would return, as he still has a plane ticket to Salem. She then opened with a slide show about OFIR which included the now-infamous picture of her with Multnomah County Under Sheriff Tim Moore, who is identified as "Tim Morrow" in the photo on OFIR's website. After some more slides of drug dealer mug shots a few people decided to leave once Cynthia reminded us again that Rusty wouldn't be there, so I figured they must have seen the movie already. After the brief introduction and a nod to the Salem Police Department, who provided security, the lights were dimmed and the film began to roll.
It opened with a quote that stated "The first terrorist in this country was a drug dealer, and nobody did anything about it." The film didn't go on to elaborate exactly who this first terrorist was, because we were immediately plunged into a montage with real-life footage of bodies lying in the street, SWAT teams swarming into buildings, and assorted white powders on cracked mirrors. This was interspersed with reenactments of shoot outs filmed in pick-n-pull lots where Mexican gangsters in red bandannas and white tank tops hid out amongst piles of old junky cars. We learned about the ins and outs of a cartel's torture regime, including footage of hungry lions and an explanation of what a guiso is (it's terrible). There were interviews with drug war experts of various stripes, and since he wrote and produced the film, Rusty Fleming got to be in it a lot. Wearing his best filmmaker uniform, a white turtleneck with a black blazer, Rusty Fleming would cut in to make comments about how corrupt a society Mexico is and the movie begs the question "Why are we bowing to a third World country?" At this point in the film, several people in the crowd erupted with sounds of approval, the woman in front of me even standing up to say "That's right!"
The history of the drug war was interwoven into the narration, starting with Richard Nixon's speech where he identified drugs as a threat to America, along the bloody road to the Medellín Cartel, and finally ending at the major drug organizations of today. It also didn't take long for the movie to dive into the abyss of Islamophobia, drawing the similarity between Mexican cartels and the "terrorists in the Middle East", as they put it. It turns out the two are similar in that they both use Facebook and YouTube to recruit young people into their terrorist networks. Well, a lot of people use Facebook to recruit folks into their numbers, including OFIR. And OFIR isn't on YouTube, but there's an enlightening independent short in which some of their members hurl racial insults at Causa actvists. However the cartels are "different because in the Middle East they are terrorists because of religious beliefs, martyrdom, and divine reward." The Mexican cartels are motivated only by money, and there is not a single terrorist like that anywhere else in the world.
The next scene in "Drug Wars: Silver or Lead" addressed the issue of American gangs working with the cartels, complete with more reenactments of African-American gang leaders and cartel bosses flanked by bikini-clad Mexican women with large breasts. They predict that there are more than 850,000 active gang members in the United States, but that number is probably higher because "some cities refuse to acknowledge its gang problem" (we're looking at you, Pendleton). So after all this Rusty Fleming then swings it around, tires squealing, fish-tailing even, in order to come to the conclusion that the country of Mexico, who according to him has been corrupted in every way shape or form, is not the problem here. So I immediately forgot all the bloody images of bullet-sprayed tiendas, of "Missing Person" posters, of drug cartels on Facebook, and prepared myself to find out what the real problem is. It turns out, according to Rusty Fleming, that the problem lies in US demand, we are in fact, the problem. After this startling revelation we took a nice wide left and began looking at the issue of drug addiction in the United States. Cartels want to get our children addicted to drugs and so we need to keep them safe, then it cuts to a scene of white high school kids with dramatic music. We learned about a hip new drug that the youngsters are into, called "Cheese." Cheese is the newest, most popular, well-liked, prettiest drug in elementary school. It's mixed with Tylenol PM and drug experts called it a "needle-free heroin". The film draws to a close by saying that we need to secure our border because the cartels are also smuggling in terrorists and weapons of mass destruction. As the dramatic fade-out music plays, there is a montage of comments like "the United States is a geopolitical powder keg on the threshold of becoming a narco state" and we need to do all we can to prevent the "Colombianization" (their word) of the United States and Mexican Border.
The lights came up as the credits rolled. Cynthia Kendoll took the stage again and it was so quiet I could hear the police officers in the lobby talking about sandwiches. She asked "anyone need to go outside and throw up?" I flinched and looked around because for a second I actually thought there would be people getting up to do just that. No one did thankfully, and Cynthia continued with a question and answer session, which by the end made me wonder if I had fallen asleep at one point during the movie and missed the part about taking what we learned from cartel torture tactics and applying them to our own citizens. She believes that "we stop the money by stop using drugs" and also explained that the cartels "have people waiting in the wings to smuggle things other than drugs." The event organizers then showed one of those terrible anti-drug PSAs that they aired in Montana, in which know-it-all teenagers look at meth addicts and say "'I'm just going to do it once, I'm not like that guy." And then they go into the bathroom and on the way they bump into a scabbed-over ghost of their former self, but joke's on them because they already ARE that guy, so they're screwed no matter what. There's a lot of loud noise and metallic screeching with wobbly filming and the ads are all-around highly unpleasant. Of course OFIR delights in them, and Cynthia chirped "I LOVE those ads!" after a woman suggested we "educate" our children like they do in Montana. I guess in Montana they leave the education of their children to 30-second PSAs that are aired during commercial breaks when most people are tuned out or wrist-deep in a can of potato chips. At this point an OFIR member stood up and made a comment which he ended with "Mexico has made a pact with the devil and look what happened to them." My guess is that Mexico can now play one mean vihuela.
A few people made some noise about the recent marijuana legalization vote in Washington and we heard from a gentleman in the crowd who likened it to legalizing rape. Cynthia doubled-down on her belief that punishment is the remedy and the only way to stop people from doing things that are illegal. The message of disgust towards immigrants and drug addicts made the air heavy and pungent. Cynthia ended the Q & A explaining how she had to book another speaker at the last minute. She told us the only person who got back to her was Jerry Gjesvold from Serenity Lane, a non-profit drug and alcohol abuse outreach organization. So with that dismal introduction and an even sadder showing of applause Jerry Gjesvold took the stage. He fielded questions while telling us about "Skittle parties" and the dangers of prescription drugs, and insisting the only solution was to eliminate demand. The message here was confusing, because we had just watched a bloodbath of a film describing the dangers involved in the marijuana, methamphetamine, and cocaine trade, and now this guy was telling us one of the biggest problems was legally-prescribed drugs? No one else seemed at all moved by this shift in message, and the crowd continued with its angry rants and there was even talk of a Kitzhaber conspiracy behind allowing undocumented individuals to obtain driver's licenses, and how he must have been paid off somewhere along the line. Jerry Gjesvold rounded out his session with a comment from a woman who was "sick and tired" of people trying to make alcoholism and drug abuse a sickness, because that meant we wouldn't execute people for doing or pushing drugs. According to this woman, other countries execute their dealers and addicts, and they don't have drug problems anymore. "Well, we used to do that too," said Jerry, almost wistfully. I guess no one else thought it was strange to spend 2 hours talking about how cartels are trying to get our children hooked on drugs, then turning around and demanding the solution to this problem is to punish addicts, and punish them hard.
We concluded the meeting with plans to host another screening where we would all try to return with 2-3 friends. For these folks this 5 year-old movie was the missing link in their war on immigration. If only more people would see it, then they wouldn't be so quick to defend undocumented immigrants. If only we knew of the perils that these people bring with them, then we would understand that the only way to end this problem is by shoveling out punishments by the kilo. So we tell two friends, they see the movie, then what happens? Nothing, that's what happens, absolutely nothing. The event ended unceremoniously, and I shuffled out to the lobby with the other dejected attendees, and for a while I stood around reading some literature they had provided about marijuana use. According to this flyer, most people who smoke weed do so in crack-laden blunts. No wonder these people are so frightened of this sort of thing, they literally think that everyone who smokes marijuana is also high on crack. As I left, no one really spoke to one another and we all had an aura of futility surrounding us, weighing us down. And why wouldn't it? This crap is depressing, and when you look at it like this you think, how can we possibly stop this? This is what we're up against? These people dip bodies in acid and feed humans to lions. These guys have AKs mounted on their SUVs, and last night I wrote an email to my congressman and signed an online petition. Well, maybe if I show it to 2 or 3 like-minded individuals it might scare the bejesus out of them enough to hurry along the much needed change this country needs. The message of the day was meandering and unclear: cartels are the problem, so are immigrants, but the real problem is us, so let's crack down on our own citizens in order to stop the problems coming from Mexico. So after it all of this, the one lingering question I have for OFIR is: if you are so disgusted by cartels using murder and violence, then how are you any different in demanding executions and other extreme measures of intimidation for drug dealers and addicts? It's not okay for cartels to do this, yet it's okay for you guys to demand that we dehumanize and castigate lawbreakers here in the United States? As far I can tell, punishment is pretty much the ONLY thing we've tried, and it hasn't done a thing to prevent people from breaking the law. As Cynthia Kendoll said "Fear is a good motivator", and while I'm sure that's true for some, it is certainly not an effective way to inspire people. We need to be inspired to work towards meaningful change, not scared silly and set afloat on deep dark waters of doubt, mistrust, isolation and racial stereotypes. And with that, you end up like that snotty teenager from the PSA, screwed no matter what. Fear conquered something that day, and it sure as hell wasn't the cartels.
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