Our Opinion: Fear and loathing in Bennington

The refugees are coming, the refugees are coming!

Only they're not. Not to Bennington, at least, and not for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, those facts haven't stopped some locals from having online panic attacks since hearing the news that a non-binding resolution expressing moral support for undocumented immigrants and refugees passed by voice vote at the town floor meeting last Monday.

While those gripped by fear have nothing to be afraid of — even if refugees were coming — those who thought Bennington and Vermont as a whole were bastions of acceptance certainly have something to be concerned over.

Here's a short recap of what's been happening: On March 6, the Bennington Chapter of Rights and Democracy (RAD) organized a rally in the Bennington Station Restaurant Parking lot to express the town's support for undocumented immigrants and refugees. State House Rep. Kiah Morris, D-Bennington, gave a passionate speech on how Bennington is a welcoming place for people of varying backgrounds.. Her remarks were followed by a speech from Congressman Peter Welch, D-Vt. saying much the same.

The group of about 60 then marched over to the nearby Bennington Fire Facility where the annual town floor meeting was being held. There, they read a resolution in support of undocumented immigrants, and refugees and asked those at the meeting to support it by voice vote.

There was a bit of debate when Moderator Jason Morrissey pointed out that a few lines in the last paragraph were technically asking the town to stop county, state, and federal authorities from doing their jobs. That put the resolution outside the town's reach, thus making it not germane to town meeting.

Ultimately the wording was changed. As it turns out, the town already doesn't support discrimination nor is it tasked with enforcing the federal government's laws. That's what federal agents are for, after all.

The resolution passed by voice vote. Since it's a non-binding resolution, it doesn't actually require the town to do anything new or different.

What followed — mostly on Facebook, thankfully — was an uncommon level of xenophobic misunderstanding and vitriol that but for the technology involved wouldn't have looked out of place in pre-World War II Germany.

The comments on the Banner's Facebook page were bad enough, but over the weekend a page, created by a Pownal resident, cropped up to plan some sort of protest or demonstration at the Four Corners this Friday against "refugees and illegal's" (Sic).

Most of the posts were the usual "We don't want them here," but a few crossed the line of decency. One in particular was a photo of what appeared to be a Middle Eastern man with his head blown off above a caption reading, "The only good Muslim is a dead one."

The page has since been deleted — though it's not clear who deleted it — and the demonstration seemingly cancelled. A post, attributed to the page creator, explains that he called the event off because some wanted to bring firearms to the protest, that he'd been receiving death threats, that people from outside the county were posting, and that he was receiving complaints.

The protest would have coincided with Senator Bernie Sanders' planned visit to Bennington this Friday. That it's also St. Patrick's Day, a day where we revel in the culture of a foreign country brought here by immigrants who despite being "legal" were woefully mistreated, is an irony seemingly lost on some.

If we're being extremely generous, we might say these people have been left feeling frustrated and afraid by the events of the past few decades. Terrorism, a down economy, rising costs of health care and education, rampant drug addiction, all have left many Americans and working-class people the world over feeling hopeless. That despair has made them ripe for manipulation. Organizations producing fake and slanted news have them convinced that refugees aren't really victims, but in fact are all ISIS terrorists preying on the good intentions of naive liberals.

The bitterest irony here is that the refugees fleeing war-ravaged Syria and the people flocking to America in search of jobs anyway they can get them are themselves victims of powerful economic and social forces that have robbed them of their lives and futures.

America has enough resources to feed and house every last one of its homeless veterans. It can do the same for refugees.


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