Overpasses for America anti-immigration rally experience

Republican Chairwoman and rally organizer Mary Ann Benitez with EAAC Director. Keystone United/Keystone Skinheads founder and Republican Committeeman Steve Smith - Photo: whiteadvocate.org
Republican Chairwoman and rally organizer Mary Ann Benitez with EAAC Director. Keystone United/Keystone Skinheads founder and Republican Committeeman Steve Smith – Photo: whiteadvocate.org

Today, I attended a rally dubbed Overpasses for America to challenge beliefs of anti-immigration protesters. I offer my recap of the event.

Earlier this year, members of a local group — the European American Action Coalition (EAAC) an “organization that advocates on behalf of white Americans” — participated in a rally they called “Anti-illegal Alien Invasion Rally” organized by Mary Ann Benitez (Lackawanna County Republican Committee Chairwomen for the 112th district) and attended by Steve Smith (Luzerne County Republican Committee member, director of the EAAC, and co-founder/former member of Keystone United/Keystone State Skinheads which features recent pictures of Smith on its website along with pictures advocating for violence/containing violent imagery reading ‘Kill your local drug dealer,’ ‘Smash the reds‘ and ‘Good night left side‘).

Smith writes at EAAC’s website whiteadvocate.org where he admitted to pleading guilty to simple assault and ethnic intimidation which resulted in a 2003 arrest, defended racial profiling, written about America becoming a “third world country” if an amnesty law for immigrants is enacted, “the problem of violent crime within the black community” (a focus of many posts), “the problems that multiculturalism tends to bring,” an “anti-white agenda,” diversity “turn[ing] once prosperous and safe cities into crime-ridden cesspools,” the prediction of whites being a minority in the United States “catastrophic to our country and well-being,” and stated “diversity is not a strength.”

More recently, on October 18, members of EAAC including Steve Smith, members of the American Freedom Party (known for their “Diversity = White Genocide” banners) attended another rally — again organized by Mary Ann Benitez — which I had approached with intentions to have conversation and challenge anti-immigration arguments.

Photo of overpass ralliers
Photo of overpass ralliers

Personally, I don’t identify as a liberal, Democrat, or progressive and am not a supporter of President Obama (much to the surprise of one rally attendee who raised his voice when speaking with me saying something along the lines of ‘You voted for Obama twice and would vote for him again if you had the chance!’), but do support an easing of immigration laws so that American citizenship could be more easily attained and a providing of amnesty for immigrants who currently live in the United States…and so I found myself at odds with this rally and many of its attendees.

Rather than villifying immigrants and immigration, a more humanistic approach can be taken by which people are integrated into a community and afforded legal protection and rights to do so.

Approaching the rally held on a Lackawanna County overpass, I saw signs and banners reading ‘Impeach Obama,’ ‘Obama lies,’ ‘No amnesty,’ ‘Secure our borders,’ ‘Save America,’ and ‘Save the USA.’ Following distribution of my business card when I was greeted by a rally attendee (which was accompanied by mutterings of ‘he’s that atheist’ or something to that effect and what seemed to be a ridicule of church/state separation which later was followed with ‘the constitution says nothing about separation of church and state), I spoke with several individuals.

Below, I shall outline the common assertions and arguments I heard and offer my responses.

Children of illegal immigrants aren’t citizens – they are just de-facto citizens and it shouldn’t be that way/people are breaking the law by entering into the country illegally.

According to United States law, individuals born in the United States are United States citizens regardless of parents’ citizenship status. There is no continuum within the construct of citizenship; either someone is a citizen or is not a citizen. If there is a problem with the fact that people enter the country illegally (and no problem with people entering the country legally), why not make the entering process easier and allow more people to be citizens and/or significantly reduce laws so that people are not here illegally?

Some will want to enter the United States for very good reasons including but not limited to events occurring in one’s home country including political persecution, lack of employment opportunities, a subpar standard of living, a want to flee threats of violence and pursue refuge, and a desire to ‘start a new life’ by moving to a new country. Many immigrants want to be law-abiding citizens who benefit the United States but are unable to do so under current policies.

Violent imagery on Keystone United's tumblr page - http://keystoneunited.tumblr.com/page/5
Violent imagery on Keystone United’s tumblr page – http://keystoneunited.tumblr.com/page/5

Illegal immigrants harm America by ruining our way of life – bringing diseases into public schools through unvaccinated children, committing crimes, dealing drugs…

To the best of my knowledge, it is the case that children (regardless of parents’ citizenship status) must be vaccinated in order to enter the public school system – so much so that anti-vaccination groups oppose laws which require children to be vaccinated in order to be accepted into public schools.

Indeed, as is the case throughout populations, regardless of citizenship status, crime and drug dealing occurs; the potential to commit crimes, too, exists within humans. Why particularly focus on [potential] crimes committed by immigrants at the exclusion of crimes committed by United States citizens? If individuals are violent — regardless of citizenship status — there shall be legal consequences when law officials justly intervene.

America should deal with its problems first and thus close the borders completely – allowing no new citizens.

This line of reasoning is question-begging; in an effort to argue that immigration is a problem/immigration should be banned, it is assumed that immigration is a problem (and presumably that this should be dealt with first). Might also problems in America be reduced, anyway, due to contributions from immigrants…? It is possible to both deal with problems and allow new citizens. New citizens, by the way, are being born each day yet I see no opposition to childbirth in any and all circumstances at this rally. Why a focus on immigration and not childbirth? After all, when a child is born a new citizen exists amidst a country with problems.

President Obama is to blame for current problems of [illegal] immigration.

Two million deportations during President Obama’s administration don’t fit well with this claim.

At the end of the day, there wasn’t only disagreement with Democratic politics and encouragement for immigration laws to be strengthened, but a great deal of fearmongering and negative attitudes about immigrants on display at this rally. Rather than my alternative to ease immigration laws so that illegal immigration would not be a problem (my response to the tautological ‘illegal immigration is illegal’ refrain), rally attendees I spoke with advocated for border closure and spoke negatively about immigrants – talking about all of the negatives they believe which result from illegal immigration while largely neglecting the positives.

I hope that rally attendees will reconsider their views about immigration — instead advocating for an easing of immigration laws so that more people may become legal citizens/illegal immigration would not be a problem and jettisoning the beliefs that immigrants pose a particular danger to the ‘American way of life’ — and comment on my piece. I’d be happy to engage more with rally attendees…this time not on an overpass sidewalk in the pouring rain (which wasn’t a good situation for audio/video recording) with vehicles passing.

As always, leave your comments below.

Update: There have been several attendees from the rally weighing in below. Feel free to read those comments.

Justin Vacula

Justin Vacula produces content about Stoic Philosophy; serves as co-organizer and spokesperson for the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Freethought Society; and hosts monthly Stoic Philosophy discussion groups for the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia. He has appeared on and hosted various radio shows and podcasts; participated in formal debates and discussions; was a guest speaker for college-level courses; was featured in local, national, and international news; and has been invited to speak at various national, local, and statewide events. Vacula received bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology, a minor in Professional Writing, and the distinguished W.A. Kilburn Memorial Award for Philosophy from King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He is pursuing a degree in Marywood University’s graduate-level Mental Health Counseling program and formerly worked for the Arc of Luzerne County’s Transition to Community Employment program as a teacher’s assistant and job coach alongside adult learners with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He also plays poker; volunteers as a member of the website and media team for the Greyhawk Reborn Dungeons & Dragons campaign and plays at events in the Eastern United States; and enjoys metal music.

  • joe liberty

    Typical liberal. Note how everything was completely peaceful till this guy showed up making waves only hearing what he wanted to and slandering O4A at will.

    • I align most with libertarian political perspectives and voted for Gary Johnson in the previous presidential election. Jill Stein would have been my next choice. Anyway, as I noted, I don’t even identify with political labels. I instead would prefer to talk about items on an issue-by-issue basis because I don’t find political labels to be helpful.

      You noted that everything was peaceful until I came…did I disrupt the rally in some way? Was I not peaceful?

      How am I slandering Overpasses for America?

      • Nick

        You didn’t really disrupt anything, you were just annoying.

  • Steve

    Justin Vacula , put your money where your mouth is and move to a majority Black and/or non-White Hispanic city or country if you think racial diversity is a strength. Until you make such a move, your rantings are nothing but hypocritical tripe.

    • Many people in recent years have suggested I move out of the area. I have ties to the area at the very minimum to work and school and thus do not desire to move. The cost is also a limiting factor. However, no one has provided me with the money to move despite my encouragements for them to fundraise/crowdfund.

      Anyway…I’m confused. There are many areas in which crime committed by white individuals is common. In fact, members of all races commit crimes. A plausible explanation, anyway, about why there are higher rates of crime within certain communities (regardless of race) is lower socioeconomic status due to decreased pro-social opportunities [for employment].

      Shall we talk about problems such as ‘white violence’ and lack of racial diversity as ‘catastrophic’ in communities where ‘white crime’ is more common? I neglect to use this terminology and instead focus on the crime rather than on the gender or the race of the person.

      While it may be the case that more African-American individuals may be incarcerated, for instance, when compared to Caucasians, is this because of their race or other factors do you think? I’m unclear as to what your position is on this matter.

      • quadman2

        However, no one has provided me with the money to move despite my encouragements for them to fundraise/crowdfund” Why not raise your own money with a JOB? Crazy idea right? I for one am tired of supporting lazy people!

        • I stated that I don’t have a desire to move and don’t want to pay to move. If people really do want me to move, something I don’t want to do, they can pay for it. I’d rather not use my own money. That’s a way to — as someone else here said — put your money where your mouth is.

          • quadman2

            “I’d rather not use my own money” SPOKEN LIKE A TRUE LIBERAL!

      • Steve

        No kidding that members of all races commit crimes, but the simple fact is that Blacks only make up 10% of Wilkes-Barre’s population , yet they account for 85% of the city’s murders. Nationally, Blacks commit over 50% of all the homicides while comprising a mere 13% of the population. There are serious underlying problems within the Black community that go far beyond mere socioeconomic status .

        • What do you think is the cause of these crimes?

        • A very small percentage of the total population within Wilkes-Barre (and other cities for that matter) commit murder; a very large percentage of the total population within Wilkes-Barre (and other cities for that matter) consists of citizens who do not murder. Why select such a small percentage and make it a racial issue – saying there “are serious underlying problems within the Black community?”

          I hope, too, you would object to people saying there are “serious underlying problems within the White community” if someone were to discuss school shootings, political corruption, or other areas in which Whites happen to be the majority of offenders. If so, why is it OK to racialize crime when speaking of African-Americans?

          • Steve

            Have you been living under a rock? Wilkes-Barre had one of the highest per capita murder rates in the country in 2013. Shootings have become an almost daily occurrence in the city. Whites should be the majority of all offenders in every criminal category since they are still the majority, yet Blacks commit the majority of violent crimes while being such a miniscule part of the population. You can’t seem to wrap your mind around that fact.

    • Steve,

      since you are here simply to insult Justin and ignore his arguments, allow me to introduce myself.

      My name is Naomi.

      And, since we are all about insulting people, that kid of yours looks like he has a syndrome. :-) It must be genetic.

      • Steve

        Wow….insulting my kid. You are a classless POS.

  • Haas

    I was at this rally, Justin picked who he wanted to debate. There was a wide variety of opinions at this rally, instead, he he chose to debate a select few that he knew would give him the answers he wanted. I know this because not only were most of us unaware of the fact he was even there, when I did introduce myself to him and started giving him my views, many of which he states in this article we should advocate, such as easing immigration laws. He left due to the rain. But he seemed to have conveniently left that detail out.

    • I didn’t select who I wanted to chat with. I approached the rally, asked for someone to chat with, and then proceeded to talk to whomever was standing by me. I stood off to the side rather than going through the rally and only entered into the group when police officers came because, while I disagree with perspectives at the rally, I support the right of people to legally assemble (as long as traffic was not being blocked and everyone was on the sidewalk which was the case save perhaps a parked vehicle with 4-way flashers on) and wanted to know what was happening.

      How would I know who to talk to to ‘get the answers I wanted’ if I spoke to people who engaged me? How would I even know what the individual ralliers thought before I spoke with them?

      I didn’t speak to everyone, but rather spoke to about five people. I simply reported more of the common sentiments I heard. Indeed, there could be different perspectives within the rally. When I note that I hope people would change their beliefs, I speak of the people who argued for closed borders.

      If you would like to explain your views, feel free to do so here. I’ll even add to the original post with an update.

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  • The article is well written, and the claims made herein is backed with evidence. Well done Justin.

    Steven Smith reminds me of an ignorant, backwater red neck. This man’s heart is full of hate. He sees the problems with the black community and ignores all the good things about them. I am thinking he believe that blacks have no ability to do anything good in this world.

    This guy needs to pick up a book written by Nelson Mandela or Mya Angelou, but by the look of things, he has no interest in learning about black people. He probably does not have a single black friend.