Bus tours have become a staple of the American political campaign, but one candidate for governor in the state of Georgia, Michael Williams, wants you to know that his is different: “It’s not going to be one of those pansy political bus tours.”
In a video released on Wednesday, emerging from a grey, prison corrections-style vehicle, the self-proclaimed “fearless conservative” Williams said he planned to “fill this bus with illegals and send them back to where they came from”. The video coincided with a campaign tour beginning on Wednesday to a handful of Georgia so-called sanctuary cities, which limit their cooperation with the federal government’s efforts to enforce immigration law.
On the bus’s rear it reads: “Murderers, rapists, kidnappers, child molestors [sic] and other criminals on board.” Just below, the lettering adds: “Follow me to Mexico.”
He’s dubbed it the Deportation Bus Tour, but the easy conflation Williams makes between the undocumented people in the US he calls “illegals” and violent crime is unsupported by the facts. Multiple studies have shown that immigrants commit less crime than native-born Americans on balance.
The stunt was just the latest escalation in a Republican primary contest for the gubernatorial race, where anti-immigrant rhetoric, specifically that targeting Hispanic residents, has been a featured and enduring trope. Williams’ “deportation bus” is effectively just a one-up of fellow challenger Brian Kemp’s campaign ad last week in which he boasted: “I’ve got a big truck in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take them home myself.”
Azadeh Shahshahani, the Legal and Advocacy Director of the Georgia-based civil rights advocacy organization Project South, said the focus “is not unusual in Georgia at all. It is something we’ve seen year after year”.
But the talk has undoubtedly become cruder and more crass as insulting notions of “political correctness” have become a virtue in conservative circles. “The standard has been lowered so much in this election that it’s truly horrifying,” she added.
The frontrunner and current lieutenant governor, Casey Cagle, hasn’t been as theatrical as Kemp or Williams, but has pushed a hard line on the issue from his office and on the campaign trail too. In campaign ads he’s described himself as “Leading The Fight Against…