By Nate Morris, senior editor
Tulsa County Fair officials have instructed the Tulsa County GOP to remove a fundraising display some in the community have described as “disgusting” and “bigoted”.
At the back of the booth, surrounded by candidate signs and Trump 2016 flags, the party had glued a six-foot high display of glittery construction paper cut-outs on a black backdrop with a sign on top proclaiming to passers by “Help us build the wall. Buy a brick.”
Individuals could place their name or a phrase on a piece of construction paper – for a price; ranging from $5 for a red brick to $75 for a gold one.
By Sunday evening, the party had sold 18 bricks, totaling nearly $500 in donations.
News of the booth began spreading on social media over the weekend when former city council candidate and community organizer Juan Miret posted a photo on Facebook with the caption “bigotry to the max”.
In an interview with The Black Wall Street Times, Miret called the display an example of “hateful and anti-immigrant rhetoric”. He says that the message that the Tulsa County GOP is sending to the greater Hispanic and Latinx community in the city is clear: “You are not welcome here”. The campaign “does not care about being a city of compassion… it does not care about humanity,” Miret said.
Ronda Vuillemont-Smith, a volunteer with the Tulsa County GOP and a leader of the Tulsa 9.12 Project, was helping to run the booth and agreed to speak with the Black Wall Street Times. She said that the display was a “take on building the wall that Trump has asked for and Congress has inhibited him from building.” She indicated that the money collected through the fundraiser will go to “support candidates who support the wall”, though she did state that the party is not solely funding candidates who support the construction of Trump’s wall.
The campaign signs of several Republicans were posted around the display, including Kevin Stitt (Governor), Matt Pinnell (Lt. Governor), Mike Hunter (Attorney General), Joy Hoffmeister (Superintendent of Education) and Kevin Hern (Congress, District 1), among others.
The Black Wall Street Times reached out to these campaigns and to the leadership of the Tulsa County GOP on Sunday evening and again on Monday afternoon for comment on the display, but none responded before publication.
Matt Pinnell, Republican nominee for Lt. Governor, did express his displeasure
over the effort in a private Facebook message. The BWST obtained a screenshot of this message after it was posted publicly online. Pinnell, whose sign was displayed directly above the mock-wall, stated in the message “I had no idea they were doing this. And I don’t approve. I guess I’m going to have to get them to move my sign as I doubt they’ll stop doing that fundraiser.”
Before the fair asked the group to remove the display on Monday afternoon, Vuillemont-Smith stood firm in her defense of the exhibit, stating that the “reception has been positive”. When pressed on the pushback from the Latinx community, she responded that the community would “call it offensive no matter what we [the County GOP] do”
“Do you know of any part of Trump’s agenda the Latinos are standing behind?” she asked. “It has to do with the fact that he’s taking a stand on illegal immigration. People want open borders and to come and go as they wish.”
Vuillemont-Smith then reiterated that she was speaking solely as a volunteer and not as a spokesperson for the party.
As the conversation continued, fair goers came and went at the booth, viewing the mock-wall, purchasing merchandise and taking pictures next to a cardboard cutout of President Trump. At one point, a group of white male teenagers came by the booth asking if they had any “I support Kavanaugh” t-shirts for sale. “No, we thought it was too soon for that”, another volunteer said with a laugh.
Writing on the bricks included “Build the Wall!”, “MAGA”, “I *heart* Kavanaugh”, “Keep it coming, President Trump” and more.
“I am for and stand with President Trump and his stand for the wall”, said Vuillemont-Smith. “Immigration is costing us tens of billions of dollars a year,” she continued. “We pay for their healthcare, education and welfare.”
While undocumented immigrants do receive free public education and access to emergency medical care, they do not receive traditional welfare benefits, such as food stamps, social security, “Obamacare”, medicaid, medicare, or children’s health insurance.
Miret has a much different take on the issue.
“Trump’s wall is supposed to stop an invasion coming from the south. However, there’s no invasion,” he said. “The undocumented population has remained stable at about 11 million for the last half a decade, according to the Pew Research Center. As a matter of fact, more Mexicans are leaving the United States than arriving. So it makes no sense to build a wall, even for security reasons.”
He also had a strong message to the Republican candidates whose signs appeared by the mock-wall. “I hope they reject this campaign and request to take it down… silence is not an option, because silence is consent.”
“We’re working on emotion, not intellect,” Vuillemont-Smith said. “Being offended is the in-thing now,” she continued, motioning with air-quotes.
“You can’t tell me that everyone is offended by it. If people are offended,” she said, “come and talk to me. I love having a dialogue.”
The Tulsa County GOP’s booth is located along the eastern wall of the River Spirit Expo building in the Tulsa County Fairgrounds.