Tom Fulks

Where’s the outrage over Nipomo fire that destroyed farmworker housing?

Owners of Nipomo housing development react to fire

Farmer Greg France reads a statement Thursday, April 7, 2016, about the fire that destroyed one house and damaged another in the Mads Place housing development he and his wife bought to house farmworkers in Nipomo.
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Farmer Greg France reads a statement Thursday, April 7, 2016, about the fire that destroyed one house and damaged another in the Mads Place housing development he and his wife bought to house farmworkers in Nipomo.

Take a bow, all ye who embrace violence as political expression.

This means you, anonymous fire starters and all who rejoice at what your cowardice has wrought.

Because of you, violence as political speech is another step closer to being legit.

Don’t like what neighbors do on their property in Nipomo? Burn it down. Message sent.

Don’t like election rules? Threaten to “rough up” someone unless they’re changed. Message received.

Thanks to Donald Trump, we expect base political appeals to violence at the national level.

But here? Indeed, sadly, some seem hell-bent toward that dystopia.

Greg and Donna France were in the process of buying seven new houses on a Nipomo cul-de-sac that would’ve housed 112 farmworkers — 16 people per house, a notion some neighbors couldn’t abide.

They objected, but San Luis Obispo County officials confirmed there’s no law prohibiting that many people living in single-family housing.

There’s no proof yet, but it’s not a leap to surmise that rather than working through the “system,” someone decided to “fix” the problem by adopting the Trump method of conflict resolution: violence.

Slithering in the dark to light a flame for Trumpian xenophobia and racial hatred, arsonists accomplished what reason, dialogue, compromise and consideration couldn’t: They torched the hopes of well-meaning farmers to provide decent living conditions for hard-toiling Mexican farmworkers.

Well done. The Ku Klux Klan couldn’t have expressed “end justifies means” any better.

Thanks to cowards and all who welcome their results, land-use decisions in our county can now be made not by rule of law, but by clenched fists.

In shelving their project, the Frances said “continued threats against the property, our prospective workers and ourselves has raised our concerns about the ability to ensure the safety of the workers.”

They’re not alone.

Longtime local row-crop farmer Tom Ikeda told The Tribune that, as a result of the Nipomo fire, he won’t say where his workers live out of fear they’ll be targeted.

These local farmers had their housing project destroyed, their lives threatened and their workers in hiding because they hold the noxious belief that farmworkers should be treated like humans. Doing what Jesus would do apparently now is deemed by some a provocation worthy of violent retaliation.

More disturbing is the tepid reaction to the malevolence.

County Supervisor Lynn Compton, who represents Nipomo, said on her Facebook page she was “saddened” by the arson and that the perps should be punished. Missing from Compton’s statement was any expression of moral outrage or condemnation of violence as a means of political persuasion.

Tellingly, her page was littered with comments from people complaining — not about violence, not about lawlessness, but about the notion that male Mexican farmworkers could be living in a “family neighborhood.”

Apparently, some have bought into the Trumpian mantra that every man from Mexico is a criminal, maybe a rapist.

There was a whiff of feigned upset on Compton’s page about the fire, but no distress over the outcome.

One neighbor who lives directly behind the torched houses didn’t bother to disguise her delight in an interview with The Tribune. She said she’d originally objected to the housing because she worried about having so many foreign men near her daughters.

But what upset her most wasn’t that, or that arson had destroyed the project. No, what mainly got to her was that “the blaze had burned so close to her home.”

Moreover, she said, she was “super happy, excited” that farmworker housing would no longer be next door.

“It turned out in our favor, so we’re very, very grateful,” she said. In other words: “Hey, it’s gone. What do we care how or why?”

Apparently, our community — like the rest of the nation — has become inured to the incessant flogging and debasing of immigrants, minorities, the poor, gays — everyone unlike the shrinking majority.

Sadly, sickeningly, violence against “others” is no longer shocking, no longer outrageous, no longer intolerable.

The outrage industry — Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and our local wannabes — profits by convincing its flock that “others” are to blame for their troubles, that Jesus favors the rich, the poor deserve their lot, gays are perverts and Mexicans are felons.

To the Fox News propagandists, talk radio inciters and online anarchy-peddling jackals: It took a generation of spitting venom, but it looks like you’ve won.

There should be no wonder, then, why the chickens have come to roost in Nipomo: Vigilante violence against the most humble among us has gone mainstream.

Give us a curtsy, haters.

Liberal columnist Tom Fulks is a former reporter and opinion writer. He has been a political campaign consultant for many local races. His column runs in The Tribune every other Sunday, in rotation with conservative columnist Matthew Hoy.

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