Citing internment of Japanese following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Roanoke Mayor David Bowers on Wednesday called for the region’s governments and nongovernmental agencies to suspend help in relocating Syrian refugees to the Roanoke Valley. Bowers’ invocation of the World War II-era camps in which thousands of Japanese and Japanese-Americans were imprisoned triggered stern rebukes from fellow council members, Democratic and Republican leaders and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
It's been nearly a week since the terrorist violence in Paris, and too many of the reactions have shown American politics at its worst. Governors, members of Congress, and Republican presidential candidates have been reactionary, prone to mindless panic, resistant to reason, and lashing out wildly in incoherent directions. It's been painful to watch.
At the local level, the picture hasn't been quite as ugly. A wide variety of mayors, for example, have stepped up in recent days with heartening displays of compassion and common sense.
But not all mayors. Consider this report from the Roanoke Times in Virginia.
This may seem like an offensive joke, but the Roanoke mayor was apparently quite serious. "I'm reminded that President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it appears that the threat of harm to America from Isis [sic] now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then," Bowers said in a statement.
Unlike most of the high-profile refugee critics, the mayor is a Democrat -- who was promptly removed from Hillary Clinton campaign's Virginia leadership council.
And if there's a contest for Worst Reaction to Paris, David Bowers will obviously be a top contender, but he won't be the only challenger. In Missouri, state Rep. Mike Moon (R) is calling for a special legislative session to stop “the potential Islamization of Missouri.”
In Tennessee, state Rep. Glen Casada (R), the chairman of the state House Republican Caucus, yesterday called for the National Guard to round up recent Syrian refugees who might already be in Tennessee, so they could be forcibly removed -- even if they've done literally nothing wrong.
Perhaps the ugliest situation of them all has unfolded in Louisiana, where Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge "has received threats because they help Syrian refugees resettling" in the state.
The threats followed a message distributed by the Republican Party of Louisiana, insisting there's "an unmonitored Syrian refugee who is walking around freely, and no one knows where he is."
History will not be kind.